Mr. Speaker, I will be using the entire time. I will pick up this debate where it began with the comments of the member for Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough. He said in his opening remarks that this was a most serious issue. It is. We are here in an emergency debate. It does not happen often in the House of Commons that the Speaker rules that there is sufficient gravity to a motion to warrant an emergency debate. We are here on a matter of sufficient gravity.
The member for Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough began by saying we should have a non-partisan debate because it is too important to deteriorate into the usual kind of blaming that sometimes goes on. I hope we can revive that spirit because this debate is not about gun control. The debate is not necessarily about the notwithstanding clause. The debate is about organized crime and how as a parliament we are to respond to it.
The Speaker has ruled that there is an emergency. Is there a crisis in the country? I do not know if crisis is perhaps too strong a word but there is an emergency. That emergency was brought to a head, galvanized by the recent shooting on September 3 of Quebec journalist Michel Auger. On behalf of my party and all parliamentarians I want to extend our sympathies and our concern to both him and his family. He gives real truth to the words spoken by Robert Kennedy that moral courage is a far rarer commodity in this society than strength in battle or great intelligence. The moral courage demonstrated by this journalist ought to be commended and respected.
The shooting has galvanized the debate around organized crime. I suppose it has also galvanized the debate around freedom of the press. I say in passing that it is of great importance that freedom of the press is a cornerstone to democracy. No journalist should have to fear for his or her safety if they want to delve into a story.
I remember when I was questioning the Minister of Transport three years ago about the ports police, that a young journalist who was covering that story for CBC Radio, whom I came to know, was under police protection because she was exposing at that time in 1997 some of the serious effects of gangs in the Halifax area. No journalist should have to fear that. No member of parliament should have to fear addressing those issues. No judge or no jurist should have to fear any kind of organized crime.
That brings me to the question of how we came to this point today. How is it that we are having an emergency debate in the House of Commons on the issue of organized crime? It is no mystery. As I said, in 1997 I urged the Minister of Transport at that time to reinstate the ports police. That has already been brought up time after time.
I am not happy to say that my party or I was right at that point in time because of the effects that have developed from the dismantling of the ports police. I met with the police on the docks in Halifax, people in the ports police who showed me clearly what the effects would be as a result of the dismantling of that police force.
It meant that in effect the ports in Canada, whether in Montreal, Halifax or Vancouver, became open territory for organized crime. Repeatedly I pushed the Minister of Transport on that issue. Repeatedly he came back to me and said he had every confidence that the provincial police forces and the RCMP would be able to deal with the issue of organized crime in the ports. Today, three years later, we are having an emergency debate in the House of Commons on the issue of organized crime.
We got here because of cost cutting measures put in place by a government that was adamant. It was not alone. It was prodded in many ways by others. There was a debt and deficit hysteria and come hell or high water it was here to eliminate the debt. Today we have a $30 billion surplus and unfortunately hell and high water are here.
There have been cuts to the provinces over the last six or seven years. The moneys in equalization payments have been cut to the provinces and the provinces are charged with the administration of justice, as we have learned in this debate. When a province does not have the money to pay its prosecutors, to hire prosecutors and to provide the resources to its provincial police force, we find ourselves in an emergency debate.
The provinces went on to cut municipal budgets and so police forces at the municipal level felt those cuts. It is no mystery and no surprise that we find ourselves after all the slash, burn and cut in a situation where we do not have the resources to do the job. The coast guard, the ports police, and the educational and training facilities of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police have been cut. Now the chickens have come home to roost.
It does not mean that we cannot do something about it. I do not want to dwell on the past because I said this should be a non-partisan debate. My objective here is not to cast blame as much as it is to try to work with all members of the House to find a solution to what is a serious situation in the country today.
The situation is serious. I commend the members of the Bloc Quebecois and others who have been pushing for some time to address the issue of organized crime. It is a serious matter. There are many types of organized crime. When many people think of organized crime they tend to think of the old Mafia movies. We have gone far beyond Godfather type movies. There are Asian based organized crime rings in the country that specialize in trafficking in human beings. They specialize in heroin and cocaine importation. There are east European gangs that are involved in extortion, murder, prostitution, and in drug, tobacco and weapon smuggling. They are involved in immigration fraud and counterfeiting.
There are the traditional historical types of organized crimes, the mob that we know of. There are the outlaw motorcycle gangs which have brought this debate to a head. They are the Hell's Angels. They are the Rock Machine. We read about them in Quebec but we know that they are not exclusive to Quebec, that they exist across the country.
In my province in Halifax a couple of years ago I remember when the Hell's Angels were present and the Rock Machine, their rival group, was trying to buy property in Dartmouth across the harbour. We could see what was coming. We could see where this would lead.
There are serious issues of organized crime in the country today. There are serious issues in Manitoba. I have heard from my colleagues who represent the city of Winnipeg their concerns for safety in their communities. We know that they had to build a special courthouse in that province to deal with the trial of members involved in organized crime who ultimately pleaded guilty.
There is a real problem. There is a real emergency. When journalists are shot, when people are concerned, when members of parliament are threatened, we have an emergency.
There is no benefit to fearmongering. There is no benefit in trying to play politics with that kind of an issue. In the same way as we have a real problem, we have dedicated, determined police forces in the country who despite the lack of resources have worked very hard to do their jobs. We see the results of that. Too often those results do not get the kind of press they deserve, but this summer we saw drug busts that appeared to break all records. We know that on both coasts the police did their jobs. We know that the new commissioner of the RCMP is committed and is determined to take on organized crime.
The citizens of the country who listen to this debate and who read Hansard should know that while we have a serious situation with organized crime we have a dedicated and determined police force to take on the issue.
However those police forces require resources. In the same way I have indicated that resources have been cut over the years, it is time to reinvest in those police resources. The Minister of Justice has commented that in 1997 provisions in the criminal code were brought in. She is correct. As has been said by the member of the Canadian Alliance, those sections are well worded. They should result in the criminal prosecution of members of gangs and organized crime.
Rightly some members asked the Minister of Justice why there have not been any convictions. There was some discussion about plea bargaining, judicial intervention and whatnot, which I think are side issues. The reality is that all the laws in the world will do no good if the police do not have the resources with which to bring the case to court. To do that properly without infringing upon the rights of the rest of us, which ought not to be sacrificed on the altar of hysteria, and to work within the charter of rights the police need to have the resources. The police make mistakes and perhaps infringe on the charter when they do not have the adequate resources to do the job they need to do.
The solicitor general has indicated there has been some additional funding for the RCMP but I think there needs to be more.
We can take a page from the Canadian Police Association who met in Halifax this summer and discussed this issue. I had the honour to speak to that organization. My parting remarks to the people of that organization, and this was before we had an emergency debate and before the unfortunate incidents in Quebec, was to pledge to work with them in the fight against organized crime in Canada. I asked them to work with the subcommittee on organized crime of which I am proud to be a member.
I have also had an opportunity to look at some of the suggestions they offered in the fight against organized crime. Some of them make sense and I offer them to the Minister of Justice and the solicitor general for consideration.
The association has asked for the development and implementation of a strategic national response to organized crime providing greater priority, funding, support and co-ordination for local, provincial and federal policing jurisdictions in the battle against organized crime. I have said that we have to begin to reinvest in the police. I also asked that we work in a co-ordinated effort with the Department of Citizenship and Immigration, customs and excise, national police services, the criminal intelligence service of Canada in partnership with the federal and provincial police forces.
I am glad and I commend the Minister of Justice and the solicitor general for going to Quebec tomorrow to meet with their provincial and territorial partners. I think we can listen to the Canadian Police Association and involve the other ministers, including the Minister of Transport, because the reinstatement of the ports police would go a long way.
The police association also asked for a national border protection service. Call it what you will, Mr. Speaker. Call it the ports police or a national border protection service, but the association has asked that it be established and that is something that we as a parliament should push for.
It has also asked for an examination of election financing and candidate financing criteria to provide elected representatives with clear guidelines to prevent infiltration from organized crime.
There are solutions to this problem. They need to be implemented right away. We cannot afford to spend a whole lot of time studying the issues. We know the issues and we know some of the answers. That should not prohibit further investigation. The subcommittee on organized crime can play a vital role here.
The original motion brought forward by the Bloc Quebecois asked for a law to be introduced in the House of Commons by October 6. There is no reason that any law could not be vetted through the subcommittee on organized crime that already exists. I would pledge my time and I know the other members of the committee would to try to ensure that the law as crafted would be charter proof, would be efficient and would be effective.
There are ample suggestions from the Canadian Police Association and ample suggestions from members of parliament on how to deal with this situation. We need to do that.
As I have said, the minister has pledged, and I think her words were, to re-examine the code to find if there are ways that she can with our help fight organized crime. She certainly has my pledge and the pledge of my party to work with her in that regard. I take her at her word on that.
There has been discussion of the notwithstanding clause and whether or not it ought to be invoked. The original motion brought forward by the Bloc Quebecois read “That this House request that the government prepare and bring in by October 6 a bill making it a crime to belong to a criminal organization”.
As I have indicated, people should know there is such a law already on the books which makes it a crime to belong to a criminal organization. In response to a question from the member for Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, the leader of the Bloc Quebecois clarified that and said they wanted to go further and make it a crime to wear the colours to be identified with a gang.
The resolution goes on to say “if necessary, invoking the notwithstanding clause of the charter of rights and freedoms”. The leader of the Bloc went on to say that they were not necessarily calling for its invocation but only if necessary.
One of the reasons we fear and fight organized crime is to protect the liberties we have as citizens. Surely within this House, surely within the resources that the Department of Justice has, surely within the resources that the solicitor general has, surely working with the Canadian Police Association and the chiefs of police across the country, surely working with the commissioner of the RCMP we can as a democratic institution draft the necessary laws to protect our citizens without taking away the guaranteed rights of those citizens.
I feel compelled to say there are no rights for criminals in the charter of rights. There is no section in the charter of rights that says “These are the rights of men. These are the rights of women. These are the rights of victims. These are the rights of criminals”. There are guaranteed rights to all citizens. When we suspend those rights to tackle one group, we have to bear in mind that we suspend the rights to all of our citizens. That does not happen often.
It happened with the War Measures Act before we had the charter of rights and freedoms. Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau invoked the War Measures Act suspending what were then the civil liberties of Canadians which were defined not just through the bill of rights, but through precedent and through a long constitutional history. We look back on that today and wonder if it was the right thing to do.
I urge us to act swiftly and decisively to find a way to protect this country from organized crime without doing it at the expense of the freedom we all enjoy.