Mr. Speaker, first I would like to comment on what we are doing here today. The longer I am around this place, the more I become convinced that most of what we do here borders on being a sham.
The public is given the impression that legislation is drafted pursuant to the needs of Canadians. The government presents legislation, and parliament reviews and improves it as necessary. Supposedly that is part of what we are doing today. I seriously question how effective our review and improvement can be under the circumstances.
Bill C-3 was first introduced in March 1999. The justice committee was assigned to review it, and after listening to interested parties of expert and lay witnesses, to consider necessary changes.
Members of the justice committee from all parties, including the government, decided that a number of alterations were needed to Bill C-3. One particular member of the committee decided that rather than put all the substantive amendments forward for consideration, he would filibuster the committee in an attempt to force the government to consider only his wishes for change.
That was his right, Mr. Speaker. Please do not get me wrong. That was his right under the rules. I certainly understand that there are tools and procedures available to opposition parties and members to try to get their point across. However, where the committee, as representative of this place, failed in its duties is when it was given its marching orders, so to speak. A closure motion was issued to the effect that the committee was to be given only 10 hours of further debate, and then it had to report back to the House of Commons.
At that point, with all due respect, the chair of the committee had an obligation to take control of the committee, close down the debate on the filibuster, and move to the clause by clause consideration of the many proposed amendments. Having the committee return the bill to the House without any change whatsoever has in effect left this place without the value of the committee's time and effort of review. The House is in the same position it was in almost two years ago. What a waste of time, especially on a bill that was supposed to be a top priority of the government.
To further compound my consternation over the operation of this place, we then have the manner in which the whole process at the report stage of the legislation has unfolded. The committee reported back to the House on Bill C-3 last Thursday, September 21. Because of the government's scheduling, amendments had to be filed with journals branch by Friday at 2 p.m.
It is only now, on Monday morning, the day of the debate at report stage, that we can even see the amendments proposed into groupings as assigned by the clerk. After years of delay and after months and months of waste, we are provided with a bill without the benefit of committee recommendations. After years of delay and after months and months of waste, we are now in a type of overdrive to process the legislation almost overnight. Regardless of any individual political perspective, I would argue that the public is definitely not well served by this process, at least in the way it has unfolded with Bill C-3.
It truly amazes me that this place can be mired in quicksand and be going absolutely nowhere, and that it takes an imminent election to force the government to move. What disappoints me the most is that even when the government does move, it exhibits little consideration, if any, for our citizens. Although I do not wish to jump to any conclusions, my intuition tells me Bill C-3 will be passed virtually intact, with little difference from the questionable version of the supposed new youth justice law as presented by the government back in March 1999.
I may be proven wrong, but debate in this place at this stage will likely have little, if any, influence on the legislation. Regardless of the arguments presented by interested Canadians and by members of this place, it appears that it was always the intention of the government to merely go through the motions. There was never any real intention to listen to or even seriously consider other viewpoints calling for substantive change. This legislation, if it passes from this place in its current form or with little change in substance, will be a travesty to Canadians.
Just to address some of our amendments that are proposed in this grouping, our Motion No. 35 would eliminate a presumptive offence. Under our amendments we are doing away with the whole concept of presumptive offence, serious violent offence and the interpretation problems of the government's legislation over just what will be determined to be a violent offence.
Under our proposals there are to be just two categories of offence, namely violent offences and non-violent offences. Violent offences are defined as those within a list of named offences. The list has been taken directly from the Corrections and Conditional Release Act.
Violent offences will be those that federal legislation already uses to determine safety concerns when considering how to treat adult offenders. By following this list we are being consistent, we are being all inclusive, and we are being transparent so that Canadians citizens, our courts, and offenders will know why and how our youth justice process will operate.
There will be no guessing. There will be no extensive legal argument. If an offender is charged with a specific offence on the list, that offender will be processed in a predetermined manner. The courts still retain all the powers and discretion to apply specific circumstances to each specific case. If the offence is not on the list, the offence will be classified as a non-violent offence.
Our Motion No. 44 would similarly eliminate the definition of “serious violent offence”. There would be no presumptive offence designation; there would be only non-violent and violent offences, as I spoke to before. We have a “serious violent offence” designation, but only if the crown attorney makes application and the court sees fit to endorse the information. We have an overly restrictive list of presumptive offences. Under our proposal, violent offences are specifically listed. No interpretation will be necessary.
Again Motion No. 49 speaks to the whole issue of violent offence and presumptive offence. Leaving the terms undefined will not ease the difficulty; it will just put the problem into the courts to be interpreted. This will be costly and will delay justice once again as the legal argument is made and the appeals have to be heard. It is the responsibility and obligation of parliament to present laws that do the job. We should not put off these problems on to the courts.
Our proposals at least attempt to clarify what will be a violent offence and what will be a non-violent offence.
The present definition within the legislation states “An offence that causes or creates a substantial risk of bodily harm”. That definition will keep lawyers and judges busy for years to come and is open to various interpretations. Just like conditional sentencing, it will bring criticism and dissatisfaction from our citizens when it is limited in scope.
Easy questions of fraud upon the elderly will obviously be determined to be outside this definition, but many of our seniors may well be hurt much more seriously on being defrauded of their life savings than if they were hit over the head and robbed of their cash on hand.
What happens to the offence of sexual assault? Will an offence be determined to be violent if the victim does not fight her aggressor? Will it be a violent offence if the purse snatcher is successful in grabbing the purse from a senior citizen without knocking her over? Where will the line be drawn between what is a violent offence and what is non-violent?
The definition proposed by this amendment clearly lists the offences to be included within the category of violent offence. We avoid these interpretation difficulties, we avoid the cost and time of legal argument, and we bring greater certainty to our laws.