Mr. Speaker, finally Bill C-36 is up for second reading.
It was first introduced in this place back in the spring. At that time the present whip of the Canadian Alliance, the hon. member for West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast, was the justice critic for the official opposition. He accused the government of pre-election posturing with this series of proposed amendments to the criminal code, a sort of omnibus bill so to speak. At that time he stated that the bill could be passed in a couple of days if the government really wanted it.
As members know, I have been actively involved with my critic responsibilities on Bill C-3, the youth criminal justice act. Youth justice has never appeared to be much of a priority to the government until this past week. It is only when an election looms that the government feels the necessity to act and do something. The government is not too interested in governing for the people. It is much more interested in being re-elected and staying in power.
In Bill C-3 the government absolutely bypassed any reasoned contribution from the justice committee and almost overnight forced the legislation back to the House for report stage debate. The government House leader has been quoted widely about the potential costs of overtime of the House dealing with Bill C-3. However, he has been conspicuously silent about the costs incurred by his compelling our legal staff and clerks to work almost around the clock this past weekend in getting 3,133 amendments to Bill C-3 ready for debate this past Monday. Somehow it was a priority for the government to deal with Bill C-3 on Monday morning, meaning that the amendments had to be filed with journals branch by early Friday afternoon.
We started debate on Monday, but the priority seems to have disappeared as we will not be debating Bill C-3 again for the rest of this week. Talk about a waste of money. I will not even begin to get into the waste of money expended by the justice committee to review the bill and prepare amendments, only to have the government refuse to permit the committee to debate those amendments and present an improved version of the legislation to the House.
The member for West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast sure called it when he suggested that Bill C-36 was little more than an election ploy. It is an attempt to convince Canadians that the government is really interested in justice issues. We have seen this action with the youth justice bill. It is only back on centre stage because an election is looming. I suggest that Bill C-36 is only getting time now for the same reason.
The Liberals are decidedly weak on their justice platform. They merely need to prop up their image by claiming that youth justice laws would have been enacted except for the tactics of the opposition, specifically the Bloc. I suppose they will claim that Bill C-36 would also have been enacted but they ran out of time on their mandate because of other pressing issues, whatever they may be. As I have already stated, that does not hold water as Bill C-36 could have been passed in a couple of days last spring. It could surely have been passed this fall.
I expect that Bill C-36 will not be passed before the Prime Minister awakes some morning and, as he has said himself, hears his wife tell him to call an election. He will then be able to retire in the spring and have all of next summer to get his golf game back in shape. We did not hear much about his golfing exploits this past summer. Unfortunately, we did not see him do much for Canadians either, other than overtax them and tell jokes.
While there is not much to get too excited about with Bill C-36, I will briefly make some comments and raise some concerns. As my time is rather limited, I am sure there will be other opportunities to discuss the pros and cons of this particular legislation.
A number of the proposed changes to the law concern issues whereby the government made earlier changes to the law but either forgot or failed to properly consider all the aspects of those previous changes. In effect, the government is correcting some previous screw-ups.
For instance, there are a number of changes to the criminal code to include the Nunavut courts. There was a bill in the first session of this parliament, Bill C-57, to deal with the Nunavut courts of justice but the government seems to have forgotten to include these aspects of the criminal code. It certainly makes us wonder how much preparation and thought goes into bills before they reach the floor of the House of Commons.
The Liberal government has also dealt with making stalking an offence in Bill C-27 in the last parliament. At that time it claimed that it was getting tough with stalkers of primarily women, but it is only now that it is open to increasing the maximum sentence for this offence.
One troubling aspect of the bill concerns changes to preliminary inquiries. There are to be additional onuses placed upon the defence to provide disclosure of its case in respect of expert evidence. The defence will be compelled to provide the names of its witnesses. That is something entirely new. I expect the defence bar will have much to say about this provision. Charter applications will also be an issue. It will be interesting to see whether the government will be forced to withdraw from its stand in this regard.
We have seen how the government pays little consideration to the testimony obtained by the justice committee on Bill C-3. I do expect that the government will be more apt to listen to the lawyers. It is not so apt to listen to ordinary everyday Canadians who comprise the bulk of persons interested in Bill C-3.
As my colleague from Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough pointed out in his comments on Bill C-3 the other day, in Bill C-36 the government appears to be trying to limit the use of preliminary inquiries while at the same time through Bill C-3, it appears to be introducing the whole concept into the youth justice system. Talk about sucking and blowing at the same time; the government cannot have it both ways.
The bill will also attract some attention over its amendments to section 690 applications under the criminal code. There has been much discussion about setting up an independent review agency.
The Minister of Justice has retained a right of final decision on applications of wrongful conviction and I support her in this regard. The minister must be held responsible and accountable for these cases. She should not and must not relegate this duty to an independent agency. It will be very interesting to see how lobby groups, et cetera attempt to sway her from this position. Again, it will also be interesting to see whether the government listens to the lawyers and persons of influence when it was not too interested in listening to laypersons pursuant to Bill C-3 on youth justice reform.
Two components of the bill that will attract some public attention are those proposals dealing with home invasions and stalking. The proposal to make a home invasion offence an aggravating factor certainly causes me to smile. A year and a half ago, I moved a motion at justice committee after the premier and the attorney general of British Columbia had written to the minister requesting action on this issue. In that motion I proposed the very course of action that the minister is now proposing, but the government was not interested. In fact, one Liberal member of the committee referred to my initiative as silly and nothing more than political posturing. Now it appears the government is claiming credit for the idea. Somehow I do not believe it will see this as political posturing now.
Although the law currently allows for more severe sanctions, this change will ensure that all of our courts clearly know that parliament wishes home invasions to be considered as serious attacks on the security and the lives of our citizens. This should go without saying, but it appears that some of our courts require an occasional tune-up.
The problem in this area is primarily systemic. Our whole justice system must be readjusted so that our courts use the full extent of punishments available for violent crimes. We have significant maximum punishments available for most offences but these maximums are seldom, if ever, utilized and imposed. This is one of the primary reasons Canadians have become so disenchanted with the criminal justice process. It also says something about the Prime Minister having sole authority to appoint judges to our superior courts.
I note that in the spring the Minister of Justice was quite quick to lay claim to the fact that she is doubling the maximum potential punishment for stalkers. This is the criminal offence of criminal harassment. Stalkers are primarily male so this type of issue is readily recognized and supported by female voters in the country.
I fully agree that stalking is an abominable crime and that we must protect all victims regardless of gender. With all due respect, the government is not being entirely forthright on this issue. The government is still maintaining the dual procedure nature of this offence. The vast majority of offences are proceeded with by summary conviction where the maximum sentence is only six months in jail, a far cry from the 10 years maximum if proceeded with by indictment. If the government really wanted to protect victims, it would change the law to make the offence a strictly indictable procedure. It would indicate to the courts that parliament considers criminal harassment a serious offence.
Instead, the government seems to be sending the message that the offence may be serious, but it may not be so serious. It may be indictable in some circumstances, but in most cases it is merely a summary offence. This type of attitude does little to protect our women, who are the vast majority of victims of this form of crime.
Some time ago a Vancouver family came to see me in my constituency office. The estranged husband and father had harassed them for years. The children are now grown. There had been restraining order after restraining order, which he was careful not to violate. The latest order was about to expire, and they came to me for some help.
Let me give an example of how manipulative this man is. The family lives in the central area of the city of Vancouver. Successive restraining orders forbade him to be within a 25 block zone around their home. The supermarket where they do their shopping is outside that zone. The House can probably guess where I am going with this. He would regularly show up in that store when the family members were there to shop. He said nothing to them. He did nothing to them. He was just there. He would also show up at school or social functions. Again, he would say and do nothing. He was just there. Can one imagine trying to function from day to day with this going on?
All the restraining orders had fixed terms of two or three years. Whenever one expired, like clockwork, within 24 hours, he would show up at their door. The family members would be forced to apply for a new order, which required them to justify time and time again why such an order was required.
Unfortunately I could not offer them much help, other than to encourage them to keep the restraining orders in place and support their requests to the police and crown to examine the possibility of criminal charges.
They contacted my office a few weeks ago because the latest order, the current order, was about to expire. They wanted to let me know that the crown was going to try to bring criminal harassment charges, stalking charges, against this man. I do not know the current status, but unfortunately the legislation before us will be too late to be of any profit to them. Had the government not chosen to introduce this harassment legislation in the form of an omnibus bill, thereby clouding it with other issues, we could have had something for these folks already.
My time is limited and, as I said earlier, there will be other opportunities for discussion and debate. I am not interested in holding up the legislation. I have witnessed the dilatory actions of the government, and it needs no lessons from me when it comes to stalling on justice issues.
I look forward to dealing with the bill at the justice committee, but if the rumours of a potential announcement of an election are accurate, it appears once again the government is more interested in politics than in providing security and protection to our citizens. It will be months, if ever, before the legislation actually comes to fruition.