Debates of Sept. 28th, 2000
House of Commons Hansard #124 of the 36th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was petro-canada.
- Government Response To Petitions
- Employment Insurance Act
- Marine Conservation Areas Act
- Questions On The Order Paper
- Marine Conservation Areas Act
- Privacy Commissioner
- Business Of The House
- Marine Conservation Areas Act
- The Late Hon. Marcel Lambert
- The Late George K. Drynan
- Transparency International
- International Day Against Mox
- Breast Cancer Awareness Month
- The Mini-Budget
- Government Policies
- Employment Insurance
- Auditor General's Report
- Employment Insurance
- Foreign Affairs
- Employment Insurance
- Foreign Affairs
- Young Offenders
- Crimes Against Humanity
- The Environment
- Human Resources Development
- Endangered Species
- Aboriginal Affairs
- Human Resources Development Canada
- Employment Insurance
- Aboriginal Affairs
- Biosafety Protocol
- Presentation Of Reports
- Child Poverty
- Points Of Order
- Business Of The House
- Points Of Order
- Points Of Order
- Marine Conservation Areas Act
- Eldorado Nuclear Limited Reorganization And Divestiture Act
- Criminal Code
- Cultural Industry
David Anderson for the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada
moved that Bill C-36, an act to amend the Criminal Code (criminal harassment, home invasions, applications for ministerial review—miscarriages of justice, and criminal procedure) and to amend other acts, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
John Maloney Parliamentary Secretary to Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased today to rise to introduce the debate on the motion to give second reading to Bill C-36, an act to amend the criminal code, dealing with criminal harassment, home invasions, applications for ministerial review, dealing with miscarriages of justice and criminal procedure, and to amend other acts.
As I am sure hon. members opposite will agree, there are a number of outstanding criminal law policy matters that require a legislative response. Bill C-36 is designed to address some of these matters.
The amendments proposed to the bill respond to issues of public concern. The proposals are as follows: first, the bill before you proposes to amend the criminal code that would increase the maximum penalty for criminal harassment from five years to ten years; second, make home invasions an aggravating circumstance for sentencing purposes; third, codify and clarify the review process for applications to the Minister of Justice with respect to allegations of miscarriage of justice or wrongful convictions; and fourth, reform and modernize aspects of the law of criminal procedure.
This enactment would also amend the National Capital Act by increasing the maximum fine available and the National Defence Act by providing for fingerprinting.
I would like to outline the rationale for the proposals. I would like to spend some time this afternoon setting out the rationale for these proposals in very clear terms. Let me turn first to the proposal concerning criminal harassment.
Criminal harassment, or stalking, as it is sometimes referred to, is a serious offence that can have a devastating effect upon the emotional and physical well-being of the victim. Although the offence of criminal harassment is still relatively new, the conduct itself is not. There are many Canadians who associate this type of conduct with some of the few well-known cases of stalking of a celebrity. However, the reality is that in Canada the primary motivation for stalking another partner more typically relates to a desire to control a former partner.
We know from Statistics Canada data for 1997 that eight out of ten victims of police report incidents of criminal harassment were women. We know that nine out of ten accused were men. We know as well that two-thirds of the victims were criminally harassed by a current or former intimate partner or close male friend. This data characterizes criminal harassment for many as an issue of violence against women and as an issue of family violence.
The government is committed to taking strong measures to ensure that the criminal justice system treats criminal harassment as the serious offence that we know it to be.
Some time ago the federal, provincial and territorial ministers of justice directed senior criminal justice officials to review the problem of criminal harassment. After receiving the advice of senior officials and after carefully considering the matter, the governments adopted a twofold response: first, strengthening the existing legislation; and second, releasing comprehensive guidelines for criminal justice personnel on criminal harassment to enhance implementation of the law.
This twofold response, supported by our federal, provincial and territorial counterparts, with whom the minister shares a mutual concern that more must be done to ensure that not only the law itself but also the enforcement of the law, is adequately reflected in the serious nature of criminal harassment and its impact.
Bill C-36 responds to our first commitment by proposing to increase the maximum penalty for criminal harassment from five to ten years. By increasing the current maximum penalty for criminal harassment from five to ten years, we are sending a strong message to would be stalkers that criminal harassment is a serious offence and its sentence will now better reflect the serious nature. It also provides criminal justice personnel with a stronger sentencing tool to more appropriately respond to this type of conduct.
With respect to our second commitment relating to enhancing the enforcement of the criminal harassment provisions, I am pleased to note that, together with our federal, provincial and territorial counterparts, a handbook for police and crown prosecutors on criminal harassment was developed.
The handbook provides a practical set of guidelines for criminal justice personnel on all aspects of a criminal harassment case, including victim safety. The Department of Justice released the handbook in December of 1999. I am pleased to note that well over 3,500 copies of the handbook have since been distributed across the country and are being used to assist with investigations, prosecution, sentencing and victim support in criminal harassment cases, as well as for training of criminal justice personnel.
I would also like to note that Bill C-36's proposal to increase the maximum penalty for criminal harassment is built upon the 1997 criminal harassment reforms introduced by the government. These reforms strengthen the criminal harassment provisions by making murder committed in the course of stalking first degree murder, irrespective of whether the murder was planned and deliberate, where the offender intended to cause the victim to fear for her safety. We also made the commission of a criminal harassment in breach of an existing protective court order an aggravating factor for sentencing purposes.
I will turn now to the problem of home invasions. Hon. members may be aware that this phenomenon has achieved a growing prominence in the news media and in the minds of the public. The term home invasion is generally described as a robbery or break and enter of a private residence when a perpetrator forces an entry while the occupants are home and threatens to use or uses violence against the occupants. The criminal code offences most commonly used to address home invasions are robbery and break and enter of a dwelling, both of which carry a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.
While the statistical occurrence of home invasions is still low, these incidents have had a significant impact upon victims and result in residents feeling unsafe within their own homes. The proposed amendments to the criminal code would indicate that where the offender's conduct was in the nature of a home invasion, the court must consider this to be an aggravating factor when determining the sentence to be imposed.
Such an amendment would provide clear direction to the courts and would express parliament's view that home invasions are a grave form of criminal conduct which must be dealt with appropriately during the sentencing process. This amendment also acknowledges that home invasions have a devastating impact on the victims of this type of crime and that the safety and security of Canadians within their own homes must be protected.
I would now like to outline changes that are being proposed to deal more effectively with alleged wrongful convictions. The efficiency of any criminal justice system depends upon its ability to protect the innocent while bringing those who are guilty of crimes to justice. Despite all the precautions that our justice system takes to avoid the conviction of an innocent person, no system is infallible. Wrongful convictions can and regrettably do occur. I need only mention the names of Donald Marshall, David Milgaard and Guy Paul Morin to make my point.
In such cases, our entire justice system finds itself in disrepute. That is why the minister has included in Bill C-36 some very important improvements to section 690, conviction process.
For many years now there have been calls for the reform of how cases involving alleged miscarriages of justice in Canada are handled. Advocacy groups, such as the Association for the Defence of the Wrongfully Convicted, have repeatedly called for the repeal of section 690 and its replacement with an independent agency, like the criminal cases review commission in Great Britain.
In April of 1998 the commission on proceedings involving Guy Paul Morin recommended that we should study the advisability of creating a criminal case review board to replace or supplement the current system. Even before the Hon. Mr. Justice Kaufman's report was completed on the Morin matter, the Minister of Justice instructed her department to review the section 690 process and to make recommendations on how to improve this very important component of our justice system.
In October of 1998 a public consultation paper was released seeking submissions on how the conviction review process could be improved. The minister was searching for a fair and an efficient solution that balanced the principles of fairness, timeliness, openness and accountability. As part of the consultation process, the minister met with members of the British commission.
The British experience was completely different from ours and convinced the minister that a completely arm's length commission is unnecessary and not the best solution for Canada. It is expensive, it is cumbersome, and although it was designed to handle many more applications than the number we receive in Canada, it has not yet solved the longstanding problem of delays and backlogs.
After extensive consultations and review of all the submissions received from interested parties, the minister concluded that the ultimate decision making authority in criminal conviction review should remain with the federal Minister of Justice, who is accountable to parliament and to the people of Canada. The executive role of the Minister of Justice is ideally suited to the task of effective gatekeeping, that is, to recognize and maintain the traditional jurisdiction of the courts while providing a fair and just remedy in those exceptional cases that have somehow fallen through the cracks of the conventional justice system.
Having said that, I must add that the consultation process also convinced the minister that maintaining the status quo was certainly not an acceptable option. Therefore, the proposed amendments to section 690 will provide new investigative powers to those investigating cases on the minister's behalf. This will allow investigators to compel witnesses to testify and documents to be produced.
In order to make the conviction review process more open and accountable, ministers of justice will now be required to provide an annual report to parliament, and a website will be created to give applicants information on the process.
In the past, section 690 reviews have been reserved for those who have been convicted of a serious indictable offence. In recognition of the fact that any wrongful conviction is a miscarriage of justice which threatens public confidence in the justice system, conviction reviews will be expanded to allow for the review of any federal conviction.
To create a greater degree of independence, a senior adviser from outside the department will be appointed to provide advice exclusively on cases of alleged wrongful conviction and oversee the review of applications. That person will be in charge of a new multidisciplinary review unit which will include investigators as well as counsel.
The government believes that these amendments are the most efficient and effective way to improve the conviction review process in Canada.
Let me turn to the area of criminal procedure reform. The Department of Justice has been working closely with the provinces and territories on criminal procedure reform for some time. This work is now in its third phase. The two previous phases were introduced as legislation, Bill C-42 in 1994 and Bill C-17 in 1996, and are now in effect.
The first two phases have been successful in assisting jurisdictions to manage resources more effectively in the criminal justice system. Jurisdictions are now pressing to have the third phase translated into legislation. It is the proposals of this third phase that are before the House now in Bill C-36.
The objectives of phase three are to simplify trial procedure; modernize the criminal justice system and enhance efficiency through the increased use of technology; protect victims and witnesses in criminal trials; and provide speedy trials in accordance with the charter requirements. We are trying to bring criminal procedure into the 21st century. This phase is an essential instalment in our efforts to modernize our procedure without in any way reducing the measure of justice provided by the system.
The criminal procedure reform amendments proposed in Bill C-36 would retain the unconditional right to a preliminary inquiry for indictable offences on request, while modifying some procedural aspects of the inquiry. For example, the proposal would create a new pre-preliminary hearing for the judge and the parties to attempt to determine the scope of the inquiry on a consensual basis, and would amend the criminal code to require the justice to prevent inappropriate questioning of witnesses at the preliminary inquiry.
It would also change the rules of evidence applicable at the preliminary inquiry to allow the admission of evidence the justice considers credible or trustworthy. It would create a limited defence disclosure obligation with regard to expert reports.
It would also facilitate the establishment of rules of court in relation to case management and preliminary inquiries. It would also facilitate the application of new technology such as the use of electronic documents to render the administration of justice more efficient and effective.
It would expand the potential for remote appearances. It would codify a plea comprehension inquiry scheme. It would make it easier for the attorneys general to carry out the duty of supervising private prosecutions. It would place restrictions on the use of agents in criminal matters and allow for the selection of two jury alternates who would be on hand until the start of a trial.
As I said at the outset, this package of reforms was developed in partnership with the provinces and territories. They support these reforms. As they are responsible for the administration of justice, I believe that we should do our best to give them the tools that they need to ensure the efficient and effective operation of the criminal justice system.
Finally, Bill C-36 includes amendments to the National Capital Act and the National Defence Act.
In order to make the National Capital Act consistent with other federal legislation and regulations, it is proposed that the maximum fine available for offences in regulations under the act be increased from $500 to $2,000. This is the maximum fine currently provided in the criminal code for summary conviction matters. The type of offences that this proposed change would target are relatively serious regulatory offences such as poaching of large game and illegal dumping of waste.
The proposed amendments to the National Defence Act would allow for the taking of fingerprints and other information from persons charged with or convicted by court martial of designated service offences. Designated service offences would be offences that are identical or substantially similar to offences for which civilians are currently subject to fingerprinting under the Identification of Criminals Act. This legislative authority is proposed to enable police forces to have access to the full criminal record of persons dealt with under the code of service discipline.
I would appreciate the support of all hon. members in the House in bringing forward these very worthwhile reforms.
Chuck Cadman Surrey North, BC
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.
Michel Bellehumeur Berthier—Montcalm, QC
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to speak to this bill because it concerns justice and I find very interesting what the Department of Justice is involved with these days.
I always find it a bit comical, however, when I see this type of omnibus bill, which seems to be a catch-all affair. It deals with a number of subjects—I would not dare to say in a not entirely serious manner—and mixes together a number of things. I believe that, overall, this bill is perhaps a bit short on seriousness.
I listened earlier to the parliamentary secretary telling us about Bill C-36, which we are examining. There is one section on which he said nothing at all. I will remedy that quickly at the end of my speech, since it is a subject close to my heart.
For our audience, I should explain that when I refer to an omnibus bill that touches upon a lot of different subjects, as we will see, the bill seeks to codify and clarify the review process for applications to the Minister of Justice with respect to allegations of miscarriage of justice.
The same bill also seeks to increase the maximum penalty for criminal harassment. Then, in the same bill, there is reference to making home invasions an aggravating circumstance for sentencing purposes. And it goes on to address the procedural aspects of preliminary inquiries, the disclosure of expert evidence, rules of court in relation to preliminary inquiries. It will even address electronic documents and remote appearances, private prosecutions and the selection of jurors.
This is, I think, a bill that is going to solve certain problems here and there, but lumping them together is not necessarily going to solve the problem.
It is certainly not accelerating the settlement process. On this, I may be echoing the member for the Canadian Alliance. Some parts of the bill could probably have been dealt with outside the omnibus bill, and those matters requiring a more in-depth consideration could have be dealt with much more quickly. We would certainly have achieved much quicker results.
In all I have mentioned, there is one aspect missing in the summary. This might explain why the government member did not say a word about this. It has to do with Bill C-3, the young offenders bill. While it has yet to be passed by the House, this bill is already amending it.
I will come back to this because I find it quite exceptional. I do not know what kind of country this is, but where I come from, we would say that they are putting the cart before the horse. It may be necessary to dot the i's and cross the t's , and I will do so in my speech.
I will first talk about the judicial errors. When reading the bill, we can actually notice an improvement in the review procedures. It is obvious. Greater openness is sought. I think an effort is made to speed the process. Perhaps the government is trying to make it more accessible. But is it trying to make it more transparent? I might say that I really doubt it.
In any case, there is evidence of openness and of the desire to modernize the criminal code. Nowadays, with the new DNA tools available, when we want to present evidence that could not have been gathered previously, we realize that the justice system is not perfect. Throughout the years, there were some dreadful miscarriages of justice. People found guilty of criminal offences spent 20 or 25 years in prison before their lawyers were able, thanks to modern day techniques, to prove their innocence.
The process used to be rather cumbersome. With Bill C-36, the government wants to improve the process and make it more accessible, which is a good thing and deserves to be examined.
In fact, I want to congratulate my hon. colleague from Repentigny, who introduced a private member's bill to speed up the compensation process for these people. I do not know if his bill is what prompted the government to act, but it could not have come at a better time and both pieces of legislation go in the same direction.
The government would be well advised to go a little further, as the member for Repentigny proposes to do, to compensate these people as soon as possible.
Even if, at first glance, no one can be against the bill introduced by the minister, the fact remains that the minister wears two hats, one as Minister of Justice and the other as Attorney General of Canada.
I do not know if the government understands the system as I do, but at first glance, there appears to be a potential for a conflict of interest involving the two hats on the same head.
The Minister of Justice has a lot of power and many jurisdictions, but she is the protector of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, among other things. The attorney general has a responsibility to examine irregularities in proceedings. It is sort of as if one works to condemn and the other to check that everything is fine.
On the very face of this we can see a potential conflict of interest. If I were going to amend the criminal code, I would have done it all and set up a real independent commission, which would be accountable to parliament. Accordingly, the minister would still be wearing these two hats, but at least, we would ask her to try to correct an injustice caused by one of her hats, to put it clearly.
I do not understand the government member who said he examined this whole possibility, that the department existed in Great Britain. He mentioned Great Britain as an example.
This may do nothing to speed things up, but at least we have the impression that justice has been served. It is very important in a matter in which an individual did not obtain justice to have some procedure to follow when a request is made to have the file re-examined, when there is an error in law and justice is served the second time.
Law and politics are pretty much the same thing: public perception is very important. It bothers me that the same person who sentences someone can also grant a pardon, or that the person who sentences can assess the case to determine whether there was a miscarriage of justice. For this alone, it would be important to send this bill to the justice committee. The situation would be examined, questions would be asked, and we would try to improve this bill and the amendments introduced by the minister in Bill C-36.
There is also the whole issue of criminal harassment. The only solution the government has found is to increase the maximum penalty from five to ten years. At some point, the government will have to stop and look at the problem in Canada. What is the problem in Canada? It is not only by increasing penalties that the problem of crime will be solved. This is too easy.
It is too easy to say “We have a problem because of criminal harassment and we will solve it by increasing the penalty from five to ten years. The problem has been solved. Since the people sentenced for criminal harassment will spend more time in jail, we have solved the problem”. Well, no. The problem has not been solved. It has only been put off.
I understand that the Minister of Justice does not want to listen to a nasty separatist. In her opinion, I must be a rare species coming from who knows where, because what we are saying is never good enough for the minister.
I understand that she is from western Canada, that there is an extremely strong right wing in western Canada, and that the minister, who probably wants to keep her seat in an upcoming election, has decided to listen to this right wing from western Canada to reinforce any legislation at the first opportunity. At some point, however, we will end up with a criminal code that will be no fun to apply and that may become a burden for the state, precisely because the emphasis has been put on incarceration, when it is not the solution.
I keep repeating it in this House, I keep explaining it in every possible way, even with drawings, but the minister just does not get it. She does not want to hear any of that. She only listens to western Canada.
If the minister does not want to listen to me, a Bloc Quebecois member, a Quebec MP, let me quote a supreme court decision, as I did during oral question period. I do hope that she pays a little more attention to what supreme court justices say.
In a fairly recent landmark decision, the supreme court dealt directly with what is going on in Canada regarding incarceration. Unfortunately, I do not have the specifics, but I can provide them later to those hon. members who are interested in this issue.
In a unanimous decision, the court said:
Canada is a world leader in many fields, particularly in the areas of progressive social policy and human rights.
The justices continue:
Unfortunately, our country is also distinguished as being a world leader in putting people in prison.
This is not so flattering. They go on:
Although the United States has by far the highest rate of incarceration among industrialized democracies, at over 600 inmates per 100,000 population, Canada's rate of approximately 130 places it second or third highest. Moreover, the rate at which Canadian courts have been imprisoning offenders has risen sharply in recent years, although there has been a slight decline of late. This record of incarceration rates obviously cannot instil a sense of pride.
These are the words, not of a separatist, but of the justices of the Supreme Court of Canada. I trust the minister listens attentively to these justices. She needs to listen to them, not just to the right in the Canadian west. The court continues:
Notwithstanding its idealistic origins, imprisonment quickly came to be condemned as harsh and ineffective, not only in relation to its purported rehabilitative goals, but also in relation to its broader public goals.
They go on:
The Criminal Code displays an apparent bias toward the use of incarceration—
I stop here for an aside which is that, with all the changes by the government, there is no longer any doubt. The belief is that there is a bias toward incarceration. Incarceration, increasingly, is the favoured approach of the government as well. I continue:
—since for most offences the penalty indicated is expressed in terms of a maximum term of imprisonment. A number of difficulties arise if imprisonment is perceived to be the preferred sanction for most offences. Perhaps most significant is that although we regularly impose this most onerous and expensive sanction, it accomplishes very little apart from separating offenders from society for a period of time.
The minister, who finds herself with a problem of criminal harassment, will not resolve it by increasing the sentence from five to ten years. That is very clear and I hope she has got the message. I see that time is running out and I will go immediately to my final point, which is a very important one for me.
When I saw Bill C-36, I pointed out immediately that I was not very fond of omnibus bills. I do not have much use for them. I think that the government is getting it off its plate quickly. However, I noticed that in clause 71 of the omnibus bill the government wanted to amend Bill C-3, a bill that has not yet been passed. It wants to amend a bill with 3,133 amendments when we have only begun to consider the first group of amendments. Worse still, a look at the background of Bill C-3 shows that it was introduced on October 14, 1999 and that it contains 198 clauses to criminalize young people in conflict with the law.
On June 8, 2000, the government introduced Bill C-36, which includes amendments to Bill C-3. On September 25, the same minister who introduced the bill on October 14, 1999 and who amended the bill on June 8, 2000 through amendments in an omnibus Bill, that is Bill C-36, tabled 170 amendments to a bill containing 198 clauses. There is a problem and the problem is the person running the Department of Justice.
She does not know what she is doing; she is acting only for political motives, and I am sure that that will play a trick on the justice minister in a very near future. I am convinced she will pay a heavy political price for doing what she is doing with legislation as important as the youth justice bill.
The amendments to the bill proposed by the minister are not simple amendments. They are about the rights of young people, the right to explain to them what is a plea of guilty and a plea of not guilty, to inform them about their right to a trial by judge and jury, to inform them about adult sentences. Those are not minor changes.
Today, the minister wants us to pass Bill C-36 even before a decision is made on Bill C-3. She wants us to examine and pass Bill C-36, before the House has passed a single one of the 3,133 amendments that are before the House.
The parliamentary secretary, who has just spoken for the minister, strangely enough, did not speak about Bill C-3. He has probably not seen that in his bill. I say no. They are trying to hide things, hoping the opposition will not see them. But the opposition has seen them. They were caught red-handed.
An hon. member
We could say something else.
Michel Bellehumeur Berthier—Montcalm, QC
Indeed, some of my colleagues could say more about the minister. For my part, I will only say that she was caught red-handed.
What is the bill on young offenders really all about? Why is the minister so determined to change the legislation? Why does she want to deprive Quebec of the current act, which is working well? Of course things can always be improved but we were able to do some great things in the last few years with the current act. Successes must be taken into account too, not only failures.
When I see a 30 year old man totally integrated into society, an ordinary citizen who has children, pays taxes and contributes to his community, and know that he committed murder when he was young, I think that we have succeeded. If we did, it is because we applied the Young Offenders Act correctly.
What are the major differences between that act and Bill C-3? Basically, in Quebec the Young Offenders Act is applied with a focus on the needs of young offenders. We examine the specific needs of the young boy or girl who has a problem with crime, because we believe that by answering his or her needs with the help of experts, we can turn him or her into an ordinary citizen in a few years. That girl or boy can be rehabilitated and that is good for society.
It is the Young Offenders Act, let us make no mistake, that focuses all the jargon, all the philosophy of the legislation on young people's special needs, while Bill C-3, which the minister is trying to ram down our throat—and fortunately the Bloc Quebecois was there and used every parliamentary weapon available to block the bill in committee and now in this House so it may never see the light of day—what is its focus? It focuses on the severity of the offence. A young person will be treated this way or that according to the severity of the sentence.
There is also the whole issue of serious crime. Murder is serious, it is true. There are always too many, but in the case of serious crime, as the minister's bill provides at the moment, a youth of 14 could be sentenced as an adult. That means that a youth of 14 could go to prison for life. That makes no sense.
We know that life imprisonment is for about 25 years. It is 25 years even with parole but let us say 25. Now 25 plus 14 makes 39.
When this youth comes out of prison he could still be productive. I do not know what he will have learned at prison u. Not the right things, I am sure.
The minister wants to incarcerate 14 year old youths, to put children in prison. However, on the subject of organized crime, the Hells Angels, the Rock Machines and all those gangs, the minister will not touch anything. These people have rights. The minister has chosen organized crime instead of protecting young people, and this is a bit of a scandal.
Let us talk about similarity of sentences. The minister said we could do whatever we want in Quebec. If this is true, let the minister put it in black and white in her Bill C-3 and we will pass it on the same day. Let the minister say that Quebec can continue to apply the Young Offenders Act as it has been doing successfully for years and her Bill C-3 will be passed on the same day.
The minister knows full well that what she is saying is not true. It is not reflected in her bill. The harmonization of sentencing, among other things, is an aberration. We will not be able to treat our young people like we want. Western Canada will tell us how to raise our children in Quebec. Thanks but no, we are not interested.
In the numerous amendments that she just tabled on September 25 and which she probably forgot to include on October 14 or June 8, the minister tells us about the regional harmonization of sentences. What does the minister mean by region? Is my region of Lanaudière part of her definition of “region” when it comes to the harmonization of sentences? Are the maritimes a region? Is the centre of Quebec a region? Is British Columbia a region? The minister will leave that to the interpretation of the courts. It is as if the minister was short of ideas. We will give her ideas the next time. She should consult us first. Harmonizing sentences does not work.
Then there are the delays. If there is something that could be improved on in the Young Offenders Act it is this issue. I have always said that if we want to amend the Young Offenders Act—because I never said that this act was untouchable, that it was perfect—we should begin with the issue of delays. Delays must be shortened so that a young person who commits an offence is punished immediately, or brought into the system immediately. If there is a gang or family problem, it should be possible to take him away from his gang or family immediately.
What is the minister doing about this? She is increasing the number of steps: appearances, preliminary investigations, discovery, selection of judge and jury, trial, decision and sentence.
Someone who is a hardened criminal, who has just committed a rape, a serious crime, and who has opted for judge and jury, as any lawyer will suggest that he do, and is found guilty, will be sentenced after a year and a half or two years, in the best case scenario, so that there is zero cause and effect. The minister has done nothing about this either.
Let us look at the complexity of the bill. I can understand that the minister has amended the bill three times in less than 12 months. The bill is incomprehensible. It is complex. Even the experts who appeared before the committee have said so.
Clearly, I could say a lot more. The last time I spoke, I went on for 27 and a half hours. I think that if I were to seek unanimous consent to continue, it would not be granted.
I simply wish to say that, for all these reasons and many more as well, we will not be supporting the bill.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)
It being 5.30 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.
The House resumed from June 9 consideration of the motion.
Private Members' Business
September 28th, 2000 / 5:30 p.m.
The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)
Before recognizing the hon. member for Edmonton North, let me indicate that this is a votable item. The hon. member for Kamloops, Thompson and Highland Valleys has asked me to advise members of the House and those watching these proceedings on television that the vote will not take place at the end of the hour of debate tonight but has been deferred until the end of government business on Tuesday, which is normally around 5.30 in the afternoon, eastern time.
Private Members' Business
Deborah Grey Edmonton North, AB
Mr. Speaker, I know we have had a busy day talking about the Marine Conservation Areas Act, mines and all kinds of other things. In private members' business tonight I want to address the motion of the member for Kamloops, Thompson and Highland Valleys, Motion No. 259, which reads:
That, in the opinion of this House, the government should give consideration to exempting up to $30,000 of income from income tax as a gesture of support for those artists, writers and performers who work in Canada's cultural industry.
I thank the member for bringing the motion forward. It certainly bears discussion. We need to celebrate our arts community in the country for sure.
Some members of my family are artists. As members know, I taught in the high school system in the department of English and love to see people who spend some time writing and in the performing arts. It is a wonderful heritage for us as Canadians.
The member's proposal that the motion would give fledgling artists, writers and performers a tax break to keep them in their chosen line of work is noble. The reasoning is that due to the economically unstable nature of their profession artists often live at or below the poverty line. The NDP cites the average income of Canadian artists as $13,000 a year. I am not sure where the member gets his statistics, but I know he will enlighten me on that.
If we start singling out this sector or that sector for tax breaks, it makes it very difficult and puts us all at different levels as to who pays what marginal rate of tax or what their personal income tax will be. As hon. members know, we already have several rates as it is: 17%, 21%, 29%, and those in the higher income brackets pay as much as 50% in tax, which is a little difficult to stomach for anyone in any industry, frankly.
I am thrilled to say our Alliance policy would give tax breaks to everybody, not just the rich, whom we always get accused of supporting. I would challenge any government member to stand here when I am finished and say I support tax cuts only for the rich.
Let me use artists as an example. The NDP has cited that they make $13,000 a year. It is scandalous that they would pay any federal income tax at all. The basic exemption now is around $7,000, I believe. Under our program the basic exemption to any taxpayer would be $10,000 and then the spousal equivalent would be another $10,000. As I understand it now, $5,000 or $6,000 is the basic income exemption for the spousal equivalent. Our program, solution 17, would up that to $10,000 and then $3,000 per child to be exempt from that.
Let us use the example of two kids and two adults in a family earning $26,000. They would not pay a dime of federal income tax. That is a marvellous release for people in the artistic community or anywhere else. Hon. members can hardly say that is a tax break just for the rich. I really do not think anyone in the Chamber would have the nerve to say $26,000 would be helping the rich. Surely not.
We see this as a marvellous tax relief for people, and we would see broad based tax relief certainly for artists in our communities. Moreover, for people they deal with—their family members, their extended family members, and those people who would buy their art, go see their performing art, or read their writings—the economic spinoff in that would be far more exciting than just the proposal in Motion No. 259.
We should think about people who purchase art. In fact I just had someone in my office who works with an arts stabilization program, who had great ideas of private-public funding to say we want stabilized programs, stabilized funding for the arts, but to make sure there is accountability, to make sure government money is not just being shovelled into whatever project it is with no accountability.
I met with the director of the Canada Council for the Arts, Shirley Thomson, this week in my office. She is very keen on making sure any grants that go out from the Canada council are subject to accountability and that a small percentage of government funding goes into this.
These artists certainly need to be celebrated for their works, but we cannot just say we will pay the whole shot. It is wise that we look at private-public partnerships for some of that funding. I am sure the member who put the motion forward would feel exactly the same way, that it would be only responsible.
Let me again mention that people who are in the business of art would be able to celebrate capital gains savings through our tax plan. Also, regarding business taxes such as employment insurance and Canada pension, if they are paying their own premiums or if they are working for someone else and someone is paying payroll taxes for them, their particular EI premiums would be much lower than they are now.
I was going to say I watch with amusement, but it is with almost pity and sadness that I see government members today trying to say they will put back all the money they stripped and slashed out of EI, for which they got their heads kicked in, in the election in 1997. The marvel of it is that they want it through the House of Commons, and in one sitting day. Is it not something that this twinge of conscience would hit them days before a writ? It just has to be irony, and I find it very strange that the timing would be such, but what in the world.
Surely we have to look at that and say we would decrease the EI rates to $2 from $2.40. I know it was much higher than that. Yes, we do have to give government members a shred of credit and say they have brought it down some. It is pretty hard to sit on a $12 billion egg of surplus and not be smitten by conscience for some of the things they did in the past. The Prime Minister or anyone else on the government side would say they have a burning desire to help people whom they cut and kicked earlier.
Witness the health care accord just signed a couple of weeks ago. If we look at the numbers, it is a very strange thing again. The government has pulled out, slashed, and burned about $21 billion in health care transfer payments to the provinces since it came in in 1993. What do we think the health accord signed a couple of weeks ago said? They are to put about $21 billion back into the health care system. That was just a pure accident as well.
Let us look at the artists and employment insurance. It is true that rates moving down to $2 would be very helpful to them. That to me is exciting. A single rate of tax would eliminate the 5% surtax, which would again give a tax savings of $762 million to all Canadians. That would help the artistic community a whole lot.
Let me also say that under the current income tax system there already are some tax breaks for artists. They may deduct the cost of creating a work of art in the year in which the costs are incurred instead of when the work is sold. Of course that is when the bulk of work goes into an artistic piece, when the artist is working on it. The artist may be able to defer those costs. Also, employed artists and musicians can deduct certain expenses against their employment income.
We could look at mechanics. My husband Lou is a carpenter. Anyone who came to our shop would see how unbelievably much equipment goes into that industry.
People are just begging for tax relief. If we come up with broad based tax relief right across the country, to every sector, not just cherry-picking this sector or that sector, all of us will be a lot better off.
There are already programs funded by the taxpaying public to help this sector, artists, although they too are not terribly accountable or transparent. I am trying to have some briefings and meetings with many of these groups. Certainly there needs to be some overhaul, but there are granting agencies in place. I mentioned earlier the Canada council, the cultural initiatives program and the National Film Board, just to name a few. I am sure I could go through the estimates and really go at it in terms of government funding that goes into it.
Although I certainly do support the artistic community and all the wonderful things artists do in supporting Canadian heritage, I think the best way to help them would be not just to have this particular proposal of a $30,000 exemption, but when we form government to have broad based tax relief. That would help those people probably more than anyone else on a relative scale.
Private Members' Business
Paul Szabo Parliamentary Secretary to Minister of Public Works and Government Services
Mr. Speaker, the motion brought before us by the member for Kamloops, Thompson and Highland Valleys proposes that the first $30,000 per year earned by artists, writers and performers be tax exempt. The government recognizes and applauds the intent behind the motion. The motion underscores the importance of Canadian culture.
Because of the way it shapes our lives, culture tells us who we were in the past and who we are in the present. Inevitably it also influences who we are likely to become in the future. Culture is a force that drives our unique development as individuals and as a nation. The government remains committed to providing continued support to individuals engaged in our cultural industries.
Since the 1950s the involvement of the federal government has gradually evolved to include a variety of roles in response to the expansion of cultural activity and its growing social and economic impact. Cultural development in Canada is a partnership among the private sector, individuals, corporations and all orders of government.
By looking back, one can see the emergence of distinctive Canadian approaches to supporting culture. In recent years it has been identified as the Canadian model of cultural affirmation. It emphasizes partnerships with other governments, organizations and the private sector. Most important it is an approach to government that uses a mix of the most effective measures available to it, recognizing that circumstances and situations are constantly shifting.
Ensuring a thriving economy in which individuals and businesses earn more income and keep more of the income they earn is perhaps the most important way to support our cultural industries. Not only does such an environment provide better economic circumstances for artists, writers and performers directly, it also gives individuals and businesses more opportunities to support these professions by increasing their ability to acquire their products. Just as important, it recognizes the partnership we share with other governments, organizations and the private sector in supporting those cultural industries.
The broad based tax relief provided in the 1998, 1999 and 2000 budgets will help support economic growth and ensure that all Canadians keep more of the income they earn. With the books balanced in 1997-98, the 1998 and 1999 federal budgets introduced broad based tax relief.
This tax relief was proportionately larger for low and modest income Canadians. It included an increase of $675 in the amount that can be earned tax free for all Canadians, elimination of the 3% general surtax and a $2 billion increase in the Canada child tax benefit, for a total benefit of $7 billion annually. The actions taken in the 1998 and 1999 federal budgets have removed 600,000 low income Canadians from the federal tax rolls.
As a result of these actions, taxpayers including artists, writers and performers will have their federal income taxes reduced on average by about 10%. Total personal income tax relief provided in the 1997, 1998 and 1999 budgets amounted to $7.5 billion annually or 10% of the $76.9 billion paid in personal income taxes in the years 1999-2000.
The government has continued to build on these important tax reduction efforts. In the fall of 1999 the government promised Canadians in the Speech from the Throne and the economic and fiscal update that it would set out a multi-year plan to further reduce taxes. The 2000 budget set out such a plan, including the most important structural changes to the federal tax system in more than a decade.
The plan will immediately restore full indexation of the personal income tax system to protect taxpayers against automatic tax increases caused by inflation. This will benefit every Canadian. It also reduces the middle income tax rate to 23% from 26%, starting with a two point reduction to 24% in July 2000. This will cut taxes for nine million Canadians.
Additional key personal income tax measures of the plan will increase the amount that Canadians can earn tax free to at least $8,000, and the amount at which the middle and top tax rates apply to at least $35,000 and $70,000 respectively. It will also enrich the Canada child tax benefit by $2.5 billion a year by 2004 to more than $9 billion annually. Maximum benefits will reach $2,400 for the first child and $2,200 for the second child.
This plan will also eliminate as of July 1, 2000, the 5% deficit surtax on middle income Canadians with incomes up to about $85,000 and completely eliminate it by the year 2004. It will also raise to 25% for the year 2000 and to 30% for the year 2001 the permissible foreign content of investment, registered retirement pension plans and registered retirement savings plans.
The plan will mean more money in the pockets of Canadians. Taxes will be reduced by a cumulative amount of at least $58 billion over five years. Personal income taxes will be reduced by an average of 15% annually by 2004-05. Low and middle income Canadians will see their personal income taxes reduced by an average of 18%.
In addition to these broad based measures that assist our unique partnership approach to supporting cultural industries, the tax system also features several specific measures intended to target support to that cultural sector.
First, to enhance the exposure given to works by Canadian artists, Canadian art objects purchased by businesses for display purposes are eligible for a generous depreciation allowance notwithstanding that such art objects may retain their value over time or even appreciate.
Second, the designation of the national art service organization provides not for profit arts groups with a tax treatment equivalent to that of charities.
Third, to reduce liquidity and valuation difficulties, artists may deduct the cost of creating work in the year incurred even though the work may not be sold until a later date.
Fourth, to ensure that the artists are not deterred from donating their works to charities, museums and other public institutions, artists may value charitable gifts from their inventory at an amount up to their fair market value.
In addition, employed artists and musicians may deduct certain expenses against income from employment notwithstanding that most employment expenses are not deductible. Specifically, employed artists may deduct expenses related to artistic endeavours up to an annual—
Private Members' Business
The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)
I was waiting for an appropriate time to interrupt the hon. member, if I may. It has been brought to my attention that the Right Hon. Pierre Elliott Trudeau passed away today.
May I suggest that we have a moment of silence at this time before we resume debate.
Private Members' Business
The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)
I am sure that all members of the House present today extend to the Trudeau family their heartfelt commiseration. The House will in due course recognize Mr. Trudeau in a manner fitting. We will carry on with debate, as I am sure Mr. Trudeau, a parliamentarian and a friend of the House, would want.
Private Members' Business
Nelson Riis Kamloops, BC
Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I appreciate your comments. I am sure all of us in the House feel the same. We are shocked and saddened at the news.
I wonder if it would not be appropriate to simply recess the debate and perhaps make an arrangement between the parties to complete it later next week. It seems to me to be inappropriate to continue now. Perhaps I could have the agreement of the House to come up with some agreement to continue this debate.
Private Members' Business
The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)
I thank the hon. member for Kamloops, Thompson and Highland Valleys in whose name the motion stands and which is a votable item. That was the reason we felt we needed to bring it forward.
If there is unanimous consent to accept the suggestion as presented by the hon. member for Kamloops, Thompson and Highland Valleys, we will proceed in that fashion. Is there unanimous consent for the hon. member for Kamloops, Thompson and Highland Valleys to move a motion?