House of Commons Hansard #52 of the 37th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was chapter.


Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

6:05 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

Does the member want to first finish his remarks and then put the question to the House, or does he want to put the question to the House now? He has five more minutes.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

6:05 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Deepak Obhrai Canadian Alliance Calgary East, AB

Madam Speaker, if I have five more minutes I will talk about this more and ask the question when I am finished.

The seriousness of this break and enter offence should be viewed from a different angle. I was talking to the justice minister who said that she may have some concern about a minimum sentence. I can understand, but let me explain. We are dealing with the criminal code but not all of the criminal code. We are dealing specifically with a crime on the increase. What is happening is that the sentences the courts have been giving, which are now only six months for everything, have created a lucrative business.

I was told by a police officer on the beat for break and enter that these repeat offenders are now using breaking and entering as a job. It is a profession, a job, just like me and everybody else going to work. Repeat offenders do not see the seriousness behind it. They do not see the seriousness of the invasion of individual privacy. They view it as a job. Why? For the simple reason they know that if they are caught they will be back out on the streets. Eighty per cent of people who break and enter are repeat offenders. They will be out. How do we stop it?

How do we nip this thing in the bud before it becomes one of the most serious crimes in this country? Let us have a minimum sentence of two years. That way we will be able to break the cycle of break and enter and we will be able to take them off the streets as well as give them help if they need it.

I am not talking about the first time offender. I am talking about repeat offenders. We have to be very clear. If somebody slips a first time, I can understand that. We are talking about repeat offenders and the problem staring us in the eye needs to be addressed.

In conclusion, I am sure my colleagues and everybody understand the gravity of this situation of break and enter. It is to be hoped they would give unanimous consent to make this a votable bill. May I ask for unanimous consent of the House to make this bill votable?

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

6:10 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

Is there unanimous consent for the hon. member's motion?

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

6:10 p.m.

Some hon. members


Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

6:10 p.m.

Some hon. members


Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

6:10 p.m.

Erie—Lincoln Ontario


John Maloney LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise this evening to speak to Bill C-290, an act to amend the criminal code with respect to breaking and entering, which has been introduced by the hon. member for Calgary East.

The safety and security of Canadians within their own homes is a key priority for the Government of Canada. The government has responded to concerns about home invasions by including section 23 in Bill C-15, the Criminal Law Amendment Act, 2001, introduced on March 14, 2001.

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.

Bill C-290 would amend subsection 348(1)(d) of the criminal code by providing, in the case of a first offence, for a maximum penalty of life imprisonment, and in the case of second or subsequent offence, a maximum life sentence and a minimum sentence of two years imprisonment.

Section 348 of the code makes it an offence to enter a place with intent to commit an indictable offence, to actually commit an indictable offence, or to have broken out of a place after having committed or intending to commit an indictable offence. The current maximum penalty for committing any of these acts in a dwelling place is life imprisonment. I would add that the offence of robbery also carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.

I suspect most Canadians would be surprised that these offences attract such a severe maximum penalty. In fact, surveys conducted by the Canadian Sentencing Commission in the mid-1980s showed that the public has very little knowledge of either maximum or minimum penalties generally and that many were taken aback by the severity of the existing maxima.

The current maximum penalties for breaking and entering and robbery demonstrate that the government recognizes this conduct is of serious nature which may have significant impacts upon its victims. The sanctity of an individual's home as a place of safety and one free from intrusion has been recognized at common law for hundreds of years. It is, in part, for this reason that the criminal code offences of robbery and break and enter of a dwelling house are subject to a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.

The criminal code states that the fundamental purpose of sentencing is to contribute to respect for the law and the maintenance of a just, peaceful and safe society.

The objectives of sentencing in the criminal code include denouncing unlawful conduct, deterring those who would commit offences and promoting a sense of responsibility in offenders in acknowledging the harm they have done to victims and to the community.

The government shares the concerns of Canadians with regard to the relatively new phenomenon of home invasion robberies which occur while the home is occupied. To protect the right of individuals to feel secure in their own homes and to address the need for denunciation and deterrence, courts across Canada have been imposing stiff sentences for this crime.

The proposed amendment signals that home invasions are a serious crime that should be met with significant penalties. In addition to the maximum life imprisonment already in the criminal code for breaking and entering into a dwelling house, Bill C-290 would provide a mandatory minimum of two years' imprisonment for a second or subsequent offence.

Canada has historically utilized mandatory minimum sentences with restraint and allowed courts the discretion to fashion sentences proportionate to the gravity of the offence and conduct of the offender. Judges, who have the benefit of knowing all the facts and evidence regarding the offence and the offender, are well placed to determine the appropriate sentence in individual cases. Such circumstances must be weighed in light of the sentencing principles I have outlined.

There is no clearly demonstrated need for a minimum penalty for second or subsequent convictions for breaking and entering into a dwelling house given the high maximum penalty already in the code. Courts also take into account whether an offender has previous convictions for the same or related offences. A prior criminal record is an aggravating factor and the greatest predictor of a longer sentence.

With respect to home invasion, the creation of an aggravating sentencing provision in Bill C-15 would encourage judges to use the tough penalties already available. As noted, courts throughout Canada are already doing so in recognition of the seriousness of this offence and its devastating impact upon victims.

I recognize the concerns of the hon. member for Calgary East with respect to breaking and entering. However I believe the existing penalty of life imprisonment for this offence and clause 23 of Bill C-15 clearly demonstrate our commitment to providing safe homes for all Canadians.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Vic Toews Canadian Alliance Provencher, MB

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today to speak to the bill in respect to break and enter crimes. As my hon. colleague for Calgary East has stated, Bill C-290 provides the courts clear direction from parliament on the seriousness of break and enter crimes.

The bill would set out a minimum two year sentence for repeat and subsequent offences for break and enter crimes in a dwelling house. That needs to be stressed. We are talking about the residence of a person.

The bill would not simply denounce break and enter crime as a serious violation of a person's sense of safety and security. By providing a two year minimum for repeat offenders the bill would prove a very effective deterrent against these kinds of criminals.

Let me give the House a quick but telling example of why Liberal policy with respect to break and enter law has failed and why we need to seriously consider amending the sentencing provisions for break and enter crimes.

In my home province of Manitoba preliminary statistics released by Winnipeg police on March 20 show that Winnipeg's crime rate jumped almost 40% in the first two months of this year. The police service is stretched to the limit as front line officers fight to protect law-abiding citizens.

According to Winnipeg police, these statistics show that certain crimes, particularly break and enter crimes, are on the rise after several years of decline. A member across the way says we should talk to the province or to police. There it is. We are told to blame the province and the police when we have the tools to deal with it here.

It is a typical Liberal response to simply pay lip service to an issue and let someone else deal with it.

I want to compare statistics for the first two months of 2001 with those for the first two months of 2000. I will give the precise numbers. Nine hundred and nineteen residential break and enters were reported in January and February 2001. Seven hundred and ninety-three were reported for the same period last year. This is not just a matter of statistics. This is a matter of personal safety for the people of my province and the people of Canada. People live in fear because of what is happening not only on the streets but in their own homes.

This parliament does not show its citizens the respect to which they are entitled in their own homes. If we let gangs run loose on the streets what courtesy are we showing to citizens? What fears build up in their homes when they cannot even lock the door and know they are safe?

Members across the way say that it is a police problem. It is not a police problem. Police arrest these lawbreakers every day and the turnstile justice system sets them free almost immediately.

The situation is not unique to Winnipeg. As my hon. friend from Calgary has indicated, it is a serious problem in his city as well. It has become such a problem that the Calgary police service has formed a break and enter unit in every district to take over from the single unit which until recently served the entire city.

Officers are becoming increasingly frustrated watching criminals receive little more than a slap on the wrist from the courts. My friend across the way said that we should let judges determine sentences because they have all the facts. Yes, they have all the facts and all the tools, yet they are doing nothing.

When I was in provincial politics one of my constituents suggested that one way to reduce crime in Winnipeg would be to make each judge live on a block in the downtown core. We would perhaps not see the callous attitude with which people in those areas are treated when they come to the courts for justice. Let judges live in the downtown core and deal with gangs not in the courts but face to face when they come through the doors into their homes. It is disgraceful.

The police know what they are talking about. Thinking citizens know what they are talking about. The statistics are clear. The vast majority of break and enter crimes are committed by a very small group of people. Winnipeg City Police have told me that when they put one of these gangs away the break and enter rates drop dramatically. As soon as they are on the street again the rates zoom up.

Incarceration for break and enters into residential homes is a clear deterrent and has a clear impact on this horrific crime. This is not a property crime. This is not a property crime. It is an invasion of people's security. It is a violation of the rights outlined in the section 7 of the charter: the right to life, liberty and security of the person.

The charter protects criminals in our courts but parliament does not grant the same courtesy to law-abiding, taxpaying citizens. That is a disgrace.

Break and enter crimes fund gang related activities, such as drug purchases and distribution. The bill's sentencing provisions would cut off what is a real and substantial revenue source for these career criminals.

My friend across the way indicated that the new amendments would give the courts direction. The courts have always had the ability to impose life sentences, although they gave up on that a long time ago. They no longer even take the facts into account.

My learned friend knows that the real purpose behind the Liberal bill is to allow the government to stand and pay lip service knowing that judges will do nothing about this crime. It is a fraud on the Canadian people. That is why my hon. friend from Calgary introduced this private member's bill. It is absolutely necessary.

The terror of this crime is illustrated by a newspaper article in today's Winnipeg Sun . The article describes an ordinary break and enter that turned into a home invasion in which police officers and citizens feared for their lives. I recommend that you read the story, Madam Speaker.

Let us think about it. While people in core areas of Winnipeg, Toronto and Vancouver are crouched in their homes worried about what is happening to their cities, the government refuses to respond. I ask all hon. members to respond by voting in favour of this very necessary bill.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

6:25 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Peter MacKay Progressive Conservative Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, NS

Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to have an opportunity to speak to this private member's bill. I am also honoured to follow my colleague from Provencher and attach myself to his remarks.

The bill has a great deal of pragmatism and takes a practical common sense approach to the very real problem of home invasion. I commend the hon. member for his intent and his perseverance in bringing the matter to the forefront.

The bill would amend the criminal code to provide for minimum mandatory imprisonment of two years upon a second or subsequent conviction for breaking and entering in relation to a dwelling house. The dwelling house is the key principle. The home is the castle, the sacrosanct place where Canadians first and foremost should feel a sense of security.

This offence has become rampant not just in cities and towns but in rural Canada. In isolated areas the chances of home invasion are sometimes increased by the isolation.

Sadly, this crime is on the rise among youth and particularly young women. It is popular among gangs because of the lucrative rewards involved. I say rewards in a negative sense because those who engage in the activity seem to feel they can achieve something by breaking into people's homes and taking their possessions.

The real danger is when individuals are at home and find someone in their domain, particularly at night under the cover of darkness. The potential for violence is very real. It has happened on numerous occasions when individuals were protecting their home, their possessions and their loved ones. It is a recipe for disaster and violence. Why would we as legislators in the Parliament of Canada not want to put great emphasis on something that is happening with alarming frequency?

Many have complained about the legislation. The parliamentary secretary has referred to it as infringing upon judicial jurisdiction. He says that it would infringe upon a judge's natural task of assessing each case separately. Surely the emphasis by judges is always upon the facts in a particular case.

When we talk about recidivism and repeat offences, the scales of justice must be tipped in favour of protecting the public. The scales of justice must be tipped toward deterrence and denunciation of that particular type of offence.

If we do not take the chance that has been put before us with the legislation, we will miss the opportunity to send a message to those offenders who choose to act in this way and who watch with some glee when a light sentence is handed down, to the horror of victims and to those living in fear of having their home invaded, their possessions stolen or to potentially face violence in their homes where they should feel most secure.

The Conservative Party supports the principle of the bill which recognizes the public safety concerns that arise from such offences. The type of offence that is portrayed in the bill endangers people's lives. That is part of the entire equation. That is why the judiciary in some instances must be reminded of the important message of deterrence.

Home invasion is described as breaking and entering into a home when the invader either knows or ought to know that the dwelling is occupied. Currently such an offence is considered by judges to be an aggravating factor. This comes from Bill C-15 wherein it talks about it being an aggravating factor in cases stemming from break and enter, assault and drug related offences, depending on the particular case. Breaking into a home when the offender knows that the individual is at home is a penetrating statement of the obvious. That is an aggravating factor. What could be more aggravating and what could be more distressing to an individual?

The Liberal government's response to this issue has been nothing more than the typical Liberal legislative half measure to please everyone and to appear to be addressing the problem when the upshot of the legislation really falls far short of what it should be achieving.

Bill C-15, which was tabled in a previous parliament and is now back in its watered down form, does not really achieve that goal. It does not achieve the message of deterrence. It does not achieve the goal of sending a clear direction to the judiciary or to the general public that public safety has to take priority when it comes to this type of offence.

In light of public demand for this type of legislation, the federal Minister of Justice had an opportunity to send that message to those who invade homes and to those who put their own lives in jeopardy. In some sense this type of situation almost encourages vigilante justice because of the sheer frustration that exists on the part of those who have been victimized and those who see offenders constantly being treated leniently by the system. They are then left to feel that they have no recourse but to take the law into their own hands. Nobody wants to condone or encourage that but that is very much the sense that I get from talking to people who have been victims of this type of offence.

Bill C-15 had the potential to correct this anomaly and correct the impression that home invasion would be treated with a strong hand. It did not happen. There is a strong faction in the Liberal Party who would like to embrace the legislation and the ideal that we have to do more to deter those who choose to break and enter into people's homes.

Judges definitely have a great deal of discretion when looking at sentencing. It seems to me that if we break and enter on one occasion and we are caught, apprehended and brought to justice and we do it again, a two year mandatory minimum sentence sends a very clear and concise message that it will not be tolerated.

We should not shy away from this type of direction to the judiciary. There are occasions where the offence is so serious and the implications so grave that there should be a legislative directive. Why on earth would we shirk that duty?

In terms of the Criminal Code of Canada that is very much within the domain of those who dwell in these hallowed halls and who look for ways to improve upon legislation. The criminal code was a product of this Chamber many years ago. It has been subject to all sorts of amendments. Why should we for a moment believe that it is not proper to bring forward this type of amendment?

Home invaders have been victimizing Canadians from coast to coast. This is not a regional epidemic. It has been happening with alarming numbers throughout the country. Senior citizens appear to be those most vulnerable and those most affected. The terror and the mental anguish that result from this type of crime is something that is very lasting.

I am sure members can relate to the fear that people would feel when their home has been invaded even if they were not at home at the time. Their sense of security is shattered every time they come into their home after something like this has happened, where their personal belongings have been tampered with. They are looking behind doors and always wanting the lights on. I have heard these remarks from seniors who have been victimized by home invasion. This type of mental anguish is incalculable. It is difficult for a sentencing judge to take into consideration just how disruptive and how unsettling this is for a person.

I know that many Nova Scotians were very pleased that the Conservative government of John Hamm responded by handing down tougher sentencing directions for home invasions. The justice minister, Michael Baker, took a very lead role and position with his provincial counterparts in lobbying the federal justice minister to enact legislation to create a separate criminal code offence for home invasion which accomplished very much of what the hon. member from Calgary intends his private member's bill to do.

Justice Minister Baker argued that a separate offence could give the court an opportunity to send that clear message but also provide an opportunity for communities to more effectively measure the impact and therefore deal with the problem of home invasion specifically.

I have before the House a private member's motion that deals with marrying this exact initiative on the part of Nova Scotia. The bill, although impugned to effect judicial discretion, would very much assist judges in putting the emphasis that many of them would like to put on this type of offence.

I would be more comforted if there was a limitation on the timeframe in which the offences occurred. I would favour the mandatory minimum period of imprisonment of two years if there was a subsequent conviction within a set period of time, for example five years. This would do away with the possible anomaly of having committed an offence as a youth and then 10 or 15 years later a subsequent offence.

I support the bill in principle. I would hope that all members give it due consideration and embrace this type of initiative. I congratulate the member for Calgary East.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

6:35 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Ken Epp Canadian Alliance Elk Island, AB

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to be able to represent the people of Elk Island on this important debate. I would like to begin by saying that it is quite inappropriate of us to have a committee arbitrarily say that the member for Calgary East who proposes the motion has the right to bring it to the House for a one hour debate after which it is dropped.

There is a committee that has said we cannot even vote on this bill. I want to be on record as saying that I strongly object to it. I believe that on an issue of importance like this one it is totally appropriate for us to be able to express our opinions on it. At the end of the debate process we should all be given the opportunity to say whether or not we favour the measure.

If the Liberals are against it, let them stand and say that they are against it. Let them say that they will continue allowing people to be attacked in their homes and have their property removed while they are out. That is atrocious. I would like to see them stand and say that to Canadians across the country.

I would like to speak for a few minutes about the whole system of justice and the idea of break and enters. I wish to emphasize that we need to do better right across the country in building into our youth when they are young a strong sense of morality, a strong sense of what is right and what is wrong.

What has happened in the country? We actually have young people and even adults who think that they are doing nothing wrong when they walk into another person's property with the intent of removing property, whether or not the people are there. Where did that come from?

I remember growing up in Saskatchewan many decades ago when we did not even have a lock on the door of our farmhouse. My dad used to say that someone could come by when we are not home and need to use our phone. We left the house open so that if people came by to use the phone they could.

There was no fear that someone would take our furniture. Maybe we were so poor the furniture was not worth taking, I do not know, but it was probably as good as someone else's down the road. We did not worry about those things in those days because there was a built-in sense of morality and community. We cared for each other and we would not in any way steal from one another. We have lost the sense that it is wrong to take someone else's property. Somehow in our society that built-in sense of morality has evaporated.

I remember when I was the chairman of the Strathcona Christian Academy, a new private school that we started. I was involved in writing our first handbook. We patterned it after handbooks in other schools. There was an instruction in one of the handbooks which said that students should not bring valuable property to school because of the danger of it being stolen. We added in our book, and I am very proud that I was part of the construction of that book, notwithstanding that students should be careful what kind of property they bring to school, we expected them not to take things which were not theirs even if the temptation presented itself. We made that very clear because in our school we taught more than academics. We taught respect for one another and respect for property.

I wish that we would have strong schools, strong churches and strong families that would pass that sense of morality on to the next generation so that this epidemic of break and enters and stealing would come to an end. It is atrocious that we have allowed it to happen.

I would also say that in no small way I attribute the onslaught of violence to all the sorts of things that have been on television over the years. I read somewhere that by the time a student graduates from grade 12 he or she has observed an average of 18,000 murders on television. How could we then be surprised when students grow up and simply act out what they have been taught all their lives, that it is okay to do that? There is something fundamentally wrong. We have lost the handle.

That is step one. We should train our young people so that as they become adults they are responsible and respectful citizens who do not abuse other people and their property.

Lo and behold, some people make mistakes. What should we do with a first time offender? The bill that my colleague has put forward does not deal with first time offenders. He is talking about repeat offenders. What do we do with a first time offender?

My brother-in-law would be very happy if I were to mention a program he has worked with. He was involved in the justice system in a provinces I will not identify. He worked hard as a volunteer in what was called restorative justice.

There are a lot of young people who just simply make a mistake. They bow to peer pressure or whatever. They with their friends break into a place and take things that are not theirs. It is a genuine error. Those young people are retrievable. Those young people can be shown, taught and corrected.

I do not believe putting young people in jail at that stage is as good as what my brother-in-law and his wife did. They worked with couples and young people. They also worked with families whose homes were broken into. In conjunction with the justice system in the province, they brought the offender and the offended together.

I remember my brother-in-law saying that one young person said that doing six months in jail was nothing compared to having to look the person in the eye whose house the individual broke into and finally saying sorry that he or she had made a mistake.

The next stage then is restitution. The young people stole something that was not theirs. Now it becomes their responsibility to restore the property that was stolen. Those young people, having faced the victim and having restored the things, are much less likely to reoffend. This is statistically proven. Generally, we do not teach people to not reoffend by putting them into jail. I personally am in favour of that kind of restorative justice at the early stages of young people's lives before they become hardened criminals.

This bill talks about repeat offenders. If the young person has failed to learn the principles of respect before the first offence and, having gone through the restorative process or whatever is chosen for the first offence, has still failed to learn, now the law has a responsibility to restrain and to protect innocent victims. The member is talking about the sentence for a repeat offender, the one who did not learn it in the first place, who did it once, still did not learn and did it again.

There was a case in Edmonton where a group of thieves were found. In a one week period, while on probation, they broke into 80 homes. What a busy week they had. Are they incorrigible? I venture to say they need to have some time to think about it. A minimum of two years would not be too much for them to admit they were on the wrong track.

I remember also the grievous case in Edmonton of Barb Danelsko, a young mother. She and her family were sleeping upstairs in their house. She heard a noise downstairs. She thought the dog wanted to go out. Dogs do that in the middle of the night. They say “Please, master, let me out. I have some need to go outside.” She went downstairs. Lo and behold there were three youngsters there. Before they left, that young mother was dead. They attacked her with a kitchen knife when she came down. She was not expecting invaders in her house at that time of the night. They prevented her from seeing her children grow up. They deprived those children of their mother and her husband of his wife.

I simply want to say that we need to make sure that those who have not learned the lesson are restrained. A mandatory minimum two year sentence is the minimum that we can do to show those people that if they have not learned the lesson after the first offence, then this is what will happen. We as a society will take the measures necessary to remove them from society because we deserve to be protected.

I urge the government to rethink its decision on whether or not we should vote on the motion. We really should get this thing going because it is a necessary step.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

6:50 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Larry Spencer Canadian Alliance Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Madam Speaker, I want to say something about the consequences of our actions and the importance that we recognize consequences.

Consequences, as we would address them through our justice system, are at least in part meant to be a deterrent. A consequence to be a deterrent must be serious enough to provoke some thought. It surprises me today to hear that one could be imprisoned for life for a break and enter. I am one of those who did not know that.

I dare say the government of the day would never vote for life imprisonment for break and enter unless it had the full confidence that the likelihood of that happening was so very slim that it would never be the case. Therefore, it is not a serious enough threat to the offenders to even consider.

I will speak from the perspective of being a father of four children. When I came to the point of needing to discipline them, the consequences needed to be serious enough that they really considered them ahead of the offence. I wanted to make them think. Do members know what I did? I did exactly what the government pointed out it was doing. I had a son who was a repeat offender in my house. He knew I was not serious. I cannot say the number of times that I would say to him “Son, you are grounded for life”. I always paroled him before the week was over.

That is the kind of threat we are hearing from the government, that if offenders break and enter they will be liable to be put in jail for life. I hardly think so. The threat is not really serious and therefore is not a deterrent. A consequence to be a deterrent also needs to be not only serious but needs to be consistent enough to be taken seriously. Sometimes they do, sometimes they do not.

We know in our justice system today that there is a huge discrepancy between what judges do. On a bad day maybe they give a few more years. On a good day maybe they do not give more than a few minutes. I cannot believe that we would leave it totally to the discretion of the judge to determine from zero to life imprisonment and shirk our responsibility as legislators to give the judiciary some sort of guideline a little narrower than from zero to life imprisonment for break and enter. We need to be a little more consistent.

A consequence that will be a deterrent also needs to be fair. It needs to be fair as it relates to the offended and to the offender. This is hardly fair to the offended. In a sense it is not even fair to the offender because he did not really take it very seriously and offended again.

A consequence to be a deterrent comes from a respected, responsible authority. I worked hard at that as a father. I wanted to know that I had the respect of my children. To have that, I had to be serious, I had to be consistent and I had to be fair to have them really respect me and understand that I was being responsible.

I am disappointed that we as a parliament so often want to take the easy way out and not be responsible. It hardly seems harsh to me that we would consider a two year minimum sentence to give a little more direction for a repeat offence of break and enter. I support the bill wholeheartedly.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

6:55 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Deepak Obhrai Canadian Alliance Calgary East, AB

Mr. Speaker, I thank all members, as well as the PC Party, who supported this bill. I appreciate that they were able to understand the seriousness of this and I am grateful for their support.

I notice the other two parties are absent. Regretfully they do not seem to think this is a serious issue. However the important thing is that I wanted to hear from the government side, and I did from the parliamentary secretary.

I am totally confused by his comments regarding the seriousness of this issue and how the government is tackling it, the maximum sentence of life imprisonment and all these things, as if it was not a large problem. He claimed that the government and the justice system were addressing it and that everything was fine. He admitted there was a little more problem with home invasion and that the government would address it.

I had held a town hall meeting. I went out across the country and spoke on radio talk shows. The message I got was a totally different one. The message was that this government did not seem to be listening.

I challenge every member over there to go out, have a town hall meeting and listen to their constituents who will tell them how serious the act of breaking and entering is. The parliamentary secretary and the justice bureaucrats are saying this issue is being addressed. It is not. It is staring us right in the face. We have six month sentences and 80% repeat offenders out there. The justice system is failing to ensure safe homes for Canadians. Everybody is talking about it. It is only going to get worse.

I am amazed that the parliamentary secretary and the government said that everything was fine. It is not fine because that is what I have heard. I am not going to ask for unanimous consent because I know I will not get it. However this issue will come back because I will keep fighting for it. It is what Canadians are demanding out there.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

6:55 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired. As the motion has not been designated as a votable item, the order is dropped from the order paper.

Pursuant to order made earlier today, the House shall now resolve itself into committee of the whole to consider Government Business No. 6. I do now leave the chair for the House to go into committee of the whole.

Modernization Of The Standing Orders Of The House Of CommonsGovernment Orders

May 1st, 2001 / 6:55 p.m.

The Assistant Deputy Chairman

The House in committee of the whole on Government Business No. 6.

Modernization Of The Standing Orders Of The House Of CommonsGovernment Orders

6:55 p.m.

Glengarry—Prescott—Russell Ontario


Don Boudria LiberalLeader of the Government in the House of Commons


That the committee take note of proposals to modernize the Standing Orders.

Madam Chairman, I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Durham.

This is the second debate we have had on modernization of the standing orders in this House. The first was held on March 21 in which 44 members spoke for almost 10 hours, a very long time, which obviously indicated a lot of interest on the part of members on all sides of the House. I thank the members who contributed on that day to the process.

As members are aware, the House agreed to establish a special modernization committee on the House rules, which has been meeting since that first debate. Tonight we are actually participating in this debate in committee of the whole where all members are able to congregate around the clerk's table instead of the far corners of the House, as is normally the case. That is something that was developed in the modernization committee on which the House leaders sit.

I hope that some members will speak tonight as well and add their contribution to the debate to give us some more good ideas on how to modernize the House rules.

In the last debate I gave an extensive talk on some of the ideas that I had on modernization. I will not repeat them again this evening because obviously they are all on the record. I am sure that all members read Hansard on a daily basis, so they are aware of what I said at the time.

I will take a moment, though, to thank all members of the modernization committee; in other words the House leaders of all parties, as well as the Deputy Speaker who chairs that committee so well.

I have to say that we are making considerable progress. We have gone a long way, but I cannot reveal the content because pursuant to the order of the House we are sitting in camera until our report is tabled.

I cannot in any way criticize my colleagues in other parties. They have been most productive. We have worked very well together. I am looking forward to the June 1 tabling of our report. I am quite optimistic that we will have a number of changes to present to the House. As a result of tonight's debate hopefully we will gather and garner new ideas and be able to add to that again.

As I said on March 21, the House has already taken several parliamentary reform initiatives since the beginning of this parliament, along, of course, with the changes that have been made to the Standing Orders.

For instance, funds for political parties represented in the House have been reallocated to take into account the new standings in the House following the last election and, of course, each political party was given additional staff.

We have provided political parties with an additional $900,000 in funds for items such as party research, caucus services, whips' offices and so on, so that they could do a better job for their constituents.

Members office budgets have been increased by $20,000 per member of parliament to cover items such as salary expenses and, of course, other operating costs.

The members of parliament housing allowance has also been improved by $3,000 to cover higher accommodation costs that MPs face in the Ottawa housing market, which is of course very tight. So, accommodation costs have gone up.

The Library of Parliament has received an additional $986,000 to better support House committees.

One point that is not said enough around here is the quality of work performed by parliamentary committees. I have had occasion to visit several other parliaments and bar none, the quality of the work that comes out of our committees is tremendous, particularly the review of legislation from the House.

It is quite common to have dozens and dozens of government amendments after we hear witnesses and so on. What does that mean? It does not mean that the legislation was initially poorly drafted or some such. It means that the system we have developed whereby many people make contributions to the debate makes the legislation better. We should thank members who sit on the committee, the clerks, the research staff, the witnesses and so on.

Everything I have described so far today have been non-partisan changes made by all members of the House or on behalf of all members of the House. I am looking forward again to more members contributing tonight.

I know that one member talked in the House today in a different context about private members' bills and how we should handle them. There is a subcommittee looking at that now. It will make recommendations to the modernization committee. I am quite willing to hear those recommendations. I know all other House leaders are as well.

Some people say that every bill should be votable. I do not disagree, per se. We have to remember, though, that a votable bill takes six hours of the House: three hours at second reading and three hours at third reading. That is six hours instead of one. It effectively means that we reduce the number of private members' bills that will be considered in any year by approximately two-thirds. We could say by five-sixths, but it is not quite like that because some are votable already.

It is fair to say that the number would be reduced by two-thirds. How would we construct that? I would like to get the advice of hon. members. Perhaps, for instance, members should be limited to one private member's bill per parliament to ensure that everybody gets their turn. Even then they would not all get their turn but a greater proportion of them would. That would be another method of doing it.

We cannot just say all the items will be votable. We have to look at the rest of the picture and provide an answer. I know that the committee is doing that now. I thank the committee for the work it is doing. I hope it will make its counsel available to the modernization committee so that we can take it into account.

That being said, those are the preliminary remarks I wanted to make tonight. My parliamentary secretary will be attending later and making a contribution of his own. I know the hon. member for Durham with whom I am sharing my time this evening would like to give us his ideas on modernization of House rules. I hope members on all sides of the House will contribute to that process.

In closing, any comments made by members on the modernization of the House rules are compiled by the clerk of our committee on modernization. The suggestions by members are presented to us and we go through them every week trying to find where there is consensus and where could incorporate them into the changes we are about to make. Anything that is said here is obviously very useful to us. It is brought immediately to the attention of our committee in the subsequent week.

I want members to know that their contribution is helpful and what they say tonight will assist us. We do not go at this in a partisan way. First, the way our modernization committee works we must have unanimity to change any rule. If all parties agree then a recommendation is presented. If one or more of us disagree a recommendation is not presented. That is the way the modernization committee has been working and working very well, if I can describe it that way.

I am looking forward to listening to the contributions of other members to the debate. I repeat for the benefit of another House leader who is joining us that the advice given to us by members tonight, as was the case the last time as well, is extremely useful. It is compiled and it is brought to the attention of our committee by our researcher, Mr. Robertson, who makes a list of all recommendations that are made, and then they are studied. The list also indicates who made each recommendation so that we can speak to those particular measures at the committee.

If there is any time left I would be pleased to answer questions for the few minutes until the member for Durham takes over.

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7:05 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Ken Epp Canadian Alliance Elk Island, AB

Madam Chairman, I need a clarification. We are in committee of the whole which means that there is no time limit on speeches, except as regarding courtesy to each other. Also, we can speak as often as we wish. Am I correct in that or not?

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7:05 p.m.

The Assistant Deputy Chairman

The second part is correct, but on the first part a motion was tabled in the House this morning that says two members may divide one 20 minutes speaking time period. That motion was accepted this morning in the House. Therefore there are 20 minute periods.

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7:05 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Ken Epp Canadian Alliance Elk Island, AB

Madam Chairman, I spent about six hours today in the finance committee so I was not here at that time.

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7:05 p.m.

The Assistant Deputy Chairman

Perhaps I should read the motion.

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7:05 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Ken Epp Canadian Alliance Elk Island, AB

No, that is fine. I have some questions of the government House leader. I concur fully with the suggestion that perhaps members should be given one private member's option in a session. I think that would work.

I remember when we were kids at camp that nobody got seconds at the meal until everybody had firsts. Everybody could have firsts, and if there was some food left over we went back for seconds.

I have been a member for seven and half years, since the 1993 election, and I have never been drawn. It is just not my lucky lottery day, I guess. I have some good private members' bills that I would like to get on the floor and voted on. I feel that they are important enough for actual decision making.

The member opposite made that suggestion. I am ready to write the computer program. In fact I already have one. I recommend that we take all members and simply randomize their order. If members do not have a private member's bill or a motion and want to pass on it, they can let their name go to the bottom of the list, or maybe we could have a scheme whereby we could trade with others so that everybody would be involved in one rotation. There are other members in the House who have been picked three or four times in the last seven years. That is one correction I think would be really worth while.

Another one he mentioned was that we would not have enough time. Very frankly I would rather have one private member's bill every seven years and actually have it votable so that we can make a decision on it than have three or four that I can just talk about and never do anything about. I would not mind dealing with a reduced number of bills.

Furthermore, let us take for example the private member's bill we dealt with today. It was not votable, but surely after one hour of debate we pretty well all knew the issue. I do not think that it should take more than an hour or maybe an hour and a half of debate before it is sent to committee.

Private members' bills generally are quite focused. They are single issues. If we could send them to committee and then maybe have them come back for another hour debate in what would compare to third reading of another bill, I think it would really expedite the matter. Basically it would take the House two hours instead of one hour for one that we just debate and do not vote on.

We could also increase the number of hours. I have no problem at all with having an additional hour or two per week of private members' business. I have a little problem with some people who have suggested making Friday private members' day. That is really bad because it basically tells members it is an unimportant day and they do not need to be here.

As a matter of fact, if I can even be a little facetious, I have said to some people that I think it might not be a bad idea to make a member of parliament's salary in direct proportion to the number of hours he or she spends in the House while we are debating private members' business. If we were here 50% of the time, we would get 50% of our salary that month. That is a little facetious. It is not a serious suggestion.

I really think that some of the best ideas come forward from private members. They are the ones out there listening to their constituents. Those constituents have concerns. We start dealing with the bureaucracy and find out that we cannot solve their problems, so we come here with a private member's bill.

I would like the government House leader to respond to some of my suggestions.

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7:10 p.m.

The Assistant Deputy Chairman

That was a question that took four minutes, so we will go on for one minute to the government House leader.

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7:10 p.m.


Don Boudria Liberal Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

Madam Chairman, it is somewhat informal, so I do not mind that the question took a bit longer. That is all right with me. At any rate, it does not seem that dozens of members are ready to make speeches.

As the hon. member knows, there is an ongoing survey of members in this regard. I think it is a good idea. I suspect all House leaders are looking forward to its conclusion.

What the member said about the three hours is not quite correct. It is a maximum of three hours. For instance, we had a votable private member's bill last week. I am trying to remember what was the subject. We adopted it and sent it to committee after one hour, even if it were votable.

That is the maximum. If we are amending the criminal code, it is not a bad idea if we knew it was votable to have a longer speech. Perhaps we do not need that long at second reading, or we might want to have that long at second reading and once a committee goes at it we would not need that long at third reading.

If I go back to the British example, they tend to have very short, if any, speeches at all at third reading on anything, even government bills. It is quite common to have a government bill debate of five minutes at third reading. Second reading, I would argue in this case, would probably be a little longer than that.

In any case, as I said, I am not against per se some of these ideas about all of them being votable. I was very lucky as an opposition member in terms of getting my name drawn. For whatever reason, I always seemed to have something that was on the floor of the House of Commons. Probably one of the greatest satisfactions I had was the motion I sponsored which was passed to erect a statue in honour of the Right Hon. Lester B. Pearson.

That statue beside the west block, Mr. Pearson sitting in a chair, if members have noticed, actually includes a design of the chair of the House of Commons. That was my idea, everything, including that he should be sitting in a chair and so on. That was my motion. I was there when we unveiled it. The then prime minister, Prime Minister Mulroney, did the unveiling. I think it was a tremendous exercise by an individual member. Had I not done that, like other members who took similar actions, these things probably would not have happened. We just cannot get things to move sometimes without prodding from members of parliament.

Probably another good example of this is the bill on competition. It will be before the House this Thursday with reference before second reading. The bill on competition bears great similarity to two private members' bills, one in the name of the member from Kitchener and the other in the name of the member for Pickering—Ajax—Uxbridge.

One involves gasoline pricing and competition in that regard. The other one involves issues regarding the misuse of Canada Post to send out phony things where people are alleged to have won something. To claim their prize they phone a 1-900 number, which gives them a huge telephone bill and usually a prize of exactly nothing. That bill largely covers those items. They are private members' ideas.

As a minister I think this is great. I support that entirely. As I said, though, in my opinion the price to be paid for it is a dramatic reduction in the number of private members' bills debated. Perhaps that is not bad. As my colleague said, it means that the more important ones will be debated, and because we know they will be votable, they will always be of that importance because otherwise we would not put them. We would not want something to be put to the House to have it defeated by everybody because it was a very bad idea. Of course if it is not votable anyway, one does not really care. So arguably there is a benefit in that regard.

Finally, I think all of us should think of the effect of what the hon. member just asked and hopefully the committee doing the work will think of it, namely, should people have two or three tries at it before everyone has had at least one?

Perhaps one way of doing it would be this: at the beginning one would draw from the list of everyone who has at least one item for private members' business in the kitty. We would draw, and as we go through the process, three or six months later we would draw a name and if that name has already been drawn it would be thrown out and we would take the next one, until we find one that has not been drawn. At the beginning of a session that would not be a problem, but as we go along it would be.

If we reach the end and everybody who had an item in the kitty has had their name drawn and other members just do not want a private member's item, we could start again. We would assume the list is complete because we would have zero names left in the kitty, or at least zero names that have items in the pot.

For instance, ministers such as myself are ineligible. Secretaries of state are ministers at a different rank but similarly are ineligible. Parliamentary secretaries while they are parliamentary secretaries are also ineligible, but because they are generally on a rotational basis serving a term of two years, someone could be ineligible and then a year and a half or two years later become eligible for the draw.

Whatever mechanism we develop should bear all these things in mind to ensure that it is fair for everybody. Those are some ideas on how to handle that one, but I am not married to those I am suggesting. I am giving them as examples of how to reform this. I would like other colleagues to add to them the good ideas that they might have as well, and by the way, not just on private members' items, I hope, but on everything else we do around here.

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7:20 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

James Rajotte Canadian Alliance Edmonton Southwest, AB

Madam Chairman, I was an assistant here with Ian McClelland before I became a member of parliament. In terms of the relationship between private members' business and government bills, one of the researchers for the Library of Parliament told me that before 1911 most of the bills that were passed were private members' bills but that since that time there has been an increasing tendency to spend most of our time in the House on government bills.

The researcher felt that the system actually worked better when more time was devoted to private members' bills. As the hon. member for Elk Island pointed out, we tend to be closer to the ridings than the government bureaucracies are. Perhaps it has shifted too much in favour of government bills and there should be more time allotted during orders of the day for private members' bills. Would the hon. government House leader comment on that?

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7:20 p.m.


Don Boudria Liberal Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

Madam Chairman, when I came here in 1984 it was almost impossible to get a private member's bill voted on. The system was somewhat different and was reformed to the way we have it now as a result of the McGrath committee report.

Before the McGrath committee report the items were all theoretically votable, but they were votable when the debate had concluded. We had one hour of private members' bills debate every day. The trick at the end of the day was to talk the bill out, as it was called. Then it went to the bottom of the list, only to reappear perhaps 18 months later.

It was the same as killing it except that it was not really the same. It was in a state of suspended animation. With any luck, of course, 18 months later the House had prorogued and we were into a new session and it started all over again. It was the same as killing it, except we were not killing it. That is the problem we had then. I think that was the absolute worst system one could have ever devised.

The system we have now is from the McGrath committee report. There is one member of the McGrath committee who is still a member of the House. That member is the House leader for the New Democrats. He is the only survivor of that committee, politically speaking, although there are several other survivors otherwise speaking. It was a good innovation. That does not mean we cannot improve it again.

In terms of the numbers of private members' bills passed, I know of some provincial legislatures that pass exactly zero private members' bills. It is just not done. Very few, if any, are ever passed in the Quebec provincial assembly. It does not happen.

I served for a number of years at Queen's Park as a provincial member in Ontario. There it was a different system. They were all theoretically votable, but there was so little independence in voting that effectively the government stood up and killed them every time by voting them down. It really did not do anything.

The innovation we have here, I think, is that first of all there are enough of us in the House with 301 members that there is a critical mass of people and at private members' hour it is a lot harder to separate strictly along party lines. That is a good thing. It makes for members with a little bit more independence of thought and that works reasonably well.

In terms of the numbers of private members' items, we have some every day, with a couple of exceptions, and hon. members will know that occurs if we are having the budget debate or the throne speech. For the throne speech is easy to understand why we would not want to have any there. It is at the beginning of a parliament and we have not had the private members' items in yet so there is no reason to have them there.

As to why we cannot have them at the same time we are having budget debates, I do not particularly object to that. I do not see that there is anything particularly offensive about other times around here. I do not know why we cannot simply have them every day. It is effectively the case now, with a few exceptions. Why not remove some of these exceptions? I am not against that either. All of those things seem to be at first glance good occasions to have private members' items.

Of course we will always be governed by our constitution in any case. Obviously members know that we cannot have a money bill at private members' hour, unless we find a minister who will provide a recommendation from the crown, a royal recommendation. That is a constitutional issue.

Furthermore, if a bill is to generate a tax then it is even more complicated. Not only must it be a minister but a minister must have tabled a notice of ways and means and have the ways and means motion adopted by the House before he or she can even introduce a bill to levy a tax. The equivalent in the United States is that there has to be a recommendation of the ways and means committee. The Canadian equivalent of that is a little different. It is the same as the British in that we have concurrence in the ways and means motion, which is the enabling motion that permits a minister to even introduce taxation measures in the House.

Those are two restrictions that I suspect will always be there because of our constitution, but that does not mean that there are not dozens of good ideas that can be addressed by way of private members' items.

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7:25 p.m.


John Bryden Liberal Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Aldershot, ON

Madam Chairman, I would like to take advantage of the fact that the government House leader is here because he has a very long memory of parliamentary procedure.

One of the problems that I noted in my time here with respect to private members' business and trying to give it more opportunity was that often members would say, “Well, let us just vote yes for this at second reading and it will go to committee”.

Clearly the problem with that was that the committees were suddenly burdened with business that they did not properly have the time to manage. Some committees were burdened more than others. I think, for example, of the justice committee.

I have thought a lot about this. I wonder what the government House leader thinks about restoring the old legislative committees. Is there not an argument to be made for creating a legislative committee to receive private members' legislation to in some way, if you will, pre-examine it for appropriateness and viability before it goes on to the proper committee? Or perhaps the legislative committee could handle it right on to report stage.

It just seems to me, Madam Chairman, that in order to make more bills votable we have to find a new system that makes it possible to process these bills without adversely affecting the very limited time of committees.

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7:25 p.m.


Don Boudria Liberal Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

Madam Chairman, on the second point, this business about having a pre-approval by a committee, that is in fact what members are advocating tonight to get rid of, because now we have a committee that in a way screens them to make them votable. It is kind of the same thing, not quite, but it is analogous to that, I would argue. My feeling is that most people do not want that.

The other thing, though, is in regard to once a bill has been read a second time and sent to committee. We did make an amendment a few years back whereby committees now have to report the bill within a certain amount of time. Otherwise the bill is deemed reported anyway without amendment. We have that in our present rules. That did not exist even in 1993.

It was an amendment produced I think in large measure as a result of an innovation of the then Reform Party House leader, the hon. member for Langley—Abbotsford. I believe that was one of his innovations. Perhaps others were involved with it too, but he was associated with the cause of bills deeming to have been reported, which made it such that bills that kind of disappeared into a black hole called a committee do not do that any more. They go to committee but they now have to come back out, and the period is reasonably short.

There is one problem that remains, though, and I guess we will all have to be very frank about this, and that is that private members' bills are more times than not all about justice. For instance, on the weekly list that I was looking at Monday when I had a meeting with my staff, four out of the following six days were about justice issues. Of course if they all were votable and all sent to the same committee, I think the hon. member who just raised the question obviously has seen what would happen then. That is going to absolutely overload the system. Hopefully when the subcommittee makes it recommendation it will address that because it would make it impossible to function if that happened.

In terms of a legislative committee, it is still in the rules. It was largely unused because it had a tremendous deficiency. The last time we used it was on Bill C-20 of the previous parliament.

The difficulty with legislative committees is the following. Suppose we set up a legislative committee on agriculture to review a particular bill, like the bill we passed today on farm credit. The agriculture critic and the agriculture parliamentary secretary and so on would want to sit on it. All the people on the agriculture committee would also end up sitting on this special committee but there would be a different clerk. The end result was the agriculture committee would be the legislative committee with a different clerk. That was always the result of that.

After a few years of this, people began to look at it. They said why not keep their usual clerk and the usual everybody because they were the people who knew something about agriculture? Why was somebody else doing this and not the people who actually had the expertise in the area? That is how they fell into disuse.

If we had the multiplicity of private members' items in a given area, we would obviously have to rethink that in a way perhaps like or somewhat like the suggestion made by the member who just asked me the question.