Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise on Bill C-15B and also to mention the title of the bill in starting. I want to talk today about judicial activism. Before I go any further, for the edification of the few Liberals who are in the House to listen to this, I point out that this does relate specifically to the bill. They do not have to call me on it because I intend to relate this clearly to the bill before the House.
In the case of judicial activism, there is a lot of talk of this in the public today. A lot of people are very upset with a lot of the decisions that are coming down these days by judges in our courts. As a result, they are calling for an overhaul of the judicial system itself, how we select our judges, the terms, the conditions under which they serve and so on.
An example of the kinds of things that are bothering members of the public under judicial activism is conditional release, a provision provided by the Liberal government in the House. Under conditional release judges may sentence people to serve their sentence entirely in the public without ever having to go to jail. The idea behind this apparently is that if the judges feel there is no risk to society with the person not being incarcerated, then they do not have to sentence them to actual prison time.
The Canadian public was alarmed and shocked when they found that people who were committing very serious violent offences, such as violent rapes, were being sentenced under this provision for conditional sentencing and were ending up not serving any time in jail. The public was outraged, and rightly so. People brought that to us and we in turn brought that to the House. We raised the issue in parliament. The response by the minister of justice at that time, who is now the Minister of Industry, was that it was never his intention that this should apply to violent offenders. Yet to this day that provision has never been changed.
Some time ago I did a study, along with other members of the House, of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act. In the process of doing the study, we talked to all kinds of people involved in the corrections and justice system in the country. Some of the people we talked to were judges.
In talking to one particular judge, as an aside he brought up the subject of judicial activism. He said that he was not one to stand before us and say that none of the decisions made by his colleagues, the other judges, were made poorly. However he said that before we started to worry about changing the judges and judicial activism, we first should fix our legislation. He said that we could not keep writing legislation that caused them to be forced to consider anything brought forward by the attorneys for those who they were dealing with if the legislation provided the possibility of that. In the example of conditional sentencing, legislation did not preclude conditional sentencing being given to violent offenders and therefore they had to consider it.
That brings me to Bill C-15B, particularly the provision dealing with the penalties for cruelty to animals.
This places us in an awkward position, as many bills crafted by the Liberal government do, in that we support the motherhood issue of preventing cruelty to animals, and surely everyone in the House does. The question is not on the motherhood statement but rather on the application.
The previous minister of justice so often said that it was not their intention, then she carried on with whatever related to the particular bill of the day that she was involved in.
In this case she informed us that it was not her intention or the intention of the government that this would be applied arbitrarily to those who dealt with animals through farming, ranching and other forms of legitimate practices with animals. Yet the way the bill is crafted, there will certainly be those who will interpret it that way.
Just like in the case of conditional sentencing, where a judge says he or she has no choice but to consider that type of sentence because it does not preclude using that on a violent offender, there will be those who will raise charges against innocent people, who, through natural acts of animal husbandry, have not willfully harmed or been cruel to an animal. There are those who will nonetheless raise these types of prospects and the courts will have to look at them and in some cases convict people whom, according to the minister herself, harm was never intended to through the bill.
Her comment that anything that is legal today will be legal after the bill passes makes little sense given that she attempted to change so many things that are currently in place. If her only intention was to deal with genuine cruelty to animals, which should be dealt with, then all she had to do was raise the fines, the sentences and the penalties for those who are willfully cruel to animals. To do otherwise is to open up yet another Pandora's box. We have seen it with a variety of different judicial acts. We are seeing it even in the endangered species bill, wherein the government acknowledges the onus on the government to show that somebody willfully harmed an endangered species or its habitat but even if people do it accidentally they can still be charged.
The government's own response to that was that the government would rather leave it that way because it would make it easier to prosecute people in general and then consider special circumstances in the sentencing of people who are convicted of doing something without even knowing or being able to know that they were damaging habitat or the species itself. That kind of absurdity suggests that we will be allowing innocent people to be convicted and then say that it is okay because they will only get a tap on the wrist as their penalty. Nonetheless, it will still leave them with a criminal record. In light of September 11 and people with criminal records appearing at the borders, I can see the kinds of arguments they will have with American customs agents when they try to explain that their crimes were not really serious crimes because the government recognizes that they were really innocent and just convicted them because it was more convenient to do so.
That kind of absurdity in the crafting of bills is the same thing we are seeing in this provision in Bill C-15B. It is one of the reasons that the opposition often gets placed in the very awkward position of having to vote against bills that perhaps have good intent but are so poorly written and could so easily be corrected. It is a very frustrating thing in the House.
In the future, when you will still be elected, Madam Speaker, but the government will no longer be the government and you will have to sit in opposition, I am sure you will be thankful that the new government will not write bills in the same reckless and incoherent manner that the government does today.