Mr. Speaker, I listened closely to some of the debate that went on before my opportunity to speak . I am very pleased to have the opportunity today to address Bill C-65 as the justice critic for the official opposition.
I had the extraordinary privilege of working with Chuck Cadman over the years when he was here in Parliament. He was the vice-chair of the justice committee. He was, I might say, a seemingly ordinary man and yet he achieved extraordinary results and extraordinary outcomes in his life. He took a very severe personal tragedy in his life and made it into something positive. When I look at his work, at his speeches and at what he attempted to accomplish, he never lost sight of why he went into politics and why he wanted to see substantive changes to our criminal justice system.
Today we heard from the Ontario chiefs of police and other senior officers that the Liberal government's policies are obstructing the apprehension of criminals and that red tape and bureaucracy, as a result of the Liberal government's policies, are strangling the criminal justice system.
When I listened today to the Ontario chiefs of police and other senior officers, I was reminded of many of the things that Chuck said about the justice system and about his frustration with the failure to make things happen, things we knew should happen and yet the government consistently opposed his efforts during the course of his career here in Parliament.
This bill purports to be an incarnation of one of Mr. Cadman's previous private member's bills. This was something that Mr. Cadman had been trying to get the government to do during the course of the time he was here. Unfortunately, the government consistently denied Mr. Cadman the ability to get his private member's bill through the House. Did the Liberals ever sit down with him and say that if he were to make this change or that change that they would consider it? No. They consistently opposed the very basic principle that Mr. Cadman brought forward in his bill.
Now today we hear members on the Liberal side saying that there were problems because of the increasing mandatory prohibitions dependent upon subsequent convictions.
Now that was not their approach when Mr. Cadman was bringing this matter forward. What were they saying at that time when Mr. Cadman brought this matter forward? They fundamentally opposed the idea of mandatory prohibition for driving, period, not simply mandatory prohibitions when there were subsequent offences or increased mandatory prohibitions when there were subsequent offences. They, as a principle, opposed mandatory prohibition for driving when people were involved in street racing.
Now, after having dragged their heels throughout the course of Mr. Cadman's career here, they are somehow coming back and saying that they are listening and they are putting into effect what Mr. Cadman wanted, when everyone knows, especially those who were close to Mr. Cadman, such as his prior campaign manager, that this is not what Mr. Cadman wanted .
What everyone close to Chuck understands is that this is being done for obviously political reasons for bringing forward a pale imitation of what Mr. Cadman wanted.
From the onset, I would like to state that the proposed bill is flawed. People continue to suffer from the consequences of street racing while the government has dithered.
Mr. Cadman's bills were originally tabled to address the rise in street racing throughout the 1990s which resulted in grievous injuries and the loss of life both by the perpetrators of the act and the innocent bystanders who were mowed down by these flying vehicles.
While death from street racing represents only a fraction of the annual carnage on Canada's roads, police suggest that the practice of taking to urban streets to race is becoming increasingly more dangerous and increasingly more prevalent. Certainly, in the capital city of Manitoba, Winnipeg, where I used to reside, that has become a serious concern to police officers.
A recent study in the United States found that of nearly 150,000 fatal crashes over four years, 315, or less than 1%, were known to involve street racing and 399 fatalities occurred. These numbers, of course, are always difficult to justify as the maximum. Certainly, when police make these estimates, this is the minimum that they can determine. It is often difficult to prove that actual street racing has occurred and a much higher rate of these fatal crashes, it is quite apparent, occurred as a result of high speed driving.
It is important to note that the destruction caused by street racing is blind. It has a detrimental effect on all Canadian citizens. It does not discriminate. We have seen recent cases of injury resulting from street racing from the west coast in Vancouver across Canada to Winnipeg, Toronto and Sackville, Nova Scotia. I am sure I have left out many communities in that quick trip across Canada but I can tell all hon. members that these are not out of the ordinary any more, as young criminals understand that when they now race away from police, for example, often the police simply give up the chase because police officers do not want to endanger lives any more. Often, because these cars are stolen, it is very difficult to track down the perpetrators.
It must be that when they are actually caught, the sentence must have such a deterrent effect that offenders simply will not use this kind of avenue of escape knowing that the consequences are severe. This bill falls short of the consequence that is necessary to deter individuals.
In the province of Manitoba, a 39-year-old woman named Linda Rudnicki had gone to buy milk when a street racer slammed into her car. Her death the following day on June 6 of this year has led to stricter enforcement and tougher penalties for street racing.
I want to thank my colleague from the provincial Progressive Conservative Party, Kelvin Goertzen, the MLA in Steinback who has been very strong in advocating for stiffer penalties. He is the justice critic for the provincial Progressive Conservative Party in Manitoba. I want to commend him for his strong stand on this and for continuing to tell his government that these penalties need to be enforced.
I also want to compliment my colleague from Kildonan—St. Paul who has done admirable work in this area, as well as my colleague from Charleswood who has also worked very hard in respect of this matter. They have called for stricter enforcement and tougher penalties for street racing. Where was the government for Linda Rudnicki when that racer slammed into her vehicle?
On August 25 of this year an elderly woman in Winnipeg was crossing a street in the evening and she was struck by a vehicle. She was rushed to hospital but succumbed to her injuries. Witnesses say that two vehicles were street racing when the woman was hit. Where was the government for this senior citizen?
The government was nowhere to be seen when Chuck Cadman first brought his bill to Parliament. In fact, it did everything it could to kill his private member's initiative because it fundamentally opposed the principle that Chuck was bringing forward in his bill, fundamentally opposed the principle of mandatory prohibition, and that needs to be emphasized. Maybe Winnipeg is too small a town for the government to take notice.
I would like to quote Sergeant Devin Kealey of the Toronto Police Service, who stated:
At least two to four deaths in Toronto each summer can be pinned on street racing. In many other cases, speed is known to be a factor in a crash but there's no way to prove racing was involved.
Toronto area police project ERASE indicates that at least 29 people have lost their lives to street racing in the Toronto area in the last six years. Where was the government for those people when Chuck Cadman brought his private member's bill forward and the government consistently refused to support his initiative? Where was the government when Mr. Cadman called for action in 2002 and the ensuing years to tackle street racing? The government was not only dithering on the proposed legislation by Mr. Cadman, it was fundamentally opposed to the principles set out in that legislation.
I have been talking about the government's response, but it is important to note the government's earlier response to the proposed legislation.
Mr. Cadman had hoped that street racing would be considered an aggravating circumstance for the purpose of sentencing a person convicted of an offence committed by means of a motor vehicle under various sections of the Criminal Code that resulted in death or bodily harm. Mr. Cadman also advocated for mandatory driving prohibitions which increased in severity for repeat offenders.
I want to quote what the previous justice minister, Martin Cauchon, said when Chuck Cadman brought this forward on why he rejected the proposed Cadman legislation. This is what he said:
Your proposed bill would result in a mandatory driving prohibition.
At least the minister got that right. He continued:
As you are aware, the Canadian criminal justice system is premised on the notion that sentences should be individualized for each offender... Research indicates that mandatory minimum penalties do not work from the point of general deterrence and recidivism.
We know that that statement is false. There is no truth to that statement. It is a philosophical position of the Liberals stating that mandatory penalties do not work. This is repeated by Mr. Cauchon. It is repeated by the current justice minister. Quite frankly, it is not an accurate fact.
This is the real reason the Liberals oppose doing what Mr. Cadman wanted to do. It has nothing to do with constitutionality or legality. It is that they are fundamentally opposed to the concept of mandatory minimum sentences, whether it is prohibition or prison. The excuse I have heard is that it is going to be too difficult for a prosecutor to find out whether someone has been convicted of an offence where there was an aggravating circumstance of street racing.
For years the government has been passing laws that only complicate police officers' lives and judges' work. Take a look at the Youth Criminal Justice Act. It is an utter failure. It is so complex and cumbersome that it is simply unenforceable.
Now the Liberals are talking about this provision, saying that it is too difficult for them to go back into the transcripts, the official court documents, and determine whether street racing was or was not involved. If it is too difficult, obviously the crown attorneys cannot do it and they will not be able to do it, but let us let them try. I am willing to bet that police officers will make that effort and crown attorneys will make that effort to find out, and I speak as a former crown attorney, and get that higher conviction involved as an aggravating circumstance and therefore get a higher prohibition of driving.
We have done it in terms of impaired driving offences. We have done it in terms of any number of offences where there has been a second or subsequent offence. Yes, it takes a little bit of work sometimes to go to local records to find out whether or not the conviction was for a particular matter and to go into the court transcripts to determine whether or not it was an aggravating factor, but to suggest that we are not going to do it because it is too difficult is wrong.
That is not why the Liberals are doing it. They are doing it because as justice minister Cauchon said, they are fundamentally opposed to the idea of mandatory prohibitions for anything. They would rather see hardened criminals, such as sex offenders and others, get conditional sentences and house arrest and be turned back on to the street. That might be easy for the Liberals, but it is not easy on the families of the victims who have been killed by individuals involved in street racing, by individuals who have been killed or injured in other circumstances.
The Liberals have the audacity to stand and say in the House that we are not going to do what Chuck Cadman wanted to do because it is too difficult. The Liberals are not the individuals who will do the prosecuting. They are not the individuals who will do the actual investigation. The attorneys general of the provinces will do it and if it is in the Criminal Code, they will do it. If it cannot be done, there is no penalty, but at least give them the opportunity. At least give them the tool to do what Mr. Cadman wanted the House to do. To come back now and say that it is too difficult to do is a slap in the face of the work of a hard-working parliamentarian.
Furthermore, I would like to quote the current Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice who said that unless there is some compelling reason to specify that certain circumstances are aggravating, it is better not to multiply the instances where the Criminal Code spells out a particular way of committing the offence will be an aggravating factor. He said that in his view, they are not seeing any such reason emerging from the decisions of the trial courts and the appeal courts with regard to the four offences when street racing is a part of the circumstances of these offences.
It is not simply past ministers of justice, it is the current government and the parliamentary secretary who are fundamentally and philosophically opposed to what Mr. Cadman was trying to do. Now the Liberals are trying to come up with the excuse that it is going to be too hard for crown attorneys to actually dig through court transcripts and find out whether there was an aggravating factor, that it is going to be too hard for police officers to do the investigation.
Those comments are simply not acceptable, given the difficulties the government has put police officers and crown attorneys through as a result of the Liberals' obstructing, and this is what the police chiefs said today, the detaining of criminals and strangling our criminal justice system with red tape and bureaucracy. That is what the government is all about. It has nothing to do with difficulty.
If it had anything to do with difficulty in terms of convicting criminals, the Liberals would do it. The more difficult it is to convict a criminal, the government has consistently shown that is what it will do. It has nothing to do with constitutional requirements, the presumption of innocence, or the freedom to not self-incriminate. It has everything to do with the government being philosophically opposed to the basic principles set out in the legislation. For the Liberals to come here and say they are only trying to improve what Mr. Cadman failed to do is an insult not just to Mr. Cadman but to this entire House.