Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-23 which is before Parliament today.
I am going to read the title of Bill C-23 for the benefit of the members of the public listening to us. Bill C-23 is an Act to amend the Criminal Code (criminal procedure, language of the accused, sentencing and other amendments).
Our party, the Bloc Québécois, takes a favourable view of this bill, because it amounts to a broad set of changes to revise and modernize the Criminal Code. That is the objective. It is in response to a broad consultation undertaken by the Department of Justice involving Crown counsel and police services in every province, the public service, and federal and provincial justice departments. As I said, it is an instrument for revising and modernizing the code. Given that this balance has been achieved by the various specialized players in the justice system, the Bloc Québécois supports these amendments.
Among the excellent things that Bill C-23 will do are to clarify the provisions of the Criminal Code, simplify certain judicial proceedings such as improper appeals and clear up unintended meanings to mention but a few.
The Bloc is particularly pleased with the amendments that will help to improve the work of the judiciary by giving judges greater discretion. The public must understand that this bill comes after negotiations and discussions that were undertaken, in part, by the previous government and at the request of stakeholders in the justice system: Crown counsel, police services and officials of various government departments. Why is there a balanced position in this bill? It is not the right-wing, Conservative position being imposed on us by this government. Other bills brought forward by the current Minister of Justice will in fact reflect Conservative ideology.
The bill that is before us now is a bill that was originated largely with stakeholders in the justice system from all provinces of Canada, from the public service and from the various departments of justice. It is therefore a much more balanced position. One of the things it will do is provide judges with better tools for doing their job properly, that job being to determine the most appropriate sentence, the sentence that will best serve the objectives of deterrence, reparation and rehabilitation—a factor too often forgotten by the Conservative government.
The bill that is before us has passed through the mill of the justice system and its stakeholders, and this has produced a balanced bill. That is not the case for the bills introduced by the Conservative government that reflect a Conservative and Republican ideology modeled on American positions. That is what the Conservative government is getting us accustomed to and will get us accustomed to in upcoming justice-related bills to be introduced in this House, with the exception of this one, Bill C-23. This bill comes to us from the previous Parliament. It is therefore a bill that the government has taken over from the previous government and that was supported by the Bloc Québécois during the previous Parliament.
For those of us in the Bloc Québécois, improvement of the law is consistent with efficiency. Adapting our legislative structures to new technology and new situations should be a continuing concern for all lawmakers. The men and women who belong to this magnificent party called the Bloc Québécois believe we must continually modernize our laws to apply them to new technology. The Criminal Code, among others, calls for this type of updating. People see new technology in their own homes. In this House, the members of the Bloc Québécois say to the government it is time to adapt new technologies to be in a position to use them in criminal investigations carried out by various police forces in Quebec.
Advances in terms of information technology, along with the changing values of Quebeckers, must be reflected in our legislation.
The obvious message is that the values of Quebeckers are changing and our laws must change as well. Among other changes, new technology must be integrated into the judicial system.
In addition, the Bloc Québécois believes that such revisions should be done on a regular basis. Too often, the government puts off these amendments or revisions. Or, we have to wait for a right-wing conservative government with republican values and ideologies borrowed from the Americans to make changes.
The best way to protect against that, in the opinion of the men and women of the Bloc Québécois, is to regularly revise the Criminal Code so that it is always balanced legislation and so that we do not allow political parties with ideological values of the republican right to impose their changes. Let us establish a regular process for amending the Criminal Code to adapt it to new technology and to new values that we ourselves can defend. Bill C-23 is among those new values.
I will now deal with this measure in greater detail. Although it sometimes appears a bit technical this is really a worthwhile bill, considering that it has been called for by different stakeholders in the legal community, from crown attorneys to police services, and various officials in the Quebec justice department and other provinces as well. Still, it is somewhat technical.
One of the amendments is a harmonization of procedures for service of documents. The first clause of Bill C-23 would provide that the service of documents may be proved in accordance with the laws of a province relating to offences created by the laws of that province. As a consequence, the bill deletes several sections of the Criminal Code that now set out methods for proof of service. These deletions would harmonize criminal procedures in terms of proof of service.
This is simply to say that provincial methods for proof of service have evolved with new technology, something that has not been done by the federal government.
We, in the Bloc Québécois, therefore ask the federal government to allow the provinces, who are quicker to harmonize and to follow the changes in technology, to act and to remove itself from this manner of proof of service. That is what is now being done with Bill C-23. It will fall into line with the methods for proof of service that are in effect in the different provinces.
The second amendment extends the application of the court order. Clause 4 of the bill amends section 164.2(1) of the Criminal Code. It gives the court, in addition to the existing power to seize material used for child pornography, the power to order the forfeiture of the computer of a person convicted of luring a child under section 172(1) of the Criminal Code, and to dispose of it.
Simply put, luring a child is a crime that consists in communicating with children in discussion forums, through instant messaging or electronic mail, for the purpose of sexual contacts.
Since we already have the power to seize pornographic material, it goes without saying that this bill should also allow us to seize the technology in which this material is stored. So, this is an improvement.
I should point out for the benefit of those young men and women who are watching us that we do not always pass laws to punish people, or to prevent them from doing things. All too often, members of Parliament are perceived as legislators who prevent people from having fun. On the contrary, we want people to have fun, but in a safe way. Unfortunately, all too often, the Internet and this whole new technology are used by sexual predators who try to corrupt our young generation.
I hope people realize that the men and women who form this great political party, namely the Bloc Québécois, are here to protect the public interest. We want people to have fun using the Internet and all the other electronic gadgets available, but we want them to do so safely, so that our children will not be corrupted or led to commit illegal or criminal acts, and so that we can punish the individuals who commit such crimes, by forfeiting all the material they use to do such deeds.
The purpose of the third amendment is to reflect the new communication technologies. Clause 6 of the bill amends section 204(2) of the Criminal Code, dealing with gaming and betting. It amends the Criminal Code to include new communication technologies, such as the Internet, since the existing section does not provide for any means of communication other than the telephone.
Bill C-23 would opt for a much less restrictive definition that would include all possible means under the term “means of telecommunication”. Hence, bets placed over the Internet with the race-course, an association or a betting theatre, in accordance with the regulations, would be deemed to have been made at the race-course and would not be treated as an indictable offence.
This measure is included to liberalize the industry's means of doing business so that the actions of those who might place bets by Internet directly with the race-courses are not considered indictable offences.
This does not mean that those who place illegal bets are authorized to do so. It remains against the law to place such bets. The Bloc Québécois members will always be there to prevent some people from getting rich at the expense of the weakest and most disadvantaged members of our society. We will always stand up for the latter. However, those who have licences and are authorized by the law to make these types of bets, those who enjoying betting, may place bets over the Internet with organizations who have the right to do so and have the requisite permits. These individuals may use the Internet to place bets. It could not be done previously. You could place bets by phone but not by Internet.
Judges have more latitude in terms of sentencing and timing. That is the fifth amendment. Several sections of Bill C-23 seek to give judges more flexibility when handing down sentences. This is the case of clause 8.2 of Bill C-23 which permits a judge to make an order against an individual found guilty of a designated crime, for example manslaughter, to prohibit the offender from operating a motor vehicle during any period deemed appropriate.
Previously, the judge could not impose this condition unless the offender were sentenced to life imprisonment. It is important to point out that the judge can only impose this new condition when the accused is found guilty of an offence punishable by life imprisonment.
Once again, as mentioned earlier, judges ought to be given some latitude. We have set up an entire judiciary system and asked magistrates and judges to make laws. In fact, we are the ones passing legislation while judges set sentences. In our wisdom, we have put them in charge of that. This was done by our predecessors in this House. Such is the judiciary system that was established. Essentially, decision makers and legislators before us created a judicial system based on legislation contained in the Criminal Code, the enforcement of which was put in the hands of the judiciary, which means competent human beings responsible for making balanced decisions, that is, to make the punishment fit the crime.
It is therefore important to be able to assist them in their task and to allow them to rely increasingly on their wisdom and insight. Indeed, each crime is unique and no two crimes are committed the exact same way or under the same circumstances. The judiciary, the judges, have to be able to form an opinion and, naturally, the accused have to be able to defend themselves with lawyers. Our judicial system is the envy of a number of societies around the world. They look at us and find that our criminal system is one that is balanced and which, hopefully, allows the real criminals to be punished and the innocent to defend themselves and argue their case.
That is how our criminal justice system works. It is important that we be able to strengthen it and to give judges every opportunity to select sentences based on their wisdom and insight. Of course, one way of doing so is through this clause of the new bill.
Another amendment is in the same vein and shows the same kind of vision. Clause 42 of Bill C-23 allows the sentencing judge to issue an order prohibiting the offender from communicating with any person identified in the order—victim, witness or other—during the custodial period of the sentence, in order to protect that person. Anyone who does not comply with the order is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years.
This extends even more power to the judges. If ever an individual who commits a crime is a danger to others, witnesses or other persons, the judges require that individual not to contact those witnesses. The judges are given the latitude to designate persons with whom the accused must not come in contact.
It is a choice, yet again, in the same vein as the philosophy the Bloc Québécois defends. In other words, leave it up to the judges—who are the best suited for this—to decide the sentences, among other things, and also to designate the persons with whom the accused cannot come in contact.
That is how we advance society.
Bill C-23 also introduces the power for judges to delay sentencing proceedings when they deem it appropriate so that an offender can participate in a treatment program, detoxification program or other provincially recognized programs. Such a measure is useful because in the rehabilitation process it is important not to hinder the efforts made outside the legal system.
If a judge in his or her great wisdom decides that the accused must undergo treatment first, the sentence can be delayed, awaiting the results of treatment. The judge decides to consider the whole context of the crime. It is important to see whether the person can be rehabilitated and to allow him to undergo treatment to see how he progresses before handing down the sentence. I think this leaves some flexibility to the judge.
As I say, we are not the ones who invented everything in Bill C-23. It is an initiative of the entire legal community. All the stakeholders, the crown attorneys, police forces and public servants in different justice departments in both Quebec and the other Canadian provinces, got together. They have been asking for a number of years now for the Criminal Code to be modernized. These are amendments to modernize the situation. Among other things, we want to judges to have more latitude in certain specific cases. That is one way to modernize the justice system.
Today's therapies are not the same as those 20, 15 or even 10 years ago. Things have changed. There are new approaches. What we want, in the end, is not to have as few citizens as possible but as many involved in the development of our society. If people commit a crime, therefore, the first thing to do is to enable them to rehabilitate themselves through appropriate punishments and sentences. Give them a chance, and if they can be rehabilitated, that is what should be done. One of the ways of doing this, embodied in the bill, is to allow judges to ensure that appropriate treatments are provided before handing down the sentence.
The Bloc Québécois has always advocated rehabilitation-based justice and flexible rules to give judges the ability to determine the most appropriate penalty. We believe that judges are the people who are best placed to decide the penalty that will best meet the basic sentencing objectives. The basic sentencing objective is that the sentence should be proportionate to the seriousness of the offence.
It is important to understand that when a reprehensible act is committed, there will be a punishment. But what punishment? The punishment has to be proportionate to the offence. All too often, the punishment is not considered in relation to the offence that was committed. That is the philosophy that the Conservative government is busy instituting with minimum sentences, mandatory sentences, etc.
What we are saying is that this is not the way our parents, our grandparents and our great-grandparents conceived of the system. The society we have today is the society that we inherited from our ancestors and it is a society based on justice, balance and fairness. That was our ancestors’ wish. So why today try to take the place of judges as the Conservative Party wishes to do, following in the footsteps and inspired by the values of the American Republican right. Why do that? That is not what our ancestors wanted for our society. They did not want to have a society like the Americans’. That was the choice our ancestors made. Why, today, would we wish to change this completely by imposing sentences that follow the example of American decisions. That is not what we want.
That is what the men and women of the Bloc Québécois are defending here, in this House. These are values given to us by our ancestors. That is what we are defending today. That is why Quebeckers elected members from the Bloc Québécois to defend their values. That is what we are doing.
One of the best ways, one of the great values that we can defend is the value of justice. The justice that our ancestors who founded the Quebec of today wanted is a justice based on fairness and balance between the offence committed and the punishment. The only way of doing this is to entrust these duties to magistrates, to independent persons. Too often in this House we hear of judicial appointments being made by a political party. The judiciary must really be independent of politics so as to be able to make decisions that are consistent with what our ancestors wanted, that is, a fair and just society. We must have punishments that truly fit the crime, whatever crime has been committed. These are the values that we are defending.
Bill C-23 was not proposed by the members of this House. Parliamentarians apprised the House of this bill, since we are the legislators, but it was proposed by the whole legal community, the crown attorneys, the police departments and the employees of the departments of justice in the various provinces.
Mr. Speaker, I thank you for the time you have given me. Quebeckers have yet one more reason to vote for members of the Bloc Québécois to defend their values.