Mr. Speaker, thank you for giving me this opportunity to speak about Bill C-18.
I was just thinking two thoughts by way of introduction. The member for Wild Rose is right. The viewing public might think with the numbers C-18, C-72 and C-13 that this is just a well-dressed bingo game that we are playing, but it is actually very serious material.
The combination of these bills will culminate in a better method and tool for police officers and the police forces to do their jobs both in inculpating, finding the people who have done crimes, but also as my speech will indicate, exculpating people when they are actually not guilty.
I also might give my friend from Fundy Royal compliments on his good speech. I think that people in our community, he and I share an undefended border between Westmorland County and Albert County, share the same belief system and the same community values.
The people in Albert and Westmorland counties might think that the member for Fundy Royal and I are dominating the debate. I think it is just because we are on the committee together and we work on these subjects, not always together but certainly with the same view. That view is to make the laws of Canada better and more effective.
With that I am pleased to have this opportunity to speak to Bill C-18, a law designed to help implement the DNA databank legislative reforms. It does, however, and it must be said, build on the good Liberal Bill C-72. This was an excellent effort of the previous government to clean up some of these outdated and, frankly, awkward and lugubrious anomalies that exist in the current system.
The success of the DNA databank is impressive. It has provided critical evidence leading to convictions in nearly 2,300 serious crimes. It has been crucial in helping police solve over 300 armed robberies, 1,200 break and enters, 200 murders, and the member for Wild Rose might want this statistic, and 400 sexual assault cases in Canadian communities from coast to coast to coast. These are impressive numbers.
It is an extraordinary success. In addition, the national DNA data bank is one of the most powerful tools available to the country's police forces and courts. Even more importantly, the national DNA data bank makes it possible to exonerate innocent people and punish the real criminals.
We forget too often in the law and order rhetoric of the other side that there are people who have been falsely accused and falsely convicted of crimes. One of those falsely accused and falsely convicted cases is one too many. Not only is the DNA databank a great success story, it is an amazing example of technological use in the betterment of our justice system by providing indisputable evidence.
The new modifications proposed by Bill C-18, and as they were in Bill C-72, will enable a number of modifications and ameliorations to the DNA databank in accordance with the proposed Liberal reform of the DNA databank included in Bill C-13 which received royal assent in May 2005. These improvements are eagerly awaited for by the police departments, the provinces and territories, and they cannot come too soon.
I must echo at this time two comments made by the hon. member for Windsor—Tecumseh. One of them is that the Criminal Code of Canada, a large document that is roughly incoherent notwithstanding that it was created by a Conservative justice minister in the late 1800s, has been added to like a big overgrown shrub that needs pruning and frankly needs to be completely redone. Those sentiments are not just those of the member for Windsor—Tecumseh. The hon. members for Fundy Royal and for Wild Rose will know that the esteemed professor from the University of Ottawa, David Paciocco, suggested that to us just recently at the standing committee.
In the beautiful province of Quebec, respected professor Daniel Grégoire has also called for these reforms.
The second point about the need to pass the bill, which is why we are in favour of it, is that the justice committee is bogged down with so many justice bills right now that we have to be sure the government is sincere. I have heard the expressions of sincerity from the hon. members of the committee, whom I know well. I take it that the committee is sincere in passing the bill, in getting it through committee and back to the House and into effect. Since we all agree on its raw and innate goodness, let us get it through the committee quickly and get it passed into law.
Once again, the current minority government is trying to show, however, that its great legislative agenda is its own. In fact, any bill that comes before us that has more than three pages was probably one that was introduced by the Liberal government and died on the order paper, not one of the new bills produced by the Conservative department of haste in bills. I call it the hasty bill writing department that the government must have over there.
For those keeping score, this is one of the good bills. This was a Liberal bill that a new number has been attached to. We will happily call it a Conservative bill for now, if we can just get it through committee. That being said, the DNA data bank, just as any other governmental program or legislative measure, raises concerns about privacy.
As many examples have shown in the past, personal information can travel fast over the legal borders that exist and over all the limitations that we think exist as well. This is why I stress the need to strike a balance between all citizens' rights to privacy, including suspects, and the need to protect our society as a whole from crime and criminality.
The respect of privacy has been so far protected in the DNA data bank by ensuring that the identity of all suspects is kept confidential to ensure fair treatment. We must ensure that the proposed changes do respect the boundaries of the current privacy provisions in the law of Canada.
The technology used in DNA identification has proven itself on many occasions over the years. DNA identification can play a vital role in convicting or exonerating people suspected of major crimes including murder, as well as other crimes that caused the death of innocent victims.
The changes currently proposed by Bill C-18 will allow even more law-abiding citizens to be exonerated of charges and will strengthen the current legislation on DNA sampling.
In fact, attempting to escape or avoid having a DNA sample taken seems to me to be sufficient reason for doubt about the motivations and motives of a suspect.
There is certainly reason to wonder why a potential suspect would do everything possible to avoid having a DNA sample taken when, in fact, the sample could lift all suspicion from that person, if he is innocent, of course.
Since the DNA data bank is a fairly recent tool, it is understandable that it needs to be tweaked and bettered to ensure that it reaches its maximum potential.
This is why adding attempted murder and conspiracy to commit murder to the offences covered by the retroactive provisions makes sense. The law is organic and it must grow with what is occurring out there in our communities.
Those added offences are serious. They are important. Those individuals, dangerous as they may be, should contribute a DNA sample to the DNA data bank to ensure that other crimes they might have committed in the past, or could commit in the future, will be linked to them and their DNA.
It is important for us on this side of the House to underline that we are a party, and I think all parliamentarians would agree, that respects and wants a rule of law in this country. We are a party--and I think as parliamentarians as well we could join in this statement--that wants a safer community. If the DNA data bank, improved as it would be by this bill, helps us catch more criminals who have done harm or who will do harm, this is a good thing.
Furthermore, I do believe that law-abiding citizens' rights to live peacefully should always be the first objective of all proposed legislation. It would not make sense to actually protect criminals from other criminal offences, and this is why it simply and clearly makes sense to ensure that information provided by the DNA data bank should be used, and needs to be, to investigate all criminal offences. Canadians will in the end benefit from criminals being better investigated, and perhaps having them linked to accusations and criminal offences as alleged would be a good thing as well.
Of course, these measures have to work both ways. Although law enforcement agencies should be able to use the DNA data bank information to investigate all criminal offences of certain individuals, it should not create some sort of tightly secured DNA data bank from which no information can be deleted. There is, in fact, a time limit to the efficacy of the DNA data bank.
Accessing and destroying specific information from the DNA data bank is essential to ensure errors can be corrected and true justice can be served. This is why simplifying the procedure for destroying samples also makes sense and is a very important part of an efficient DNA data bank.
As the DNA bank continues to grow with each sample taken, the usefulness of this extraordinary tool also continues to grow. It will make Canada a place where Canadian justice—as well as our police forces and investigators—is as fair and equitable as it can be.
The National DNA Data Bank is an impressive and wonderful resource. It is one of the most powerful investigative tools the justice system has ever had. Bill C-18 would make it even more efficient.
It is very important to underline for us on this side of the House that none of these bills being proposed by the government will work unless there are adequate resources to back them up. The only program statements that have been made with respect to justice in the past couple of weeks have been cuts.
Whether they are cuts to the judicial contestation program or cuts in the RCMP budget for a trial method of catching people at the roadside who are committing violations of our Criminal Code while impaired from drug abuse, these are the actions that back up the words of the government with respect to its law and order agenda.
I can only hope that through discussions such as these and the discussions that might happen at committee the government can see the folly of pronouncing grand statements about how the Conservatives are the stewards of law and order when they do not back that up with the allocation of resources necessary to put in effect the laws the Conservatives so proudly pronounce from every church steeple, city hall and mall encounter.
In short, and in conclusion, the Liberal Party and I, as a member of the justice committee, will in good faith give our word to support this bill in principle, to work diligently at committee to improve it and, more important, to move it along to put it into law, because after all, it is just Bill C-72 in new clothing. It was our idea. We put it together. Perhaps once, in a non-partisan way, I can say we do not care if the government gets the credit for it, because we know in our hearts that we put it into place.