Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to speak to the bill before the House.
As the member for Windsor—Tecumseh pointed out earlier, there are a number of challenges with the bill. On one particular matter, I have asked a number of questions but really have not had a satisfactory answer to them at this point.
One of the things that was pointed out earlier was it appeared there was a piecemeal approach being taken to developing various justice bills right now. It seems like it is a bit of a roll of the dice, that this one sounds good to the Conservatives so they pull together some information and put it forward. Then they put another bill forward and another after that. It does appear to be a very piecemeal approach to a justice system and to a Criminal Code that need overhauling.
Part of the process for the DNA registry was that a parliamentary review would happen at the five year mark. That five year mark expired back in 2005. We are in 2006 and still no review has taken place. The previous Liberal government did not get to this review and the current government still has not announced any intention of doing so. Rather than have Bill C-18 come forward, perhaps it would have been an opportune time to have this comprehensive review in place.
We often hear members in the House talk about accountability, streamlining and efficiency. Instead of duplicating work, it would make far more sense to take this opportunity to conduct the review on the previous DNA registry, look at where the gaps might be and then look at developing legislation to address those gaps.
In this case we have the proverbial cart before the horse. We have legislation before the House that members will spend substantial amounts of time debating and then it will go on to committee. We will call witnesses, we will bring people in from all over the country and then the bill will come back before the House. At some point, we will have a review, which will then necessitate that we call witnesses, that we have the information come before a committee and so on.
The Conservative government constantly talks about streamlining and efficiency. If that is the case, it has missed a golden opportunity to do precisely that in this legislation.
Another thing that a number of members have talked about, and it is well worth repeating, is the fact that there was a previous private member's bill put forward called Lindsey' law. It would have specifically set up a separate registry for examples of DNA that were found at crime scenes, which at least would have the potential to be samples of individuals who were deceased.
I will quote from the member for Windsor—Tecumseh. He said, “We have this tragedy in this country of family members, loved ones, close friends missing that type of relationship, persons disappeared and having no way of using the DNA technology that we have and that is very useful to trace those people”. Again, this is a conversation that people have been having for a number of years. This was an opportunity to address that crying need. Many men and women have gone through the suffering of losing loved ones. It would have been an appropriate time and place to actually address that very issue.
There have been a number of other shortfalls identified in the bill. One of them is the retroactivity. Another one is the potential for constitutional challenges. Certainly some concerns were raised in 2000 about the constitutionality of the DNA registry. To date that has not been challenged, but there is potential for that to come forward. If the bill goes before committee, I encourage members take a close look at the constitutionality aspect of it.
Some members have raised some questions about how this information can be used such as whether adequate protections will be in place, or whether we can have a repeat of the very sad set of circumstances of information being released to foreign powers and it being used in ways that may not be within Canadian values or how Canadians want to see information used.
There is some general agreement that the DNA bill has some very good elements within it. It is an important tool that can be used, but we want the safeguards in place to ensure that privacy of Canadians is protected and that information is used in an appropriate way.
I take this opportunity to talk about the Law Commission. One of the members talked about the fact that it did not want to abrogate its responsibility and that it falls within the purview of the House. The Law Commission would not make decisions on behalf of the House. It would provide advice to the House and help it to develop policy. It could be an arm's length body that could look at a range of issues that the House does not always have an opportunity to examine. It is a very sad comment that the Law Commission will not be available to provide this kind of advice and guidance to the House.
When those cuts were introduced, a number of us spoke to the fact that there was no consultation or debate. The Law Commission going by the wayside is another example of no consultation, no debate or looking at the usefulness of the information provided in the past. I know a number of us have used reports from the Law Commission to inform our own debate and to help us put together opinions. It has done some very good work on issues such as same sex marriage and proportional representation. The Law Commission could have been a very valuable tool for the House in providing some advice around the necessary reforms required in the Criminal Code and other justice bills.
There are a number of issues before the House.
I want to come back to the privacy and rights under the charter. There are some concerns and questions raised around privacy and charter. With regard to one of the provisions, the member for Windsor—Tecumseh has raised this before, but it is incumbent upon me to raise it once again. This is only an example because there are several other provisions in the bill that will allow the DNA data bank to release information where the sample being examined is not a match that requires top standard. We have various standards in this regard and we obviously have provisions where there is no match at all. We have provisions where there is a match up to a full 100% and then we have gradations in between.
Although it is a valuable tool, there are concerns about how the matches are determined and how they will be used. It is very important that some of those privacy issues and highly technical issues be addressed. I am sure the committee will have a substantial number of witnesses brought forward it to ensure all of those very highly technical concerns are addressed.
There have been some examples in the past where DNA samples were taken improperly. How they were tracked and then subsequently destroyed are important issues for the privacy of people.
When we talk about Maher Arar, although this not DNA, it is an example of how information has been inappropriately used and it does not instill confidence in the Canadian public. In Mr. Arar's case information was gathered inappropriately and then used inappropriately. That very shameful piece of Canadian history has shaken people's faith in how information is gathered, how people's rights are protected, how that information gets shared with foreign governments and what happens to Canadian citizens once that information is out there. We know Mr. Arar was subject to torture. We also know the Canadian government did not move as swiftly as it could have done to protect his rights.
Although it was not DNA, the case of Mr. Arar is an example of how our Canadian government failed to protect the rights of our citizens. That raises a concern for Canadians. They want to ensure that when DNA information is gathered, it is appropriately stored and appropriately used. It is important for us to ensure that the systems we put in place to protect the rights of Canadians are well established, very transparent and clear. Canadians are certainly looking for transparency and clarity in their government. We expect this legislation to continue that transparency and clarity.
We have seen some value in the overturning of wrongful convictions, and a number of cases have been cited. It is also another example of how the DNA data bank can be a useful tool to protect the rights of citizens. We have had some high profile cases where perhaps a more effective use of a DNA data base could have ensured that people were not jailed in an unjust way and did not spend years in jail for crimes they did not commit. There is clearly a valuable tool in the bill, which is not only accessible for the criminal justice system, but for people who have been accused of crimes as well.
Overall, the bill going before committee will give people an opportunity to look at the privacy and charter issues, the storage issues and some of the possible constitutional challenges that could arise from the legislation. I would encourage the committee to look at the review process, which was supposed to be under way. That review could inform the committee and other members of the House. It also could avoid some of the duplication about which people are very concerned. It may also lead to looking at the overview of the criminal justice code that often has contradictory clauses. I believe it has been a number of years since the criminal justice code was overhauled. It would seem timely, given the number of bills coming before the House, that this critical step be undertaken.
Although we have seen the proliferation of justice bills before the House, perhaps we are not using our time here as efficiently and as effectively as we could be. We might want to look at the review as a way of dealing with the proliferation of bills before us.
A number of important points have been raised by members. I am sure the members of the justice committee have been taking careful notes.