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House of Commons Hansard #58 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was sudan.

Topics

Softwood Lumber Products Export Charge Act, 2006Government Orders

11:55 a.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Bill Blaikie

In my opinion the yeas have it.

And more than five members having risen:

Call in the members.

Softwood Lumber Products Export Charge Act, 2006Government Orders

Noon

Liberal

Karen Redman Liberal Kitchener Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would ask that the vote be deferred until the end of government orders tomorrow.

Softwood Lumber Products Export Charge Act, 2006Government Orders

Noon

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Bill Blaikie

The opposition whip has asked that the division be postponed until the end of government orders tomorrow and, accordingly, this is what will happen.

The House resumed from October 2 consideration of the motion that Bill C-19, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (street racing) and to make a consequential amendment to the Corrections and Conditional Release Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

Noon

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, yesterday there was very good debate on the bill. It is a bill that seeks to create five new offences under the legislation with regard to street racing.

If members perhaps did not have an opportunity to follow much of the debate because of other responsibilities, I commend to them a speech by the member for London West who did an extraordinary amount of work to highlight for the information of all hon. members some of the areas in which there are some concerns and in which more consideration should be given. I really thought those comments were very helpful.

There is no question that the matter of street racing is an extremely serious issue. It is an issue which is important to Canadians and it is an issue which the House should give some careful consideration.

In the Criminal Code right now there are four offences dealing with the dangerous operation of a motor vehicle. They include dangerous operation causing bodily harm, dangerous operation causing death, criminal negligence causing bodily harm and criminal negligence causing death.

This bill would add another dimension to the consideration of a charge being laid, and that is whether or not there is the additional consideration and that is that the particular offence under the Criminal Code also was exacerbated by the incidence of street racing.

If members have followed the debate they will know that even with regard to the definition of street racing it is not entirely black and white. It is basically any two cars. As was pointed out by the member for Scarborough—Rouge River and by the member for London West, even rally racing may inadvertently be covered under the definition. There are a couple of other examples. For instance, let us take two people at a traffic light who do not know each other and have nothing planned, but if they happen to look at each other through their windows and all of a sudden start pumping their gas pedal a bit, we have to wonder, when the light turns green and they take off, whether they are street racing or just getting up to speed. There is some discretion I suppose.

The point is that a number of members raised concerns about whether or not the definition was clear enough and comprehensive enough to ensure legitimate sporting events, for instance, were excluded or exempted from the provisions of the proposed act.

The member for Scarborough—Rouge River also raised the issue of whether or not there was a time trial type of situation where there were not two cars involved simultaneously but perhaps consecutively and they were trying to get from destination a to b within the shortest period of time. Effectively, it is a timed issue. In a sense, it is a race against the clock and I suppose there are some interesting possibilities. Therefore, the definition has to be clear.

Probably one of the most salient points that was raised in the debate by the member for London West had to do with the fact that the courts now have a number of aspects to consider in terms of determining the penalties exigible to a particular circumstance. If we were to now add the circumstance of street racing, the problem would no longer be two dimensional but it could be three dimensional. We need to look at the experience of the courts as to whether or not, under the existing laws, there already is some strain on the courts and perhaps the latitude of the judges to be able to apply sentences.

The bill would increase sentences and, in some cases, increase maximums and progressive penalties with regard to incarceration and to the prohibition for driving. However, by adding these five new offences, it appears that the bill may add another element that may impact the latitude of the judiciary to determine appropriate proportional sentences.

When I looked back at some of the debate on this, I noticed an interesting quote in the speech by the Minister of Justice. He said:

The criminal law can be, and in this case should be, a tool for shifting public perception.

I am not sure whether we should simply take that out of the context of everything else that the criminal law should be. By simply saying that we have street racing and that we have done the job because we now have harsher sentences in there, brings us to the same question about whether harsher and more convoluted sentences with some other things, such as the issue of deterrence, it is really a question that the House has wrestled with in many cases.

Is dealing with criminal activity solely a matter of deterrence? In at least half a dozen speeches yesterday people made some very extraordinary pleas for looking at a more comprehensive approach to the problem of street racing. I understand that in the first six months of 2006 there were 10 deaths attributed to street racing incidents. There is no question that one death is too much, especially when such an irresponsible activity as street racing is going on, but demographic studies have shown who is involved.

This is interesting and it comes from the Library of Parliament in the legislative summary. With regard to the demographics, it indicates that the participants can be classified, as a general rule, into one of three distinctive categories: first, young people aged 18-24 who usually live at home and, in most cases, have low incomes. I am not sure if it is the parents or the 18-24 year olds who have low incomes, but I would suspect we are probably talking about the individuals who have committed the offence.

The second category are individuals aged 25-40 who generally modify and use muscle cars such as Cameros, Corvettes and Mustangs. The third category are individuals of varying ages who drive imported vehicles such as late model Acuras, Hondas, Mitsubishis or Nissans.

I might add an additional item here. The study also shows that some participants use stolen vehicles, which is a whole other problem in terms of criminal activity within our society. However, there is a demographic, a prevalence in certain circumstances. In terms of amendments to the Criminal Code and in terms of doing as parliamentarians what we ask for in our prayer every morning, that we make good laws and wise decisions, is it a good law if it just simply says that we should keep ratcheting up sentences and keep throwing people into jail and that will take care of it?

The question then becomes the deterrence issue. We have had the debate in the House many times before about whether or not stiffer sentences will be a deterrent to those who do it. I am not so sure that an 18-24 year old will be too concerned. I think the hormones are jumping, the friends are there and, in some cases, alcohol is probably involved. This is something that is done simply because it is cool.

Then there are others in the 25 to 40 range who probably have a little money to throw away and who probably can afford to buy some of these cars, soup them up, such as installing special nitrous oxide burners. Again, this is almost like a yuppie type of thing where people want to do certain things.

A car cannot be modified without getting some very specialized equipment. We have to wonder whether there is any way in which we can communicate with those who are in the business of producing, marketing, retailing and modifying these parts to potential street racers. This has to do with a comprehensive and maybe a balanced approach toward the problem of street racing. I have often thought that, for every social problem we address in this place, public education is a big part of the solution. Prevention is a big part of the solution.

When I became a member of Parliament in 1993, the very first meeting I was ever at was a health committee meeting. The officials told us at the time that 75% of the dollars were being spent on remedial care; that is after there is the problem the health care system, we will try to address the problem, and only 25% was spent on prevention. The conclusion was that the model of 75% on fixing problems and only 25% on prevention was unsustainable.

Over the last decade, we have discovered very clearly that we cannot ignore the value of prevention. In fact, in the health model, it turned out that for every one dollar spent on prevention, we would save in the long term hundreds of dollars. It makes a great deal of sense. However, we do not apply those kinds of principles to the judiciary.

If we provide very specific conditions, whether it be mandatory minimums or increased maximums, and work them into the Criminal Code, we tend to build up a system which has absolutely no flexibility nor latitude.

I am aware of some work that has been done with regard to mitigating circumstances. This has to do with fetal alcohol syndrome or now called fetal alcohol spectrum disorders. Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta have done some studies. About a couple of years ago, those provinces announced that half the people in provincial jails suffered from alcohol related birth defects. If those people get into situations where they have broken the law, where do the courts have the latitude to consider the penalties in that specific circumstance? Do we have sufficient breadth of factors, which should be properly taken into account, when sentencing is considered? Should people who have mental health problems be incarcerated in prisons that are dedicated toward rehabilitation when rehabilitation is not applicable to them? Those are some interesting questions.

I wonder whether people with FAS, who for some odd reason finds themselves charged with street racing, may receive the same penalty as someone who had a cognizance or a criminal mind? I am sure the Minister of Justice would agree that in some cases they do not have criminal minds. Where do courts have latitude in this? I have some concern about that. I am sure there are a number of other cases.

I am concerned about maybe tying the hands of the courts and the judicial system even further. As well, I wonder whether it is a dangerous route to go down to suggest that maybe the judges are not doing the job. It is a terrible thing when not only is there no respect for the laws by some people, but when the legislators lose respect of the court system as well. I wonder how much of the problem we have with the courts, whether it be that they are not handing out harsh enough sentences or putting enough people in jail, has to do with the fact that the Government of Canada is making changes to the Criminal Code and saying that these are the things that must happen, but it is the other jurisdictions, the provinces and the territories who have to enforce them. They need to have their jails. Where do they get the resources? If we do not have enough courts, if the courts are jammed up--

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.

Conservative

Vic Toews Conservative Provencher, MB

What are you talking about? This is Bill C-19.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

I understand that. This is kind of an interesting dialogue with the Minister of Justice. I thank him for being here and paying attention to the debate. It is important and I know it is important to the minister as well.

As we start dealing with the Criminal Code, adding more elements, eliminating or maybe handcuffing the judiciary even further to the point where it has no choice but to incarcerate more and more people, it means having to build more jails. I do not know who will pay for that, when it is not in the federal jurisdiction.

How do we deal with it when the courts are clogged up? Even at the federal level, a very large number of judicial appointments have not been made. The court system is suffering because there are no judges. I do not know why the government is dragging its feet. These are all part of this.

What is the scheme of things? Are we saying that the judiciary does not really matter, that we are going to ram them through? Is it simply a matter of this is the charge, we have to dispose of this case quickly and the judges have no choice? If so, then all of a sudden we are not dealing with a comprehensive approach to the problem of street racing.

Where is the money for public education? Why is it not part of the bill? Where is the money for other preventive measures, such as resources to the policing authorities at any level of jurisdiction so they can integrate more fully into the communities to assist legislators in communicating to those who are of the demographic? It is not all around the country. There are some interesting studies that show where some of the problems are.

I have asked similar questions with regard to other bills. It seems that the government's solution to all the problems is to build more jails and throw more people into jail. I guess the housing program for Canada is we will create more jails.

There should be appropriate and proportionate penalties for people who commit serious crime. However, when we create five different offences and we have graduated or progressive penalties, all of a sudden it becomes very difficult to deal with the question of proportionality. I do not know how the judges will be able to deal with it.

One of the Conservative members has raised the issue that the CPIC system does not keep track of information with regard to whether a particular incident involved street racing. It would simply record the Criminal Code offence. I had to think about that.

I am not sure, but it would seem to me that if someone came up on a charge of breaking an existing law and the evidence was that it was part of an event qualifying as street racing, that information should be on the table with regard to the charge currently before the court. If this person had a record for speeding or negligence causing harm or death, or something like that, the question could also be posed about what the circumstances were, and the court records would show that. Therefore, even the CPIC issue probably is not a compelling enough matter to say that this is a deficiency and that is why we have to do this. I do not think it is a good enough reason.

I have a lot of questions. The member for London West has raised some very important issues. Should the bill pass second reading and go to committee, which I think it should, many of these questions should be seriously considered by the committee before the bill would pass further.

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12:20 p.m.

NDP

Bill Siksay NDP Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for another thoughtful contribution to debate in this place. Could he comment on the influence our popular culture of speed has on the whole issue of street racing? Folks in debate over the last couple of days have raised issues of the movie culture, the car chases in movies, video games, extreme sports, which encourage risk-taking.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

12:20 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member is quite right. I heard that debate and those examples. I must admit it made me think about a car commercial for the Acura, I believe. The commercial states that it has great steering control on sharp turns and other things. It shows a car, the rocker panel folds out, it fires some kind of spike into a concrete pillar and the wire helps the car get around the corner. We tend to glamorize speed. Many of the automobile companies are guilty of this, but it does not help us promote the responsible use of an automobile. It really gets down to that.

I agree with the member. This tends to support my representation that dealing with street racing is not just about how serious the penalty will be. What is the rest of the story? How do we deal with the influence of pop culture? How do we deal with other influences that particularly affect young people and allow them to get into situations that are harmful to all of us?

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

12:20 p.m.

Conservative

Ed Fast Conservative Abbotsford, BC

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the fact that my colleague supports the bill going to committee for further discussion.

I was intrigued by his comments about tying the hands of the judiciary. As the member knows, the bill does not provide for mandatory minimum sentences. It provides for mandatory driving prohibitions and for higher maximum sentences. In my mind, higher maximum sentences provide more discretion for judges to sentence.

I would encourage the member to look at this not as tying the judiciary's hands, but to providing more direction to the judiciary. I understand some members of the judiciary would desire the House of Commons, which is reflective of the mood of the country, to provide more direction so they could sentence properly. Those who deserved to be in jail would spend time in jail, but those who could serve time in the community, would do so.

I invite the member's comments on whether he thinks the bill is more directed at providing direction to our judiciary.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would commend the speech made by the member for London West to the member on this point.

The judiciary already has the discretion to look at aggravating circumstances such as street racing. It is not necessary to put street racing in there. If we do, in terms of sentencing, we are making it more complicated and difficult to get convictions. The problem I see is the courts may have a greater difficulty getting convictions to prove that there was a criminal mind on all the elements necessary for conviction. I am not sure if the member understood that.

I ask the member to have a look at it. It is not simply a matter of tying the hands of the judiciary by setting mandatory minimums or imposing absolute sentences. The proportionality of sentencing is being affected by the bill, and that may be a problem. People will say that there is an argument for conditional sentencing or whatever. Maybe more people will not go to jail simply because there is disproportionality within the sentencing.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.

NDP

Bill Siksay NDP Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am glad to have this opportunity to speak to Bill C-19, an act to amend the Criminal Code (street racing) and to make a consequential amendment to the Corrections and Conditional Release Act.

We are discussing very important legislation. It is an issue that is of importance in many communities across the country. It is important to many people in my riding of Burnaby—Douglas who have had direct experience with street racing, and in some cases have had family members and relatives die in incidents involving street racing.

There have been deaths in my riding on Barnett Highway and Hastings Street. They were directly linked to street racing. As I travel around my constituency I have all too often seen the roadside memorials that spring up after that kind of event. They remain on those two thoroughfares in my riding. These are reminders of the tragedies, losses and deaths of people who were loved in the community. The deaths have affected families, friends and co-workers.

There have also been many serious injuries that have resulted from these incidents. Sometimes the folks involved have been innocent bystanders, drivers and passengers in other vehicles. It is a terrible circle of tragedy that stems from this irresponsible activity of street racing.

There is no place for street racing in our communities. It endangers the participants in the activity and the public. We need to address it in all its forms. It is an important issue to address in order to make our communities safer and to help broaden the understanding of public responsibility, and the commitments and relationships that we have with each other that make our communities successful and safe places to live. Street racing is one of the violations of our agreements with each other about how we live in our communities.

We need to address the question of street racing in all its forms. That is one area where this bill has received some criticism in the last day or two in the House during debate. There is some question about whether it deals with the breadth of activities that are known in street racing. I will read the definition that appears in Bill C-19. The definition of “street racing” as it appears in the bill states:

“street racing” means operating a motor vehicle in a race with at least one other motor vehicle on a street, road, highway or other public place;

There have been questions raised about what that actually includes. Does it have to be a side by side race of two or more vehicles? What about the other kinds of street racing that take place in our communities? I wish I had the appropriate popular expressions to describe them because I am sure there are more common ways of describing these other activities.

There are situations where people have timed races to see how long it takes to get to a certain location. There are other situations where people text message or email that they all converge to a certain place and the first to arrive is declared the winner. There are other variations as well. It is not just what we would all assume to be the side by side race of two or more vehicles.

Does the definition that is included in this legislation cover all the other circumstances, which are equally as dangerous and cause just as many problems in our communities as the more traditional race? How broad is this bill? Would it complicate things, for instance, for people who organize car rallies? Does it penalize people who might engage in a jackrabbit start at a stop sign with someone who drives up alongside?

Just what is the extent of the definition and how will it effect our understanding of this criminal activity? There are some problems with the definition that need to be addressed, worked on, and clarified before this is legislation that I could fully support.

It is not just youth who engage in street racing. In the last day and a half while we have been discussing this we have been quick to perhaps accuse youth of being the main problem.

As the previous speaker mentioned, the demographics include a broad range of people who engage in various forms of street racing and who may participate in this dangerous activity. It is people who may alter their cars to increase the power beyond what was originally contemplated for the weight of the vehicle that they have. There are people who soup-up vehicles, who develop muscle cars and hot rods, and those kinds of things.

There are people who drive very high powered vehicles for social status. We know that is often the case where some very expensive and high powered vehicles are seen as an indication that one is doing well in the community. Speed is sometimes associated with that status as well.

I think it is not just young people. Clearly, young people are not out buying the most expensive and fastest vehicles on the market. Often they are the ones who cannot afford to do that, so it is not just a youth problem. It is a problem of all sectors in society.

Sadly, it is not just a male problem either as some of the most recent incidents have shown. We need to be careful that we do not dismiss it as just the raging hormones of young men as we have often heard in this debate. It is a problem that crosses groups and demographics in our society.

I also want to address the idea that perhaps street racing is not already covered in our Criminal Code. I think it is very clearly covered there. In fact, the minister in his speech yesterday, when he spoke at the beginning of the debate on the legislation, made that very clear, that the Criminal Code does have options for dealing with street racing behaviour, and that they are available now and they include very stiff penalties.

I will list the charges the minister mentioned in his speech. The charges that are available in the Criminal Code now include criminal negligence causing death, which as the minister pointed out carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment. That is no small charge. It is a very serious charge. It is a serious crime with a very serious possible penalty.

There is also the charge of dangerous operation of a motor vehicle causing death, which currently carries a maximum penalty of 14 years imprisonment. It is no small charge and no small penalty for someone convicted of that crime. There is also criminal negligence causing bodily harm. It has a very serious penalty of a maximum of 10 years imprisonment. There is also dangerous operation of a motor vehicle causing bodily harm with, again, a maximum penalty of 10 years imprisonment. Finally, there is dangerous operation of a motor vehicle which has a 5 year maximum imprisonment on indictment and which can be applied to cases where no one was injured or killed.

These are all very serious options which contemplate a very serious crime. They are there already to be used in our Criminal Code. If there is a problem with enforcement, then we need to get the reasons as to why these options are not being fully utilized in our communities. Why do the police not use these charges?

If they are using these charges and convictions are not happening, why is that the case? However, I do not think that there is any evidence that that is going on. Certainly, there is no evidence that I am aware of that these charges have not led to convictions in the very serious cases.

There is also all of the sets of driving prohibitions in the current Criminal Code which are a part of the options that are available to the courts. Under the current Criminal Code, if one is convicted of any of the five offences I mentioned above, the court can order a period of driving prohibition of up to 3 years in the case of a dangerous operation of a motor vehicle, up to 10 years in the case of a dangerous operation of a motor vehicle causing bodily harm or death and criminal negligence causing bodily harm. In the case of criminal negligence causing death, the court may order up to a lifetime driving prohibition. That is what the Minister of Justice said in his speech yesterday on the current provisions of the Criminal Code.

Even in the case of driving prohibitions, the court has very serious options available to it when it comes to driving prohibitions. A 3 year prohibition, 10 year prohibition, and lifetime prohibition are no small penalties for people who have been found guilty on any of the five charges.

I do not think that there is a problem currently with the Criminal Code. Clearly, the Criminal Code contemplates the dangerous operation of a vehicle and the dangerous operation of a vehicle that leads to death or injury as a very serious matter and worthy of a very serious punishment. I think that right now we have in the law good possibilities on that.

This brings me to wonder why we are considering these changes to the act. I think it is part of the Conservative Party's interest in mandatory minimum sentences and trying to tie the hands of the courts in very specific ways around very specific crimes. I know that mandatory minimum sentences do not work. They do not deter people from committing crime. They do not prevent crime in that sense. People often do not consider the consequences of criminal activity before they do it. It is just not in the works when that sort of thing is happening.

All that it might do is add greater numbers of people who are being held in prisons in Canada. I am concerned about the government's plans in that area. We have already seen that the government plans to expand the number of places available in prisons in Canada. I do not know that this would serve our society well in the long run.

We know that often putting people in prison does not in the long run solve the problems of crime faced by our society. It does not help them become rehabilitated and learn to take their place in a positive way in our communities. I am not sure that is a solution and that this bill is the solution in proposing tougher sentences around this crime.

I should mention that tonight at St. Paul's University members of the religious community in Ottawa and others are gathering to talk about conditional and mandatory sentencing. That is at seven o'clock tonight at St. Paul's. I wish I could be there. I am going to be here for the debate on Darfur. I think they raise very important issues that need to be part of the debate we are having here on this legislation as well.

I also have to say that I do not believe that judges do not take the crimes of dangerous driving and street racing seriously. I believe they take them very seriously. I do not think that there is a judge in this country who acts leniently when it comes to this kind of crime, especially in the case where it has led to injury or death. I just do not think that is the case.

Sure judges make mistakes and sure the system is not perfect. I think to characterize the system as broken and to say that people are being dealt with leniently is completely wrong. I think the judges in Canada do an excellent job considering what they are up against and what they have to work with.

I think we have to consider all the facts of the case. We have to consider circumstances and the penalties imposed have to be appropriate and proportional. Judges must have the ability to make those kinds of decisions and act in their best judgment in light of all the circumstances that have come to light during a trial. I do believe that judges do that.

I do not want to do anything that would undermine the authority of judges in our system. They have a tough job and I believe they do it well. I think that right now judges do have the resources to do the job that we ask of them.

There are other issues around how we actually prevent the crime of street racing. There are preventive measures that we should be taking. I think we heard yesterday and today about some of those measures.

We have heard that police forces need more resources and more officers. They need more equipment to be able to put the effort that they want to put into dealing with this particular crime. We have certainly heard how the RCMP in the city of Richmond found a way of diverting resources into dealing with the issue of street crime which had been a particular issue in that community. The police had found a way to deal with crime. It was not without cost. It meant that the police had to make difficult decisions about where to divert other resources from, but they did find a way.

We have to make that kind of decision making easier for our police forces and ensure they have the resources. Unfortunately, Bill C-19 does not address that issue.

There are other examples from other jurisdictions as well. The state of Victoria in Australia has instituted a number of measures which address the whole question of the high death rate on its highways. It has reduced it by almost a third in the last 15 to 20 years, which is a significant reduction in the death rate on Australian highways in the state of Victoria.

One of its measures is a three kilometres an hour guideline when it comes to the issuing of speeding tickets. Here in Canada we all assume that somehow the guideline we can get away with is about 10 kilometres over the speed limit before we are in danger of getting a ticket. In the state of Victoria in Australia the well-known edict is that it is three kilometres an hour. My experience there is that it has had an effect on the speed that people drive on the highways in the state of Victoria in Australia. That is another kind of measure that might be the kind of thing that we should be looking at and our provinces should be looking at.

On the whole question of photo radar, my experience in British Columbia was that when we were using photo radar in British Columbia people did slow down on highways. I often have the occasion to drive the Sea to Sky Highway in B.C., which is known as one of Canada's most dangerous highways. When photo radar was in operation, people did not drive as fast on that highway, plain and simple. When it was gone, they started speeding again. I think photo radar makes a significant contribution and I think it is one of the measures that we should be considering.

Education of our drivers is another measure. Compulsory driver education may be something that we should be looking at in all of our jurisdictions so that drivers are apprised of issues like street racing as part of their basic education.

I also think that we need to place some limits on vehicles that are altered for racing. We need to make sure they are not driven on roads and highways in our communities when they have been altered as vehicles for any kind of racing activity.

Generally I think we need to address that whole issue of the culture of speed in our society. I think some of these ideas are ways of getting serious about speeding on our highways, in which we all can play a part.

However, I think there are other issues that also need to be addressed in addressing the whole culture of speed. We have heard a number of times about advertisers and car manufacturers who sell cars by appealing to the fact that they go fast.

We all know of one particular commercial in which a young boy says “zoom, zoom, zoom” as a car speeds by on a highway. That is an example of how we are characterizing the impression that vehicles are made to be driven fast and should be driven fast and also of how we are appealing to young people in that context. I think that is a very dangerous thing. Advertisers should have pressure put on them about that kind of advertising appeal.

We have also seen advertisers' own concerns about legal liability when cars are driven very quickly in TV commercials. Flashed on the screen is the message that it is a closed circuit and there is liability. I think they have identified liability issues in that case. They are trying to say that this is something one can only do in a closed circuit, when we know that the general impression is something else.

Too, I think we have to put pressure on our vehicle and auto manufacturers. Why are cars capable of travelling at speeds of 180 to 200 kilometres an hour or more? Do any of us ever have occasion to drive that fast? Perhaps there is a need for emergency vehicles to travel at those kinds of speeds, but generally those of us who use vehicles to go shopping, take kids to school or go to an appointment have absolutely no need of a vehicle that is capable of doing that kind of speed. If we altered the kinds of vehicles we drive, and I think manufacturers should be perfectly capable of that, maybe could make a contribution on this whole issue.

There is also the question of popular culture. Car chases are a constant feature of movies. As well, video games show some very disturbing kinds of car chasing and street racing, where the whole object is to roll somebody off the road and put them in the ditch, for instance, or worse. I also think there is a whole culture of extreme sports now, which glorifies taking serious risks.

We need to address a lot of things that are part of that culture.

There is some thought that this might be a bill that helps educate the public, but I also think it does some other things that are less positive. I also think it is not my job to pretend that legislation will address this situation when I believe at some level that it will not. Since I think this is a very limited piece of legislation, I have a hard time seeing how it is really going to affect and prevent street racing in Canada.

I think that should be our goal: to prevent street racing before it happens. I believe that we already have in place serious penalties for people who are convicted of the kinds of dangerous driving of which street racing is a part. The Criminal Code provisions are there. I am very skeptical of the educative possibilities of this legislation. As well, I think we are missing the boat completely when it comes to prevention.

I am interested in this debate. I am glad to be able to participate in it. I have listened carefully to the submissions of others and look forward to continuing my participation as we continue our consideration of this legislation.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.

Conservative

Laurie Hawn Conservative Edmonton Centre, AB

Mr. Speaker, I have two quick comments and then a question.

First of all, it seems to me that the hon. member whose speech I enjoyed listening to is showing the same confusion about ownership of an object versus behaviour, much as people do with firearms. Simple ownership of a firearm does not make a person guilty. Simple ownership of an automobile of any kind does not make a person guilty. It is the behaviour that does. That is what we are trying to regulate.

I also would suggest that we are not limiting the courts' ability to act at the lower end of the punishment scale, but we are expanding their options at the upper end, which I do not think is a bad thing.

My question is on prevention. It goes back to what my hon. colleague mentioned in his remarks and in a question he had for a previous speaker. It is about the impact of culture and advertising and so on. I agree with him that it has a negative impact.

What are his suggestions are in terms of regulation of culture, movies, advertising and the automobile manufacturers' ability to manufacture vehicles that they can sell, and does that extend to regulation or does it go beyond that to some form of censorship?

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.

NDP

Bill Siksay NDP Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am not a great advocate of censorship, but I do think there are many ways in which the public can bring pressure on advertisers, for instance, and on the people who produce movies and television and those kinds of things.

I do not believe we should institute laws that say they cannot show a speeding car, for instance, but I think there have been instances where public campaigns have been held to draw advertisers' attention to the fact that the way they are portraying a certain product or a certain activity is not the way a society believes they should be, and I believe they can have a real effect. I think that kind of pressure is most important.

I think we should be putting pressure on vehicle manufacturers to stop stressing speed when it comes to the advertising of vehicles. There are other reasons why we want to buy cars. Maybe we need to ask those questions when we go out to purchase a vehicle, questions about how it performs in terms of safety and so on. We should make those questions more of a priority.

In terms of requiring manufacturers to make sure vehicles are not capable of those speeds, I actually would be interested in considering that. I think it is one that we might want to look into. Certainly the amount of research and development work that goes into speed on the part of the automotive industry is significant. We see it all over the place in high performance racing.

Probably not enough goes into the other end of things, which are the kinds of vehicles most of use every single day. I would think that there might be some interesting possibilities for research about perfecting vehicles that do not need those speeds, research about how they can be manufactured and sold to the public in a way that makes them popular and also perhaps helpful to our environment. I do think these are possibilities that are worth considering.

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12:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

Is the House ready for the question?

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12:50 p.m.

Some hon. members

Question.

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Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

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12:50 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

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An hon. member

On division.

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Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

Accordingly, the bill stands referred to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights.

(Motion agreed to, bill read the second time and referred to a committee)

An Act to amend Certain Acts in relation to DNA IdentificationGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.

Provencher Manitoba

Conservative

Vic Toews ConservativeMinister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

moved that Bill C-18, An Act to amend certain Acts in relation to DNA identification, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak on Bill C-18, An Act to amend certain Acts in relation to DNA identification, and to recommend to the House that this bill be given second reading and referred to committee.

This bill is highly technical. It is necessary, however, to make these technical changes so that we can proclaim former Bill C-13, which was passed in the last Parliament with all party support.

Many members are familiar with the background of this bill because they were here when Bill C-13 was passed, but I will provide a brief background for the benefit of new members.

The National DNA Data Bank, which is operated by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, began operating on June 30, 2000. Basically, it compares DNA profiles of convicted offenders with DNA profiles found at crime scenes. It now contains almost 100,000 profiles from convicted offenders and about 30,000 profiles from crime scenes. The data bank has assisted almost 6,500 police investigations.

In 2001, federal and provincial prosecutors and officials identified a number of deficiencies in the legislation. The Uniform Law Conference, which includes representatives of the defence bar, passed resolutions calling for high priority to be given to remedying seven problems.

The government launched public consultations in the fall of 2002. It was only in May 2004 that former Bill C-35 was introduced to correct the problems that had been identified. The bill died on the order paper when the election was called and was reintroduced as former Bill C-13 in October 2004.

I believe it would be fair to say that while all parties supported the DNA data bank and the changes proposed in the former Bill C-13, many members wanted to make more extensive changes.

There were negotiations among the parties to develop a package of changes that could secure unanimous support for the bill. In May 2005, three key amendments to the bill were adopted.

First was extending the retroactive scheme to cover persons convicted of one murder, manslaughter or sexual assault. I recall that our party, in opposition, was particularly keen in bringing that issue forward.

Second was creating a category of very violent offences where the court would have no discretion to refuse to make the DNA order. Again, this was another initiative of the party that I am in, which made that recommendation in the last Parliament.

Third was extending the definition of secondary designated offences to cover all offences under the Criminal Code or the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act that are punishable on indictment by five years or more.

The bill then moved with lightning speed and with all party support through the House and the Senate because of an impending confidence vote on the budget.

The provisions of former Bill C-13 that came into force upon receiving royal assent were those dealing with the expansion of the retroactive scheme, which makes about 4,400 more offenders eligible to be sampled, the procedure for dealing with DNA orders that appear on their face to have been improperly made, and the procedures for dealing with moderate DNA matches.

The major amendments that have not yet been brought into force are the following.

First is allowing courts to make DNA data bank orders against a person who has been found “not criminally responsible on account of mental disorder”.

Second is adding Internet luring of a child, uttering threats, criminal harassment, and “criminal organization” offences to the list of designated offences.

Third is moving “robbery” and “break and enter into a dwelling house” and child pornography related offences from the list of secondary designated offences to the list of primary designated offences.

Fourth is creating a new sub-category of the primary designated offence list of 16 extremely violent offences for which the courts will have no discretion whatsoever and must make the order.

Fifth is expanding the definition of secondary designated offences to include all offences that are punishable by imprisonment for five years or more.

Most members will agree that these are significant changes that will enhance the ability of the police to use the data bank and to protect Canadians from criminals.

Why, then, are they not yet in force? Federal, provincial and territorial officials, who were preparing for the proclamation of the remaining provisions of Bill C-13, identified a number of serious technical problems that should be corrected prior to proclamation and certain procedures that should be modified to increase efficiency and reduce costs. The former government, therefore, introduced Bill C-72 in November 2005 to make the necessary changes. However, that bill died when the election was called.

Officials have continued their work and they have identified more changes that would clarify Parliament's intent in passing former Bill C-13 and the procedures that should be modified to make the DNA legislation more effective.

As a former provincial crown prosecutor, I know how important it is to have clear procedures set out in the Criminal Code if legislation is to be effective. I am pleased that my department took the initiative of holding a two day meeting with prosecutors, police, forensic scientists and correctional personnel to go over Bill C-13 with a fine tooth comb.

Bill C-18, the present bill, proposes about a dozen changes that were not in the former Bill C-72, and those changes flowed directly from that meeting. Bill C-18 proposes no changes in the underlying policies or procedures already adopted by Parliament. It contains mainly drafting changes, such as the creation of 10 new forms. These changes are not dramatic and they will not grab the headlines, but they will be welcomed by the people in the field who need to make what Parliament passes work.

Bill C-18 also contains some substantive changes that I believe will be supported by all members of the House. In particular, it would add attempted murder and conspiracy to commit murder to the offences covered by the retroactive provisions. These are very serious offences that indicate an elevated risk of reoffending and are punishable by life imprisonment, a higher punishment than for the sexual offences that are already included in the retroactive scheme.

It would also permit the Crown to apply for retroactive DNA data bank order where the offender was convicted prior to June 30, 2000 of one of the listed offences and is still under sentence for that offence, rather than requiring that the person be serving a sentence of two years or more.

There are a few cases of persons who, prior to June 30, 2000, received multiple consecutive sentences for various offences, including some of the offences that make an offender eligible for retroactive sampling and who are still under sentence. Although the court clearly considered them to be serious offenders, it did not impose a sentence of two years or more for any one of the relevant offences. It would also allow a DNA order to be made within 90 days after the sentence is pronounced.

It is believed that the main reason orders are not being made in many cases where they are already authorized is that prosecutors are extremely busy and are forgetting to remind the court to consider the issue. This would give both the prosecutor and the judge the time to review the files and, if the matter was simply missed, to have a hearing where the prosecution and the offender can present their arguments to the judge, who will decide whether to make the order.

It would also make it an offence to fail to appear for DNA sampling. It is expected that having a specific offence will better emphasize to the offender the necessity of appearing for sampling and so increase compliance with DNA data bank orders. It would authorize any police force that arrests the person for failing to appear for a DNA sample to take the sample.

It would be very expensive if offenders arrested in one province had to be sent back to the province where the order was made to have the sample taken. It would permit a police agency that has been authorized to take a DNA sample to authorize another police agency to take the sample if that would be less expensive. The police have been hampered in their efforts to execute the orders where the offender has been incarcerated outside its jurisdiction or been conditionally released but resides outside its jurisdiction.

The procedure to have the order transferred to a court having jurisdiction and obtaining another order are time consuming and use up resources unnecessarily.

There are also some changes being made to ensure that the National DNA Data Bank can communicate with the forensic laboratories and with its international partners more effectively.

Parliament certainly wanted to encourage these exchanges, but the amendment, as passed in Bill C-13, is not as clear as it should be. As well, the National Defence Act is being amended so that the DNA regime applicable to the military continues to mirror the civilian regime.

There are many other technical changes of this nature in the bill and I am sure that when the bill gets to committee for detailed consideration, officials will explain them all. I trust this is sufficient, however, for members to realize that the changes proposed by this bill will be very helpful to law enforcement, prosecutors and judges who have to use the legislation on a daily basis.

Passage of this bill will allow for the proclamation of the rest of former Bill C-13 and should ensure that it is implemented smoothly.

It is, of course, not the end of the changes to the DNA legislation. As members are aware, the five year parliamentary review of the DNA legislation should have begun by June 30, 2005. Officials of my department, the Department of Public Safety, the RCMP and the National DNA Data Bank are ready to assist the committee as soon as it is mandated to commence the review.

The delay in beginning the review is not entirely unfortunate. The committee will be able to consider such issues as making the taking of a DNA sample automatic upon conviction, or even more variations in light of the strong endorsement of the existing legislation by the Supreme Court in R. v. Rogers, which was decided in April of this year.

Rogers was primarily a case involving the ex parte nature of retroactive hearings, but Rogers also challenged the constitutionality of the scheme.

It is useful to consider the Supreme Court's detailed reasons upholding the constitutionality of the legislation. I want to quote from this because it is important for our discussions. The Supreme Court stated:

There is no question that DNA evidence has revolutionized the way many crimes are investigated and prosecuted. The use of this new technology has not only led to the successful identification and prosecution of many dangerous criminals, it has served to exonerate many persons who were wrongfully suspected or convicted. The importance of this forensic development to the administration of justice can hardly be overstated. At the same time, the profound implications of government seizure and use of DNA samples on the privacy and security of the person cannot be ignored. A proper balance between these competing interests must be achieved within our constitutional framework.

The court continues to state:

For reasons that follow, I have concluded that the collection of DNA samples for data bank purposes from designated classes of convicted offenders is reasonable within the meaning of s. 8 of the Charter.

That is the section of the charter dealing with the protection against unreasonable search and seizure.

The court continues to state:

Society’s interest in using this powerful new technology to assist law enforcement agencies in the identification of offenders is beyond dispute. The resulting impact on the physical integrity of the targeted offenders is minimal. The potential invasive impact on the right to privacy has carefully been circumscribed by legislative safeguards that restrict the use of the DNA data bank as an identification tool only.

The Supreme Court continues to state:

Unlike the warrant provisions, the DNA data bank provisions do not target suspected offenders in respect of particular offences. Rather, they target offenders who have been convicted of different categories of offences. They do not provide for the gathering of evidence for use in a specific prosecution. Rather, they provide for the collection of samples solely for the purpose of creating DNA profiles for inclusion in the data bank. In any future investigation, a comparison between DNA evidence obtained at a crime scene and the data bank DNA profile will either serve to exonerate or identify a suspect. However, if a crime scene DNA profile matches an existing profile in the data bank, the sample is not released. Usual investigative methods, including DNA warrants, must be resorted to in order to gather evidence in pursuit of the investigation.

The court continues to state:

In my view, in considering the purpose of the DNA data bank provisions, the appropriate analogy is to fingerprinting and other identification measures taken for law enforcement purposes. The purpose of the legislative scheme is expressly set out in s. 3 of the DNA Identification Act, “...to help law enforcement agencies identify persons alleged to have committed designated offences, including those committed before the coming into force of this Act.”

The court continues to state:

The DNA data bank provisions contained in the DNA Identification Act and the Criminal Code are intended to put modern DNA technology to use in the identification of potential and known offenders. The DNA Identification Act is a modern supplement to the Identification of Criminals Act.

I am sure the committee will undertake a full review of the DNA legislation and it will want to consider carefully the implications of this judgment. I hope all parties on the committee will be able to come to an agreement as to the best way to proceed so as to protect Canadians while continuing to respect their charter and privacy rights.

However, we do not know when the committee will be struck, start its hearings or make its recommendations. I am speaking of the committee that will do the entire review that Parliament mandated a committee to do. We should not wait for this longer and broader process to implement changes that are generally acknowledged to be needed right now.

Therefore, I am pleased to recommend that Bill C-18 be given a second reading and sent to the standing committee for its review.

An Act to amend Certain Acts in relation to DNA IdentificationGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.

Bloc

Réal Ménard Bloc Hochelaga, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the minister for his speech. I can assure him that we will be very diligent when reviewing this bill. We are quite aware that this is an important tool for the police. The Bloc Québécois—and I am sure all members—has always been concerned with maintaining the balance between protecting privacy in certain circumstances and carrying out investigations with due diligence.

I would like the minister to provide a bit more information about one aspect of this bill, that is the RCMP's prerogative to release information about criminal investigations in general. I thought it was possible for the RCMP to release information about offences subject to collection orders, thus the list of the 16 most serious offences, those we refer to as primary offences.

To whom would this information be provided? Who would be the recipients? Should the bill not contain an additional guideline in this matter? Should we not be concerned about releasing this extremely intrusive, confidential and private DNA information too widely? To what extent is the scope of this section being broadened?

An Act to amend Certain Acts in relation to DNA IdentificationGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.

Conservative

Vic Toews Conservative Provencher, MB

Mr. Speaker, I think we are getting into some of the more technical areas on which I am not qualified to answer appropriately. I can indicate that, as with the fingerprinting regime where individuals are required to provide fingerprints upon being charged with an indictable offence, the DNA situation is much more restrictive. It only applies to individuals who have been convicted.

The Canadian scheme differs radically from the British scheme where individuals are required to give DNA sampling upon being charged. That has resulted in serious cold crimes being solved. In Great Britain, for example, suspects in so-called property offences, break and enters, are required to provide a DNA sample upon being charged. Many other so-called violent crimes have also been solved.

The potential for DNA is immense. I note that the Canadian bill is very restrictive, not only in respect of the offences, but it only occurs in respect of conviction upon those offences and there is discretion on the part of the judges in some of these cases to even at that point refuse to order DNA. I also note that there are restrictions on how police can provide this information, but I think that is an idea that needs to be explored further in committee. I would suggest that the member take that to the officials at committee.

An Act to amend Certain Acts in relation to DNA IdentificationGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.

Liberal

Sue Barnes Liberal London West, ON

Mr. Speaker, the minister would know that a lot of people in this country who have family members who are missing are very concerned about the identification of these persons. I know there are some challenges with respect to using the DNA identification process. In fact, there are current private members' bills that raise the situation. I would think that most of us are very empathetic to people whose relatives are missing.

Would the Minister of Justice take this opportunity to go over some of the issues and challenges that would be addressed with a missing persons matching situation?

An Act to amend Certain Acts in relation to DNA IdentificationGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.

Conservative

Vic Toews Conservative Provencher, MB

Mr. Speaker, the member is right that it is a challenging issue.

I know that the prior government identified certain concerns with respect to that type of a data bank of missing persons. There were some issues about whether or not that was properly within the constitutional jurisdiction of the federal government and the federal Parliament. I take the position that it is within the federal constitutional jurisdiction of Parliament. I am looking forward to having that discussion in the context of another bill.

I know there are challenges. I can tell the member that I am quite sympathetic to that issue. Whether it is a private member's bill emanating from the opposition benches or government benches, my department is certainly prepared to look very seriously at that and assist in accommodating such a bill.

In the context of this particular bill however, it would only complicate the issue and delay passage of what are essential amendments to the bill that was passed by Parliament prior to the last election. The government did not want to raise that particular issue that the member for London West has raised in the context of this bill. Whether it is raised in the context of a separate private member's bill or in the overall review, that is something Parliament should look at very seriously.