Mr. Speaker, I stand to speak to Bill C-18, which is a bit of an omnibus bill but a small omnibus bill, with regard to the use of DNA technology in our criminal justice system.
As we heard earlier today from the minister, the bill is specifically designed to address a number of points that were missed when we initially set up the system back in 2000 and then again in the 2004-05 Parliament when we had some rather significant amendments to the bill that passed and became law. Even since then it has become clear that additional amendments need to be made.
I must admit that I approach this bill with some trepidation in terms of expressing support for it. I believe the government is once again, when it comes to bills that are related to crime in this country, to the Criminal Code, to a criminal justice system, taking a piecemeal approach that is not justified by the reality of what we are confronted with in this House and, in particular, with what we are confronted with in the justice committee and the huge agenda because of the large number of individual bills that are coming from the government. Unfortunately, this bill is another example of this happening.
It is particularly compounded in this case because we were mandated, under the legislation that was passed to set up the DNA registry, to do a parliamentary review of that at the five year mark. The five year mark expired in 2005. The previous Liberal government did not get to this review and the present government still has not announced when we are supposed to be doing that.
Bill C-18 should be part of that overall review that we will be doing. We will end up duplicating significantly the amount of time that we spend on the issue of a DNA registry because of this.
This is also a flagrant example of some hypocrisy on the part of the government, which, when in opposition, had a number of private members' bill, one of which was sponsored by a member of the current cabinet and would have set up additions to the registry. The bill was entitled Lindsey's Law and it would have set up a separate registry for samples of DNA found at crime scenes that had the potential to be samples of deceased individuals.
We have the tragedy of family members, loved ones and close friends disappearing but we have no way of using the DNA technology that we have, which would be very useful in tracing these people.
The concept of setting up this separate registry has all party support and yet the government did not see its way clear to include that provision in this bill so we could consider it at committee at this time. The government did not do the overall review. It is being done piecemeal again just on these limited number of sections and it ignores what has been a long-standing policy on its part to create this new registry. It completely ignores it.
When we asked the minister about it earlier today, his response was “we'll get to that some other time”. That is simply not acceptable. It almost begs the question of where the government is going with regard to the criminal justice system. How is it dealing effectively with crime problems in this country? As I say, it begs the question, but the answer is fairly obvious. The government does not know where it is going and it is not doing it at all effectively or efficiently.
I will now speak specifically to the provisions of the bill. As I have said, we have no problem approving the bill in principle and then having it go over to the justice committee. The bill would fill in some problems with the existing infrastructure of the DNA system but we do have some concerns and we will be raising them in committee.
The amendments we passed, which became law in 2005, had some retroactive provisions. The concern at committee at that time was that those retroactive provisions may contravene the charter. We do not know, and I am not sure the government knows, whether there have been any challenges to that section. However, if there have been it brings into question the retroactive provisions that are now in this bill that will cover a relatively small number of charges but where we will be getting samples from people who have already been convicted and are currently incarcerated. This is one of the issues we will need to raise.
Several other provisions raise issues of privacy and our rights under the charter. With regard to one of the issues, which is only an example because there are several others, there are provisions within the bill that would allow the DNA data bank to release information where the sample that is being examined is not a match that needs the top standard. We have various standards in this regard. We obviously have provisions where there is no match at all. We have provisions where it is a match almost to a full 100% and then we have gradations in-between.
What the bill proposes is that the data bank be allowed to communicate information on a sample where it has only been a moderate match. As that may raise a charter issue it will need to be explored at committee to see whether we can tighten up the language or perhaps not provide for it at all.
The other provision I have spoken to in the House is the provision that would allow for facilitating of court orders that direct the destruction of DNA samples because they were taken improperly. Usually that occurs where the sample was taken relative to a crime that was not within the regime of the existing legislation. The difficulty we have is that when we took evidence in the 2004-05 Parliament, it was clear from the people at the data bank that it posed a significant problem, because in the destruction of certain samples others may be destroyed. We will need to explore that matter.
However, if that does go through, there is an additional problem in that the bill would allow the prosecutor, the crown, to apply for the destruction of the sample taken improperly but it would not require the government to provide any notice to the individual whose sample was taken and whose sample is now being proposed to be destroyed. Out of fairness, if the sample was taken improperly, the individual should be notified that it will no longer be on the record. I think that is an issue around privacy and, quite frankly, just fairness that they be given that notice.
One of the big issues that we will be debating when we get to the review of the existing legislation from 2000 will be the issue of whether we will be expanding the number of crimes for which people have been convicted for which samples can be taken. The system works right now on a two tiered basis but all of the crimes that are under the regime now are quite serious crimes: murder, attempted murder, serious sexual assault, serious physical assault and crimes of that nature.
We have seen other regimes, notably the U.K. but also a number of the states in the U.S., that have extensively expanded the use of taking samples for DNA. The committee was a bit shocked when we heard that in England the authorities can demand and obtain samples of DNA from an individual who has been charged with not a crime but a quasi-crime, which is a driving offence under the highway traffic act.
We will get into debate on how far, if at all, we will be extending the list of crimes where samples can be ordered and taken.
We are doing that, though, in the bill. It says to me that we should be doing the review at this time rather than waiting to do it some indefinite time in the future, because we are expanding the list of crimes. We are adding at least two more and potentially one or two that are subcrimes under that.
It is a situation where the process we are going through is very inefficient. I believe it does not allow the House, the committee and, ultimately, the country the opportunity to do that review of the 2000 legislation, of the regime that we have now. I recognize, quite clearly, that a number of the reservations we had back in 2000 were constitutional and charter issues.
We have had the decision in R. v. Rogers earlier in the spring this year when I believe we had a clear signal from the Supreme Court of Canada, where that decision ended up, that some of the reservations we had earlier are no longer applicable, but it is not a blank cheque. As opposed to what I heard from the minister this morning, I believe the Supreme Court still has some reservations about the use of DNA in certain charges, such as the lower end charges, around the issue of privacy and civil liberties.
We should not be dealing with the bill in the absence of a full review because we need to strike a balance. I am concerned that we are going ahead with these amendments at this time without fully considering where we properly strike that balance. The Supreme Court has made it very clear, as it did in Rogers and other decisions, that there is a fundamental issue here of invasion of the person's privacy, particularly when we take blood samples to be used for DNA purposes, but even when we take a swab of saliva or other bodily substances.
As we took evidence from other parts of the world, notably the U.K. and the United States, it was interesting to see how effective this can be as a tool for our police officers and our police agencies, both in terms of obtaining convictions and in terms of establishing innocence at early stages.
In some of the wrongful conviction cases we have had in Canada, the primary ability that we had to overturn those wrongful convictions came from the use of the DNA data bank that we had at that time and the use of that technology. In Canada we know particularly well that it can be used not just for convictions, but for assisting in clearing people, oftentimes, at a very early stage.
There is no question that we want to proceed with this. The real issue is the message that we need to send to the government that it has to stop doing the legislative process this way, that when we are looking at a problem that involves crime or the criminal justice system, we badly need to look at it in its full context. We need to use omnibus bills of legislation in this area much more often.
Every time I get on my feet to speak to a new bill I have repeatedly said that we badly need to have a complete revamping of our Criminal Code and other bills, such as our drug legislation. We have needed that for probably 20 years. Some sections in the Criminal Code are completely contradictory and are, in a large number of cases, confusing. It is much too long and there is a great of duplication.
I cannot help but point out that one of the groups that could have assisted us with that was the Law Commission. It was one of the duties we could have assigned it in preparing what would have been a draft policy paper on how the code needed to be revamped.
This allows me to get in a pitch for the need to have the government overturn that decision and reinstate the Law Commission so it can take this responsibility on. It is clear that the government does not have the ability or even the inclination to do it. Therefore, we can assign it to somebody else and the job, hopefully, will get done in a reasonable period of time.
In summation, we, as a party, are supporting, in principle, the bill going to committee. I have certain reservations, both around the retroactivity and privacy and charter issues. I believe those can be resolved relatively easily at the committee. Hopefully, we can look forward to a time when the government gets its head wrapped around the reality of the need for omnibus legislation in our criminal justice system.