Mr. Speaker, contrary to what the minority government across the way would like Canadians to believe, the current system with respect to dangerous offenders and long term offenders does work well.
Unfortunately, Bill C-27 seems to me to be more motivated by the Conservatives' partisan political agenda than by a real desire to better protect Canadians. It is unfortunate that this minority government thinks its partisan agenda is more important than the greater good of its citizens.
Even more importantly, Bill C-27 is a direct attack on a key concept in the Canadian justice system: the presumption of innocence.
In Canada, the presumption of innocence is guaranteed by section 11(d) of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms which states that any person charged with an offence has the right “to be presumed innocent until proven guilty according to law in a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal”.
One wonders in that last term, with the spate of Conservative appointments to the judiciary, whether we could find an independent and impartial judge of recent appointment who has not been a major contributor to the Conservative Party or has fundamental Christian beliefs. All of the appointments have not been filled and I would not make that comment until they are. One hopes for impartiality and independence in the tribunals.
The real point in this legislation is whether the person charged with an offence has the right to be presumed innocent. There are two parts to this: the part of the trial and the part of the mini-trial with respect to the designation of dangerous offender.
The reversal of the burden of proof set out in Bill C-27 is questionable.
Many legal experts have already said that the legislation could be challenged in court. Their arguments seem to me to be serious enough to warrant taking the time to examine this seriously.
In light of the provisions of the charter, Bill C-27 creates a problematic situation with regard to the reversal of onus. The burden shifts. In the past the Supreme Court of Canada has said that the presumption of innocence will be violated whenever a trier of fact may be led to convict an accused person, even though there is reasonable doubt as to some essential element of the offence. I think all parties are on the same page with respect to the conviction of the accused and the burden of proof.
Although the proposed legislation does reverse the onus, we must keep in mind that this reversal only comes into play once the offender has been found guilty of the designated, serious violent or sexual offence three times. Each time the offender is accused, he would have benefited already from the presumption of innocence. Thank God that has not been taken away. This essential principle will not be changed by Bill C-27 as it relates to the finding of guilt, but what about the effect of this guilt?
Under the proposed legislation, the offender who has been found guilty already three times of one of the listed offences in Bill C-27 will no longer be presumed innocent. As a matter of sentencing law and not constitutional law, the Supreme Court has previously held that on sentencing, any aggravating fact that is not admitted by the offender, must be proven by the Crown beyond a reasonable doubt. Let us keep that clear. On sentencing, the Supreme Court of Canada has said that we still have to prove things beyond a reasonable doubt when it comes to the aggravating circumstances in that conviction. I would say it again if I thought the other side was listening or could understand.
This rule has since been codified under section 724(3)(e) of the Criminal Code, that big book the criminal law is in. In the context of dangerous offender applications, section 753 (1.1) would undo this long standing judicial principle and rule.
Furthermore, some could argue that not only does Bill C-27 deprive offenders of the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty, as stated in section 11(d) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and this is more telling and more appropriate to the argument before us today, it also allows for deprivation of liberty as stated in section 7 of the same charter. This creates the right not to be deprived of life, liberty and security of the person, except in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice, a key term.
It is not clear that transferring the burden of proof from the Crown to the accused, as set out in Bill C-27, respects the principles of fundamental justice. It is not at all clear. For a long time now, the concept of fundamental justice has been one of our justice system's guiding principles. This applies to the legal system in Moncton, in New Brunswick and in Canada, as well as to all countries whose legal system is based on British common law—the root of our own common law—including the United States.
I would even go so far as to say that the Crown's duty to prove beyond a reasonable doubt the existence of aggravating factors when determining the sentence is now a widely accepted concept. It is so widely accepted in our justice system that it can now be called a principle of fundamental justice, as it is written in section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Human Rights.
Under the current provision of the dangerous offender section of the Criminal Code, which is charter proof, 360 offenders have been designated as dangerous offenders and are currently behind bars. The system works.
Once again the minority government is all about sentences and law and order. My colleagues on the other side of the House might argue that these measures will protect innocent Canadians. As I have just said, section 7, the reasonable demands of having fundamental justice at any stage in the judicial determinations, puts in question whether this law, as presented and not yet amended at committee albeit, is in danger of falling like a house of cards on the dangerous offender designation system that already exists. It was put in place and monitored by Liberal governments. It was in the process of being improved because of the R. v. Johnson decision until the wrench was thrown in the problem.
The Conservatives have become the architects of disaster in suggesting we put in the reverse onus and the “three strikes you're out” because Arnold Schwarzenegger and those guys like it. What they are doing is possibly putting in jeopardy the whole system and that is not going to be good for victims.
Most of the justice legislation currently before the House will do little to protect Canadians and do very little for the victims. In fact, by cutting conditional sentences, sending more convicted individuals to the criminal schools of higher education, our jails, by building more jails and cramping the budget room for other needed programs, by putting longer sentences in place that will surely bring out a whole new round of graduated criminals determined to do more harm to victims and by cutting preventive and rehabilitation programs, we have no reason to think the crime rate is going to go down in Canada.
Furthermore, many studies, which is not germane to this discussion but very much germane to the discussions we have had at the justice committee, clearly indicate there is absolutely no link between harsher sentences and a lower crime rate.
It is quite telling at the committee level. When the proponents of the Conservative agenda on law and order are asked to bring witnesses who will prove empirically and objectively how these programs will work, they have very few names to present. On the other side, the people who suggest that harsher sentences do not lower crime rates have a plethora of witnesses available. That comes down to a determination by the Conservative minority government that most of those are criminal lawyers, professors and people who believe the criminal.
We have to ask ourselves this. If it is a truism that more sentences, harsher sentences and more people in jail will result in lower crime rates and a safer society, where is the proof? Canadians want the proof. Liberals want the proof. Liberals have been determined, with a justice program of over 13 years, to continually work with the outdated Criminal Code to modify the laws, as Canada grows, to protect society and victims.
In a non-partisan half second I say that is the same goal for the Bloc Québécois as well as the NDP. I know it is the same goal for the Conservatives because they keep saying it. However, they do not act in furtherance of that objective. They in fact act against that objective. They are not making the communities safer by locking everyone up. We ought to really take a non-partisan moment and say that if there is proof that these things work, show us. We are open to it.
In summary, Bill C-27 is no different than most justice bills recently tabled. It puts the political agenda of the Conservatives before the greater good of Canadians. The proof of that is they have overloaded the committee with so much work. Probably all the justice bills they keep tabling have no real intention of coming back to Parliament before what we perceive will be the next election.
Canadians have to ask, what was the objective in that? What was the objective in putting forward Bill C-9 and Bill C-10 separately? We now know that the list of witnesses is the very same and the hearings will take double the time. Why not propose them as one bill? The reason is simple. The Conservatives want to scare people into thinking we do not have a safe society. We do have a safe society. We support law and order. We support the victims in the community. We support the average Canadian who wants to be safe in his or her home.
Average Canadians are safe in their homes, even on Halloween when we have politicians masquerading as the proponents of law and order and when we have policy written on the back of a napkin dressed up as the law of the country.
We should take our duties more seriously. We should be earnest parliamentarians and pass good laws, not laws that are destined to be broken down by the loopholes contained in them by Conservative writers.