Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have this opportunity to speak on Bill C-18, which is a bill to amend certain components of the law pertaining to the DNA Identification Act.
As has been mentioned by other speakers, Bill C-18 impacts the Criminal Code of Canada and the DNA Identification Act as well as the National Defence Act.
Allow me to say at the outset that I am in agreement with government members and other members that the bill should be directed to the justice committee for further scrutiny. It is actually refreshing to speak in favour of a bill that has been introduced by the government, perhaps because this bill is essentially a successor to Bill C-72, which had been introduced by the then minister of justice under the former Liberal government.
Certain other bills that have been introduced by the government reflect, if I may term it such, a rather simplistic view of the criminal justice system and, by extension, an overly simplistic view of human nature. Would that preventing wrongdoing be as simple as making punishments increasingly harsh for certain offences. Those who advocate such an approach to the criminal justice system, such as those who advocate something akin to “three strikes and you are out”, are creating a false expectation among citizens that the crime rate will automatically be reduced if the punishments for criminal activity are only increased substantially.
Regrettably, that conclusion is reflected to a large extent in the criminal justice system in our neighbour to the south, and the crime rate is actually higher in the United States than it is here in Canada.
When it comes to predicting human behaviour and to taking measures to reduce wrongdoing or criminal behaviour, it is not a simple task, certainly not as simple as imposing considerably harsher punishments in the hope or expectation that criminal activity will therefore decrease.
However much I have difficulty with certain bills which have been or will likely be introduced by the government, Bill C-18 is truly a step forward and, at a minimum, should be sent to committee.
I practised family and criminal law in the city of Brantford and in other centres for a period of some 25 years. In my practice, I had abundant opportunity to represent hundreds of individuals who had been charged with one or a series of criminal offences and, on occasion, had opportunities to prosecute accused persons as a part time crown attorney.
During my years practising law I had an opportunity to work with and to admire the skills of crown attorneys such as Don Angevine, Bob Kindon, George Orsini and others, and to learn a great deal from very distinguished defence counsel in the persons of Gerry Smits, John Renwick and others.
I also had the benefit of observing the balanced, fair approach that was customarily adopted by various judges in the country of Brant, including Justice James Kent, Justice Ken Lenz, Justice Gethin Edward, Justice Lawrence Thibideau and others.
I was and remain acutely aware of the maxim which must necessarily govern any criminal proceeding, that is, “if the criminal justice system renders it too easy to convict the guilty then the system renders it too difficult to acquit the innocent”. Simply put, it is important to ensure that individual rights are protected and that the potentially overwhelming crushing power of the state is harnessed and kept in check by rules of evidence and principles of sentencing that are eminently fair, reasonable and balanced.
As do many others, I well understand the concept of civil liberties, and I am always, through dint of experience, wary or leery of any measure which curtails individual liberties or allows the power of the state to interfere with an individual's rights of freedom and security of the person.
In my view, Bill C-18 strikes a proper balance and is not inappropriately intrusive of individual rights or freedoms. Rather, it strikes the appropriate balance between the maintaining of individual freedoms and the fundamental right of the state or society to take appropriate measures to ensure the safety of all citizens.
There are many offences in the Criminal Code which require an individual accused person to provide samples of his or her fingerprints to the police merely upon that individual having been charged with a criminal offence. In essence, the mere fact that an individual has been charged with a criminal offence, not convicted, allows the criminal justice system to procure his or her fingerprints. Failure on the part of the accused person to provide his fingerprints results in a further criminal charge being laid against him.
This particular section of the Criminal Code has been tested before courts in Canada, and courts have concluded that it is reasonable, in the best interests of all citizens and community safety, to obligate accused persons charged with certain offences to provide their fingerprints to the authorities. I would, and so many others would as individual citizens, be tremendously troubled by any bill which obligated all persons or citizens to provide their fingerprints to the police, as such a requirement would be unnecessarily interfering with the rights of citizens to be free from unreasonable search and seizure.
However, this government bill, Bill C-18, does no such thing, and again, I am in support of the bill being referred to the justice committee for further consideration.
As members in this chamber will know, the science of DNA has been advanced considerably over the last 10 or 12 years, and experts have concluded that the analysis of DNA has become a very exact science. Certainly the public has come to accept DNA evidence as very significant, representing proof beyond a reasonable doubt, for instance, in criminal proceedings.
Such was not always the case. I think back in particular to the case of O.J. Simpson in or around 1995. It is difficult to know what was in the minds of the jury that ultimately acquitted Mr. Simpson. Mr. Speaker will know that jurors in the United States are at liberty to comment on their deliberations and their verdicts, unlike the system in Canada as it pertains to our juries.
Many analysts at that time commented that the evidence against Mr. Simpson was quite overwhelming and that the DNA evidence in particular was compelling and persuasive. However, the jury ultimately acquitted Mr. Simpson, which caused legal commentators to state that the members of the jury in acquitting Mr. Simpson and in seemingly ignoring the DNA evidence was the equivalent of a jury a century ago acquitting an accused person even though a photograph of the accused person committing the crime had been introduced as evidence.
A hypothetical jury of a century ago was suspicious of evidence which had been obtained by the use of, at that time, a newfangled device called a camera. One can only presume that the jury which found Mr. Simpson not guilty was suspicious of the DNA evidence which had been gathered and suspicious of the science behind the DNA.
We know differently now. DNA has come to be accepted as a very valuable tool in fighting crime and in determining the real wrongdoer or culprit.
Arguably, but for DNA evidence which was ultimately used to exonerate them, David Milgaard's name would never have been cleared, and Guy Paul Morin, wrongfully convicted of murdering Christine Jessop some years ago, would still be languishing in a penitentiary. DNA was used in those cases, and in many others, to exonerate an individual who had been, as it turned out, wrongfully convicted of a serious crime.
In that sense, DNA evidence assists each citizen of Canada as it can be used to eliminate innocent persons as well as potential suspects. For that reason, I have no difficulty, either personally or professionally, with Bill C-18.
As has been noted by others in their comments on the DNA Identification Act, “this Act is to establish a national DNA data bank to help law enforcement agencies identify persons alleged to have committed designated offences, including those committed before the coming into force of this Act”.
Certainly, the National Data Bank follows strict guidelines, as specified in the DNA Identification Act, and the biological samples collected from convicted offenders and the resulting DNA profiles can only be used for law enforcement purposes.
I believe it is beyond dispute that the National DNA Data Bank assists law enforcement agencies in various ways to solve crimes by, first, helping to identify suspects, second, eliminating suspects when there is no match between the DNA found at the crime scene and a DNA profile in the national data bank, and third, linking crimes together when there are no suspects.
Simply put, we on this side believe that this legislation is a vital tool to protect the safety of Canadians. It is for that precise reason--