Mr. Speaker, I appreciate that because I would like to be able to get some time at my committee this afternoon to listen to the Law Commission of Canada. However, every day we are here at the same time that we are supposed to be at committee.
In any event, last spring in my original speech in the House on Bill C-9, conditional sentencing, I spoke about the need to have some change and some narrowing in the conditional sentencing regime. Many of those people who were in the House before the House was brought down for the last election recall that Bill C-70 was a bill from the former Liberal government that used these three areas that we have, in committee, amended the bill on: serious personal injury as in section 752, the area of organized crime and terrorism offences. Each of these categories would incorporate broad numbers of areas in the Criminal Code in respect of the availability of the conditional sentence in those areas.
The only difference with this amendment, other than the one clause that was not admissible because it talked about denunciation and introduced another thought that was also inadmissible, was the fact that we still allowed the judge discretion. The opposition members in the House think it is important that the judge in the courtroom hearing the facts of the individual case and seeing the individual person before the court has the discretion to choose amongst a large tool kit of available options of sentencing, anywhere from suspended sentence to incarceration, to probation, or to conditional sentencing.
Conditional sentence, under the Supreme Court of Canada, is said to be a real sentence. Members think house arrest, as they tend to call it, is some joke, that it is a comfortable zone. Try telling that to one's kids if one is under house arrest on Halloween and cannot go out and distribute candy, or cannot go to a family reunion. The person is told he or she can go to work with very restricted conditions or perhaps for treatment for an addiction. That is when a judge will tailor the offence.
Let us take the offence of robbery. In the Criminal Code robbery has a wide range. It can have a maximum term of imprisonment, but a robbery by definition is charged under the same section of the Criminal Code, whether it is a kid stealing a bicycle worth $100 or a person robbing a bank. There is a different and wide range of possibilities. It is the judge hearing the case who will determine how serious it is.
The law on conditional sentencing and the sentencing principles currently part of the Criminal Code say it has to be proportional. It says judges have to pay attention to who is before them and the facts in the individual case. It says they should do the least amount of restraint of the individual as is necessary. However, they cannot even use a conditional sentence unless the punishment is in a provincial situation of less than two years. They cannot even use it further unless the judge has determined that the protection of the public will be there. In other words, judges have to ensure that putting them into the public domain is safe for the community. That is what conditional sentencing is about. Judges can put in many things as conditions to go along with those sentencing principles.
What has happened in this bill? I remind everyone that the minority Conservative government dealt with the bill not by sending it to committee after first reading, so that there would be a wide scope for amendment and we could work collaboratively together, which I put on the record in my first speech last spring, but it sent it after second reading. It was a one paragraph bill that had many offences in the Criminal Code covered.
There were days in the House when all parties asked the government, especially on the property offences, why are they there, why does the government have this long list of offences that are property offences and not personal injury offences or not violence offences?
It is incumbent on the government, when it wants to restrict liberty, to justify and explain to Canadians its reasons for including so many offences that would not qualify in its opinion for a conditional release.
It is true that opinions differ among the parties in the House. We see the justice system differently than the Conservative government does. We want a judge to be able to deal with the situation of a sentence of less than two years and be satisfied that an offender serving a sentence in the community would not endanger the safety of the community and would be consistent with the fundamental purposes and principles of sentencing set out in section 718 and section 718.2 of the Criminal Code of Canada.
On September 19, 2006 I asked the Minister of Justice when he appeared before the justice committee if the government would amend its own bill. I was told no. Throughout the committee process the government did not take one thing out of its bill until today, a couple of hours ago. It offered no amendments. The opposition, on the other hand, amended the bill at committee based on good evidence presented by a number of witnesses to include the terrorism, organized crime and serious personal injury offences that we discussed.
Bill C-9 was amended by the majority of committee members who listened to the evidence of Gladue courts. Gladue courts allow people on a conditional sentence, the aboriginal people in downtown Toronto who have addictions and are involved in criminal activity to support their addiction, to get treatment under a conditional sentence. We heard that evidence. Some of those people are addicted to serious drugs but they are not there because of trafficking in drugs. Trafficking is not by an individual; the organized crime section of the bill talks about three or more people being involved. They will pick those things up so that is the part not being heard.
Bill C-9 was amended by a majority of members on the committee after listening to the evidence of those people who operate diversion and treatment programs. We listened to Julian Roberts who gave the best empirical evidence on data collected. He came in from his current post in England to tell us the work he had done inside the justice department to fix this area where it needed amending, but not to the width and breadth that was there. What happened then?
We even kept in the notion that if there was a conditional sentence, it would not be available if there was a mandatory minimum. Therefore, for some of the driving charges, in the case of second and third offences, there are mandatory minimums. Conditional sentencing will not be there.
Just in case anybody thinks that the courts are running wild on some of these things, I have some numbers from Juristat.To hear the other side, one would get a conditional sentence as though it were mandatory. What happens? Let us just take a look at the total cases sentenced in 2003-04. Under impaired driving, operation causing death, there were 9,477 cases, terrible situations, and 98% did not get a conditional sentence. Under impaired operation causing bodily harm, there were 9,763 cases. Again, 98% of them did not get a conditional sentence. In other words, judges are still using their discretion.
There was a last minute change today. If the bill had been tabled last spring in the form that it is being presented here today, maybe we could have worked with it. When I ask the justice minister why he does not meet with the critics, there is no reason. It is not their way or the highway. We do have some expertise in this chamber, members who actually want to work to get things done.
The list presented today is an amalgam. It seems to have been hastily put together over the last couple of days. It has some of the sex offences, terrorism offences and organized crime offences that are already in our amendment. Some property offences have been kept and drug offences have been added. There is no available treatment for the few people in this country who might be willing to get treatment if they were given the opportunity. Granted, there are not that many of them, but the ones who do, do not have to spend time in prison, and maybe if they are fixed, they will be more productive members of society.
The Conservatives did not think of the provincial partners. We asked for the cost of their program, but they did not give it to us. They said they were working on it. Guess what? That is downloading to the provinces and that is not responsible.
We have a responsibility here. We have heard about some of the costs of the government's justice bills. We have it from the provincial ministers. We know that the government is looking at about $1.5 billion in infrastructure costs and about $300 million annual cost. We do not need to do this and we are going to reject--