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House of Commons Hansard #76 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was sentencing.

Topics

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

10 a.m.

Conservative

Gordon O'Connor Conservative Carleton—Mississippi Mills, ON

moved that Bill C-9, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (conditional sentence of imprisonment), be read the third time and passed.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

10 a.m.

Fundy Royal New Brunswick

Conservative

Rob Moore ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

Mr. Speaker, before I begin I would like to ask for unanimous consent to split my time with the member for Crowfoot.

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10 a.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Bill Blaikie

Is there unanimous consent?

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10 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

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10 a.m.

Conservative

Rob Moore Conservative Fundy Royal, NB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to Bill C-9 but it is definitely with mixed feelings as the bill has currently been amended.

We have to remember that the government and not only the party in government but also the opposition parties were elected. If we all remember the last election, we were elected with a message and a mandate from the people of Canada. Every party, the NDP and the Liberals, ran on a platform to get tough on crime. Therefore, when all members who were elected were back in the ridings, they were able to tell their constituents that we want to get tougher on crime.

The problem is, after the election, when the dust had settled down and it came time to take the measures, to take the steps, that would actually protect society, that would actually have an impact on making our streets safer, and that would have an impact on making our communities safer, only one party seems to be willing to move forward with those tough steps.

I had the privilege last night of attending a fundraiser for victims services in Toronto. In conversation with many of the people who are involved with victims services, one of the things that we find is that it is the victim that is all too often the forgotten member in society. Very quickly, thoughts turn to the offender, to the system, to the process and in all of that, unfortunately, too often it is the victim who is left behind. It is the victim left holding the bag.

The approach that the government chose to fulfill its commitment to eliminate conditional sentences for serious crimes was simple and it was straightforward. Bill C-9, as it was introduced by the government, was aimed at eliminating conditional sentences for offences punishable by a maximum of 10 years or more and prosecuted by indictment.

When I speak to my constituents in Fundy Royal, in the Saint John area and in Moncton, New Brunswick, and across the country, and when I speak to everyday Canadians, I listen to their stories and I hear their comments. They tell us that they do not want repeat serious offenders serving their sentences back in the community where they committed the offence.

I will speak specifically to violent offences, sexual offences, and very serious property crimes where people have been repeatedly victimized. They catch the individuals that were the perpetrators of these crimes. Finally, they get him or her before a court, expecting justice to be served. What do they find out? These individuals are going to serve sentences right in front of their own TVs in the comforts of their own homes on their sofas. That is not justice.

Our bill targeted offences punishable by a maximum of 10 years or more when prosecuted by indictment. This would have not only targeted offences in the Criminal Code, but also offences contained in the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act punishable by 10 years or more.

We never claimed that our bill was perfect. There is no perfect bill, but it was a good bill. It was a bill that captured the most serious offences. The Minister of Justice , when he appeared before committee, said to the opposition that he was open to reasonable amendments to the bill. If the opposition members had some better idea than they could bring it forward. If they had an idea that would help eliminate conditional sentences for serious crimes and ensure consistency and certainty in sentencing, they could bring that forward as well.

However, the minister also pointed out that several of the property crimes were made ineligible by Bill C-9. When the House listens to this list there is probably no one listening, whether in the House or in our country, who does not know of someone who has been victimized by one of these crimes or perhaps has been victimized themselves.

There was theft over $5,000, and that includes serious auto theft which has been a problem in both our urban and rural areas. Identity theft, break and enter, these are serious offences. Arson, robbery, again very serious offences. Such offences should not be eligible for conditional sentence. They should not be eligible for house arrest and any amendments that did so would not be considered reasonable amendments by this government.

Obviously and unfortunately, the opposition parties did not agree. They preferred to spring an amendment in committee that essentially gutted the bill by limiting the restrictions to the availability of conditional sentences to “serious personal injury offences” as defined in section 752 of the Criminal Code, terrorism offences and criminal organization offences. There are several serious problems with the approach put forward by the opposition.

Serious personal injury offences are defined in the dangerous offender part of the Criminal Code. The definition is designed for dangerous and long term offenders that are often referred to as the worst of the worst, not for offenders receiving a sentence of less than two years which is the maximum sentence for a conditional sentence.

We are talking about two completely different types of offenders. The serious personal injury category of offences, while that may sound appropriate when we look at the interpretation the courts have applied and we look at the code, is clearly not appropriate for this bill. It covers indictable offences punishable by 10 years or more and involving the use or attempted use of violence against another person or involving conduct endangering or likely to endanger the life or safety of another person or inflicting or likely to inflict severe, psychological damage upon another person.

The problem with relying on this definition as the opposition seems to want to do is that Canadians clearly do not believe that these offences should attract conditional sentence. The problem is the level of violence or endangerment must be objectively serious for an offence to constitute a serious personal injury offence. In addition, the commission of a serious personal injury offence, as defined, involves a degree of intent.

Under Bill C-9, as amended by the opposition working together the Bloc, the NDP and the Liberals, this will work against making our streets and our communities safe from dangerous individuals, arsonists, people who steal cars, and people who rob elderly senior citizens. The way that the opposition has amended the bill every case would have to be argued by counsel and determined by the judge, based on all the circumstances, as to whether it can fit within the four corners of the serious personal injury offence definition. Obviously, this leaves no certainty in the law as to whether a long list of offences, some of which I have already itemized, are eligible for a conditional sentence or not.

As the Minister of Justice mentioned at report stage of Bill C-9, the Alberta Court of Appeal in Regina v. Neve concluded that robbery, for example, did not in that case constitute a personal injury offence. I should point out that robbery is an indictable offence punishable by imprisonment for life potentially. In other words, the amendment proposed by the opposition parties would still allow conditional sentences in cases where they were not meant to be applied. That is for serious crimes, some of which are punishable by a maximum sentence of 14 years or life.

We have to remember, and I was not here at the time, but some members in the House were when conditional sentencing was introduced, that we were assured that house arrest was not going to be used for serious crimes. It was sold to Canadians as something that would only be used in so-called minor cases. Yet, we see in cases involving crimes against children, involving recidivism, involving repeat offenders dealing with car thefts, thefts over $5,000, robbery, and arson, that individuals are getting conditional sentences.

This government has said enough is enough. We have listened to Canadians and we have said we will not allow individuals who repeatedly victimize their communities to serve their time in their own homes and the opposition parties are unified and working against us.

The amendment made to Bill C-9 by the opposition ignores the concerns of Canadians who want to see serious crime receive real punishment. They want to see consistency in sentencing, but above all they want themselves and their families to be safe. This will not be achieved by Bill C-9 as amended. I wish to oppose the amendments put forward by the opposition.

I call on all members of this House to work together to provide security for our communities.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

10:10 a.m.

Liberal

Lloyd St. Amand Liberal Brant, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened with interest to the speech of the member opposite. He surely knows, and members of his party know, that the Conservative Party by no means has a monopoly on the desire to make Canada's streets and communities as safe as possible. There is no monopoly on that side of the House.

On this side of the House, as the Liberal Party, we feel very strongly that streets have to be as safe as possible. That is why 13 years of Liberal government have resulted in Canada still being recognized as one of the safest countries in the world.

Because often members opposite will talk about certain examples, I would like to ask the member directly, with respect to auto theft, for instance, if an 18 year old, hypothetically of course, succumbs to peer pressure and joins with two or three buddies, perhaps to some extent under the influence of alcohol, and they decide in concert to steal an automobile for an evening, should that 18 year old automatically go to jail, as is proposed by the member? That seems to me a rather unimaginative solution to a problem.

I would like to ask the hon. member to comment on that specific hypothetical.

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10:10 a.m.

Conservative

Rob Moore Conservative Fundy Royal, NB

First, Mr. Speaker, I categorically reject the premise of the member's preamble that all parties take crime seriously. I think the last 13 years of Liberal government that the member refers to have been absolutely atrocious when it comes to justice, when it comes to balance in our justice system, and when it comes to protecting communities and society, and I could go on in regard to arson, car theft, break and enter. Canadians, my constituents in Fundy Royal, and I think probably the member's own constituents, if he were to ask them, are fed up with these individuals receiving conditional sentences.

The member has to be reminded that in all cases, even currently, the crown prosecutor has the ability to proceed by way of indictment or by way of summary conviction. Under our bill, if a crown prosecutor elected to proceed by summary conviction in some cases that were less serious, a conditional sentence is still available.

It is only in the more serious cases, where the prosecutor proceeds by way of indictment, that we are saying we have to end this revolving door justice system that allows serious offenders, including those who repeatedly steal cars, to get those sentences. I do not know if the member does not think that is a serious problem, but it is a serious problem, and maybe he should ask--

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

10:10 a.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Bill Blaikie

Order, please. We have others who want to ask questions. The hon. member for Wild Rose.

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10:10 a.m.

Conservative

Myron Thompson Conservative Wild Rose, AB

Mr. Speaker, having sat on the justice committee for the biggest part of the last 13 years, I will tell members that during the election campaign when I proposed these very measures to the public during campaign speeches, what surprised me was that the Liberal candidate and the NDP candidate in every case supported everything I said. They agreed with everything I proposed, in line with what we are trying to do will Bill C-9. We did not have a Bloc candidate there but I am sure he or she would have objected.

What did not surprise me is that when I got back to the committee, after being there for 13 years, suddenly there was a change. Obviously there was some real soft peddling on how to deal with crime and these issues. They were not believing what they said during the election campaign. That became very obvious. Especially after they made their amendments, it was totally obvious.

I did not expect anything different from the Bloc members, because they have always been soft on crime, but I did expect the Liberals and the NDP to maintain that attitude to support the public, which was calling out loud and clear, “Do something about the crime element. Get rid of house arrest for serious crimes”.

Did the member not hear the same message that I heard during the campaign? Why would he suppose that sudden soft peddling from the Liberals and the NDP took place in the committee during the debate?

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

10:15 a.m.

Conservative

Rob Moore Conservative Fundy Royal, NB

Mr. Speaker, I commend the hon. member for Wild Rose and also the hon. member for Crowfoot, who is going to speak next, for consistently calling for safer communities and for being tireless advocates on behalf of victims, specifically children. I commend them both for their hard work on this file.

They know that over the past 13 years the Liberals and NDP liked to talk the talk but only one party is walking the walk when it comes to getting tough on crime. It is not good enough for them to say one thing to their constituents when they are back home or at debates and then do another when we are in the House of Commons and it comes time to protect communities.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

10:15 a.m.

Conservative

Kevin Sorenson Conservative Crowfoot, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is a real pleasure to stand in the House to speak to Bill C-9. I note that over the number of years I have been in the House and serving on the justice committee, we brought forward bills like this as private members' bills. That happened a number of times. There were four or five private members' bills dealing with conditional sentences and dangerous offenders.

There were many different bills that came forward, bills that the people of Crowfoot, Alberta and Canada asked for, and then we watched as the government of the day slammed the door on legislation. That would basically tell Canadians that the responsibility for governments and for our law, for the justice system, was not to protect society.

That is what bills such as this are here to do.

My constituents have always brought forward their concerns over the release of violent offenders back into society. My efforts were to do something about the Liberal Party's neglect and its reckless treatment of conditional sentences, but yet again doors were slammed.

The frustration was felt not just by members of Parliament. The frustration was felt not just by the Conservative Party of Canada. The frustration was felt by victims. Time after time, calls and letters came in from people who had been victimized. They were not always from the primary victim, not always from the one who had been assaulted, not always from the one who had an offence committed against them. Sometimes the families of those victims felt that they personally had been victimized. They felt it especially when, a number of days after the trial, they would meet the individual who had committed the offence against them and see the individual released onto the streets of our communities.

I applaud the justice minister and the government for keeping their commitments and bringing forward the priorities they said they would and for making it clear that criminal justice system changes and changes to bills would take place. We are seeing that happen.

This morning I want to talk about a number of cases that we could perhaps learn from. Let us take a look at some of the past decisions, decisions that might have been an encouragement for this government to make the changes it is trying to implement here.

In one case from 2001, R. v. Bratzer, the offender committed three armed robberies in a period of a week. For those three armed robberies, he sat down, calculated what he was going to do, picked up the weapon of choice and decided to carry out these criminal offences. He went out and did it.

In reaching the sentence, the court considered as aggravating factors the fact that the accused had committed a series of planned robberies, that the offender had calculated, that he was masked at the time of the robbery, and that the offender admitted to the rush the robberies had given him, the sense of gratification, excitement and enthusiasm as he carried them out.

The court also mentioned the fact that the offender had no remorse. He placed the mask over his head. He picked up the weapon of choice. He knew that he was going to get a feeling of excitement and enthusiasm and he went out and committed the offences. The court looked at the circumstances and sentenced the accused to house arrest, to a conditional sentence of two years less a day.

Canadians are concerned when we watch our young men and women and those in society who say that they get a rush from perpetrating criminal offences and victimizing Canadians.

Another example of the inappropriate use of conditional sentencing can be found in the case of R. v. Bunn. In this case, the accused, a lawyer, was retained by a Russian lawyer to recover and remit inheritances of money, an estate, from six deceased Manitoba and Saskatchewan residents. In all cases, he converted part of the trust money received from each of the beneficiaries from his trust account to his general account. In other words, he was absconding with the money. Approximately $86,000 was converted through 145 separate transfers or transactions after he had already taken 10% as fees for his services.

At times I have dealt with lawyers and have thought their fees were astronomical on certain occasions, but in this case, after he received 10%, he then went back in and was able through fraud and other ways to abscond with $86,000 from the accounts. The accused was disbarred. He was convicted of six counts of breach of trust. He was sentenced to two years' incarceration.

After trial, but prior to the appeal, Bill C-41 and the conditional sentencing regime came into force. The Court of Appeal allowed the accused's appeal of the sentence and imposed a conditional sentence of two years less a day. The Supreme Court confirmed the decision of the Court of Appeal. However, it is interesting to learn what Justice Bastarache said in the dissenting opinion:

It is well established that the focus of the sanction for criminal breach of trust is denunciation and general deterrence...In the past this has required that, absent exceptional circumstances, lawyers convicted of criminal breach of trust have been sentenced to jail...This emphasis on denunciation and general deterrence is, for a number of reasons, particularly important when courts punish lawyers who have committed criminal breach of trust. First, the criminal dishonesty of lawyers has profound effects on the public's ability to conduct business that affect people far beyond the victims of the particular crime...Second, as officers of the court, lawyers are entrusted with heightened duties, the breach of which brings the administration of justice into disrepute....

Judge Bastarache was right. Judge Bastarache realized in his dissenting opinion that what the courts were going to do was minimize one of the fundamental institutions that every democracy depends on, and that is the institution of rule of law and a criminal justice system. Confidence that those who would stand in such a place to represent an individual should not be, on the same hand, victimizing that same individual.

This last example shows that since their creation conditional sentences have been applied in cases where they were not intended by Parliament to be applied and where they certainly should not apply. That is why I thank the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice for bringing out in his speech the fact that when we stand in these halls and in this House and talk about the intent of law, the courts and the justices say, “Is this what Parliament meant?” We need to be very clear so that the justice system and the court system recognize that when this was put in place we did not intend much of what the courts are allowing to happen now.

Bill C-9 originally intended to restore confidence and permitted this use in appropriate cases only. However, as amended, Bill C-9 does not offer any guarantee that conditional sentences will not be given in serious cases of violent crime, property crime and drug crime. The bottom line is that the Liberal amendment to Bill C-9, supported by the Bloc and the NDP, does not answer the concern of Canadians. It does not make their homes safer. It do not make their streets safer. It will not restore confidence in the conditional sentence sanction or the administration of justice generally.

If Bill C-9 passes in its present form, this House will have missed an extremely important opportunity to do its duty to ensure greater respect for the law on the part of ordinary Canadians and to contribute to the maintenance of a just, peaceful and safe society.

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10:25 a.m.

Bloc

Nicole Demers Bloc Laval, QC

Mr. Speaker, there are a million children living in poverty in Canada. These children are growing up unable to benefit from the services that would help them become responsible and productive citizens. As we all know, poverty is one of the main underlying causes of crime.

According to my colleague, would it not be better to ensure that the provinces have the money they need to fight poverty, rather than having to build more prisons to lock up many people who would have never turned to crime if they had been given even a bit of a chance?

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10:25 a.m.

Conservative

Kevin Sorenson Conservative Crowfoot, AB

Mr. Speaker, a lot of different conditions lead to crime. Parliament has to lay down the structure of what is acceptable in society and what is not. We have to be guided by certain principles. The protection of society is the responsibility of our criminal justice system. When drafting this type of law, politicians need to be aware of the fact that the protection of our society is very important.

My colleague is right. There are many conditions that lead to criminal activity. Where appropriate, governments must step in and be aware of the factors that could lead to crime. Governments must get involved.

Bill C-9 does not deal with all of the background. Those are areas at which governments have to look. Bill C-9 indicates what would happen when individuals put themselves in that position. Are we going to go back and start diluting everything that has been done here? Are we going to allow people to be victimized because an individual was brought up without all the things that perhaps would have allowed him or her to contribute to society? Although we have to look at departments, social services and other things, and the government is, there needs to be balance when someone crosses the line. There has to be a system in place that says this is unacceptable.

There have been cases where criminals walk through the prison doors back out on to the streets before the victims are out of the hospital. That is not acceptable. Bill C-9 would provide incarceration for some of these offences.

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10:30 a.m.

Liberal

Shawn Murphy Liberal Charlottetown, PE

Mr. Speaker, I disagree with the member on the amendments. I think they are positive. I do not really think taking one case and talking about in the House of Commons is that helpful. Over the last 10 years, on a Canada-wide basis, crime rates with respect to property crime, violent crime, youth crime and homicides have decreased.

As a member of the justice committee, what is his view on the reasons for this? A number of reasons could perhaps be advanced such as demographics, or maybe we are doing a better job at getting at the cause of crime or maybe the judicial system is doing a better job. There must be some reasons being advanced in research as to why our crime rate is decreasing.

I agree with the hon. member that we have to toughen up the legislation with respect to conditional sentencing, which is about 10 years old. It does need to be reviewed.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

10:30 a.m.

Conservative

Kevin Sorenson Conservative Crowfoot, AB

Mr. Speaker, when I go to my constituency, I meet with seniors. I ask them if they feel safer today on the streets than they did 15 or 20 years ago. The answer is no. I also have asked them if they feel safer today when they go into the mall or when they park in an underground parkade and then make their way into the mall. Every one of them says no.

They recognize that gang and drug crimes are up as are many other criminal activities and they do not feel safer. In fact, most of them say they do not feel safer in their very own homes today. The question specifically comes from a premise that crime is down. Violent crime, gang crime, drug crime and gun crime are up.

One of the things I am also very much troubled about is property crime. More and more people are saying that the police do not have the resources or the time to investigate. They are saying that they are not even going to report those crimes.

In fact, when we look at some of the sexual assaults, even more troubling than property crime not being reported, many young men and young women are saying that they are not going to go through the system to even report because the government turns a blind eye to the offender--

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10:30 a.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Bill Blaikie

Order, please. I am sorry but the time has long since expired.

Resuming debate, the hon. member for Charlottetown.

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10:30 a.m.

Liberal

Shawn Murphy Liberal Charlottetown, PE

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak to this very important topic today.

This issue involves the whole role of conditional sentencing. As everyone is aware, this issue was changed in 1996 and adopted. I believe over the last 10 years it has probably served us well, and that is borne out through some international comparisons. However, I believe the original intent of Parliament is at present not being lived up to, that there are situations where very serious crimes have been committed and the criminals have been given conditional sentences. It is about time that Parliament reviewed the legislation and made changes so this does not happen in the future.

Specifically, I am talking about some of the sexual crimes involving young people and the violent crimes. In the past, the conditional sentencing provisions have been used by our judiciary in allowing conditional sentencing, which I, as a member of Parliament, do not think is appropriate. I believe it is time to amend those certain provisions in the Criminal Code.

I have listened to a lot of debate on this issue. I should point out that in my previous life I practised law with a large firm in eastern Canada for about 25 years. During my career, especially in the early parts of my career, I did a lot of part time prosecuting and I did a lot of defence work. I would have represented hundreds and hundreds of individuals charged with the crimes I prosecuted. After going through those life experiences, there are no two cases the same. Every case brings its own unique set of facts.

We are talking about an individual accused, the age of the accused, the victim, the crime, the circumstances surrounding the crime and the record of the accused, but no two cases are the same.

There is no cookie cutter approach. Every time a judge is faced with a sentencing process, he has to look at all the factors involved. The principles are well enunciated in the cases. He has to look at deterrence of the offence or retribution to society, protection of the public, rehabilitation of the offender and perhaps, more important, the proportionality. At the end of the day, the sentence has to fit the crime.

I do not think it is that helpful on the floor of the House of Commons to talk about this case or that case. No two cases are the same. In certain cases maybe the judge, or the appeal court or the Supreme Court of Canada made a mistake. For every case that someone cites as an example, where perhaps a person should not have received a conditional sentence, I can cite 10 other cases where, if the bill existed before the amendment were passed, persons were sent to jail but they should not have been, which is a travesty of justice.

As I said in my opening remarks, the legislation needs review by Parliament. The previous government introduced legislation to make certain changes and I supported them. It is time for a change after 10 years. Again, the conditional sentence is a very important tool for judges in sentencing. I believe in about 5% of the cases the judges in fact use a conditional discharge. A lot of times the accused serves his sentence in the community, and terms and conditions are invoked. I believe in about 15% of the cases there is a breach of the terms, mostly involving the use of alcohol or drugs, and the accused is then sent to jail.

Those provisions came about through amendments to the Criminal Code in 1995 or 1996. It is time for members of the House to review them, ask themselves whether they are working and decide whether amendments are required.

As one member of Parliament, I support amendments to tighten up the code because, as some of the speakers have pointed out, there have been situations, especially sexual crimes, sexual crimes involving youth and more violent crimes, where the accused has received a conditional sentence, which, in my view, is not appropriate for the circumstances of the offence. There may be factors out there regarding the sentence that support that principle but when one looks at it from a societal point of view, one just cannot have that going on. I agree that headlines, like “Accused convicted of molesting a four year old girl gets house arrest”, are inappropriate, which is why these provisions are before the House now.

The intent of the legislation, which I think has been followed, although there have been exceptions, is that less serious offences involving property and some physical assaults, this would be a tool for judges in the appropriate circumstances to allow the judge to have the accused person upon conviction serve the sentence in his or her home. This has been borne out by the statistics, by international research and by a lot of the positions from the provinces, although I think most provinces agree that the pendulum has swung too far and that we need to move it back, but most of them, if not all, do agree that conditional sentences are an effective tool for judges to use and ought to be continued.

The original Bill C-9 as drafted includes about 90 Criminal Code offences, anything above a maximum term of 10 years. I believe it went too far and the amendments presently before the House are an effective compromise that tighten up the legislation but, at the same time, allows judges the leeway and discretion they should have in sentencing certain offenders.

As I indicated in my previous question, statistics can be twisted around but the statistics now show, and I invite people to do their own research on this issue, that crime rates are dropping across Canada. However, that is not to suggest that crime is not a very serious issue. It is a very serious issue and the House must take it very seriously.

In some of the discussions today, people have been using examples. One example was whether a person who arrives in the middle of the night and burns someone's house down should receive a conditional sentence? The answer is absolutely not. The person should be thrown in jail and the key should be thrown away.

For every example there is another example. If an 18-year-old, first year university student, who has never had any interaction with the criminal courts or the judicial system in his life, gets involved with the wrong crew on a certain night and steals a car, should a conditional sentence be a tool available to the judge if he or she sees it appropriate in the circumstances?

The point is that each case is unique and each case is different and it is not helpful to take situations out of context and say that this or that should not have happened. I believe it is our job as legislators to set the parameters for the judges so they can do their jobs and have the tools available to follow the principles that they should be following and that each individual accused upon conviction is sentenced in the appropriate manner.

I reiterate that a conditional sentence must be an option in most offences but certainly not all, as Bill C-9, as amended, indicates.

The discussion today is very much related to the overall discussion that we are having with a number of justice bills before Parliament. Some of them were introduced by the previous government. Some appeared to me that they would become law but they did not. They died on the order paper. The new government has reintroduced them with some amendments. I believe all parties agree that five or six of them should come into law immediately, and I hope they do.

This bill is one that members of Parliament think should be amended. The justice committee has tabled and passed certain amendments. Those amendments have passed and now they are coming before the House of Commons for a vote.

I want to make another point in this debate. We are in a minority government. I believe there are 306 of us presently in the House of Commons representing the vast majority of Canadians, other than two ridings that do not presently have representation in the House. We are here to represent all Canadians.

Bill C-9 was proposed by the government. It went to the justice committee where it was debated. Amendments were proposed, debated, deliberated and voted upon. Now it has come to the House. I support the amendments but if the majority of the members of the House do not support the amendments, that is the end of it. I will not prolong the discussion or the debate, which is the way I believe every member should approach this particular bill before the House.

I do not think it adds anything to the debate to be up screaming and saying that we are soft on crime because that is simply not the case. It is unfortunate that those allegations are being made by certain members of the House.

I think this is indicative of what is going on in the House. We are in a minority government and we need to compromise. We need to seek consensus involving a majority of 306 members. In this case, it would appear to me that from the debate I have heard and from talking to members from different parties, that a majority of the members of this House support Bill C-9, as amended.

I do hope that when this bill comes to a vote that it passes and becomes law so that the changes can be made to the existing conditional sentence regime so it can be tightened up and serve society in a much better way.

I again want to state that I support the amended Bill C-9 and I urge all members of the House to support it also.

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10:45 a.m.

Conservative

Jay Hill Conservative Prince George—Peace River, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to take a moment to remind the member that over the past 10 years that conditional sentencing has been in place, I and many other members of Parliament have had growing concerns about it.

In fact, it was in March 1998, over eight and a half years ago, that I first brought forward a motion to exclude certain crimes from a judge's discretion in the application of conditional sentencing, basically house arrest. A year later, I took it a step further when I introduced a private member's bill that clearly listed what crimes should be ineligible for conditional sentencing, house arrest. I and many Canadians across the land could see how this system was being abused. When the Liberals brought it forward it was supposed to be for minor property crimes in an attempt to turn some wayward youth who had maybe committed the crime of some graffiti or of shoplifting. However, it was very rapidly abused by the courts and the judges that the hon. member would like to give such great discretion to.

Conditional sentencing was being used for so-called property crimes but it was also being use for crimes of arson, which is what the hon. member mentioned. We just saw in the news a few days ago where an arsonist in California set fires that took the lives of five firefighters. That is a pretty serious crime. If he is found guilty, he will be dealt with severely because arson is a very serious crime in the state of California.

With the amendments that are being proposed to Bill C-9, the Liberals are still soft on crime despite the claims to the contrary from the member. I would remind him that when I put forward private members' legislation to restrict the use of conditional sentencing, his government, which was in power for the last almost 13 years, did nothing to restrict conditional sentencing. It was only with the election of the Conservative government last January that now we are finally seeing this issue addressed.

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10:50 a.m.

Liberal

Shawn Murphy Liberal Charlottetown, PE

Mr. Speaker, it is difficult to detect a question there but I will make a few comments.

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10:50 a.m.

Conservative

Jay Hill Conservative Prince George—Peace River, BC

You mentioned arson.

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10:50 a.m.

Liberal

Shawn Murphy Liberal Charlottetown, PE

Yes, I will mention arson.

The member across talks about the situation in California. If that is the situation, then that would be an option available to a judge, and I would hope that the judge would not even consider a conditional sentence. However, if an 18-year-old, first year university student gets tied up with the wrong crowd and perhaps burns someone's back shed, if that is his first interaction with the judicial system, I have no problem whatsoever if a judge, after proper representation, decides in the circumstances on a conditional sentence.

This gets into the whole debate that we are having. The members want to take individual cases. Not only could he not find one in this country, but he goes to another country to find a case. That is how ridiculous the debate has become. He talked about an arson that was committed in another country where this law would have no jurisdictional aspects, and that is unfortunate.

The law does need tightening and Bill C-9, as amended, does that. I believe we all should support it, including the member across.

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10:50 a.m.

Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo B.C.

Conservative

Betty Hinton ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Veterans Affairs

Mr. Speaker, I listened with great interest to what the member opposite had to say on this issue and I clearly heard him say that he had very strong feelings about arsonists, that they should go to jail and that we should throw away the key. Those are pretty strong sentiments. Part of what this amendment does is eliminate the possibility of doing exactly what he is talking about.

He also referred to an 18 year old who makes a mistake and goes on a joyride. I do not believe an 18 year old who makes his first mistake will be captured by the original legislation. What will happen with that 18 year old is, if he does this four or five times a year, then he is a habitual criminal and he needs to be dealt with strongly.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice gave a very good presentation earlier this morning but perhaps the member missed it. He made it very clear that judges would have the discretion for first time offenders, such as the joyrider, to be exempted. I would be interested to hear his comments on that.

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10:50 a.m.

Liberal

Shawn Murphy Liberal Charlottetown, PE

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for her question, but the premise that she stated, and I thought I heard her correctly, that if a person is convicted of arson, this provision eliminates any possibility of that person going to jail, is not correct. That is a total misunderstanding of the Criminal Code. It is a total misunderstanding of Bill C-9. I urge the member to read not only Bill C-9 but also the Criminal Code. If there is any serious arson and the person is convicted, then I would hope that person would go to jail.

I really cannot answer the question because it is based on a totally erroneous premise that really does not deserve any further comment from me or anyone else in this House.

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10:50 a.m.

Conservative

Myron Thompson Conservative Wild Rose, AB

Mr. Speaker, I want to ask the member, is he aware that there are a number of people in this country being convicted of child pornography, and many of them are receiving conditional sentences?

During the years that we pleaded with the Liberal government to do something about this terrible stuff that exists out there, the only thing the Liberals came up with over the time that I have been here, started with a suggestion from a judge that there could be some artistic merit, so we have to be careful how we construct a bill dealing with child pornography. Then it came back. It did not go over so well, so then they said that there may be some public good. Of course that did not fly very far. Then they came in with more legislation, amendments to change the wording to say that there could be a useful purpose. All of these suggestions came out of a Liberal government. Mr. Speaker, if that is not soft on crime, I will eat your shirt.

I would like to know what the dickens the member thinks being hard on crime is when we are dealing with child pornography. The suggestion we got from the Liberal government was that it was doing its very best to protect by using words like “useful purpose”, and that it could be “public good” based on “artistic merit” from some judge.

When are we going to start getting tough on those people who are directly and indirectly attacking our children through child pornography?

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10:55 a.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Bill Blaikie

Before I recognize the hon. member for Charlottetown, I would just caution members against drawing the Speaker's shirt into the debate.