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.