Mr. Speaker, I am glad to have an opportunity to enter the debate on Bill C-9. I can say that in thee inner city riding of Winnipeg Centre which I represent, crime and safety issues are overwhelmingly the number one top of mind issues of the people that I represent when I canvass their views or when they provide me with their opinions in an unsolicited way. Overwhelmingly what my constituents want to talk about are crime and safety issues.
I have tried to address those concerns to accurately reflect those interests. I have stood 22 times in this 39th Parliament to speak on crime and justice issues in my riding. This speech today is the 23rd along these lines that I have made.
I agree 100% with the people in the riding of Winnipeg Centre that Canadians have a right to safe streets. My constituents have a right to feel safe in their homes. Members of Parliament and elected representatives have a duty and an obligation to do everything they can to make the streets safe and to give people the reasonable comfort that they want.
I can recount how things have changed since I grew up in Winnipeg. It was not unusual when I was a kid that after dinner we simply went outside and played. We played hard. We ran and played with all of our friends and neighbours. All of us would pour out of our houses right after dinner and we would not come back home until dusk or until our mothers were hollering out the front door for us to come home.
Those days are over. No one does that anymore in the inner city of Winnipeg. They cannot; it is not safe. Parents cannot send their kids to the corner store to buy a quart of milk in some neighbourhoods in my riding.
The entire city is in mourning, in shock and in grief at the depravity that occurred only 10 days ago not blocks from my office in the inner city of Winnipeg. I will not go into the graphic details, but what occurred was one of the most horrific gang related murders of an innocent bystander that has ever taken place in Winnipeg. It reminded people that things have gone too far. Citizens demand corrective action. They demand that MPs and elected people do what they can to make their streets safe.
In that vein I try to support as many of the bills on criminal justice, crime and safety issues that I possibly can. I voted yes on Bill C-9 on June 6, 2006 at second reading. My party was in support of Bill C-9 again just this week. In the interim, the bill was dramatically amended at committee. The Liberals moved dramatic motions which were supported by the Bloc and the NDP. Therefore, by the time we got to vote on Bill C-9 again, it was a radically changed bill, but it still has the effect of reducing conditional sentencing.
The hue and cry that was generated in many communities, my own included, is that conditional sentencing was being used too frequently for the wrong people and the wrong types of crime. People were demanding justice.
I am told that 500 to 600 people per year will no longer be eligible for conditional sentencing upon conviction under Bill C-9 as it currently stands, even as amended by the committee. The bill as originally introduced by the Minister of Justice would have caused about 2,600 people per year to be ineligible for conditional sentencing upon conviction. I agree that is a dramatic difference, but I also remind people that we have gone a step toward using conditional sentencing less.
I do not know what terrible forces compel children and youth in my riding to commit the atrocity that occurred 10 days ago on Sergeant Avenue. A 32-year-old woman went to the 7-Eleven to buy a quart of milk and met her death by a swarm of children 12, 14 and 15 years old; she was murdered brutally on a street in my riding. I do not blame the people of Winnipeg to be demanding an appropriate response.
What has created these social conditions is a complex mix of hopelessness, desperation, chronic long term poverty, violence, substance abuse and drugs. I do not know what the whole recipe is to create these appalling social conditions, but it has gone from bad to worse in recent years. Today, 47% of all the families in my riding live below the poverty line and 52% of all the children in my riding live below the poverty line. Those are alarming statistics, the worst in Canada. They got worse during the 13 years of Liberal reign. They went from bad to worse as every social program, which tried to hold that troubled neighbourhood together, was cut, hacked and slashed.
The cutbacks to the EI fund alone took $20.8 million a year out of my riding, already the poorest riding in Canada. That $20.8 million was sucked right out of there. It is like having the payrolls of two major auto plants ripped out of the riding for no compelling reason. It drove people from the edge of despair into absolute desperation.
I am not saying that poverty is the root cause of crime. I am saying that people in those appalling social conditions are a lot more likely to be exposed to, victims of, and part of criminal activity.
I suppose the god of the Hon. Vic Toews (Minister of Justice, CPC) is a vengeful god, but revenge is only one element of sentencing. We have to address that. There are other motivations. Revenge and punishment, yes, but there has to be some recognition that rehabilitation has to be one of the goals. Yes, we are trying to protect society from certain people who should be locked away, but let us not lose sight of the bigger picture, so when we get tough on crime, we have to get smart on crime at the same time. I do not want that ever to become a cliché.
Deterrence and denunciation is important and we have to ensure that the sentence is commensurate with the gravity of the crime. I cannot imagine a sentence appropriate enough to be commensurate with the crime that happened not blocks away from my office when a 32 year old innocent woman went to a 7-Eleven store to buy a quart of milk. I will not go into the details because they are too horrific to share here today. Let it simply be said that Winnipeg is reeling in shock at the gravity of this offence.
As good as it feels to punish and as tempting as it is to be motivated by revenge and vengeance, I sympathize with those who are calling out for that reaction. We have to contain ourselves. This is the very time that leadership is required. We cannot shape social policy while we are in the midst of the backlash to one of the most horrific anecdotal crimes seen in our country, and certainly in my city of Winnipeg. In a sense, we have lost our innocence.
Winnipeg is in shock the same way the city of Victoria was when Reena Virk was so brutally murdered. This is the type of injury that this offence has done to my community. It is why the papers today are full of absolute demands for swift justice, for tougher sentences and for stricter penalties. The Minister of Justice unfortunately is capitalizing on this. He is playing politics with the misery associated with this terrible crime. He is out there in the newspapers saying that the NDP is soft on crime because we do not agree with every single thing he says.
In fact, we voted for eight or nine of his ten or twelve justice bills recently, trying to make the criminal justice system more appropriate. Just because we do not accept everything he says as chapter and verse of the gospel according to the Minister of Justice, does not mean we are soft on crime. It means we are trying to make Bill C-9 better. Committee stage is for that, and it felt the bill went too far.
I voted for Bill C-9. I will support it when it comes up again, as amended, but do not let anybody in the House try to say that we are soft on crime because we tried to make that bill better