Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe.
The previous speaker, the member for Hochelaga, hit the nail on the head when he said that the bill was based more on ideology than on facts. I think that is to be expected from the government with the orders coming out of the PMO, from one individual, and, as we have seen, the facts do not get in the way of a good story.
It is pretty dangerous to play politics with the criminal justice system and the impact that can have on society, which is what we are seeing from across the way, exaggerating or even talking about facts that really are not facts at all.
The bill seeks to amend the Criminal Code of Canada by mandating that a conditional sentence no longer will be an option for anyone convicted of an offence prosecuted by indictment that carries a maximum prison sentence of 10 years or more.
We in the Liberal Party take the safety and security of Canadian communities very seriously, which is why we introduced Bill C-70 in the last Parliament to address their concerns. Our bill focused on preventing those who were convicted of crimes causing serious personal injury from receiving conditional sentences.
We do not believe this Parliament should play politics with the Criminal Code. We want to see a balanced approach that does not create unnecessary hardship or expense where it is not warranted. Our critics will certainly be proposing constructive amendments at committee when that opportunity comes forward.
Conditional sentencing does have a role and an important role. Society must have a balance. Individuals who commit crimes must pay the full penalty for the crime but we must also give the best opportunity for rehabilitation while redressing the consequences of those crimes and the cost to Canadian society. However, Bill C-9, in my opinion, casts that net far too wide.
As a former solicitor general, I have had the opportunity to visit a lot of prisons and halfway houses. I have looked fairly constructively at conditional sentencing. When we compare our system to the American system, I sincerely believe our system is better because it has moved more toward reducing crime than the American system. Bill C-9 would move us in a direction of Americanizing our system.
Barb Hill, the director of policy with the John Howard Society, said that the bill would restrict the use of conditional sentencing. I am sure no one in this House would disagree with that. She also said:
The 10-year maximum cutoff includes “the vast majority” of all crimes in the Criminal Code.
She goes on to say:
(Conditional sentencing) has been working. It is an alternative. It does work. It is targeted at relatively low-risk people.
Incarceration does not work. We have to get Canadians off that mindset that the only way we can manage offenders is to put them in jail. That may be the worse thing we can do for many offenders. You're going to make them worse. It is really going to increase the likelihood of reoffending.
She went on to say:
We are supportive of those things that are alternatives to incarceration and allow people who can be safely managed in the community to remain in the community.
Conditional sentences permit offenders to continue with their jobs and provide for their families.
She concludes by saying:
Jail is not effective. In some cases it is the opposite of being effective.
The government's strategy, though, is to put forward a position that is not evidence based. The previous speaker said that when the minister was before the committee no analysis and no facts were brought forward to justify the government's position. When the Minister of Justice was in opposition, we heard some of his outrageous statements relating to crime. Let me say to the government and the Minister of Justice that they are in government now, and in a democracy, government is called responsible government for a reason.
In terms of the decisions and proposals being put forward by the minister, they need to be put forward in a responsible way. It is part of the conditions of being in government. Good policies must be based on fact and on evidence. They should not be based on a perception that is out in the general community. Good policy, then, has to be based on good facts.
As we saw during the election, government members tend to try to scare people on the crime issue and exploit the latest headlines. Yes, crime is a very serious matter and, especially for those people who are affected personally, it is an emotional issue, but on issues like this when we are dealing with the justice system, it must be based on good analysis. What is needed is good analysis. What we need are decisions that are based on facts. The government has not brought that analysis forward.
As I said a moment ago, I believe Bills C-9 and C-10 are somewhat of an Americanization of the Canadian justice system. I do not believe that is appropriate. Let us look at Canada and the United States. Which do members think has a higher rate of crime? I do not think there is anyone who would not say that it is the United States. That is where the crime rate is higher.
Let us look at the incarceration rate in Canada under our criminal justice system. Two years ago, it was about 107 per 100,000, whereas in the U.S. it is around 600. What it clearly shows is that building more jails, throwing people in jail and forgetting about the rehabilitation of those individuals so that they can contribute to society in a positive way, is not the answer, but this is the approach that the government opposite is taking.
Conditional sentencing is not easy time. I would like to refer to what our justice critic said earlier, and I think these points need to be reinforced:
In almost all the cases, the conditional sentence orders contain restrictive conditions of a house arrest and/or curfew, often both; often community service; mandatory treatment and counselling; and often other conditions are tailored into the sentence and can be very effective in preventing repeat offences while still having the person exist safely inside the community with the deterrence of having the house arrest, et cetera. It is not about being hard or soft on crime. It is about a sense of effective, just sentencing in Canada for those who go outside our law.
This is the approach that I think we have to take overall.
It will be really important at committee to have witnesses come forward. We certainly will be supporting the bill going to committee. It will be very important for witnesses to come forward to talk about the analysis that has been done and the facts that are out there. The bottom line is that building more prisons is not going to lessen the crimes, and this bill places the net very much too wide.
It would be far better to spend money on policing and on crime prevention. That is the best way to prevent crime. The best way is to have the police forces out there, have the crime prevention policies in place and deal with rehabilitation in terms of individuals who have gone astray. That way, we build a social and economic base in our society in order to continue to prosper as a nation. I believe this bill does not cut it in terms of us getting there. It will have to be changed at committee.