Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak on Bill C-10, an act to amend the Criminal Code (minimum penalties for offences involving firearms) and to make a consequential amendment to another Act.
The bill is, I suppose, in furtherance of one of the government's priorities: to get tough on crime. I believe I am speaking for all parliamentarians when I say that we do want safe streets and communities. Certainly I agree with that statement. However, I cannot agree with the provisions of this bill.
At our disposal as parliamentarians we have a number of tools dealing with crime. This bill is analogous to taking a sledgehammer out of the toolbox when a hammer should be and leaving four other relevant and applicable tools in the toolbox when they should be used in this whole issue of crime prevention and elimination.
As parliamentarians, we make laws, which are the standards that we ask citizens to apply in their day to day lives. In a lot of instances, laws are not followed, which of course leads to the second issue of what happens when the law is not followed, and that of course depends on the severity of the particular law, regulation or rule.
When a serious offence occurs the person is charged, he goes to trial or pleads guilty, and he is sentenced. This sentencing process that we are talking about is an important issue.
Before I became a parliamentarian, I practised law for 25 years. I have been involved in many sentencing issues, both as a prosecutor and as a defence lawyer. I can say right now that sentencing is a extremely complex issue. It involves the accused, the accused's family, and the victim of the crime, as well as society in the larger issue. I can tell members right now that no two cases are alike. A lot of people would like to make a very simple statement that they can make one rule which would involve every sentence that a particular judge has to deal with, but that is simply wrong.
There are certain principles that have to be followed in a sentencing process. The first one, of course, is proportionality. The sentence has to be proportional to the gravity of the offence. The protection of the public, of course, is a very important principle. Everyone is concerned about retribution: that the accused serve a sentence based upon the gravity of the crime, of course, and the possible rehabilitation of the offender.
These principles are all codified in section 178 of the Criminal Code. We as a society leave the actual sentencing up to the judge. The sentence has to be done according to the principles, but again, as I said, no two cases are alike. At the end of the day, when all is said and done, we have to leave some discretion to the judge.
Can the system be improved? Of course it can and that was the reason why the previous government introduced Bill C-2, which did increase certain sentences but dealt with a lot of other issues and the whole issue of crime and crime prevention.
When Bill C-10 came before the House, I listened to the debates, read a lot of the background materials and, at the end of the day, I have concluded that it is the wrong approach.
First of all, I look at what the experts are saying. Our society is not inventing the wheel here. A lot of people study these issues. Here, in Europe and in the United States, they study what works and is effective and what does not work. Almost exclusively, the experts who have studied these issues have come to the conclusion that mandatory minimum sentences in offences like these are not the way to go. That is the position of the Canadian Bar Association, the American Bar Association and most criminologists. Again, I read what they have to say.
The second question I asked myself was if it was effective. What disturbed me the most in the debate was the comments from the justice minister when he introduced the bill. He referred to studies in Massachusetts, Florida, Virginia, New York and other states. I did not, but others probed into these studies and determined the results of the studies indicated that they were the exact opposite to what he said in the House.
When we do something like this, we are talking about the law of unintended consequences. We are dealing not with a minimum; we are dealing with a ceiling. We are dealing with more trials, more prisons and more costs to society. Then we have to ask ourselves the basic question. Could the money be spent more efficiently and more economically?
One additional item that concerns me and disturbs me is the whole issue of minority groups. Perhaps one statistic could put the whole debate in perspective with respect to this issue.
At some point today, an aboriginal child will born in Canada, probably in your own city of Winnipeg, Mr. Speaker. According to the statistics, that aboriginal child has a more likely chance of going to prison than going to college. I do not even have to say any more about how the sentencing system and our justice system have treated minorities in our country.
Then it is easy to say if that does not work, what does work? I believe effective sentencing works. We all have to strive toward that. I will not stand in the House and say that the system is perfect. It needs improvement. Perhaps the most important thing we should be looking at is more effective and increased law enforcement.
We have to look, as parliamentarians and as a society, at the causes of crime. What causes people to breach the law? Is it education? Is it poverty? Is it health? These are all factors that have to be taken into consideration as society tries to deal with this problem. I should add too that there are some alarming statements made by certain people in the media, but I believe most people know that crime is in the decrease in Canada.
The issue of civil engagement and crime prevention have to be taken into consideration when we move forward on this issue.
I read the legislation. As I stated, the issue of trying to tie the hands of the judges, which in effect creates a ceiling, not a minimum sentence, is the wrong approach. I do not support it. Most people in the field of sentencing and in the field of criminology do not support it.
I believe we should go back to the drawing board. We should come forward, using all tools at our disposal, tools regarding a more effective and increased law enforcement, the causes of crime, issues we can deal with in society to prevent crime, issues that should be dealt with as a package.
I do not support the bill in its present form. I support the concept of lessening criminal behaviour and I support the principle of safer communities and safer streets, but this is not the way to go.