This week, I changed much of the tech behind this site. If you see anything that looks like a bug, please let me know!

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

Topics

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

12:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

Is that agreed?

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

12:20 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Value of the Canadian DollarRequest for Emergency DebateRoutine Proceedings

12:20 p.m.

Bloc

Paul Crête Bloc Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup, QC

Mr. Speaker, this morning we learned that the Canadian dollar had risen above 90¢, its highest level in 28 years.

This is an important milestone that is disrupting economic activity in Canada and that, in my opinion, calls for an emergency debate in this House. We need to have, on behalf of the people of Canada, an opportunity to clearly tell the Bank of Canada and the Conservative government that action is urgently required.

The current situation is causing thousands of jobs to be lost. Just last weekend, we heard of 71,000 jobs being lost. But today's announcement of such a rise in value is creating an emergency situation, as the effects of this rise will become apparent in the very short term.

This is also sending a signal internationally, which will hinder investments in our country.

I would therefore like the House, through the Speaker, to grant my request for an emergency debate, so that such a debate can be held and the will of the people can be expressed in this House through their elected representatives.

Value of the Canadian DollarRequest for Emergency DebateRoutine Proceedings

12:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

I thank the hon. member for Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup.

The Chair will come back with an answer later today.

The House resumed from June 12 consideration of the motion that 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, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.

Liberal

Michael Ignatieff Liberal Etobicoke—Lakeshore, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak in opposition to Bill C-10. My constituents in Etobicoke—Lakeshore made their concerns about public safety very clear during the last election campaign.

I will not forget knocking on the door of a family in my riding who had just lost its nephew in a gun crime shooting in Montreal. I went to a memorial service held in the young man's honour and we all felt shock and anger at the senseless waste of a young life. The young man's uncle asked me what I would do to reduce the incidence of these terrible crimes and I pledged to support any reasonable measure that would make such tragedies less likely in the future.

Everyone in the House, especially this member of Parliament, wants to keep faith with families who have lost loved ones to gun violence. Everyone in the House wants to reduce this scourge of gun crime.

The question before us today is not who is tougher on crime. The question is, what is the most effective way to do so? That family in my riding does not want us to play politics with its grief and anger. It wants balanced measures that work. Balance means measures that address all features of the crime problem in our society rather than using sentencing tariffs as the unique yardstick of whether criminal justice policy is sufficiently tough.

Balance means giving all our crime fighters, the police, the crown attorneys, the judges, the neighbourhood watch organizations, the youth workers, the school teachers, the parents, the parole and probation officers, the correction officers and, yes, the good people who run the gun registry, the support and resources they need to work together to reduce crime in our society. Recent arrests of drug gangs in Toronto prove the effectiveness of a targeted and tough police action, and the Toronto police deserve all possible praise for these raids.

A balanced approach includes tough sentences for heinous crimes, but the Criminal Code already contains 42 mandatory minimum penalties. Many of these were placed on the statute books by previous Liberal administrations. The political charge that this side of the House is soft on crime just will not wash.

The question before the House is not whether there should be some mandatory minimums for serious crimes, but whether it is good public policy to increase their number and severity and to make this the sole focus of criminal justice policy in the government.

Instead of a balanced approach—increased funding for police forces and the RCMP, the courts, legal aid, youth employment programs and crime prevention in schools—this government proposed a single new tool: a new series of minimum sentences for a variety of crimes committed with a firearm.

Instead of listening to the valiant army of people who fight crime, this government decided that petty politics took precedence over efficiency in fighting crime.

The people of my riding do not want to play petty politics with crime. They want a balanced approach that is based on actual facts and delivers tangible results.

Bill C-10 fails the test of balance. Instead of investing new resources in the police, in the courts, in the probation and parole systems, the federal government, and provincial ones as well, will be forced to invest millions of dollars of scarce criminal justice resources in new prisons. This is not balanced. This is just ideologically driven public policy.

The second test that criminal justice measures must pass is evidence. In his testimony before the justice committee, I heard nothing from the Minister of Justice that approached an evidence based approach that would justify the new tariffs. There is good reason for his silence. There are no studies that prove, with any degree of conclusiveness, that increases in mandatory minima do actually reduce the incidence of gun crime.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice said in the House on June 6 that he “wanted to send a message to criminal gangs”, but he went on to say:

Whether or not they are paying attention and will think twice before committing a serious crime with a firearm remains to be seen....

This suggests that the government does not know whether mandatory minima deter. It wants to send a message but it has no idea whether the message will get through.

The United States has just come through a 40 year experiment with mandatory minima. No reputable criminologist believes that this explains the fall in serious crime rates in the United States. The causes, the experts agree, can be traced to jobs, to prosperity, to better prospects for the poor and a demographic decrease in the proportion of young adult males who are responsible for most serious crime. Already many American states are abandoning mandatory minima. Why should Canada rush to adopt a policy that many thoughtful Americans reject as a failure?

The use of mandatory minima, however, has had one obvious effect. The U.S. now has the dubious distinction of having one of the highest incarceration rates in the world.

When I was a young graduate student, I used to spend every Tuesday night for about four years in a medium security prison working with the prison chaplain with a bunch of young lifers who were doing mandatory minimums for serious crimes. After that experience of four years, I came away with one very clear conclusion: Prisons are essential to remove dangerous offenders from society but prisons also render most offenders worse.

The unfailing consequence of Bill C-10 would be to increase the Canadian prison population and, as a consequence, increase the number of criminalized individuals who, when released, are likely to reoffend. Instead of reducing crime, Bill C-10 might just have the opposite effect.

Because Bill C-10 would increase the prison population, this would have serious public expenditure consequences. The House and the country is entitled to know what these measures will cost. Nowhere has the government presented real estimates of what it will cost to increase our prison population, but we can have some idea.

We already know that it costs $80,000 to keep a Canadian in prison. The House and the country will want to know why the government believes it should spend more scarce criminal justice dollars on keeping people in prison and possibly making them worse, when the same money could be spent on a balanced investment, in more police officers, probation and parole personnel, improvements in legal aid and the court system.

Bill C-10 fails the test of balance. It fails the test of evidence. It also fails the test of justice. By justice, I mean the requirement that sentences fit the crime. As my colleague, the member for London West, so ably pointed out, a person who commits a crime with a long gun under this legislation is likely to face a lower penalty than someone who commits an equivalent crime with a handgun. Where is the proportionality? Where is the fairness in this?

In our system we leave the adjudication and proportionality to judges. They are trained to determine the circumstances, mitigating or aggravating, that ought to determine what penalty fits the crime. The escalating tariff proposed by the government makes it more difficult for our criminal justice system to achieve proportionality and fairness.

My party has always believed in a different balance between the legitimate prerogatives of the legislature and the courts and between the imperatives of public safety and the need for proportionality.

In conclusion, Bill C-10 is not a balanced approach to public safety. It is not evidence based and it fails the test of proportionality. On these three grounds, I will vote against it.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.

Conservative

Dean Del Mastro Conservative Peterborough, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened with great interest to what the hon. member for Etobicoke--Lakeshore had to say and I disagree with him wholeheartedly.

It was not that long ago that a heinous crime occurred in Toronto and the former chief of police, Julian Fantino, indicated that he had had it with the revolving door justice system and that the age of hug a thug, as he put it, was over. Our government never presided over the age of hug a thug but members opposite did. Obviously the whole notion that they are soft on crime is coming from society and not from us.

I would like to suggest that the member opposite look into what occurs in our federal prisons which actually have a very good record of rehabilitating prisoners. He may want to refer to them.

I would like to suggest to him that the bill is about justice, justice for victims and justice for society. Where does that enter into his paradigm of considering whether it is a balanced approach or not? I would like to hear the answer.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.

Liberal

Michael Ignatieff Liberal Etobicoke—Lakeshore, ON

Mr. Speaker, I take some exception to the idea that previous Liberal governments were associated with hug a thug. As I made perfectly clear in my statement, the previous government took added mandatory minima where it felt there was a public order justification. I would point out to the hon. member that over the last 13 years Juristat statistics make it perfectly clear that crime rates fell on the Liberal watch because we took a tough and balanced approach.

As the hon. member rightly said, this is a question of justice, but justice does not consist of locking people up and throwing away the key. If the hon. member is as concerned as he says about rehabilitation in prisons, then I would see measures in the government's estimates that would amount to an investment in rehabilitation programs in prison. I see no such evidence of any investment in those programs.

Once again the hon. member is trying to play this as being that side of the House is tough on crime and we are weak on crime. The Canadian public is entirely sick of this falsely polarized debate. The entire House takes the most serious view of serious crime, as I made pretty clear in my statement. Let us move beyond this and assess this measure on its merits. I have assessed it according to three criteria and it has failed to pass the most elementary test of justice.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.

Bloc

Serge Ménard Bloc Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Mr. Speaker, contrary to the hon. member who asked the first question, I thought this speech was remarkable. It was quite thorough, well balanced and in-depth.

Nonetheless, there is an aspect my colleague did not touch on—perhaps he was short on time—and that was the legal aspect. Many arguments to justify minimum sentences are horror stories. The sentences seem totally unreasonable in relation to the seriousness of the crime.

Of all these objections raised, has my colleague heard of a single case that went before the Court of Appeal in the country? If these sentences are so awful, they can be corrected in appeal. Before changing the legislation, we should look just at the sentences, considered unjustifiable by some, that were approved by the appeal courts.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.

Liberal

Michael Ignatieff Liberal Etobicoke—Lakeshore, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am very grateful to the hon. member for his comments about me.

He agrees with me on the political line I addressed in my speech. I fully agree with him that if these crimes are not properly punished, it is always possible to turn to the Court of Appeal.

I would add that in the Canadian system, Parliament creates laws and judges apply them. We accept and respect the possibility of a division of labour between the judiciary and Parliament. I accept this division and the respect that exists between the two—

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

The hon. member for Burnaby—Douglas.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.

NDP

Bill Siksay NDP Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in the debate on Bill C-10, an act to amend the Criminal Code, minimum penalties for offences involving firearms.

As we all know, this is an issue of prime importance to most Canadians. We all want to see effective action against crime. I want to echo what the previous speaker said. I think Canadians are tired of the breast-beating and the “We're tougher on crime than you are” that often goes on around here and that often goes on in political discourse in Canada. I think everyone in this House wants to see effective action against crime.

That is a crucial issue for me, as well, but I want to ensure that the action we take is effective action, which is why I have some difficulties with the proposed legislation that we are discussing today. The primary question that I approach every piece of legislation with is: Will it do the job that it is advertised and promoted to do? One of the reasons that I am sitting in this chamber is to make those kinds of decisions about the proposals that come before us.

I do not think we should be about enshrining so-called solutions that do not work and that give people perhaps a false sense of security. I do not think we should be wasting time and money when the need to address crime is so urgent.

Those are some of the questions that I bring to considering this legislation today. I also bring the commitment the New Democrats have made around crime and crime prevention.

We have said that there should be a three pronged approach to dealing with crime and our approach has three pillars. The first approach is firm punishment and legislative deterrence. The second approach is enhanced resources for enforcement that foster collaboration between law enforcement agencies. The third approach is essential investments in crime prevention, communities and youth. All three of those are essential in dealing with the issue of crime and crime in our society. We cannot take away one and have an effective program.

Unfortunately, the bill addresses only one of those pillars and I do not think crime can be effectively addressed in our society by pursuing only one aspect of the problem.

I also see some key problems with the legislation. The questions I asked earlier in the House were: Why are unrestricted firearms not included? Why are long guns not included? Why are shotguns not included? Why do the Conservatives think that crime committed with a long gun is somehow less important? We know that over 50% of police officers killed in Canada in the last 20 years were killed by someone using a long gun and that a huge percentage of spousal murders in Canada are committed by men using long guns as well.

If the government were really serious about indicating the seriousness of gun crime, it would have included unrestricted firearms in the legislation. It just does not make sense to leave it out. It brings into the question the whole motivation behind this legislation.

The bill also contains a 10 year provision for a third offence. As a significant body of opinion says that this may be seen as excessive by the courts and ultimately ruled unconstitutional, I am concerned about its inclusion in the legislation.

On the whole, there is evidence that mandatory minimum sentences do not reduce crime, that they have no effect on the crime rate. We know, and we have seen and heard this repeated over and over again, that people who commit serious crimes almost always never consider the punishment. Therefore, having a significant punishment for a crime is not necessarily a deterrent and it certainly is not an effective deterrent.

We have seen in other societies, such as in the United States where certain jurisdictions have drawn heavily on mandatory minimum sentences, that it has not had a significant effect on the crime rate in those jurisdictions.

The Conservatives are also making up plans for a huge increase in the rate of incarceration in Canada. We saw that a significant piece in the budget dealt with increases in infrastructure for our federal prison system. We know that the kind of measures they are proposing in Bill C-10 and in the conditional sentencing legislation would increase the number of people who are in both federal and provincial prisons.

It is not just the capital cost of the infrastructure, of building new jails and new prisons, it is also the cost of keeping someone in jail. We know that it costs about $51,500 per inmate at the provincial level and about $81,000 per inmate in the federal system.

When we combine all the plans that the government has noted on this, we see a significant increase in the cost of the prison system in Canada. Some of that cost is being downloaded to the provinces. We know that there will be an increase in sentences under two years, certainly under the conditional sentencing legislation.

This shift to incarceration will move funds from enforcement and prevention programs and it will also put more people in jail, which has been proven not to be the most effective way of dealing with crime in our society. It offers some level of protection to society, but the rehabilitation side, the rebuilding of relationship side is also more difficult when incarceration is used, not to mention the fact that prisons have often been called schools for crime and a great networking opportunity for criminals. All of those concerns draw into question the emphasis that the government is putting on increasing rates of incarceration in Canada.

There is also a problem that some Crown attorneys, in discussing this kind of remedy, have said that they do not feel that there is a need for more mandatory minimums and if they are implemented there is an increased likelihood that as Crown attorneys that they will plea bargain around them.

If that is the case, this legislation may have exactly the opposite effect than what the government intends. It may in fact see more cases plea bargained and the serious penalties that are being proposed will not actually be implemented.

Another issue with the current legislation refers to specific crimes that would establish a mandatory minimum sentence for breaking and entering to obtain a firearm. This will disproportionately affect aboriginal communities where this crime of break and entry to borrow a gun to hunt for food is quite common.

No matter what we think of this crime, how can putting more aboriginal people in our prison system for a longer time address what most of us already recognize as the huge failure of our society. Aboriginal people are hugely overrepresented in our prison population. This step moves in exactly the wrong direction.

In the last election, New Democrats put forward a comprehensive platform on crime. Central to that was an omnibus safe communities act that would take a holistic approach to reducing crime. We know that only a combination of measures can be effective.

Our plan included some of the following items, none of which are part of the Conservative's priorities and certainly none of which are part of Bill C-10.

We propose dealing with the border. We know that most illegal guns used in crime enter Canada from the United States. We need to have more effective border controls and we need to ensure that border officers are properly equipped to do the job, including arming them if an RCMP presence is not going to be provided at all times.

If we talk about border issues, I think most Canadians would recognize that the flow of illegal weapons from the United States into Canada is a serious border issue. We do not hear, report on or discuss this lately. We have been talking mainly about the problems that the Americans perceive with our border and the traffic north to south, which is unproven at best.

We know there is a serious issue of illegal guns coming into Canada from the United States. We need to deal with that effectively. We need to target the selling of illegal weapons on the Internet. This should be a specific criminal offence. The RCMP should have the resources to do the job and Parliament should establish a task force and other proactive measures for discovering and eliminating Internet sales.

We need to provide federal support for multi-level task forces in communities facing heightened violence, making sure that they include broad representation from the community and in youth involvement, and ensuring a focus on all aspects, including root causes, enforcement and prevention priority. We have to involve our communities in seeking the solutions to the crime problem in their areas.

We have called for stricter bail conditions when guns are involved in crimes. We support legislative regulatory and sentencing initiatives to embody the principle that handguns have no place in the cities.

We are also talking about returning a significant portion of the proceeds of crime back to local communities and neighbourhoods as requested by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities.

We want measures to help prevent youth from becoming involved in gangs in the first place. More funding for community programming outside school hours and other targeted educational programming, and we need to increase funding for programs to address drug addictions.

In my home community we know that most crimes are the result of people who are drug addicted. We know at the same time that there are few treatment resources available, so even when people are prepared to undergo treatment they have to wait and often that is the death knell for their good intentions and for the opportunity to actually get them off the drug that has been ruining their life.

There are many things we need to address. We need to address poverty, alienation, unemployment, literacy, access to education, and victim services, but my fear is that if we go in this direction, we will use valuable resources for those areas on incarceration and not deal with the real issues. So I am left very skeptical about this legislation.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.

Conservative

Myron Thompson Conservative Wild Rose, AB

Mr. Speaker, the last few speeches we have heard in the House indicate pretty much how nice it is to be a Liberal and an NDP because they have this touchy-feely air about criminals and their activities. We keep hearing that crime is going down but I am not so sure that is true. We hear all kinds of statistics and I would suggest that we need to consider one other thing.

Even if crime is going down and I am not sure it is, in fact I am convinced it is not necessarily true. However, the one thing that is increasing is the amount of guns arriving in this country illegally and the amount of guns available to criminals. Gangs are smuggling in these guns. We know there is a hoard of guns out there and they will not be used for anything but criminal activity.

It seems to me that we are in for some serious problems ahead, probably not from the past but we had better start preparing for the future. This bill is a step in that direction. There are many things we could do besides this bill and we are going to do those things, but in the meantime we have to take this seriously. What we need to do is stop this nonsense of saying, for example, that long guns are not covered by the bill.

If someone uses a gun in a crime, it does not matter if it is a shotgun, a 30-30 rifle or whatever. If individuals use a gun in the commission of a crime, this bill says they are guilty and will be punished. I wish the opposition members would start speaking the truth about the bill and either read it or put it aside, but keep their mouths shut if they are not going to speak about facts and the idea that it does not apply.

Second, I would like to know why we do not get the bill to committee? We are hearing now all this touchy-feely wonderful stuff that we are going to do but nobody over there really knows what we are going do. Let us get this to committee. Let us get this thing closed down and let us get some real study on it because I know that the victims of crime strongly support this bill. Police forces across the country strongly support the bill and all we are hearing right now is this fuzzy stuff.

I am tired of it. I want the bill to be studied in committee. Let us get it right because guns are going to be a very serious problem in the future because of the number of them that exist out there and, by the way, are not registered.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.

NDP

Bill Siksay NDP Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would be happy to comment on the member's interjection. I wish he would take some time to look at the evidence about crime statistics in Canada. If he bothered to do that, he would see that crime is indeed decreasing in Canada.

In fact, just this last weekend in British Columbia we saw that auto theft, which has been one of the main problems of crime in the lower mainland, has actually gone down. Some of the preventive proposals that have been gaining use in the lower mainland are things like bait cars. They have gone a significant distance in decreasing the kind of auto crime that we see. It is exactly those kinds of programs that we need to be funding.

If the Conservatives were concerned about not being touchy-feely and wanted to actually do something about crime in Canada, they would put some money into those kinds of programs. They would put some money into restorative justice programs to rebuild relationships, and keep crime, punishment and rehabilitation in the community.

They would put some money into victim services to ensure that victims have the support they deserve when they are faced with dealing with a major crime. There is nothing touchy-feely about calling for that kind of reorganization of government spending and nothing touchy-feely about calling for that kind of reorganization of the government's thinking because that is a significant task ahead of us.

The member mentioned the whole issue of gangs and illegal guns. Bill C-10 is not going to do anything about that, not one thing. Those people could care less what the penalty is for the kind of crime that they are involved in. If the government were serious about dealing about that, we would see some programs that would prevent people from becoming involved in gangs. We would see some programs that would deal with the question of the border. Why are guns still flowing across the border illegally? Why have there not been any specific initiatives to deal with that? Those are really important questions that need to be addressed as well.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

Is the House ready for the question?

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.

Some hon. members

Question.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

No.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.

Some hon. members

Yea.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

All those opposed will please say nay.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.

Some hon. members

Nay.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

In my opinion the yeas have it.

And more than five members having risen:

Call in the members.

And the bells having rung:

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.

Jay Hill

Mr. Speaker, I request that the vote on the motion be deferred until the end of this day.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

So ordered.