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House of Commons Hansard #32 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was sentence.

Topics

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.

Liberal

Tina Keeper Liberal Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to mention that one of the most frustrating and troubling announcements by the Conservative government in terms of its approach to justice is the amount of money that it is prepared to spend on new jails and prisons. The figure of $250 million is startling when, as the hon. member mentioned, the system of incarceration has not been successful in addressing the root causes. In fact, creating more jails and prisons is certainly not part of the answer.

I appreciate the member's question in terms of aboriginal communities, first nations, Métis and Inuit groups that have done incredible amounts of work in terms of restorative justice. They have certainly been subject to a colonial system of 150 years which has had devastating impacts.

The last Liberal government had taken great strides to work in cooperation with aboriginal groups toward addressing these very issues. The root causes have to be addressed and, in fact, as the member indicated, the sentencing circles and the community healing strategies are where I believe the funds should be focused. I believe we will never curb the rate of crime and the aboriginal community will suffer the impacts the most.

There are a lot of community based strategies that need to be examined, monitored, evaluated and promoted because they have had an enormous amount of success in addressing root issues and community dynamics.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.

Liberal

Yasmin Ratansi Liberal Don Valley East, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my hon. colleague for her analysis of Bill C-9. She mentioned that conditional sentencing has conditions set before a judge who can lay down the sentence. It is a preventative tool and prevention is very important. The previous Liberal government had implemented a youth employment strategy for preventative purposes dealing with gang violence, which has been eliminated by the Conservative government. Could the member elaborate how the conditional sentencing tool has been used in the aboriginal communities and how effective has it been?

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.

Liberal

Tina Keeper Liberal Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, one of the important elements of the conditional sentencing is that it is not focused principally on rehabilitation or reintegration of the offender. Where those rehabilitation measures are in place, they are not an option for the offender. They are part of the conditional sentence. I think that is a really important factor in terms of conditional sentences.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Bloc Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise and speak about Bill C-9, which seeks to amend the Criminal Code. To describe the purpose of the bill, I will read the summary:

This enactment amends section 742.1 of the Criminal Code to provide that a person convicted of an offence prosecuted by way of indictment for which the maximum term of imprisonment is ten years or more is not eligible for a conditional sentence.

To help the people who are watching understand, I should mention that the concept of a conditional sentence is quite simple. When an individual receives a conditional sentence, it means that he serves his sentence in the community. He remains free as long as he abides by the mandatory, discretionary conditions the court has imposed.

This is the system we have at present. Our society has developed a certain degree of judicial autonomy. Based on case law, past events and the decisions handed down throughout the history of the courts, a certain procedure has been established whereby judges can analyze each case on its own merits and choose the most appropriate sentence. That is the society we have. In my opinion, the vast majority of Canadians were satisfied with this until today.

With the introduction of Bill C-9 by the Conservative government, we are seeing another opinion. Obviously, in any society, there are always people who are dissatisfied. The Conservatives are exhibiting a republican streak that would have them take away more and more power from the judiciary. They want to reduce judges' authority, simply because they themselves want to dictate the punishment in the Criminal Code. That way, if you commit a crime, the sentence is set, and all the courts do is determine whether or not you are guilty.

This is dangerous. This perception, this concept of the judicial system, this republican conservatism is what we are seeing in the United States. When a society functions in this way, as American society does, then we have to look at whether this helps reduce the number of crimes. In the case of the Americans, experts agree that crime is not on the decline in the United States, it is on the rise. This is understandable. It is simply because sentences are increasingly strict. Offenders figure that they might as well commit enough crimes to get enough money to hire lawyers to get them off.

There have been some highly-publicized court cases in the United States. I do not want to name names. It is because of this that we have this situation. It is because of this that an entire right wing is emerging conditions de surveillance in our society and this republican conservatism. We associate images with certain individuals. If the trial of an individual found guilty has been highly publicized, everyone watching from their living rooms has played a part in determining the sentence.

Establishing the framework for a society is much more complex than that. We must stop enacting legislation and guiding our society based on the cases of a few individuals hyped by the media. This is why the Americans have become so conservative, have shifted to the republican right and have increased sentences. We end up by thinking that every time someone does something, a sentence should be imposed automatically. That cannot be done.

In our society, we are still presumed innocent until proven guilty by the state. That is the hard reality. We must abide by this, that is the way it is and I believe that is a good thing. That is what our ancestors chose to do. It is thus that our parents, grandparents and great grandparents decided to shape our society. We are innocent until proven otherwise and we have given the judiciary the responsibility of determining the sentence.

For this reason the Criminal Code contains the possibility of imposing conditional sentences for certain offences—that is sentences served in the community—accompanied by very serious supervisory conditions.

Since 2000, we have seen a certain shift, thanks to an increase in right-wing, republican conservatism. Courts are imposing much more severe conditions on people under supervised or conditional release. This is probably a good thing; we are following this trend and the courts are adapting.

Yet this is not enough for the right-wing republican conservatives. They believe that minimum mandatory sentences must be imposed immediately. In the United States, this has had negative results. Knowing that they will receive a lengthy sentence, certain people commit a crime and simply ensure that they have enough money to pay lawyers to get them acquitted. This is what the U.S. is up against. Sentences have not been reduced—quite the contrary—and there are more and more criminals. However, certain law offices are making plenty of money simply to get people acquitted who might otherwise have pleaded guilty if they were likely to receive a conditional sentence, supervised by the community. Perhaps they would have decided not to fight the system.

It is time to stop thinking that judges wake up in the morning, and if they get up on the right side of the bed, decide that everyone who appears before them that day will serve their sentences in the community. That is not how it works. Yet the right-wing republican conservatives seems to be saying that the judiciary's 100 years of history since Confederation and everything decided by the courts are no longer valid. Today, these judges are no longer good enough. In order to be good enough, they would have to be right-wing republican conservatives. This is not what our society wants. This is not what our ancestors wanted. In our society, the accused is innocent until proven guilty. Sentences are determined based on responsibility.

I would like to remind the House of the criteria that exist. Before imposing a conditional sentence, judges must consider four elements.

First, the offender must be convicted of an offence with no minimum sentence. When the Criminal Code specifies a minimum sentence, the judge imposes it. It seems that, more and more, right-wing republican conservatives want to impose minimum sentences for every section of the Criminal Code.

Second, the individual must be given a sentence of less than two years. Even when the individual is charged with an offence which could carry a sentence of ten years or more, if they are given a sentence of less than two years, a conditional sentence to be served in the community may be considered.

Third, the conditional sentence must not pose a danger to the community. The judges analyze, call witnesses and people who may influence the person's behaviour, and experts analyze the behaviour. They then decide whether or not the individual will be released into society.

Fourth, the judge must be convinced that a conditional sentence is in keeping with the general principles of proportionality of the sentence. Jurisprudence has established a certain proportionality, but it is the judge who decides. In our society, we must take this into account. We must stop dictating. We must accept that our judiciary is comprised of competent individuals who have been appointed and who have the requisite training to impose sentences. This is how the courts have operated since Canada came into being.

Bill C-9 will add a new criterion: the offence committed must not be punishable by a maximum term of imprisonment of 10 years or more. It does not refer to the sentence handed down to an individual, it refers to an offence for which the term of imprisonment may be ten years or more. They are not necessarily very serious offences. For example, theft over $5,000—such as the theft of a car—is punishable by a sentence of 10 years or more, and so is obtaining credit by fraud. This type of crime is committed often and it should be punished. However, if it is a person's first offence the judge will take that into consideration. Theft from mail also may carry a term of imprisonment of 10 years or more. Offences such as providing a false prospectus, using a false passport, fabricating evidence, are all punishable by a term of imprisonment of 10 years or more. Under Bill C-9, even if the crimes are committed only once by an individual, a conditional sentence served in the community would no longer be a possibility.

To conclude, the Bloc Québécois will vote against this bill.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

1 p.m.

Liberal

Alan Tonks Liberal York South—Weston, ON

Mr. Speaker, once again, I listened very carefully, as have other members of the House, to the comments made by the member.

I am greatly impressed with the comparisons with the American justice system and the trends, and what he described as a Conservative-Republican approach to the application of justice. He noted that the number of repeat offenders has gone up in the United as a result of the approach it takes as opposed to the trend of repeat offenders here. I hope I am not being too loose in the application, but I would attribute it to the fact that we have a conditional sentencing regime that has allowed for a great deal of discretion on the part of the courts.

The bill suggests that over 100 offences will now come under the Criminal Code, taking away the capacity for conditional sentencing.

Does the member think this will follow the trend that has occurred in the United States, which is a very serious concern? In fact, the penitentiaries have become the incubators for further offences that are of a very serious nature and repeat offenders find themselves back in the criminal justice system. Does he think this could become a possible trend here as a result of the legislation?

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

1 p.m.

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Bloc Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, my hon. colleague is absolutely right. Such is not the choice our society made. Our society has chosen to trust the judiciary, which has to consider each case individually.

The problem with wanting to punish and imprison at all cost is that we risk putting criminals who could be rehabilitated behind bars, where they will automatically be associating with more hardened criminals, who in turn will gladly teach them how to commit crimes without landing themselves in jail for it. That is the whole concept we are discussing.

My hon. colleague is absolutely right: we are talking about social trends. One trend in the United States is right-wing Republican conservatism. It is working its way across the border, and I believe that we should resist that trend. Let us show that our society is a more fair and equitable one and that we are better able to facilitate social rehabilitation than Americans are as a society.

I repeat, we must resist this onslaught by the Conservative and Republican right. I think this should be done by voting against Bill C-9.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.

NDP

Bill Siksay NDP Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, there has been some sentiment that judges exercise their discretion around conditional sentences improperly, that their inclination is to be too lenient, that somehow that leniency is built into the system and that it is an automatic inclination of some judges.

Could he comment both on the use of discretion by judges and if he thinks that there is a built in tendency in the system to somehow take serious and violent crimes leniently when it comes to sentencing?

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Bloc Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, I hope that all members understand that it is absolutely not the case. Judges must respect some criteria. I did enumerate them earlier and I will spare you a repeat of the list.

There is no automatic sentencing. As I said, it is not because a judge wakes up in a good mood one morning that he or she will be lenient and give out conditional sentences. That is not the way things work. Sentences are determined by such criteria as the type of crime and, of course, the individual who committed it.

I suspect that without the right-wing republican conservative movement that we have observed since the beginning of the 21st century, we would still be in a society that wants to give a second chance to people who really deserve it. In fact, that is what a judge does. He or she takes the criteria into consideration and decides if the person found guilty will be given a conditional sentence that will allow that person to be returned to society under supervision. We notice that that supervision has become more rigorous since the beginning of this century. Judges have followed current events and noticed the right wing tendency that exists in Canada. They then realized that supervision had to be enhanced and that has been done.

Oral QuestionsPoints of OrderGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.

Blackstrap Saskatchewan

Conservative

Lynne Yelich ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Social Development

Mr. Speaker. I wish to rise on a point of order to clarify a remark I made in question period earlier today in response to a question from the member for Hochelaga.

I said, “The regions that have seen significant improvement in their labour market situations since the launch of the previous one are the regions that have been included in this new pilot project”. I neglected to include the word “not” before the word “included” in my response.

For the record, I wish to state that, with respect to the new extended EI benefits pilot project, regions that have seen significant improvement in their labour market situations since the launch of the previous one are the regions that have not been included in this new pilot project.

Oral QuestionsPoints of OrderGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

I thank the hon. parliamentary secretary for this point of information.

Resuming debate, the hon. member for Timmins--James Bay.

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-9, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (conditional sentence of imprisonment), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Criminal Code

1:05 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise and speak to the bill because the issue of protecting our citizens is a fundamental priority of all members of Parliament, regardless of our political stripes. The question is whether or not the legislation that we bring forth will achieve that end. Questions must be asked.

The other question is in terms of trying to come forward with a one size fits all solution and whether that is good social policy in the end. I would say that there definitely has been a trend. We have seen it in our neighbours to the south, where politicians never seem to be defeated if they demonize criminals. I am not ever going to defend criminal activity, but there is this sense of continual demonization and this sense that they are going to get tougher and tougher on them until they have large segments of the U.S. population in jail for incredible lengths of time.

I would like to speak about my own background. When I was much younger, and in another life perhaps, my wife and I dealt with men coming out of prison. They lived in our home. We visited many of the provincial institutions in southern Ontario and had to interview men who were looking for the opportunity to start a new life.

One of those men, and I will mention his name here, Pierre Fontaine, is dead now. He lived with our family for 17 years. He needed someone who was willing to take a chance. His record extended back into the 1950s. It is very difficult in the climate of today to say whether he would even be allowed out, because he was considered a repeat offender.

Mr. Fontaine moved in with our family. He was a grandparent to my children. He was part of every family celebration we had for 17 years. In fact, he died at our home, and our family, our neighbours and our community came together and held a wonderful funeral. It was actually one of the most beautiful funerals I ever attended. In our community he was considered such a true gentleman. People from across the community came out for that funeral and to take part in it.

What I want to say about this is that my experience with criminals, and mostly we dealt with men, is that at the end of the day they were not bad men, but they made, my God, such incredibly stupid choices. If stupidity is a crime, and I guess it is, then these men were all incarcerated for doing very stupid things, mostly to themselves. They ended up with a prison record.

The problem we found, especially in dealing with young men who were facing prison, is that there was a tipping point with them. They had done something stupid in their youth and they were facing going to prison. The problem with them was that if we did not have alternatives, if we did not have choices to offer the judge to give them another opportunity, we were basically putting them into a factory, a foundry, in effect, for hard crime.

We saw those young men come out of juvenile detention and go to the Don Jail. When they came out of that jail they were a much different breed of person to deal with. The recidivism among those young men was appalling. The levels of violence increased dramatically the more people were put back into situations.

I think the whole notion of conditional sentencing was speaking to the need to find alternative ways to get some people out of the criminal system. The question is, has conditional sentencing worked across the board? Perhaps it has not, because one of the original agreements or understandings among lawyers and judges was that it would always be used for non-violent crime. Certainly if we are dealing with threats to persons, threats with guns and any kind of violence, the issue of conditional sentencing should be looked at again by legislators. It is a fair discussion to have take place. Legislation looking at whether or not the system is working is certainly within the purview of Parliament.

Once again, the problem I have with this bill, and I have said this many times, is that legislation is a very blunt instrument. The blunt instrument that we are bringing forward with this legislation will hammer many people. For example, cattle theft has been added to this list. Some of the issues we are dealing with, such as minor property crimes, are being added to take away the power of conditional sentencing. Rather than looking at whether or not violent criminals are getting away with conditional sentencing, we are looking at extending dramatically who will be caught up in this and we are taking away the ability of the courts to look at issues and find alternatives.

The problem with the bill, and again, I think it has to be looked at in terms of good social policy, is that we will see two results. One is that there will be more plea bargaining and more willingness by judges to bring in suspended sentences. Once we have suspended sentences, then we can put on no conditions whatsoever. The other problem will be that many of these offenders will be turned over to the provincial systems.

If we look at the number of conditional sentences today and multiply that by what it costs to maintain a provincial incarceration, we are looking at an additional cost of at least $250 million. We are looking at costs that are being borne by the provinces. I am wondering why it is that we are looking at something here in Parliament that will affect the provinces and will affect the courts, putting more people into provincial institutions who do not need to be there.

If the bill is looking at the issue of violent offences, violence against families and the misuse of conditional sentencing, then certainly it is within the obligations of Parliament to look at that issue. However, are we looking to broaden it dramatically to include, for example, mail theft or break and enter? Let us go back to my own experience in my younger days and look at stupid crimes.

Let us look at break and enter. I know many people who have been involved in break and enter and the last thing we needed to do at the end of the day was to send them away for 10 years. What we needed to do was put them away for a period of time but also give them the opportunity to make amends to the community. We need to make sure these people have counselling and that we get these people back to being productive members of society.

The other big issue is the issue of aboriginal youth who are incarcerated. Canada often looks at its own record and we pat ourselves on the back for our wonderful treatment, but let us look at the failure of the U.S. incarceration system and the issue of race. We see that by far in the United States it is blacks who are continually put before the courts with no conditions. No options are put forth. They are put away. In our own system, we see more and more aboriginal people being put behind bars, and again, for crimes that need to be addressed at a social level. We are not doing any of those aboriginal communities a favour by taking someone out of the community and throwing them away without having any options for the courts or the community to alleviate the problems. So many of these problems are based on social failings within the communities themselves.

We have looked to the aboriginal communities for their own way of doing restorative justice. I think it is a model. Obviously it cannot be used widely across the board, but we have already started to look at the aboriginal restorative justice model for youth offenders in the province of Ontario. We really need to see that it is a system that is grounded in some very strong principles. The principle it is fundamentally grounded in is that at the end of the day the only way we can solve some crimes is to rebuild and to heal a community. That is where the restorative justice system has proven itself.

In terms of where the NDP stands on these issues, it is that on the issues of serious crime and violence we certainly need to take a very strong line, but we do not need to simply throw the net wide open to grab a lot of people who are not nearly in the same league as violent criminals and throw them into a system that is fundamentally run by violence. It does not matter how well an institution is run, all jail systems are run on a principle of predatory violence. As for the effect this has on persons who are incarcerated, when they come out they are a very different class of person from what they were when they went in. I can testify to that from my own personal experience of dealing with men who come out of prison.

The other issue we need to look at is what I referred to earlier. It costs about $51,500 per inmate for provincial incarceration per year. It is $81,000 per federal inmate. My God, do we need to spend all that money on all these people all the time when we have not put the money into proper prevention and into protecting communities?

I point, for example, to the gun registry, where we spent a billion dollars tracking down people in northern Ontario, some of whom are 80 year old senior citizens, to fill out their possession only licences. That money could have been spent on police services, on border patrols and on working in communities to stop the gang violence. In my case, an 82 year old man came before me the other day whose possession only licence had expired.We do not have possession only licences any more and he has to take a safety course because he is somehow a threat to society.

What we do in Parliament has profound implications for all sectors of society. What I would suggest is that we have to be prudent. We have to be careful. We have to--

Criminal Code

1:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

Questions and comments, the hon. member for Moncton--Riverview--Dieppe.

Criminal Code

1:15 p.m.

Liberal

Brian Murphy Liberal Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member's comments tell me that he has first-hand knowledge of the effects of how the Criminal Code is an organic concept and has to grow with the times and the conditions of our community.

It also appears to me that he is right on the money when he says that legislation is a blunt instrument. In this case, this blunt instrument, written on the back of a napkin, with the government attempting to railroad it through the commons, has many gaps, as he so rightly pointed out.

I have a question for the member. Does he agree with me that at committee, or somewhere else, this bill can be fixed by looking at the types of offences and removing those for which conditional sentences, with proper supervision, will work?

As a secondary part of my point, does he think, in his first-hand experience and the experience of his years as an MP, that one of the problems with conditional sentences, which has led to the impression of many on the other side that they do not work, is that the supervisory aspect inherent in conditional sentencing has fallen down because of a lack of resources committed to those supervisors? Frankly, they are swamped.

Criminal Code

1:20 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is one of the main issues we end up having to deal with when someone is returned to society. It does not matter whether it was for stealing shoelaces or stealing cars, or even for violent crimes, at one point they have to be returned to society. What we need at that point are the resources to get them back into society in a safe and functioning way.

The halfway houses and the John Howard Society have played really important roles, but we have seen a shortage of resources. We have seen a shortage of places that will give people a safe environment. I know from my own experience that people could not get out of jail without an address, but they had no place to go. What these people needed when they got out was a time out. If they did not have a time out where they could be in a normal, functioning environment, they immediately would end up back on the street. Once they are on the street, they will inevitably return to crime. The lack of support in terms of dealing with people who are in transition back into the community has been a real issue.

As for the other point the hon. member raised about committee, definitely, a bill like this is very important. We need to go through it very carefully, not to stall but to make sure that we are doing the due diligence so that at the end of the day we are coming forward with legislation that works, that responds to people's needs, and that takes what we are trying to do at a parliamentary level and provides lawmakers and communities with the resources so they can actually deal with the issue of crime.

Criminal Code

1:20 p.m.

Conservative

Dick Harris Conservative Cariboo—Prince George, BC

Mr. Speaker, I have a final and quite direct question for the member of the NDP. When the Liberals brought in the conditional sentencing bill some years ago, there was a provision in there, despite calls from the opposition for there not to be, that people who committed violent crimes would have an opportunity to receive conditional sentences. Despite the assurance that it would not happen, we have seen a multitude of instances where violent crime offenders, when convicted, received conditional sentences.

I want to ask the member this directly. Does he believe that people who commit violent crimes as we know them, such as sexual assault and armed robbery, violent crimes of that sort, should be eligible to receive conditional sentencing? If not, will he support this bill?

Criminal Code

1:20 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, I fully agree with the hon. member. The problem is that we are not dealing with that bill today. We are not dealing with a bill dealing with the need to ensure that people who are committing violent crimes are not getting conditional sentencing. We are dealing with a much larger omnibus bill that is dragging in a whole lot of other people.

If the member's government was willing to carve that out, to look at this legislation and come back to Parliament with that legislation very clearly defined, I am sure he would find strong support across the House of Commons. The other option would be--

Criminal Code

1:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

Resuming debate, the hon. member for Don Valley West.

Criminal Code

1:20 p.m.

Liberal

John Godfrey Liberal Don Valley West, ON

Mr. Speaker, the point that I would like to bring to the debate is that while this is a remarkably short bill, the implications of it are quite remarkable.

What I find particularly interesting is we are talking about a bill that says it is not possible to have a conditional sentence if the penalty is 10 years or more, but then when we actually go to the list of possible crimes and misdemeanours which would be worth 10 years or more, it is quite astonishing.

For example, one can be sentenced to 14 years for intimidating Parliament. Whether that might demand a conditional sentence under some conditions, I cannot say. Forging a passport or using a forged passport has a penalty of 14 years. With respect to communicating false information, I would think there has to be some more detail about this one because the penalty could be life imprisonment. I would think there might be some conditions where a conditional sentence would be more appropriate. Contradictory evidence with an intent to mislead is worth 14 years. Perjury is worth 14 years. Fabricating evidence is worth 14 years.

Do we think under all of those conditions there might not be a situation in which a conditional sentence would be more appropriate?

Theft over $5,000 is worth 10 years. A public servant who refuses to deliver property could get 14 years. Cattle theft is included. One has the sense of the majesty and history of the Criminal Code with this roll call of fascinating things. Destroying documents of title is worth 10 years, but could someone not be given a conditional sentence for that? What about the unauthorized use of a computer? I would bet there has been a little bit of that around here. How long is that? Ten years.

Disguise with intent is another one. That happens in the political world all the time. It is worth 10 years.

Criminal Code

1:20 p.m.

An hon. member

Disguised as a Liberal.

Criminal Code

1:20 p.m.

Liberal

John Godfrey Liberal Don Valley West, ON

That is right. Disguised as decent kind of Liberal people. Disguised with intent. Looks like Hallowe'en is in some difficulty.

If we were simply to go with the bill as it is, a lot of us would ask, what about specific cases in this long list that includes things that have changed and evolved over time? Would it not be more appropriate for us to send the bill to committee, which this side is willing to do, to examine in detail the effects that this surprisingly deceptively short bill has, to make sure that we are not inadvertently doing something quite foolish? It seems to me that is the task of Parliament and that is indeed the task of parliamentary committees.

The whole concept of conditional sentencing itself is rather sophisticated. It has been developed as part of the tool kit of restorative justice. It is basically a good idea to have it. We want to make sure in simply passing the bill that we do not undo the good things that come from conditional sentencing. That would be a very important reason for us not to support the bill in its present form because of these questions, and for us to have a proper sorting out at second reading of all of the implications so that we will not be in a worse situation than we are. We are not denying that in some cases this might make sense, but let us go through all the cases where it might apply.

There is another question that arises out of our examination of Bill C-2. It is the whole question of whether this has been certified as constitutional. We have gone through a certain amount of ambiguity, where certain legal officers in the context of Bill C-2 have said they do not think that bill satisfies the constitutionality test. We heard from the Attorney General in the case of Bill C-2 that it does, but when there is that kind of ambiguity it seems to me that it raises flags about all the legislation that comes before us.

What we ought to do is make absolutely certain that this bill has had that kind of certification from the Attorney General so that we find ourselves in a position of clarity.

This is one of the reasons that we need to give greater examination to the detail, because the detail is not in the bill itself; it is in all that is implied, the whole philosophical background behind conditional sentencing. We know that if we do not get it right, we will undo all of the good work, the advances in thinking on this that have occurred.

I would ask the government to work with us in a cooperative--

Criminal Code

1:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

I have been signalling to the member about his time.

It being 1:30 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

Kelowna Accord Implementation ActPrivate Members' Business

June 2nd, 2006 / 1:30 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Martin Liberal LaSalle—Émard, QC

moved that Bill C-292, An Act to implement the Kelowna Accord, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, on too many reserves and in too many cities there is an unacceptable gap between what ought to be the hopeful promise of youth and the experience of aboriginal adulthood, a gap made even more unacceptable by the fact that aboriginal Canadians represent the largest segment of our youth and the fastest growing segment of our population.

We face a moral imperative. In a country as wealthy as ours, a country that is the envy of the world, good health and good education should be givens. They are the pillars underpinning equality of opportunity, which in turn is the foundation on which our society is built.

I rise today because the descendants of the people who first occupied this land deserve to have an equal opportunity to work for and to enjoy the benefits of our collective prosperity. Today the majority do not because of gaps in education and skills, in health care and housing, and because of limited opportunities for employment. Put simply, these gaps between aboriginal Canadians and other Canadians are not acceptable in the 21st century. They never were acceptable.

Last fall the Government of Canada came to an extraordinary agreement with an extraordinary group of people. These included the leadership of the Assembly of First Nations, the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, the Métis National Council, the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples, the Native Women's Association of Canada and the first ministers of Canada's provinces and territories.

Together we developed a plan to narrow and eventually eliminate the gaps that afflict aboriginal Canadians. It became known as the Kelowna accord.

The history of aboriginal communities is heart-rending. For a year and a half, we worked to establish objectives in order to make progress in five crucial areas: education, health, housing, drinking water and economic development. Our goal was to make a real difference, to do everything in our power to change what is a harsh reality for many of our fellow citizens through investments that would bring about real change in the daily lives of aboriginal peoples.

We began by studying the gap in education. Giving young people the chance to reach their potential is essential to all of the other initiatives we set out. This means building schools and training teachers. This means ensuring that students complete their studies. This means making all types of post-secondary education available to young people. This means encouraging them to get professional training so they can get better jobs. We must ensure they have the means to succeed at all of these pursuits.

This is why the government committed to establishing a network of first nations school systems run by aboriginals in cooperation with the provinces, which are responsible for education. Our plan also included making aboriginal, Inuit or Métis culture an integral part of the curriculum in certain urban public schools.

The number of major economic projects underway in the north is staggering. Employment opportunities are abundant, and the number of well-paid jobs is remarkable. Aboriginal people will really be able to benefit from this, but only if training starts now.

This is why we committed to working with our public and private sector partners to create the apprenticeship training programs Canadian aboriginals need to get good jobs. The goal of the Kelowna accord is to close the gap between aboriginals and non-aboriginals within 10 years. The accord will ensure that the aboriginal population has the same proportion of high school graduates as the non-aboriginal population, and it will halve the post-secondary studies gap. That is just the beginning.

In terms of health care, the gaps that persist between aboriginal health and the health of most Canadians are simply unconscionable. The incidence of infant mortality is almost 20% higher for first nations than for the rest of Canada. Suicide can be anywhere from three times to eleven times more common. Teen pregnancies are nine times the national average. It is evident that these heartbreaking statistics and facts speak not just to health care. They speak to the psychic and emotional turmoil in communities, which we must find ways urgently to address.

We started this effort two years ago when aboriginal leaders participated in the first ministers meeting on health care. There we recognized the need for a new health framework and we began work on an unprecedented document, the aboriginal health blueprint, a comprehensive plan for the delivery of reliable health care in every province and territory on and off reserve.

We aimed to double the number of aboriginal health professionals in 10 years from 150 physicians and 1,200 nurses today. We aimed to focus on core measures of health, which we can monitor and improve upon in each community. We set goals to reduce the gaps in key areas, such as infant mortality, youth suicide, childhood obesity and diabetes.

This is only a start. No one will be satisfied until these gaps are closed completely.

We addressed the issue of clean water and housing. Housing is about more than having a roof over one's head. It is about dignity. It is about pride of place. It is about having a stake in the community and an investment in the future. We recognize the need to reduce these gaps significantly with a comprehensive effort to expand the skills of first nations, Inuit and Métis to manage their land, infrastructure and financing. It is estimated, by implementing the Kelowna accord, that we could realistically close the housing gap on reserve by 40% within 5 years and by 80% within 10 years.

The Kelowna accord is a comprehensive 10 year plan to achieve a clear set of goals and targets. We provided $5.1 billion for the first five years. Let me be very clear. The funds were fully provided for in the fiscal framework. The government has the money. It is a fiscal framework, incidentally, which has, since that time, produced a surplus substantially larger than was originally projected. We made it clear that for the second five years of the program, enhanced resources based on the success obtained would be provided.

It is a measurable plan, with targets to be attained and evaluated every two to three years, giving Canadians the ability to hold everyone who is involved accountable. It was developed through a non-partisan, collaborative approach in concert with the aboriginal leadership. All political parties and government across the country, Liberal, Conservative and NDP, were at the table. The Government of Canada, on behalf of the people of Canada, gave its solemn word that we would work to achieve these goals.

Aboriginal Canadians, provinces and territories have made it clear that they want to see a commitment from the new government to honour the Kelowna accord. Despite this, five months later, after inheriting a very healthy balance sheet, one much better than it had anticipated, the new government refuses to say whether it will support the nation's commitment to these goals and objectives. Its budget did not confirm the funds necessary to attain those goals.

Wherein lies the problem? Is it that the government disagrees with the goals that are set out in the accord? Is it that it does not want to work with the provinces, territories and the aboriginal leadership, all of whom share these goals?

On the other hand, the government agrees with the objectives that are laid out in the accord. Why will it not take advantage of a plan that was developed over 18 months by experts in 14 governments across Canada and in our aboriginal communities?

Let us be honest, we have consulted long enough. We have studied enough. The time has come for the government to act. Why will the government not recognize that, because of its lack of commitment, it has already wasted precious months, precious months in which critical progress could have been made toward the attaining of our interim targets?

The goals and objectives of the Kelowna agreement will not go away. This was never a partisan issue. The premier of British Columbia, speaking recently in his legislature, said the following:

I characterized that agreement as Canada's 'moment of truth.' It was our time to do something that has eluded our nation for 138 years. It was our chance to end the disparities in health, education, housing and economic opportunity. All first ministers rose to that moment of truth alongside Canada's aboriginal leaders to undertake that challenge....

Similarly, this week during their meeting in Gimli, western premiers said the following:

Having previously made an extraordinary national commitment, failure to follow through on that commitment will only make us poorer as a nation.

That is the premiers talking about a commitment.

The premier of Manitoba, who chaired that meeting, added that it would be morally wrong to walk away from the accord.

It is because of this that I have taken the unfortunate necessary step of introducing the bill entitled an act to implement the Kelowna accord. I do so with only one goal in mind, and that is to provide the government and the House with the opportunity to reaffirm what was, by all accounts, a historic agreement for Canada, for Canadians.

The bill is about confirming national commitment lest it be lost. It is also about another potential loss, the loss of the goodwill and the optimism that characterized the Kelowna meeting, the positive spirit, which played a huge role in helping us reach an agreement. All of us at that meeting left imbued with a new sense of hope for the future. That hope was underpinned by an expectation that all the parties to the agreement would live up to their commitment.

Unfortunately, for aboriginal Canadians, new hope has been replaced by doubt. Goodwill has been displaced by worry as the government engages in red herring after red herring. Too many aboriginal Canadians today endured crushing poverty in one of the world's most prosperous countries. That is why I chose, as a new prime minister, to make it a central issue for my government.

The new government is responsible for making a clear commitment to aboriginal peoples. It must respect the promises made and honour the Kelowna accord.

We need a clear commitment, not just in words but in action. We need a clear commitment to meet the challenges facing our aboriginal people by living up to the Kelowna accord.

I ask the government and the ministers here present to rise above partisanship. I ask them and all members of the House, for the sake of our aboriginal people and the future of our great country, to support the bill.

Kelowna Accord Implementation ActPrivate Members' Business

1:45 p.m.

Winnipeg South Manitoba

Conservative

Rod Bruinooge ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and Federal Interlocutor for Métis and Non-Status Indians

Mr. Speaker, in the right hon. member's speech, he referenced the Kelowna accord quite often. As an aboriginal Canadian, would he explain to me where is the accord, where are the signatures on the accord, as he has described it, and why was it not brought before the House?

Kelowna Accord Implementation ActPrivate Members' Business

1:45 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Martin Liberal LaSalle—Émard, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have a copy of the accord here. I understand it was tabled in the House yesterday. I understand when the minister tabled it, he said that it was on the government's website. In fact, he said that he found it also in the Library of Parliament. The accord can be found in a number places. It can be found in the minister's own file. There is no doubt about the accord.

Anybody who was there, and indeed the minister was there himself, saw not only the Prime Minister of Canada, but every one of the provincial and territorial first ministers stand and endorse the accord as did all the aboriginal leadership. It was televised and visible to 32 million Canadians. There is no doubt about the degree of depth of support for this accord and its reality.

I do not understand how the hon. member can stand and ask “where is the accord?” as if it never happened. It is a fact of history.

When the premier of British Columbia, when the western premiers and when the premier of Manitoba stand and say “You cannot walk away from an accord”, what are they saying we cannot walk away from? They are saying we cannot walk away from a commitment of the Government of Canada to the aboriginal people of our country.