House of Commons Hansard #33 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was harbour.


Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.

Some hon. members


Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

In my opinion the yeas have it.

And more than five members having risen:

Call in the members.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.

An hon. member

Mr. Speaker, I request that the vote be deferred until tomorrow.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

Accordingly, the vote stands deferred until the end of government orders tomorrow.

Agricultural Marketing Programs ActGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.

Chilliwack—Fraser Canyon B.C.


Chuck Strahl ConservativeMinister of Agriculture and Agri-Food and Minister for the Canadian Wheat Board

moved that Bill C-15, An Act to amend the Agricultural Marketing Programs Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased and honoured to support of the proposed amendments to the Agricultural Marketing Programs Act, or the AMP legislation. I would like to thank all parties for their enthusiasm for the legislation and trust we will get it through the House this day.

There is no doubt that many of our farmers, particularly those in the grains and oilseeds sector, are going through some tough times financially. Over the past weeks and months I have sat down with producers, provincial ministers and other stakeholders from across the country and they have all stressed the severity of the situation to me.

At the same time, they have reiterated their desire to work with governments in order to help them earn a greater portion of their incomes from the marketplace. This is a desire we all have. This is what we are working toward for the longer term and it will require taking action on the domestic and on the international front. Internationally, we are working through the World Trade Organization to level the playing field for our Canadian producers.

We have also taken action on the national scene. As the members may note, the budget provides for an additional investment of $1.5 billion this year in farm families and the future of Canada.

We are also taking other measures to assist farmers. That is what we are addressing here today. As well as more responsive farm income stabilization and disaster programming, the government has committed to making cash advance programming more responsive to the needs of producers and more reflective of the modern Canadian farm business today.

This is precisely the aim behind the amendments to the AMPA legislation that we are proposing to the House today. Farmers have told us that they want these changes and we are acting.

Under the legislative changes the government is proposing, the spring credit advance program would be consolidated into the advance payments program, making one single program under the AMPA called the advance payment program, or APP. This consolidation would reduce red tape for producers and would extend the repayment period of advances to 18 months.

Further, under the single program, the government is proposing increased levels of coverage for farmers and broader coverage to include a much wider range of commodities, including livestock. Specifically, these proposed amendments would, first, move to a whole farm approach by increasing the types of commodities covered, including livestock but excluding supply managed products and breeding stock; second, acknowledge today's larger farm size and increased farm input costs by raising the interest free component of the cash advance loans from $50,000 to $100,000; third, increase the overall limits on advances from $250,000 to $400,000; and fourth, enhance emergency cash advances.

To help producers with immediate assistance while these changes are in the works, the government has announced that a transitional program, the enhanced spring credit advance program, would be implemented consistent with the proposed changes to AMPA. This was announced, with an order in council relevant to this made a couple of weeks ago. Under this enhanced program, the maximum interest free provision is set at $100,000. Further, the repayment schedule will be extended to September 30, 2007 under this interim program.

With these improvements, the AMPA represents a total annual federal investment of about $100 million, another illustration of how this government is standing by its producers and will continue to stand by them.

As well as addressing the financial needs of producers, the proposed amendments reflect the fact that the size and complexity of farm operations in Canada have been steadily growing. There is no denying that the realities of modern agriculture are different from what they were in the past. Farm operations are bigger than they used to be and, over the last decade, farmers have seen their operating costs rise by more than 80%.

The new cash advance program is designed to better reflect these realities. By giving farmers timely access to credit, it frees producers from having to make marketing decisions based solely on the need for working capital. The changes we are proposing will also cut down on the paperwork and streamline the administrative and assessment processes.

Our prime objective is to ensure the prosperity and stability of all farm enterprises in Canada.

This is good news not only for agriculture but also for rural Canada and all Canadians.

In closing, I will repeat what the Prime Minister told the House in the take note debate on agriculture a month ago:

--the government will stand up for a strong, vibrant farm sector that provides security of income to families dependent on farming and food security for all other Canadian families.

It is for these reasons that I trust the House will join me in supporting these proposed amendments that are so vital to the success of our producers. Again, I would reiterate my thanks to all opposition parties for supporting this legislation, I hope, ensuring its speedy passage and sending it on to the Senate.

Agricultural Marketing Programs ActGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre Saskatchewan


Tom Lukiwski ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I believe you would find that there have been consultations with all parties in the House and there has been agreement for the following motion. I move:

That, notwithstanding any standing order or usual practices of the House, a member from each recognized party may speak for not more than 10 minutes on the second reading motion of Bill C-15, after which Bill C-15 shall be deemed to have been read a second time and referred to a committee of the whole, deemed considered in committee of the whole, deemed reported without amendment, deemed concurred in at the report stage and deemed read a third time and passed.

Agricultural Marketing Programs ActGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

Does the hon. member have the unanimous consent of the House to move the motion?

Agricultural Marketing Programs ActGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.

Some hon. members


Agricultural Marketing Programs ActGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

The House has heard the terms of the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Agricultural Marketing Programs ActGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.

Some hon. members


Agricultural Marketing Programs ActGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

(Motion agreed to)

Agricultural Marketing Programs ActGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.


Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, I as well am pleased to have the opportunity to speak to Bill C-15. I congratulate the government on this bill.

It is nice to be able to congratulate the government for doing something on the agricultural file instead of, as has been the case on the agricultural file, leaving the impression that something is being done but that something never happening. The budget is a prime example. There are actually less dollars in it than there were in the previous year. The immediate cash the government promised for spring is still not there.

However, this is good legislation and I appreciate seeing it come forward. This legislation was originally introduced by the previous government in Bill C-69 in October 2005. It is not exactly the same bill, but it is pretty close. The current legislation builds upon the framework put forward by the previous Minister of Agriculture, the Honourable Andy Mitchell.

Like the previous bill, Bill C-15 begins from the same premise, namely, that legislation of this kind will be a direct benefit to our producers in that it will provide an enhanced cash advance to Canadian producers to assist them to operate profitably over the short term and the longer.

The key provisions of Bill C-15 are the following.

It will, as the minister said, expand the coverage applicable to include livestock production as well as provide for the inclusion of a greater variety of crops. As in the previous government's legislation, there is a provision whereby the governor in council may, by regulation, designate any other agriculture product not specifically identified as being subject to the act. I might say that this is important, because under the current legislation there were some commodities that got missed although it was not intended.

I would point out, though, in this regard, one of the concerns I had with the previous government and would have with this one as well when we are setting the limit. From a farmer's perspective, if I can put it that way, the interest free cash advance going up to $100,000 is good. If it becomes necessary to increase it a little further, doing it by order in council would be fine, but I would worry if things tighten up with the Minister of Finance and if he or she might, by order in council, sometime reduce it. I want to make it very clear that our intention on the order in council is to ensure that there are increased benefits, not fewer benefits, for producers through using the order in council provisions.

As the minister said as well, it should be noted that the provisions of the bill do not apply to supply managed commodities. They have their own system. They operate in a system that allows them to achieve reasonable returns for managing the system to meet effective domestic market demands.

We welcome the provision in the bill for the increase of the overall limit of the advances from $250,000 to $400,000. There are also provisions in Bill C-15 for an increase in the amount of interest free advances from $50,000 to $100,000.

I want to expand on the points made by the minister. I agree with him in that regard. In fact, farm operations are larger. I think we ought to keep in mind why cash advances were first put in place quite a number of years ago. In the beginning, they were not put in place so much as a financial incentive as a marketing incentive.

For those out there in the general public, they should understand that originally when farmers harvested their crops, and it was mainly for cash crops in the fall at the beginning, they had a lot of extra harvest expenses with extra labour and so on. In order to pay their immediate bills in the fall, farmers tended to dump their product in the marketplace. Everybody doing the same thing at once resulted in quite a surplus of product in the marketplace. That in effect drove prices down.

The original cash advance program was designed in such a way through the Government of Canada as to have an interest free cash advance so that farmers would have the moneys with which to be able to pay their harvesting expenses to get their crop off and feed their crop into the market. There were two benefits. One was the interest free portion, but second, they were able to drive a better price out of the marketplace as a result of having the advance payments program in place.

That was a good design. I maintain to this day that the original advance payments bill is one of the best farm programs we have. It utilizes the authorities of the federal government through cooperation with various marketing agencies and the provinces to assist farmers in achieving better prices out of the marketplace. That is a good thing.

Bill C-15 provides for the consolidation of the two cash advance programs, the advance payments program and the spring credit cash advance program. On May 18, the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food announced the early spring credit advance program, which focuses on the increase of the interest free loan portion in the act being made available to producers.

While we in the official opposition support Bill C-15 and, as our House leader said earlier, we want to see speedy passage of the bill through the House so that farmers can take advantage of it, and we will be doing that, we have expressed and continue to express our disappointment with respect to the federal government's lack in providing producers with direct cash for spring planting. We in the official opposition--and farmers, I believe--were of the impression that there would be cash for spring. Certainly some of the backbench members of the now governing party indicated that to farmers. That has not happened.

While the bill is a good one, I want the public to understand that this is a loan, and yes, as the minister has indicated, the government will be contributing close to $80 million to $100 million on an annual basis, covering the interest free portion of that bill. That is a valuable contribution by the Government of Canada, but in terms of the $100,000 itself, that is not money that is rolled out in a cheque to farmers. It is really the farmers' own money. It is borrowed money and we cannot borrow ourselves out of debt. Many of us in the farm sector have tried it. We have found that it just does not work.

People have to understand that this is in fact a loan. It will not deal with the cash shortfall as a result of poor prices in the international subsidy war that has driven grains and oilseed prices down and caused the farm income prices that exist in this country. It really will not deal with that problem. It is a good bill, yes, but it does not deal with the cash shortfall that already exists in the farm community as a result of low commodity prices.

To conclude, with the caveat that we have to recognize that this is another loan, by the same token it is a good program. There is a contribution from the Government of Canada on the interest free portion and we will be supporting the bill and trying to give it speedy passage, but I do express my desire that the Government of Canada reconsider what it can do for the cash shortfall in the farm community as a result of the international subsidy war going on, which is leaving farmers short of cash for the products they sold in the 2005 crop year.

Agricultural Marketing Programs ActGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.


André Bellavance Bloc Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today in this House with respect to Bill C-15. We will take advantage of this moment when all the parties seem to agree on the matter. Indeed, it is not every day there is solid agreement in this prestigious place. We will this use it to good advantage.

Bill C-15 was introduced to amend the Agricultural Marketing Programs Act. In fact, as my colleagues before me have stated, it is a new version of C-69, which was introduced in October 2005 by the previous government. We supported the principle of Bill C-69 at the time. We still do today, of course, as Bill C-15 is an improved version of C-69.

Quebec's Union des producteurs agricoles, the UPA, has long called for the amalgamation of the two federal programs, the advance payments program and the spring credit advance program, known as APP and SCAP, to facilitate financial management.

The UPA also called for an increase in the ceiling of interest free advances by $50,000 to $100,000, which was done, and wanted the new program to be expanded to more sectors, including livestock. These amendments contained in the bill are certainly welcome.

In this regard, Bill C-15 proposes more than its predecessor. The ceiling for advances would increase from $250,000 to $400,000. The amount of interest free advances would increase to $100,000 from $50,000 and, as I was saying earlier, livestock and more crops would now be eligible.

Amalgamated, the advance payments program and the spring credit advance program will make things easier for producers while putting an end to administrative duplication, which led to unnecessary costs as the programs are complementary. It has been our habit to strongly criticize duplication when it involved the federal government and extended to the provinces, but even within the machinery of the federal government there is duplication. So we will be putting an end to some of this duplication, which is good news.

However, some questions remain. My Liberal colleague mentioned earlier that this spring there was no cash available immediately. We too find this inexcusable.

There are other questions. At this stage of the process, as I stated at the beginning of my speech, the Bloc Québécois is in favour of the principle of the bill. However, it does give rise to certain questions. Since the program is part of the agricultural policy framework agreed to by the federal and provincial governments, how can the government make unilateral changes without consulting Quebec and the provinces? It is a question we asked ourselves and that we asked at a briefing by the Department of Agriculture and Agri-Food. It appears that it can do so, but we believe it is a legitimate question nonetheless.

The costs of these programs are shared and so another question comes to mind: when the new bill to amalgamate the two previous programs is implemented, will it cost more for Quebec and the provinces?

There is yet another question. Although the new program includes livestock and a larger number of crops—good news, as I stated earlier—it excludes all agricultural products subject to supply management. We know that, in Quebec, supply management is extremely important as it accounts for 40% of revenue in Quebec's agricultural economy. In this regard, we would have liked improvements to the bill.

From an administrative point of view, the current programs are managed by the producers' associations. Although no official announcement has been made, we have some information and we are hearing things. We are somewhat concerned. Some information from the department leads us to believe that the financial institutions could ultimately administer this new program. We are totally against this way of doing things. As I stated earlier, there is nothing concrete stating that this will happen but this may be a possibility.

We totally disagree with and are opposed to this possibility. We want the producers' associations to continue managing the program, as was done when the two previous programs were administered by the agricultural producers.

In the short term, Bill C-15 is good news. As for the medium and long terms, I toured Quebec's agricultural regions a week ago. People asked a lot of questions and expressed a lot of concern about many things, including the Canadian agricultural income stabilization program, or CAIS. We know that the minister announced plans to change the program, but we are still in the dark. Among other things, we still do not know how much money will be distributed to agricultural producers through the Canadian agricultural income stabilization program.

Quebeckers' concerns are as follows. With respect to the method of calculation for inventory valuation, the billion dollars will be used to spread out recovery of the overpayments distributed through CAIS, as I said, so that farmers will know, at the very least, how much they are likely to receive once the program is changed. This money will also cover administration of changing to the inventory valuation method and increased negative margin coverage.

However, inventory valuation methods differ from province to province because the federal government handed over responsibility for managing CAIS to the provinces that wanted it. As a result, Quebec, Ontario, Alberta and Prince Edward Island were free to choose whichever method they wanted. In 1992, Quebec chose to use accrual accounting, which, according to the minister, is the method the federal government wants to put in place. Quebec and other provinces that already use this management practice will be penalized because they already have a system in place that uses these accounting rules.

During my meetings with regional agricultural producers in the UPA, people told me that they were wondering how the minister planned to distribute funds allocated under CAIS.

Furthermore, during our tour, there was some talk about agricultural policy framework over the longer term. The government certainly must have heard the cries of the farmers, who rallied right here on Parliament Hill on April 5. The next day, a take note debate was held in this House concerning the farm income crisis.

Farmers would like the government to finally establish a real agriculture policy. A farmer in my riding even asked me if Canada still wants to continue farming, if it wants to encourage agricultural production in this country and in Quebec, of course, since we are still here for now. One thing is certain: we have some grave concerns in this area.

In its preparations for a new agricultural policy framework, we sincerely hope that the government is finally hearing the farmers. They were consulted by the previous government when the first agricultural policy framework was being created. Despite those consultations, however, the changes that the farmers were hoping for concerning Canadian agricultural policy were never really implemented. Their demands and concerns in this area remain the same.

Bill C-15 is a step in the right direction. It does not resolve the entire farm income crisis, but it is close. We believe that this bill should be passed quickly so that farmers may reap the benefits as soon as possible.

Agricultural Marketing Programs ActGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.


Alex Atamanenko NDP British Columbia Southern Interior, BC

Mr. Speaker, like my hon. colleagues, I support Bill C-15. I will not reiterate what has already been said by my hon. colleagues about what we need to do for our farmers. The main thing is they are now getting some help, and that is good. One concern is that it will increase the debt load. We will have to watch for that.

I am encouraged by the efforts of the Minister of Agriculture and his staff to help the primary producer.

I was contacted again last week by farmers of Porcupine Plain, who are concerned. They seem to be falling through the cracks. In spite of the $15 per acre available to help them with respect to disaster relief, they do not know if they will have access to the money now or if they will have to wait until the fall.

This area was hit by flooding in 2005 and 2006. Last week another three inches of rain fell. Riverbanks are overflowing and seeds are rotting in the ground. Prior to this, farmers had seen two years of drought, frost and other flooding. The majority of farmers in rural municipality 395 have no equity left against which to borrow.

I have heard gut-wrenching stories. I have been told, and I have the documentation here, that some farmers will have their lights turned off by the middle of June. One person has a remaining credit of $5,000 on his credit card. That is not enough to fix the transmission on his tractor let alone to buy fuel and food for his family. Another person had his credit card revoked on May 29, and his lights will also be turned off. Two farmers have deserted their large farms and have gone to Alberta to work in logging operations.

This morning, at a press conference, I alluded to the point that these people had real problems. Although I am encouraged by the budget and by what has been offered by the government, there must be some way that we can help these people today to get back on track so they can produce and continue to make a living in our rural municipality.

Cattle producers in my riding of British Columbia Southern Interior believe that a free flow of cattle over 30 months old is necessary. In talking with the Canadian Cattlemen's Association, the idea is that our government should take the initiative in this regard. They are willing to help as far as blue tongue and other problems that arise.

Another situation that local producers in the Slocan Valley face is the decision of our provincial government to close many local slaughter house facilities because of new legislation. They will have to move one or two animals to Kelowna or Kamloops, if there is room for them, to get them slaughtered, thereby putting themselves out of business. I know this is not a federal issue, but I wonder if there might be some guidelines through the federal CFIA with regard to flexibility so we can somehow help, working through the provincial government, our local producers to continue producing, specifically in the Slocan Valley and other areas of British Columbia.

Our fruit growers have some comments with regard to the legislation. Marketing of their 2004 fall crop was severely impacted by excess production in Washington state, which saw a substantial increase in the volume of U.S. apples entering our Canadian market, literally being dumped into our province. B.C. apple growers saw their returns plummet from a previous three year average of 22.3¢ a pound to a mere 12.4¢ per pound, a 44% drop.

There are many serious concerns on the proposed methodology of how money will flow to farmers and how or if the apple industry will be included in the current plans. In B.C. the majority of apple growers belong to cooperatives, where the products they grow are pooled. Because of this, they view the current distribution model of retroactive inventory valuation adjustments as not working for apple growers as it excludes them from the main body of the $900 million CAIS fund. It would be terribly wrong and unfair to apple growers to pay $1 billion of emergency funding based on inventory valuations.

Pressure is being brought to bear at the WTO to have us change our supply management system. We must protect our milk producers in Quebec and the rest of Canada at all costs. I find it encouraging when the minister says that he is going to do what is necessary to maintain our supply management system. We know that, today, discussions are under way between milk producers and processors about milk protein concentrates. Let us hope that we find a solution shortly.

Another important issue confronting our producers especially in the west is that of the Canadian Wheat Board. Many of the producers are worried that the government wants to make it into a dual marketing agency. According to a study and a survey, 88% of the farmers themselves want to make the decision. It is important that we allow them to make the decision based on their board of directors and their members. The government should not impose its will.

We have to be careful because these issues are tied together. Whether it is the Canadian Wheat Board or the supply management system, once we erode one, the other follows. We can cite the New Zealand experience in the 1990s where the apple industry voted to get rid of single desk selling. Since then everything has gone downhill. Quality is worse. Apples are being picked early in the rush to export. Shelf life is much shorter. Ships carrying identical crops are arriving in market ports at the same time and end up competing for lowest prices. There is a move in New Zealand to get back to a single desk model.

After talking with the New Zealand High Commission, it has been learned that the New Zealand kiwi fruit marketing authority voted to go back to the single desk after getting rid of it because those producers all too soon found themselves competing for lower prices.

We have to be very careful before the government starts to play with an institution that is governed and controlled by the farmers. We must look at examples in other parts of the world, such as New Zealand, where people are saying that maybe the single desk solution is the best.

The farmers' rail coalition is looking to the government to recognize that the farmers are prepared to support the federal plan for the hopper car fleet if the government can ensure that farmers' interests are best served. Once again, I appeal to the minister, as I have done during our committee meeting, that the time is right to involve these people. They represent farmers in western Canada. They are willing to work with the minister and with the government to ensure that we get the very best possible deal and the very lowest maintenance costs for our farmers so they can make some money and continue to produce.

In closing, I support Bill C-15 as outlined by the minister. It is a start. It is a step in the right direction. The government must do all it can.

We have to do all we can to support farmers. It is time for a vision for Canada, a vision that says yes, we must support primary producers.

It is very important to look at the primary producers when we look at Bill C-15.

Whether we are talking about supply management, the Canadian Wheat Board or whatever, we need to keep in mind that we must support primary producers.

I thank the minister once again for his hard work in pushing Bill C-15 through.

Agricultural Marketing Programs ActGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

Pursuant to order made earlier today, Bill C-15, an act to amend the Agricultural Marketing Programs Act, is deemed read a second time and referred to a committee of the whole, deemed considered in committee of the whole, deemed reported without amendment, deemed concurred in at report stage and deemed read a third time and passed.

(Bill read the second time, referred to a committee of the whole, considered in committee of the whole, reported without amendment, concurred in at report stage, read the third time and passed)

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.

Provencher Manitoba


Vic Toews ConservativeMinister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

moved 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.

Mr. Speaker, it is with great pleasure that I rise today to speak to Bill C-10.

This bill follows through on one of the key elements of the priority to tackle crime that the government set out in the Speech from the Throne. Bill C-10 proposes a number of tougher mandatory minimum penalties to ensure that appropriately high sentences are imposed on those who commit serious or repeat firearms offences.

This bill is not about universal mandatory minimum penalties. It introduces targeted mandatory minimum penalties for serious gun crimes and ensures that those who carry out these crimes will be penalized. This bill clearly sends a message that Canadians do not accept this behaviour.

Before describing the proposals themselves, I would like to take a few minutes to explain the nature of the problem that Bill C-10 seeks to address. This bill is aimed at tackling the problem of gun violence, particularly gang related gun violence which is prevalent in Canada's major urban centres.

In looking at the gun crime problem, it is important that we acknowledge what our role is in this fight. Firearms crime is a difficult problem. There are many partners involved in responding to this concern. The police are, of course, on the front line. Canadians were reminded a few weeks ago, with the shooting death of Constable John Atkinson of Windsor, Ontario, of the risks that police face in protecting us against those who use firearms for a criminal purpose. Those risks are real and unfortunately, often deadly.

On the issue of gun crimes in Canada, the police have told us that they remain very concerned about the number of guns they encounter in their investigations. They tell us they are coming across more illegal handguns, particularly in the hands of gang members or those involved in the drug trade.

I mentioned earlier how there are many partners involved directly in this fight. The police are not the only group with a strong role to play and who have voiced recent concerns about firearm violence. Other levels of government, provincial and municipal, have key areas of responsibility as well.

With respect to gun crimes, many provincial governments have requested that this issue be tackled aggressively. At the meeting of federal, provincial and territorial ministers responsible for justice in Whitehorse last November, it was the provinces of Manitoba and Ontario in particular that sought a resolution for tougher legislative measures for firearms offences, including higher minimum penalties. The other provincial ministers agreed.

Provincial attorneys general are responsible for the vast majority of the prosecutions of firearms offences in this country. Last November they agreed that more needed to be done to tackle this problem. Since then, several of them have reiterated their desire to have tougher measures in place. As Bill C-10 responds to most of their concerns with respect to mandatory minimum penalties for gun crimes, it represents a positive and strong first step toward accomplishing some of the common goals in this fight.

Several provincial prosecutors have expressed the concern that the existing mandatory minimum penalties for firearms offences are frequently being imposed as the sentence, while in many cases a penalty higher than the minimum should be imposed given the seriousness of the offence and the offender in question. Mandatory minimum penalties are intended to be just that, a minimum penalty, a floor, not a ceiling.

It would not be acceptable for the government to become complacent and to fail to listen to the concerns being expressed by those directly involved in the criminal justice system in dealing with this problem. Furthermore, the government is not only listening to the concerns expressed by police, prosecutors and the provinces, the people of Canada have said they want action from the federal government to help fight gun crimes. With Bill C-10, this government is responding to that call.

The federal government has a strong role to play to help further reduce gun crimes. We have policing responsibilities and we will follow through on our commitment to put more RCMP officers on the streets. This government also committed in the budget to invest in crime prevention measures to keep young people away from gangs, guns and drugs.

As parliamentarians, we are this country's lawmakers. It is incumbent upon us to see that our laws provide appropriate and adequate measures to address this pressing problem.

Some members of the House may be of the view that the current gun crime problem does not require a response such as the one contained in Bill C-10. However, the facts are clear that gun crime is a growing problem in Canadian cities and towns.

For example, in 2004 Winnipeg experienced a threefold increase in its firearm homicide rate, bringing it to over three times the national rate. In that same year the number of firearm robberies doubled in the province of Nova Scotia, bringing its rate to just behind the leading rate in the province of Quebec.

Toronto's rate of firearm homicides in recent years has been frequently reported on, but that city is not alone in having rates higher than the national average. The rate in Edmonton has also increased. Vancouver has consistently had substantially higher rates over the last decade, five and six times the national rate.

Handgun crime is a problem in our cities. This is particularly true in connection with organized crime, including street gang activity such as in the drug trade or in turf wars. The statistics also show that while crimes committed with non-restricted long guns are down, handguns and other restricted or prohibited firearms have become the weapon of choice for those who use firearms to commit crimes. It is important to note that handguns in this country have been registered, or supposed to have been registered, since 1934.

This leads me to the proposals contained in Bill C-10. Some may comment that the escalating penalty schemes proposed in Bill C-10 seem rather complicated. This follows from the need to provide for different schemes for different offences, which is directly related to the specific nature of the current crime problem involving guns that I have just described.

The escalating minimum penalty scheme for serious offences involving the use of firearms is based on specific aggravating factors most commonly present in the guns and gang context. The higher minimum penalties of five years on a first offence, seven years on a second offence and ten years on a third offence will apply when the offence involves the use of a handgun or other restricted or prohibited firearms. They will also apply if the commission of the offence is in connection with a criminal organization and any firearm is used.

I would note that while these factors are common factors in urban gun crime, they will apply to offences in both urban and rural settings. The following offences are targeted under the scheme of five, seven and ten year minimum penalties: attempted murder; discharging a firearm with intent; sexual assault with a weapon; aggravated sexual assault; kidnapping; hostage taking; robbery; and extortion.

Also, when we talk about the first offence, second offence and third offence, it is important to note that any prior conviction in the last ten years, excluding time spent in custody for using a firearm in the commission of an offence, will count as a prior conviction and will trigger the enhanced minimum penalties for repeat offences.

Enhanced minimum penalties are also proposed in Bill C-10 for various serious crimes in which firearms are not used but are involved. The escalating minimum penalties in the case of serious non-use offences are based on repeat offences and not on whether the aggravating factors are relevant to the serious use offences.

The escalating scheme of minimum penalties will be three years for a first offence and five years for a second offence or subsequent offence for the following most serious offences: possession of a loaded, restricted or prohibited firearm; firearms trafficking; possession for the purpose of trafficking; making an automatic firearm; firearms smuggling; and a new offence of robbery to steal a firearm.

The police especially are interested in the higher mandatory minimums for the possession of loaded or restricted firearms. More and more of them are turning up in automobiles. When the police check the cars, they are finding loaded firearms inside.

The benefit of that kind of a charge is that often civilian witnesses are not involved. It is the police officer's testimony, taking the weapon, which is the crux of the evidence. In fact, it is very important to have those higher minimum penalties. In this context of course, civilian witnesses cannot be intimidated because it is essentially only the police involved.

I would also point out the illegal possession of these firearms is becoming a growing concern. In Vancouver, the police tell us that 97% of firearms, the handguns, found there are in fact smuggled in from the United States. The registration of handguns does not deter the determined criminals in terms of even handguns.

An escalating minimum penalty scheme of one year on a first offence, three years on a second offence, and five years on a third or subsequent offence will apply for the following schemes: possession of a firearm obtained by a crime, possession of a firearm contrary to a court order, a new offence of breaking and entering to steal a firearm, and the additional offence of using a firearm or imitation firearm in the commission of other offences which attracts a consecutive minimum penalty.

For the serious non-use offences, it is important to note that prior convictions in the last 10 years will trigger the higher minimum penalties applicable in repeat offences. This would exclude the time in custody because we do not want to give credit for the time a person has been involved with handguns when serving time in custody, so it would exclude time in custody for both use offences and non-use offences.

Mandatory minimum penalties that are targeted at particular offences have been effective at reducing crime. Not only do they address the real problems of criminal conduct by denouncing the behaviour to society, but they have been shown to reduce criminal conduct. Studies by Steven Levitt in the Journal of Law and Economics in 1999 and in the Journal of Economic Perspectives in 2004 showed that there is a direct link between mandatory minimum prison penalties and a decline in crime rates and criminal behaviour.

I would like to speak to constitutional considerations. As Bill C-10 addresses the issues of penalties on imprisonment, it raises considerations under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Section 12 of the charter provides that people have the right not to be subjected to cruel and unusual penalties. It is important to note that the courts have in fact upheld mandatory minimum prison sentences. There is nothing unconstitutional about mandatory minimum prison sentences. It is how they are applied and in what context which is important.

The courts in Canada have been frequently called upon to assess the constitutional validity of the mandatory minimum penalties of imprisonment currently set out in the Criminal Code and, in particular, many of the ones that apply to firearms offences. In examining those provisions the courts have recognized that Parliament is entitled to take appropriate measures to address the pressing problem of firearm related crimes.

It is indeed Parliament's role to set the range of penalties which it deems appropriate for Criminal Code offences. That is not the role of the courts. It is the responsibility of parliamentarians. In doing so we need to ensure that our response is founded on recognized sentencing principles.

It is a fundamental principle of the Canadian sentencing regime that a sentence should be proportionate to the gravity of the offence and the degree of responsibility of the offender. The Criminal Code provides that the purpose of sentencing is to impose sanctions on offenders that are just, in order to contribute to respect for the law and the maintenance of a just, peaceful and safe society.

Accordingly, the objectives in sentencing are to denounce unlawful conduct, deter the offender and others from committing crimes, and separate offenders from society where necessary, as well as to assist in rehabilitating offenders, have them accept responsibility for their actions, and repair the harm that they have caused to victims or the community.

I would submit to members of the House and to Canadians in general that the proposed mandatory minimum penalties contained in Bill C-10 are not so high as to outrage public decency. They are certainly strong measures, but they are reasonable and they are a real response to a problem that is increasing in our cities and plaguing our cities.

Much effort went into ensuring that they are appropriately tailored to the pressing nature of the current gun crime problems. The highest level of 10 years for using a firearm and five years for other serious firearms related offences will apply to repeat firearms offences.

The manner in which the highest minimum penalties will apply is intended to ensure that they do not result in grossly disproportionate sentences being handed down. The question we need to ask ourselves is whether it could be considered intolerable to send those guilty of these offences to jail for at least these set minimum terms.

If an accused for example were charged with attempted murder using a handgun and he or she has two prior convictions in the last 10 years for robberies with a firearm would a minimum penalty of 10 years constitute cruel and unusual punishment? When it comes to looking at each of the proposals under that kind of lens, we will find that the minimum penalties proposed in Bill C-10 appropriately reflect the seriousness of those offences.

I would remind the House of the other parties' commitment to mandatory minimum prison sentences. The New Democratic Party indicated that it would agree to mandatory minimum prison sentences of four years for firearms and indeed the justice critic for the NDP has said that a five and seven year range would be constitutionally acceptable. I would suggest that when we are talking about third offences, 10 years is certainly not outside the scope.

I would also point out that the Liberal Party itself, during the election, supported mandatory minimum prison sentences for gun crimes. The Liberal premier of Ontario, the attorney general, and the mayor of Toronto have all supported these kinds of measures and these are all measures that are going to address a very serious problem.

Canada's new government has said that it will tackle crime to make our streets safer. Bill C-10 is one of the first initiatives the government has taken toward realizing that goal. That is because we consider gun crimes to be a very serious threat to public safety.

I am confident that we will have the support of most of the members of the House for these measures. I look forward to discussing and studying the proposals contained in Bill C-10 in greater detail in committee with other members of the House.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

1:25 p.m.


Sue Barnes Liberal London West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have a few questions for the minister about the issue he has put on the table.

It was the Liberal Party of Canada in 1995 that put many of the mandatory minimum sentences in the Criminal Code. It fact, there are four year mandatory minimums. As he correctly stated, this is a floor not a ceiling.

However, there have been, to my knowledge, no studies in Canada, no research into the impact of the 1995 firearms legislation. The only study, Meredith, Steinke and Palmer, in 1994 examined mandatory minimum one year sentences for offenders convicted for using a firearm in the commission of an offence found in section 85 of the Criminal Code. The researchers found that charges under this section were often used in plea negotiations and about two-thirds of the charges laid were stayed, withdrawn or dismissed.

In addition, the study showed that when Crown attorneys proceeded with charges under section 85, there was a lower probability of conviction. The justice minister knows that, unlike other countries that have mandatory minimum sentences, there are no escape clauses, no escape ways to get out of that exceptional circumstance.

The minister said a few things in his speech that interest me greatly. First of all, I would like to ask him to table all of the studies that he relies on when he talks about the legislation because I, and many members of my caucus, have read intensively in this area over the last number of months and consulted.

The second thing I would like to tell him is that our four year mandatory minimum sentences were deemed constitutional, but the seven year mandatory minimums for drug trafficking were not. That is Regina v. Morrisey, if the minister needs to know of the case.

Canadians really want an effective piece of legislation. It is normal when one prepares this, and I know the minister has not had a chance to have the meetings with the territorial and provincial ministers of justice. That was done under the previous government. I know work was needed in this area. We were striving in a comprehensive way to work cooperatively to have a good solution.

I would like the minister to table his material with respect to constitutional arguments, so that we can all understand what he is relying upon. I would like to ask the minister, why did he not consult, prior to introducing the legislation, many of those special interest stakeholder groups that are knowledgeable in the area and that normally would be consulted on criminal law? Why did he not ask them for their assistance or run it by them to refine this, so he would not run into the traps that come when we go too far, overreach too much and ignore really, the best evidence we have before us? Why is it that he did this?

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

1:25 p.m.


Vic Toews Conservative Provencher, MB

Mr. Speaker, I find it remarkable for the member to suggest we tender for studies for this when there are many studies out there. Look at the Kyoto accord, for example. There were absolutely no studies, yet the former government relied on it and were willing to spend billions dollars on that program.

However, with respect to consulting, we did that. The department does not act in a vacuum. When a new minister comes in, he relies on the consulting that has occurred. I personally consulted with police and other organizations on this issue. Therefore, the idea that somehow the legislation has grown up in a vacuum in the last three months is wrong.

With respect to the issue of drug trafficking, the striking down of the seven year mandatory, I suggest my colleague go back to that decision and read exactly what it said. It basically said that for the importation of marijuana into the country, a seven year minimum was not a proportionate response, when by having one joint it would attract a seven year minimum.

The legislation is specifically geared to very serious use offences and serious non-use offences. It builds upon the constitutional cases that have surrounded the development of mandatory minimum sentences.

With respect to the study, the member knows, having been in the justice committee, that there are essentially no conclusive or other studies on mandatory minimum sentencing in Canada. That is inconclusive. I would direct her to the Steven Levitt study in the “Journal of Law and Economics, 1999” and the Journal of Economic Perspectives, 2004, which shows that there is a direct link between mandatory minimum penalties and a decline in crime rates and criminal behaviour.

The Liberal Party is still of the view that the streets in Canada are as safe as they were 30 years ago. If the member actually thinks that, why does she not take a walk in downtown Toronto, downtown Winnipeg and downtown Vancouver. After that walk, think back 20 or 30 years as to what these streets were like at that time. Now our peace officers and our civilians have to face the threat of gunfire, gun crimes and increasing numbers of handguns found in cars.

In the legislation, we are working to restore the confidence of the people of Canada in the justice system. This is a measured response and an appropriate response to a crime problem that has become very serious.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

1:30 p.m.


Marc Lemay Bloc Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am surprised that the minister did not announce the position of the Bloc Québécois in his speech. He would have quickly realized that we have studies showing that minimum penalties have not solved anything.

Since the hon. Minister of Justice used to be the Attorney General of Manitoba, he must surely be aware of a process we criminal lawyers know and regularly use: plea bargaining. Therefore, since he has probably been through it, he knows that we counsel for the defence use plea bargaining when we are dealing with a charge of attempted murder. We say that we will never plead guilty to attempted murder resulting in a minimum sentence of imprisonment, but we would plead guilty if the charge were reduced to an accusation of aggravated assault, and, presto, there it is. The minister knows that is how it will go.

He knows that he is also going to clog up the court calendars and the courts, and above all that he is going to add to the prison population. Maybe he wants that, but it is not what we in the Bloc want.

But what is incredible is that Bill C-10 only applies to handguns. Why does the Minister not want to include rifles and shotguns in this bill? When we read it, we actually see that such weapons are excluded. We know, though, that in recent years the crimes he wants to punish were committed with shotguns, in the regions.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

1:35 p.m.


The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

The hon. Minister of Justice for a brief answer, please.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

1:35 p.m.


Vic Toews Conservative Provencher, MB

Mr. Speaker, I find it interesting, coming from a province that is plagued by organized crime, where there is a measure that is specifically directed at organized crime, that the member of the Bloc Québécois would stand and advocate essentially on behalf of the organized crime population.

On the issue of an increase in the population in our prisons of people who commit attempted murder, discharge a firearm with intent, sexual assault with a weapon, aggravated sexual assault, kidnapping, hostage taking, robbery and extortion, my colleagues asks why should those people go to jail. They should be in jail. Our citizens deserve protection.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

1:35 p.m.


Sue Barnes Liberal London West, ON

Mr. Speaker, today we begin debate on Bill C-10, an act to amend the Criminal Code, minimum penalties for offences involving firearms.

I welcome the debate because it will allow us, at least on this side of the House, to engage Canadians, assisting them understanding a vital part of the criminal justice system sentencing provisions. I expect the government's speeches will continue with the slogan that the bill is about being tough on crime.

First, all members of the House are concerned with their communities being safe. Unfortunately, we cannot legislate safety, but we all need a system of justice that works and works effectively. It is the responsibility of the government to put bills before us that are evidenced based and that will enhance the effectiveness of our criminal justice regime.

Amendments to the Criminal Code should not be ideologically driven, or rushed or arbitrary. There should be rational thought and analysis, something which hopefully could be supportable by all parties in the House. Good analysis, evidence and rationality is self-evident.

As I will with every bill put forward, I examined it with an eye to look for supportable legislation. Criminal Code amendments should complement and enhance an ongoing coherent and properly financed crime prevention strategy. Both are important to our communities. We need something more than budgets which mainly aim at increasing incarceration and overloading jails.

The Criminal Code contains 42 mandatory minimum penalties. The sentencing judge can use his or her discretion when sentencing to opt for higher than the mandatory minimum. In other words, a mandatory minimum is a floor not a ceiling. Generally speaking these 42 infractions fall within the following criteria: impaired driving and blood alcohol over .08; betting and bookmaking; high treason; first and second degree murder; use of a firearm in an indictable offence; use of a firearm in 10 listed offences; possession, trafficking et cetera of various prohibited firearms; sexual interference; invitation to sexual touching; sexual exploitation; making, transmitting, possessing, accessing child pornography, procuring and committing sexual activities of minors; prostitution of minors; and living off the avails of child prostitution.

The 10 listed offences include mandatory minimums if a firearm is used in commission with the offences of criminal negligence causing death, manslaughter, attempted murder, causing bodily harm with intent to harm, sexual assault with a weapon, a firearm, aggravated sexual assault, kidnapping, robbery, extortion and hostage taking.

Mandatory minimum penalties are also in the Criminal Code for: first, the use of a firearm or the intention in the commission of an indictable offence; and second, possession of firearm knowing it is unauthorized. Mandatory minimum penalties are also found in the Criminal Code for possession of restricted or prohibited firearms with ammunition, possession of a weapon obtained by crime, weapons trafficking or possession for the purposes of trafficking, making an automatic firearm and importing or exporting of a firearm knowing that it is unauthorized.

The bill before us today goes much further than the existing mandatory minimum sentences in the Criminal Code. Historically, mandatory minimum penalties have been used with great restraint. Mandatory minimums undermine the fundamental principle of proportionality. That is what gets us in trouble with the charter. The chief sentencing principles are enshrined in the Criminal Code and judges set a sentence proportionate to the gravity of the offence and conduct of the offender.

I will briefly outline what Bill C-10 does, a bill which is certainly not a bill that a lay person could easily read and understand.

The bill introduces three new levels of mandatory minimum penalties for offences involving firearms or committed in connection with a gang. The first set of offences concerns serious offences which are committed with a restricted firearm or if the offence is committed with a gang. In this category are attempted murder, discharging a firearm with intent, sexual assault with a weapon, aggravated sexual assault, kidnapping, hostage taking, robbery and extortion.

Each of these crimes on their own carry mandatory minimum sentences under the existing legislation if they are committed with a firearm. The MMP, the mandatory minimum penalty, is four years. The new legislation would increase the mandatory minimum penalty on the crime if it is committed with a restricted or prohibited firearm or if the offence is committed in connection with a gang. The proposed mandatory minimum sentences are five years on a first offence, seven years if the accused has one previous what I call use convictions and ten years if the accused has more than one prior use conviction.

Please note that under the existing legislation the term firearms was used whereas this legislation changes this to restricted or prohibited firearm in some of the sections. In lay people's terms this means that some of these amendments do not apply to long guns.

The four year MMP remains in the Criminal Code for the same crimes committed for non-restricted or non-prohibited firearms as per the previous government laws. When asked about why this distinction was made, the justice officials suggested that this was a policy decision made by the current government.

For determination of prior convictions, all eight of the use offences are considered as part of the pool of common offences. For example, if an individual is accused of hostage taking and that person has a previous conviction of a sexual assault, that will trigger the higher MMP of seven years. The offence will not be taken into account if 10 years have elapsed between the day which the individual was convicted of the earlier offence and the day the person was convicted of the second offence.

A closer reading, however, points out that if the offender was incarcerated at any time, the clock on determining the 10 year period does not count any time while being incarcerated. Therefore, as written in Bill C-10, this period could extend in reality to a much longer period.

Bill C-10 proposes new or higher mandatory minimum sentences for several serious non-use offences in the Criminal Code: unauthorized possession of a restricted firearm or prohibited firearm with ammunition and for reasons of trafficking, possession for the purposes of trafficking, making an automatic firearm, firearm smuggling and the new offence of robbery where a firearm is stolen. The new mandatory minimum sentences for these offences would be three years on the first offence and five years if the person has a prior conviction of either a use or non-use offence.

The new legislation proposes new mandatory minimum sentences for the following non-use offences, namely, possession of a firearm obtained by crime, possession of a firearm contrary to court order and a new offence of breaking and entering and stealing or intending to steal a firearm. The mandatory minimum sentences for these offences would be one year on the first offence, three years if the accused has one prior use or serious non-use conviction and five years if the accused has more than one use or serious non-use conviction.

These same mandatory minimum sentences would apply for a separate offence of using a firearm or imitation firearm in the commission of other offences, for example, the offences not listed in the use category I just outlined. Bill C-10 introduces a few new offences in the Criminal Code: breaking and entering and stealing or intending to steal a firearm and robbery with intent to steal or stealing a firearm and, in addition to section 230 of the Criminal Code, constructive murder.

The former government had similar offences in the last Parliament with Bill C-82, which was never debated having been given a first reading in November 2005 and the opposition defeating the government shortly thereafter. There are also questions as to the constitutionality with respect to parts of section 230.

I will give one example of what this means if this bill is passed. Contrast the mandatory minimum sentences for each situation. In situation (a), if an individual commits a robbery, for example, at a corner store while armed with a fully loaded long gun, and the individual has a lengthy record, including numerous prior convictions for other firearm related offences, under proposed subparagraph 344(1)(a), the individual would face a mandatory minimum sentence of four years.

In situation (b), if an individual commits a robbery but is armed with an unloaded handgun and the individual is a first time offender with no criminal record, under proposed subparagraph 344(1)(a), the person would face a mandatory minimum sentence of five years, one year more. The same would apply if, instead of robbery, the offences were sexual assault, kidnapping, hostage taking or extortion.

This shows that the length of the MMP, the mandatory minimum penalty, in the proposed legislation is based on the legal status of the firearm in question rather than on the extent of actual danger to the public presented by the situation. I also want to point out that the net has widened on these mandatory minimum penalties by the reality of section 21 of the Criminal Code, “Parties to offence”, which draws in people aiding and abetting the perpetrators of crime. For instance, if a girlfriend acts as a lookout or a getaway driver on that robbery with no action on the inside perpetrator's use of the firearm, that person could also be subject to the mandatory minimum.

We should be clear about what mandatory minimum sentences do. They take away the sitting judge's discretion in cases heard in our courtrooms. There is no exception, no escape clause and no discretion. Without mandatory minimums or with lower mandatory minimums as exist today in our Criminal Code, many of which were installed by the former Liberal government with respect to gun crimes, the courts are given the discretion to fashion a sentence that is much more proportionate to the gravity of the offence and the conduct of the offender and, also very important, to consider both aggravating and mitigating circumstances in each case.

In essence, mandatory minimum sentences conflict with the sentencing principles contained in sections 718 through 718.2 of the Criminal Code, particularly with respect to the fundamental principle of proportionality.

Mandatory minimum sentences pose charter risks under section 12. We know the Minister of Justice has even acknowledged this.

We know that the Supreme Court of Canada has struck down a seven year mandatory minimum penalty for importing narcotics. We also know that the Supreme Court of Canada upheld the constitutionality of the MMP of four years for the use of a firearm and criminal negligence causing a death, and that, by the way, was the case I meant on R. v. Morrisey. In that case the Supreme Court commented on the negative effects of the mandatory minimum sentences in introducing rigidity into the sentencing process.

In 1987 the Canadian Sentencing Commission and most Canadian commissions that have considered the issue in the last 40 years have repeatedly recommended the abolition of mandatory minimum sentences, except for murder and treason. Research into the effectiveness of mandatory minimum sentences have shown that they do not have any special deterrent or educative effect and are no more effective than less serious sanctions in preventing crime.

However, it must be made clear that it does not mean people do not go to jail. This was confirmed in a 2002 comprehensive study commissioned by the Department of Justice and written by Gabor and Crutcher entitled, “Mandatory Minimum Penalties: Their Effects on Crime, Sentencing Disparities, and Justice System Expenditures” Specifically, this study found that there was no correlation between the crime rate and the severity of punishment.

In the last four years, many U.S. jurisdictions have moved away from the MMP regime. On January 12, 2005, the U.S. supreme court decided in United States v. Booker that the sixth amendment was violated by the imposition of an enhanced sentence under the U.S. sentencing guidelines and held that the current federal sentencing guidelines should be considered advisory only, not mandatory.

On January 21, 2005, in the eighth circuit, in United States v. Coffey, this decision applied that previous decision made in United States v. Booker and confirmed that the U.S. federal sentencing guidelines were now advisory and no longer mandatory.

By 2003, about 25 states in the United States had passed laws eliminating some of the lengthy mandatory minimum sentences given the distortion, the increased costs and the high rates of incarceration that have resulted from rigid sentencing schemes.

In Australia, it has been found that aboriginal and other disempowered groups have been overly affected by mandatory minimum sentencing laws. In the U.S., a 1998 national law journal suggested that the harshest impact of mandatory minimum sentences was felt by African Americans. The data indicated, for example, that African American women had eight times more chance of being charged, convicted and sentenced under the mandatory sentencing laws than European American women. The overrepresentation of blacks is also a Canadian problem according to the systemic racism and racial profiling studies by Tanovich, Wortley, the Cole Gittens report and other reports done in Canada.

In Canada, minimums are expected to also disproportionately impact aboriginal offenders. We already have some Gladue courts for good reason. Mandatory minimum sentences are linked to wrongful convictions through plea bargaining since alleged offenders can easily be coerced into pleading guilty to a lesser charge when they face a stiff mandatory minimum sentence.

Crown prosecutors, for a variety of reasons, often circumvent the application of mandatory minimum sentences. The existence of an MMP sometimes results in charges being stayed or withdrawn. Accordingly, decisions regarding the appropriate punishment are now being transferred, and this is important, from the discretion of the judiciary to the discretion of the prosecution.

A 2005 survey of judges compiled by the Department of Justice found that slightly over half felt that mandatory minimum sentences hindered their ability to impose a just sentence. Mandatory minimum sentences promote an all or nothing approach. From the standpoint of public security, is it not better to ensure conviction and the imposition of an appropriate sentence based on the individual case facts and law, instead of risking that an accused not face trial or not be convicted of an offence?

The punishment should fit the crime and not be a distortion either way, which can easily occur with mandatory minimum sentences.

I do not know whether the legislation had increased hand gun crime in mind and specific locations in Canada, as we heard the minister say, but the reality we face as legislators in this House is that the Criminal Code operates from Nunavut where there is no federal penitentiary and sentences are served in Ontario, to Saskatchewan which has been trying very hard to constructively deal with the over-representation of first nations in the penal system, to Vancouver and eastern Canada.

Yes, we support increased resources to the police and communities. We also support money for educational employment and community sport for at risk populations, whether they are in downtown Toronto or in a small town in rural Alberta.

Neil Boyd, a Simon Fraser criminologist, estimates that with this legislation over 23 new prisons with astronomical associated costs would need to be built in order to meet the expected influx of prisoners who will be created by the Conservative government's criminal law agenda. From provincial institutions to federal prisons, it would cost taxpayers huge resources to incarcerate this many people. Is it the best use of resources? Can a more well-rounded, smart and effective system be designed which does help prevent crime and give confidence in the justice system and the rightful discretion to our judiciary?

With all the talk of accountability, some of the stakeholders, who normally assist in the legislative process during the consultative stage, were not consulted prior to the introduction of the legislation. I believe that not every provincial or territorial minister of justice or attorney general knew the contents of the bill as introduced. We do know that general consultations occurred with them by the former government at the semi-annual meetings of ministers of justice and work was warranted and wanted in the area.

What about the Canadian public, the taxpayer? The Department of Justice reports that the public does support some mandatory minimum sentences, which we have, especially for the most serious crimes of violence and especially if they are polled without knowing or being able to consider the potential deficiencies associated with mandatory minimum sentences of imprisonment.

We now know that in both Australia and the U.S. public support for mandatory minimum sentences has declined in recent years. In reality, very few countries in the world have created mandatory minimum sentences, which we have here in Canada with the minimum four year term of custody created by the former Liberal government in 1995 on gun crimes.

Where is the new evidence by the Minister of Justice to support the case for Bill C-10 as written? We already know that the best that can be said of enhanced sentences for firearms and crime reduction are that findings are inconsistent or unclear, again supported by the minister's own words. This is a generous interpretation however. There is no evidence that sentencing disparities are reduced by the use of mandatory minimum sentences and a number of unintentional adverse affects and distortions in traditional patterns of sentencing have been well documented.

Where is the Canadian research that would lend support to this bill? It does not exist. We already know, from his appearance at the justice committee, that the Minister of Justice was challenged by every opposition party in Parliament on his use of crime statistics. He continues to disparage the judiciary in his casual public comments. We want constitutional laws in Canada. We need a solid working and just system of criminal justice to serve Canadians.

The Department of Justice's research and statistical division paper on “Mandatory Sentences of Imprisonment in Common Law Jurisdictions”, authored by Julian Roberts, is a good overview for information on sentencing arrangements in a number of common law jurisdictions around the world.

Anthony Doob and Carla Cesaroni at the Centre of Criminology wrote a 2001 mandatory minimum sentence paper. The list of the impacts of mandatory minimum sentences is an important part of that paper.

If the bill gets to committee we will need to hear from many of these people. For our part, we will be against the legislation as being bad policy and very questionable law. The government could have presented a properly balanced bill but it chose to message its core group instead. Everyone loses when government chooses not to govern responsibly and instead play politics with the Criminal Code of Canada.

There are no simple solutions to complex problems. This is not a campaign. We have serious work to accomplish in Parliament. Gun crime and gang violence should be properly addressed and we will be here to help.

All I hear from the new Conservative government is about simple messaging. It is not worthy in Bill C-10. This is not supportable criminal law legislation. This is hurried legislation with inadequate consultation and the refinement needed to ensure it would work effectively. This has now become a pattern with the Conservative government. Canadians deserve better.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

1:55 p.m.

Provencher Manitoba


Vic Toews ConservativeMinister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

Mr. Speaker, I note the member's comment that this is not the election campaign. Indeed, how true that is. During the election, those members were all in favour of mandatory minimum prison sentences. As soon as the election is over, of course, their new-found conversion is gone and they have betrayed the people again.

In respect of the issue of playing politics with the Criminal Code, is that not interesting? The Criminal Code is in fact a policy statement enshrined in law. That is for politicians. My learned colleague keeps on wanting to defer all discretion and all responsibility over to the judges. That is an abdication of responsibility of Parliament. We need to ensure that we are responsible as politicians and that we do not continue to give it over to the judges.

Again I note a comment, the statement in respect of the mandatory minimum prison sentence of seven years on the importation of drugs, and again the member has misrepresented the facts. I would invite Canadians to go back and read that particular decision as to why that particular mandatory minimum was struck down. Similarly in the referenced vehicle case out of the Supreme Court of Canada, when we do not have an appropriate degree of mens rea, we cannot have mandatory minimum prison sentences.

The last comment I would want to make is simply that what the American evidence shows is that if we move to targeted offences it is absolutely working in terms of reducing crime, as we have seen, for example, in New York, but I know that my colleagues in the Liberal Party do not want to see people who commit attempted murder or sexual assault with weapons going back into jail. They want them out on the street. That is an abdication of responsibility to the people of Canada.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

1:55 p.m.


The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

Questions and comments will resume when the debate resumes later this day.

Progressive Conservative Party of ManitobaStatements By Members

June 5th, 2006 / 1:55 p.m.


Steven Fletcher Conservative Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia, MB

Mr. Speaker, today I would like to speak about a great Canadian. Stuart Murray has just completed his term as leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of Manitoba. Stuart has had an excellent term as leader. He first became leader in 2000 and represents the constituency of Kirkfield Park.

Perhaps the most difficult time to be a leader of a political party is after an election defeat. In spite of this fact, during Stuart's term he rebuilt the party's finances and volunteer base. He held to account the current NDP government on its failure to deal with the challenges Manitoba faces. When Stuart decided to pursue other life challenges, polls showed the party neck and neck with the current NDP government, the highest levels of support for the Conservatives since they last formed the government in 1995.

Stuart Murray's hard work ethic has laid the foundation for a Progressive Conservative government after the next provincial election. Stuart will be missed by his constituents and all Manitobans. However, everyone who knows Stuart realizes that great things lie ahead for him and his family.