House of Commons Hansard #37 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was crime.


The House resumed from June 7 consideration of the motion that Bill C-10, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (minimum penalties for offences involving firearms) and to make a consequential amendment to another Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

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10:05 a.m.


Lloyd St. Amand Liberal Brant, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have listened to some of the speeches from members opposite and have heard various references to specific cases and the suggestion from members opposite that a general or sweeping conclusion can and frankly should be drawn from an analysis of simply a few cases or a few situations. Drawing sweeping conclusions as a result of only a few situations is always risky and is, with respect, intellectually rather shallow.

Having practised law for 25 years prior to my election to this distinguished House of Commons in June 2004, I represented many individuals who were charged with various criminal offences. I obviously cannot breach solicitor-client privilege by referring to specific names, but I can certainly indicate that I have observed non-custodial sentences work for the benefit of society, for the benefit of the victim, for the benefit of the offender's family and for the offender himself or herself.

I am referring to individuals who were charged with a criminal offence, in some cases a serious criminal offence. They appeared before the presiding judge and, following a plea of guilty or a finding of guilt, the presiding judge then obviously turned his or her mind to the issue of sentence or penalty.

It is important to recall the edict of a most distinguished counsel and later jurist, the late G. Arthur Martin. Mr. Justice Martin served with distinction for many years on the Ontario Court of Appeal and was widely regarded in his time as the pre-eminent authority with respect to criminal law throughout Canada. Mr. Justice Martin and many others have commented that the overriding principle of sentencing is to determine what this particular offender deserves by way of punishment for this particular offence. The reality is that human behaviour does not lend itself to a simple or computer driven analysis and it is too simplistic to conclude that there will automatically be a deterrent effect if the sentencing bar is only set high enough or harsh enough.

I can think of many cases in which an offender, a family man, received a non-custodial sentence as a result of a finding of guilt against him. The non-custodial sentence allowed him to, for instance, maintain his job and thereby continue to support his family. It allowed him to continue to parent his children. It allowed him to, as a result of maintaining employment, make restitution or compensation to the victim or victims. It allowed him to attend for counselling and other treatment ordered by the sentencing judge.

Simply put, the non-custodial sentence worked to the benefit of everyone, as these individuals have not returned to the criminal justice system, have truly learned from their mistakes and have rounded the proverbial corner.

I appreciate that it is tempting to view the criminal justice system as a system which should be driven by formulae and by the principle that harsher penalties will automatically reduce the rate of crime. However tempting that may be, it is short-sighted and is not consistent with the experience that we have had in Canada with our current system.

The point has been made by many others, but it must be borne in mind that the crime rate in Canada is on the decline and that there is no compelling evidence to indicate that incarcerating more people truly works as a deterrent. If there were a clear link between increasing incarceration rates and decreasing crime rates, then an argument could logically be made for more persons to be incarcerated. However, the conclusion is otherwise. The rate of crime in Canada is on the decline.

Certainly the former Liberal government recognized that some serious crimes should be dealt with in a certain fashion and, hence, the policy of mandatory minimum penalties. The Criminal Code already contains some 42 mandatory minimum penalties and the majority of these are, quite properly, for offences involving firearms. Ten serious offences committed with a firearm carry mandatory minimum penalties of four years to a maximum of 14 years or life. Weapons trafficking and related offences carry minimum penalties of one year to a maximum of 10 years.

When an accused person appears before a judge, he brings with him, figuratively, to the door of the courtroom, his background, his life experiences, his challenges, his intellectual deficits, if any, his own at times scarred or abusive upbringing, his economic disadvantages, racial prejudice or stereotyping that he may have been exposed to, and various other factors. For instance, any reasonable observer knows that a disproportionately large number of aboriginal Canadians are incarcerated. To simply incarcerate individuals without providing them with counselling and treatment which will alter their behaviours on a long term basis is myopic.

This is not to sound as if I or others are soft on crime, but is simply to reflect a considered view that Mr. Justice Martin and others are correct in concluding that the overriding principle in sentencing is what a particular offender deserves by way of punishment for the particular offence he or she has committed. It is naive to think that building more prisons will reduce the crime rate. It is irresponsible to build more prisons instead of devoting more money to seniors, to aboriginals and to the disabled.

A crime prevention strategy involves more than imprisonment. The former Liberal government took many steps which were aimed at decreasing criminal activity across Canada. We increased funding for the national crime prevention strategy. Since its launch in 1998, the national crime prevention strategy has helped provide communities with the tools, the knowledge and the support communities need to deal with the root causes of crime at a local level. This strategy has supported more than 5,000 projects nationwide, dealing with serious issues like family violence, sexual abuse, sexual assault or drug abuse.

In my riding of Brant, there have been several successful projects under the NCPS. These projects are aimed at engaging youth in the community. One project, administered by the Sexual Assault Centre of Brant, developed a youth theatre project. This project engaged students in identifying, discussing and raising the awareness of important social issues.

It is obviously important that our streets and our communities be safe. It is vital that our criminal justice system ensure the safety of each member of society. It is critical that our criminal justice system provide long term solutions to the continued reduction or decrease in the rate of crime.

As others have noted, the ultimate rehabilitation of the individual offers the best long term protection for society, since that rehabilitation ends the risk of the continuing criminal career. There is simply no compelling or persuasive evidence that increasing the number of mandatory minimum penalties will reduce the rate of crime in Canada. As was noted by Cheryl Webster and Anthony Doob of the Centre for Criminology at the University of Toronto:

The literature on the effects of sentence severity on crime levels has been reviewed numerous times in the past twenty-five years. Most reviews conclude that there is little or no consistent evidence that harsher penalties reduce crime rates in Western populations. Indeed, a reasonable assessment of the research to date--with a particular focus on studies conducted in the past decade--is that sentence severity has no effect on the level of crime in society.

Would that the issue of crime lend itself to a simple answer, a simple answer such as “let us only make the penalties harsh enough and the crime rate will automatically be reduced”. Whether we like to admit it or not, the complexity of human behaviour and identifying causes for human behaviour do not lend themselves to simple answers.

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10:15 a.m.


Myron Thompson Conservative Wild Rose, AB

Mr. Speaker, according to Statistics Canada in regard to the use of handguns, handgun homicides have increased by 25% since the late 1990s. The increasing use of handguns is also reported by police in robberies, extortions and miscellaneous violent crimes, so there is an increase, as reported by Statistics Canada.

It is also well known that gang related homicides have gone sky high compared to 10 years ago. This is known through the homicide survey part of Canadian crime statistics. Also, the proportion of handguns used as firearms has increased in the last 25 years from 27% to 65% in 2004. This is all Statistics Canada information.

Is the member prepared to acknowledge, regardless of what statistics show, that handguns and guns that would never be registered by criminals are now in surplus in huge amounts of numbers in the cities across this country and that there are more guns available that these people can get their hands on through black market and underground methods?

Is he aware of the increased numbers of gang members and of gangs themselves? If he is, let me note that we live in a country where severity of punishment in the last few years has never been a problem, where we have not seen severity in our punishment. We have seen a lot of house arrests, community service, et cetera. How can the member be sure that the severity of punishment would not have an effect when we have never really experienced it? He may comment on anything or all of what I said.

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10:15 a.m.


Lloyd St. Amand Liberal Brant, ON

Mr. Speaker, I agree to a point that gang and gun related violence seems to be on the increase, but I will repeat what I said in the body of my speech. Our Criminal Code already contains some 42 mandatory minimum penalties. The majority of these mandatory minimum penalties are, as I said, quite properly for offences involving firearms, so the teeth of the law, so to speak, are already there. That is already present within the Criminal Code. Frankly, that was why the minister of justice, as he then was in the autumn of 2005, introduced a bill tightening the Criminal Code even more.

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10:20 a.m.


Dennis Bevington NDP Western Arctic, NT

Mr. Speaker, I would like to understand the member's rationale in supporting Bill C-9 but now not supporting Bill C-10 when both of them deal with issues surrounding incarceration terms. Perhaps he could elaborate on how these bills are different and should be considered philosophically different.

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10:20 a.m.


Lloyd St. Amand Liberal Brant, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have dealt this morning only with the issue of mandatory minimum penalties. The issue of conditional sentences and house arrest is quite another topic. For my part I do not see, frankly, any contrary positions advanced by myself or other members of our party. Simply put, with respect to mandatory minimum penalties, the teeth are already there in the current system.

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10:20 a.m.


Michael Savage Liberal Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to participate in the debate.

During the election campaign in January the issue of crime was prevalent in my riding, as I suspect it was in many ridings across the country. I look forward to supporting measures that might have some impact on reducing crime. I waited with some interest for the bill to come forward but I was a little disappointed, and I will explain why.

While we are debating this legislation today, the debate is more profound than that. We are debating how the country deals with fellow citizens, what happens to fellow citizens and how people should be convicted of an offence.

We are all concerned about crime in our communities and it is certainly the case in Dartmouth--Cole Harbour. I have met with individuals who have been affected by crime, some serious, perhaps some less serious, but each criminal act has an impact on our communities, causing people to feel vulnerable and unsafe. I want to do something to help people feel safer in their communities.

As an MP who has been called upon to vote on Bill C-10, I have had the responsibility to ensure I support any legislation that is reasonable, effective, rooted in fact and evidence, and consistent with Canadian values. The bill, unfortunately, does not pass that standard. The legislation is not rooted in good law and not substantiated by evidence.

The Minister of Public Safety was quoted recently on the subject of minimum sentences as saying:

We also believe there will be a deterring effect from getting serious about serious crime.

I read an article by Dan Gardner who has written extensively on crime. He wrote:

Naturally, [the Minister of Public Safety] didn't cite any research in support of his conclusion. He didn't need to. The government “believes.” And as every man of faith knows, belief can conquer even the mightiest army of facts.

But for those of us in the reality-based community--the famously dismissive phrase of a Bush official--belief isn't good enough. We expect policy to be supported by facts and research. Perhaps that makes us lesser men and women, but we can't accept something as true simply because it's been given [the Prime Minister's] benediction. So where's the evidence that the government's radical, U.S.-style approach to criminal justice will make us safer? You won't find it on its website. There are lots of bold claims, of course. But in the press release and background information, there isn't a word about evidence.

It is clear that the Conservatives continue to serve up good politics under the guise of good public policy. This is not good public policy. The legislation would not address the real issues of crime, much of which is rooted in systemic poverty. Rather, the result would be a boon for those in the business of constructing prisons.

The American experience, which the government tends to look to for guidance, tells us a different story.

As an example, New York was the first state to limit the discretion of judges in sentencing. Lengthy sentences were required, 15 years to life, even for some non-violent, first-time offenders, many of whom would have received brief sentences, along with drug treatments and community service prior to those sentences.

Then, of course, there is the California “three strikes and you're out” law.

Not surprisingly, these mandatory sentences resulted in the increased number of Americans who went to prison and the cost of building and maintaining prisons.

By 1999, 6.3 million adults were under correctional supervision. By some estimates, the American government spent close to $40 billion on incarceration and, by the mid-1990s, California and New York were spending more on prisons than on higher education.

Some would suggest that anybody who disagrees with them on this is soft on crime. This is not the case. It simplifies an issue that is complex. I think the vast majority of crime is rooted in our inability to help those who most need to find dignity, those most in need, the poor.

We have not done enough to eradicate poverty in Canada. We all bear that responsibility. We have not done enough to ensure that all Canadians have the basic chance to succeed in life, especially for young kids from low income families. We need to do a better job of providing the means to have a decent and healthy breakfast and the opportunity to learn and not sit in a classroom hungry.

We need to ensure that those who cannot afford higher education obtain the means to do so they have the hope of an education which might lead to employment.

It is easy to introduce tough legislation, as the government would suggest. It is easy to throw people in prisons and when they run out of space to build new ones. However, if we are serious about building our communities and we care about our individual citizens, then we should stop creating policies that benefit the rich and hurt the poor. If we are concerned about communities, we should not provide tax breaks to those who need it the least, while penalizing the poor.

Let us not forget Mike Harris who, while cutting welfare and taxes, allowed the rich to get richer and the poor to get poorer.

If the government really cared about our communities it would not cut programs and child care, which we need, that attempt to build and help families while ensuring that children receive quality and accessible child care.

I believe the legislation speaks to the sort of John Wayne approach to the world: macho and seemingly tough but does not address the real issues of crime.

We can never excuse crime but we can explain why people find themselves in trouble. We need to address crime prevention with real policies and continue to address the outcome of behaviour and not the substance of issues that create crime.

I believe it is the responsibility of the government to put bills before us that are evidence based and will enhance the effectiveness of our criminal justice regime.

I know some members opposite do have a grudging respect for the charter, some may not, but many do. However, our charter is meant to protect individuals from the state and we need to ensure that any law we pass meets that constitutional test and that what we do here as legislators passes the proportionality test, meaning that we address and redress problems in a measured way.

Amendments to the code should not be ideologically driven. I believe, unfortunately, in this case that is the case. The bill before us today goes much further than the existing mandatory minimum sentences in the Criminal Code. Historically, mandatory minimums have been used with restraint. I note from a recent survey of judges, I think in 2005, indicated that over half of them felt that mandatory minimum sentences would hinder their ability to impose a just sentence.

Mandatory minimums on a widened scale undermine the fundamental principle of proportionality. The chief sentencing principles enshrined in the Criminal Code allow judges to set a sentence proportionate to the gravity of the offence. In some cases mandatory minimums may actually lead to fewer convictions and fewer penalties. The all or nothing approach could lead to charges being stayed or even withdrawn when they should go forward.

The people in my riding are concerned about crime and want to ensure that people who offend are punished. They understand that violence and crime affects us all and they understand that the solutions are complex. They understand that justice must be firm and fair, that we address issues like poverty and underemployment where people have little, but also take meaningful ways to make their communities safer.

I know and understand the devastating effect crime has on victims. I have seen it often in my community. I would vote for crime legislation that was tougher on crime. I would welcome legislation that was tougher on crime if it were evidence based and had a hope of being effective.

As a legislature, we act in ways that seek ways to enhance opportunity for people, especially those most in need. I will act in the way that ensures our communities are safe and our justice system is fair but tough on those who offend. However, what I cannot do is vote for a law that I consider to be a bad law, that is not rooted in evidence and that has no chance of succeeding.

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10:25 a.m.


Ken Epp Conservative Edmonton—Sherwood Park, AB

Mr. Speaker, I have not often been getting up lately because I wanted to give our new young members the opportunity, like my colleague over there, but I cannot continue to sit when the Liberal member over there says that the bill would not get tough on crime and that he will vote against it because it is too tough.

The member needs to read the bill. The bill refers to the use of a firearm, not in duck hunting or deer hunting. It refers to the use of a firearm in the commission of an offence and the offences are listed. We have criminal negligence causing death, attempted murder, discharging a firearm with intent, sexual assault with a weapon, aggravated sexual assault, kidnapping, hostage taking, robbery and extortion. Those are things people are doing with firearms.

What are the minimum sentences to which he objects? For a second offence, provided it takes place within 10 years, the minimum sentence would now be three years. The member says that it is too tough. I am almost tempted to vote against the bill because it is too soft. I cannot imagine a guy assaulting my wife with a gun when I am not home and he only receives three years. I am almost tempted to vote against it but I will support it because at least it goes in the right direction.

I would like the member to explain how he can possibly justify to his family and to other people's families across the country voting against the bill because it is too tough. I cannot believe it.

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10:30 a.m.


Michael Savage Liberal Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, it is not that it is too tough. It is that it is too stupid. I agree with that comment.

We do not introduce new laws based on anecdotes. We introduce them based on evidence. The article I referred to earlier was not Liberal talking notes or Conservative talking notes, as my colleague said. This is an article by a journalist who called the Minister of Justice and asked him what the law was based on and where the evidence was.

He was given five studies. When he checked them out, each of those studies turned out to be not quite what they were presented to be. They supposedly showed that mandatory minimums on gun crime and homicide had a huge impact. One researcher said, when contacted, “Conclusions are difficult to draw”. Another researcher concluded that “the laws did not reduce homicides”. Another suggested that “gun-related mandatory minimum sentences do little to reduce crime or gun use”. Another one said, “The consensus is that these sentences are not particularly effective”.

I will support legislation that is tough on crime and makes communities safer but it must be based on evidence, it must have a chance of succeeding and it must have a chance of making the communities safer for the people in Dartmouth--Cole Harbour and across Canada.

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June 9th, 2006 / 10:30 a.m.


Pierre Lemieux Conservative Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

Mr. Speaker, as I listened to the member and to the previous member, it seemed that he was speaking in favour of the offender to some extent. What about law-abiding Canadians and what about victims?

I want to follow up on my colleague's comments. We must remember that we are talking about minimum mandatory sentences for serious crimes committed with a firearm. The question we must ask is why the perpetrator has a firearm and what he intends to do with it.

These are not minor misdemeanours here. These are crimes committed with a weapon. It is not ideological, as he suggests. Serious crime and weapon related crime has gone up, and Canadians know this. They do not feel safe anymore. One need only ask the people in Toronto if they feel safe. I would remind the House of the drive-by shootings and the gun crimes we saw last December.

When an offender has been charged and found guilty, Canadians feel that sentences are too light. The soft Liberal approach to crime--

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10:30 a.m.


The Deputy Speaker NDP Bill Blaikie

Order, please. We need to leave the hon. member some time to answer the question.

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10:30 a.m.


Pierre Lemieux Conservative Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have a quick question for the member. I would ask the member to picture himself being the victim of a crime, to picture the perpetrator having a weapon pointed at him, at his wife or at his children and then to consider what is being proposed in terms of minimum mandatory sentencing. If he can picture that, how can he not vote for the bill?

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10:30 a.m.


Michael Savage Liberal Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, in spite of the fact that I wanted to vote for the bill when I heard it would be introduced, I could find no evidence that it works or that it would reduce crime in Canada.

The Liberal government introduced mandatory minimums in the past on a reasonable basis but if we are going to bring forward legislation let us do it in a way that will actually make the streets of Canada safer. That should be the ultimate goal of any legislation dealing with crime.

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10:35 a.m.


John McKay Liberal Scarborough—Guildwood, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am going to let the House in on a little secret. I will be voting against Bill C-10. The bill is one of the dumbest pieces of legislation ever to hit the floor of the House. It is absolutely dumb.

We must not tell anyone because the Conservatives actually think that they are being quite clever with this piece of legislation. The Conservatives think that they can somehow or another be tough on crime by introducing stupid legislation. This bill is stupid. It starts out at the beginning as a stupid bill and it will be a stupid bill after it is debated by the House.

I can hear the Conservatives all chirping here. The big game here is actually a political game. They want to show everyone who opposes the bill as being soft on crime and that the Conservatives are tough on crime, and somehow or another that will solve the problem.

I have noticed a pattern in the Conservative government. That party has a three step approach. The first step is to create a problem that does not exist. The second step is to propose a solution to a problem that does not exist. The third step is to pat themselves on the back and let everyone else pick up the pieces.

Let us look at step one. The first step is to create a non-existent problem. To listen to the Conservative propaganda machine, which would do credit to the communist party of Russia, crime is out of control in this country. The streets are unsafe. There is mayhem everywhere. We should avoid the downtown areas of our major cities. In fact, I sat in this chamber a few days ago where the Minister of Justice proposed that we should avoid downtown Toronto, downtown Vancouver and downtown Winnipeg.

Last Sunday my family and I ignored his advice. We went out and we wandered around downtown Toronto on a Sunday evening. It was a lovely evening and we had a lovely meal. We celebrated my daughter's 18th birthday and we talked to a whole bunch of people who were also in downtown Toronto ignoring the minister's advice.

In fact, there were thousands, if not tens of thousands of people in downtown Toronto apparently ignoring the minister's advice to avoid downtown Toronto. I realize that bashing Toronto is a favourite sport over on the other side. Frankly, the people of Toronto ignore the Conservative Party.

Perhaps the thousands of people who were with me and my family had actually read the Juristat statistics that are put out by Statistics Canada under the auspices of the Ministry of Justice. If the minister cares to read that material, he might find the following:

Following an increase in 2003, the national police-reported crime rate fell slightly (-1%) in 2004. Although most crimes declined in 2004, noticeable increases were seen in homicides and drug incidents.

The overall decrease in crime was largely driven by a 5% decline in Ontario.

Ontario of all places.

Most of this decline was due to large decreases in crime in Hamilton, Ottawa, St. Catharines-Niagara and Toronto census metropolitan areas. Ontario's crime was the lowest in the country for the second year in a row.

The total violent crime dropped by 2%.

In 2003 we reached a 36-year low in homicide rates. There was a 4% drop in robberies. Most property crimes declined. Break-ins were 4% lower than the year previous. Youth crime was down 4%.

I appreciate that members opposite do not actually like to deal with evidence. It interferes with their propaganda. Frankly, their game is to peddle fear. We had an example of this by the justice minister on the floor of the House who said to not go to the downtowns of our major cities because crime was rampant. Unfortunately, the facts do not support them. There is no evidence to support step one.

If that does not really matter, then we go to step two. Step two is to propose a solution to a non-existent problem. The big idea in the bill is minimum mandatories. Canada will be so much safer now that we have minimum mandatories.

I am sure that the entire criminal underclass is studying up on minimum mandatories as we speak so they can avoid the effects of this bill. I am sure some members feel, as I do, that this new standard of minimum mandatories has put deep fear into the hearts of our criminal underclass.

I do not pretend to be a criminal law lawyer, but I did a bit when I first started practice. One of the things that I noticed about criminals, as a general statement, is that they are not the brightest lot in the world. In fact, they are kind of dumb. The other thing I have noticed about criminals, generally in the time that I represented them and in the time I have watched colleagues represent them, is that not one of them ever thought he or she would ever get caught. They were not really appreciating the nature and consequences of their actions.

I am sure that this bill is just going to have a huge impact on that criminal underclass. They are going to say to themselves that they are not going to commit a robbery and not pack any heat because they will get a minimum mandatory sentence. Criminals do not think that way.

Equally interesting about the minister's speech was that he said there is no Canadian evidence to support his bill. It is an extraordinary thing for a Minister of Justice to deposit a bill on the floor of this House and then say he has no evidence to support it. To be fair to him, he did cite two American studies, both of which were ambiguous and are in a different legal environment and a different sentencing environment.

At the same time he also said that some of the states were actually going in the opposite direction and repealing their minimum mandatory sentences. Why? Because the evidence does not support the existence of minimum mandatories.

Step one would create a problem that does not exist. Step two proposes a solution to a non-existent problem. And step three, pat oneself on the back and let the others pick up the pieces.

Minimum mandatories by definition erode judicial consideration and discretion. Everybody on the opposite side of the House thinks that is a great idea. After the judges have listened to the evidence, listened to the arguments, heard the witnesses, made a finding of guilt, read and listened to the pre-admission sentencing reports, and heard from the victims and the victim impact statements, they will now be in a worse position to make a decision than those who never heard any of that.

This is going to lead to disproportionality of evidence. It will also lead to distortions in the way judges choose to sentence. If a minimum mandatory sentence were to shock the conscience, judges would accept pleas to lesser charges in order to achieve proportionality of sentence.

This bill tries to create a cookie-cutter approach to justice. The people who have had no access to what the judge has seen and heard will get to set the sentence. I do not know whether that makes any sense to other members in the House, but it certainly does not make any sense to me.

There are other consequences of this legislation that are equally perverse. My Liberal colleagues have outlined what is the most offensive issue of all of this and that is the creation of fear in the citizens of Canada. I go back again to the three steps I have mentioned already. Step one, create a problem that does not exist. Step two, propose a solution that does not address the problem. Step three, let others pick up the pieces.

I agree that the problem is fear. I have talked to a lot of constituents, particularly during the election, and there is fear out there. The Conservative Party fans that fear. Why? Because it is politically expedient and that party will not choose to confront fear with fact. Fear will always trump fact. This is really nasty politics and it is a disservice to Canadians.

In conclusion, the government is all about hysteria. Fear trumps facts. This is bad politics and it is a disservice to our Canadian electorate.

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10:45 a.m.

Pitt Meadows—Maple Ridge—Mission B.C.


Randy Kamp ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans

Mr. Speaker, I would have thought that the member could have taken a little bit of time to write a new speech from his Bill C-9 speech, but apparently not.

In both speeches he used the phrase over and over again, “create a problem that does not exist”. I hope he is willing to defend that comment, if somebody decides to maybe send a ten percenter into his riding or put it in the newspaper or something, for all those people in his riding who have been the victims of crime and who do not feel very safe in their homes.

If he wants to make the case that somehow this is, as he said, just propaganda; there is no real problem; it is all being imagined; it is only those scary Conservatives that are somehow creating a problem that does not exist; then frankly, I think this is nonsense.

He referred to these studies and that somehow they do not make the case. Let me just quote from one of them. This is right from the study. It says:

A study of the effects of New Jersey's 1981 Graves Act, which mandated a minimum prison sentence for anyone convicted of one of several serious crimes while using or carrying a firearm, found that the proportion of New Jersey homicides involving firearms decreased significantly between 1980 and 1986.

The hon. member says that somehow this is somewhat ambiguous. I do not know what is ambiguous about that. It goes on to say:

Gun homicides, the study found, decreased significantly in all six cities after mandatory sentencing laws were enacted. Assaults and armed robberies decreased somewhat in certain cities.

Stephen Levitt, who some say is the most brilliant young economist in the U.S. and has studied with Daniel Kessler, did study that proposition 8 law in California. Maybe the hon. member could tell me how this could be misinterpreted. He wrote:

Our results suggest that criminals respond to the severity and not just the certainty of sentences, a result that is predicted by the economic model of crime but has proven elusive empirically. This suggests that the increasing reliance on sentence enhancements in both state law and the federal sentencing guidelines may represent an effective means of reducing crime.

Let me conclude with this comment. Let us say, for example, that I am a potential gun criminal and I am thinking of committing a crime with a gun. The member is saying I am not very smart and maybe that might be true, and that I do not take into account the fact that if I go out and commit this offence, maybe it is a third offence, with this new law I will get five years instead of three years. So, if I do not take that into account and I commit the crime anyway, this new law will give me five years instead of three years under the old law. The member implies that somehow this is not working. I may commit this offence or maybe I may re-offend. Frankly, I do not care if--

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10:45 a.m.


The Deputy Speaker NDP Bill Blaikie

Order, please. The member has now taken up three minutes of the five minute question and comment period. There are other people rising. I need to give the hon. member for Scarborough—Guildwood some time to respond.

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10:45 a.m.


John McKay Liberal Scarborough—Guildwood, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am sure it was not by design on the part of the hon. member to get in a mini speech while asking a question.

He cites a 1981 American study. That would put it at about a 25 year old study, in a different country, a different legal environment, and a different sentencing environment. I question the usefulness and value of any kind of study such as that.

My preference in terms of real evidence is to cite page 5 from the Library of Parliament's legislative summary on Bill C-10 which says at paragraph 3:

Mandatory minimum sentences are a subset of criminal penalties generally. Accordingly, studies on the overall effect of prison sentences on crime rates and recidivism may be useful. One Canadian meta-analysis found little difference in general recidivism rates, regardless of length of incarceration or whether the offender was given a prison or community sanction. In fact, prison produced slight increases in recidivism.

Surprise, we will end up with more people in jail for longer. That is the result of dumb legislation.

In a follow-up meta-analysis focusing on juvenile, female and minority offenders, it was tentatively concluded that increasingly lengths of incarceration were associated with slightly greater increases in recidivism. Not only are we putting the general public into prison longer, we are actually exaggerating some of the social fissures in our own society among juveniles, females and minorities.

That is just brilliant public policy. I appreciate that the hon. member does not like to deal with facts. The government opposite just hates facts when they interfere with its propaganda. There is no crime wave in this country. In fact, the crime statistics show that crime is actually declining in this country, including my own community.

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10:50 a.m.


Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am very proud on behalf of the NDP to enter the debate on Bill C-10, an act to amend the Criminal Code dealing with minimum penalties. Mr. Speaker, as you well know coming from Manitoba, I represent the inner city riding of Winnipeg Centre. It is a very low income riding, and I am not proud to say, a riding that is very prone to some of the predictable consequences of chronic long term poverty, which has a greater likelihood to be associated with or a victim of crimes, particularly crimes of a violent nature.

I am pleased to have this opportunity. I asked for the opportunity to join the debate today. On behalf of the people of my riding of Winnipeg Centre, I feel duty bound to represent them on an issue dealing with criminal justice and the criminal justice system.

When I survey the residents of my riding, the inner city, the core area of Winnipeg Centre, and ask them what the most important issue facing them is, overwhelmingly the number one top of mind issue they cite is crime, safety, safe streets and criminal justice issues, by a factor of four to one. I was shocked the last time I polled people in my riding in a survey of this nature. My colleague from Yellowknife may find the same when he surveys the people in his riding. Those issues are what come to mind first because they are the issues closest to people's day to day lives.

In surveys in Canada generally, the number one issue that comes to mind is almost always health care. I can say that by a factor of four to one the issues of crime and safety are greater in my riding than the issue of health care. Tax cuts is a factor of five or six to one. Of all the other issues that seem to be prioritized in any election campaign or the federal government's top priorities, almost to a person in my riding, crime and safety are the number one priority.

Having said that, I wanted to enter this debate because I think the people in my riding would want to know that Parliament is seized of the issue, that Parliament is listening to Canadians and their very reasonable plea. Canadians just want to be able to feel safe on their streets. They want to be able to walk down the streets free of interference and mischief, like in the good old days.

When I talk to people in my riding some say, “It was not like this not long ago. When I was growing up, kids were sent to the corner store with 25¢ to buy a quart of milk and did not think twice about it. Now nobody does that”. Right after supper every kid in the neighbourhood would go out to play and they would go as far as they could get in a certain period of time. They had a turnaround time; they had to get back in time for last call, but they were free to roam the streets, play, develop and socialize.

Now there is not a kid in my neighbourhood who goes anywhere without a play date. Kids are driven everywhere. They pre-arrange appointments to play with other eight year olds. Their moms drive them in minivans to play dates and drive them home again. Parents do not feel safe letting their kids go out to play even street hockey. This is a real tragedy of our time. Whether it is real or perceived, it is real enough in the minds of the people whom I represent. They tell me as their member of Parliament that is what they want action on more than anything else.

I am glad that in the final days of this spring session of the 39th Parliament we are talking about criminal justice, that we are talking about safety, and talking about crime in the streets. The incidence of poverty in Winnipeg Centre is high, unfortunately. I am not proud of this, but I have the poorest riding in Canada by whatever measurement one uses. Whether it is family income or incidence of poverty, Winnipeg Centre is the poorest riding in Canada. As such, perhaps disproportionately it is faced with the predictable consequences of chronic long term poverty.

During the election campaign, I believe it was in early January of 2006, there was a tragic incident that brought the whole subject of mandatory minimum sentences to the forefront. There was a shooting death in the city of Toronto. I hate to share this over top of the heckling from my colleague from Ontario who does not like this bill apparently, but I had a similar incident in my riding not three blocks from my office where a 17-year-old, perfectly innocent nice young man was caught in the crossfire between two gangs. Gangsters were popping off rounds playing with their guns essentially, picking each other off and they picked off an innocent bystander.

I hope members will join me in mourning the loss of that young innocent person and the grieving the family goes through and the feeling of senselessness about it.

How did we ever descend to this point? This was an ordinary Winnipeg neighbourhood and now people will not sleep in the rooms that share the outer walls of their houses. They do not want to be next to the outside wall for fear a stray bullet will hit one of their kids. They sleep in the inner rooms of their houses. How did it come to that in 2006, in Winnipeg, Manitoba, in Canada? They want to know. We do not profess to have all the answers but they deserve to know at least that we are paying attention to it and that we are doing our best to address their concerns.

Mandatory minimum sentencing is something we frequently hear is a knee-jerk reaction, that it is not tested and not proven. I will say quite openly that I will only support things that I believe will have the results I am after and that we are seeking to achieve.

There are many reasons that we structure our sentencing within the criminal justice system, only one of which is actually punitive. Punishing people may be one of the lesser motivations in terms of our sentencing. One is that we want to be safe.

I see I am running short of time. Let me say simply that the NDP justice critic, the member for Windsor—Tecumseh, has advised us that we are interested in this bill to the point where we would like to see it go to committee for assessment. At committee we can propose what we think are improvements to the bill to make sure it actually achieves what it seeks to achieve. That is a reasonable position that we are taking.

Members who stand up and condemn this bill in a blanket fashion are showing a wilful blindness to the wishes of Canadians who want this subject addressed. They are not listening to their constituents. If they asked them, their constituents would tell them, “We want you to make our streets safe. Whatever it takes is what we want you seized with”.

The NDP wants this bill to go to committee. I am happy to have had this opportunity to speak to it.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

10:55 a.m.


The Deputy Speaker NDP Bill Blaikie

The time for questions and comments on the debate by the hon. member for Winnipeg Centre will have to take place the next time the bill is before the House.

We will now proceed to statements by members.

Portuguese Heritage MonthStatements By Members

10:55 a.m.


Gary Goodyear Conservative Cambridge, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate the Portuguese community in Cambridge and North Dumfries.

Tomorrow, June 10, marks the anniversary of the death of a famous poet for the Portuguese community. As well, the month of June represents Portuguese Heritage Month. We are proud that the Portuguese communities across Canada get together and celebrate these wonderful events.

In particular, my riding of Cambridge has one of the most vital and vibrant Portuguese communities in all of Canada. I was proud to be with that community last weekend and will be with them this weekend to help them celebrate and bring their heritage to the entire community. I would encourage communities across Canada to join in and enjoy these most favourable events.

Jimmie LeslieStatements By Members

11 a.m.


Lloyd St. Amand Liberal Brant, ON

Mr. Speaker, I recently attended the funeral of Jimmie Leslie, a 45-year-old adult who was blind, non-verbal and had severe intellectual disabilities. In spite of these difficulties, Jimmy had a most profound effect on his terrific parents, James and Kay Leslie, and on the staff of Brantwood Centre, a wonderful facility in Brantford.

Some years ago Jimmie's father wrote a letter to his son at Christmas. I quote, “I have not been able to teach you the prayers of the young and give you the hope promised by a Christmas long ago. You do not speak but in your silence and in your innocence I know that hope will ever be there for you. You have no future and no past but you are here and for that I am ever grateful”.

The staff at Brantwood Centre attended Jimmie's funeral in large numbers. They shared what they loved about his uniqueness. One staff member read from her poem, “Your spirit has touched many, you made a difference in our lives. You taught us all what love is about, and how to care for someone right”.

François RoyStatements By Members

11 a.m.


Richard Nadeau Bloc Gatineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, on May 28, François Roy, a resident of Gatineau, ran his Marathon of dignity to help build social housing.

Mr. Roy is the coordinator of Logemen'occupe, an organization dedicated to protecting the rights of low-income renters. He ran 42 km in four hours and 13 minutes, raising $10,000 toward this noble goal. Some people have to spend as much as half of what little they earn to keep a roof over their heads. The federal government should be inspired by this generous action and increase its funding for social housing and the homeless until it transfers all responsibility for housing, along with the related funds, to the Government of Quebec.

The Bloc commends Mr. Roy for his courage and determination and hopes that Logemen'occupe will remain active for many years to come.

Territorial Formula FinancingStatements By Members

11 a.m.


Dennis Bevington NDP Western Arctic, NT

Mr. Speaker, on Monday the Minister of Finance took delivery of a report on territorial formula financing produced by the expert panel mandated to review these programs. On Monday the minister said he was going to review the report.

The people of Canada's north need immediate changes to how their governments are financed.

Importantly, the report calls for a reduction in the amount Ottawa claws back from the territories' own source revenues each year. It also calls for resource revenues to be excluded from the calculation of own source revenues. I agree with these.

However, I cannot agree with the report's recommendation for the continuation of using population as the basis for determining territorial funding. In the submission from the three territories, they called this approach inadequate and inappropriate.

I hope the minister will heed the views of the three territories when he reviews this report. The territories are only asking for a fair shake from Ottawa that will allow them to achieve their great promise and potential in the development of this country.

Prairie GiantStatements By Members

11 a.m.


Tom Lukiwski Conservative Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to make a statement that was first reflected by my hon. colleague from Wascana. It deals with a production by Minds Eye, a film company from Regina which, along with the CBC, has done a disservice to the Canadian people.

Prairie Giant, the mini-series about Tommy Douglas, was a dishonest portrayal of Saskatchewan history. In particular, the portrayal of the hon. James Gardiner. the former Liberal premier of Saskatchewan, was not only inaccurate, but the producers attempted to rewrite Canadian history in a partisan, dishonest manner.

Even worse, the CBC dismisses criticisms of this movie by saying that this portrayal of real historical figures is in actuality a work of fiction. This is wrong. If this is truly a work of fiction, why is it being distributed to schools for classroom usage?

The CBC's position is unacceptable. The citizens of Saskatchewan and the Gardiner family deserve a full and complete explanation.

HomelessnessStatements By Members

11 a.m.


Marcel Proulx Liberal Hull—Aylmer, QC

Mr. Speaker, two important organizations in the Outaouais may soon be closing their doors because of the Conservative government's inaction. These two resources for the homeless, Appart Adojeune and the LAB at the Outaouais centre for drug addiction prevention and intervention did not receive their funding from the government.

Members may recall that the previous government established the Supporting Communities Partnership Initiative (SCPI) to help homeless people, among other things.

Nowadays, more and more women and young people find themselves in this situation, and traditional services to help the homeless are not necessarily meeting these new needs. Innovative organizations, such as Appart Adojeune and the LAB, are providing the support this troubled segment of the Canadian population needs.

This matter is urgent. I urge the minister responsible for this issue to renew funding for these two organizations so that their services will not be interrupted.