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House of Commons Hansard #9 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was bills.

Topics

Human TraffickingPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

12:10 p.m.

Conservative

Patricia Davidson Conservative Sarnia—Lambton, ON

Mr. Speaker, the third petition, signed by 1,031 constituents, calls on the government to continue its work to combat the trafficking of persons worldwide.

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

12:10 p.m.

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre Saskatchewan

Conservative

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

Mr. Speaker, I ask that all questions be allowed to stand.

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

12:10 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

Is it agreed?

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

12:10 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-2, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and to make consequential amendments to other Acts, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Tackling Violent Crime ActGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

Prior to question period, the hon. member for Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe had the floor for questions and comments, and it was his turn to reply to a comment made by one of the other hon. members. I would call on the member for Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, then, who has a little over eight minutes remaining in the time allotted for questions and comments.

Tackling Violent Crime ActGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.

Liberal

Brian Murphy Liberal Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for Edmonton—Sherwood Park for his comment. I know the member has had a long and distinguished career in Parliament and has had a keen interest in criminal justice issues over that time. I have had occasion to review remarks that he has made and I have heard him speak at the justice committee from time to time.

I am a bit perplexed. I have indeed great respect for his comments. In fact, when he comments that prorogation is a privilege, that it is up to a government leader to take such a decision and that this has been used in the past by Liberal prime ministers, I take it that perhaps he approves of it and feels that the current Prime Minister was certainly within his rights and did the right thing by proroguing Parliament.

The comment in my speech, if it was misconstrued by the member for Edmonton—Sherwood Park, was that by proroguing Parliament, these bills were killed in their tracks. To bring them back under the guise that somehow the previous Parliament and the committee, and the Senate for that matter, had unduly delayed them, is misleading.

To say that prorogation is a right of a prime minister is absolutely true and that it has been used before is also absolutely true. If the member is endorsing, then, what previous Liberal governments have done in prorogation, I am okay with this comments and I understand them perfectly. If the member is saying that by abstaining with respect to the Speech from the Throne Liberals have done something that previous Conservative oppositions have not done, then that would not be the truth either. In fact, the Conservative opposition abstained as recently as May of 2005.

If I threw the member off with my comments with respect to parliamentary procedure and government prerogative, I apologize. I am new in the House. All I know is that I and many members in the House worked for a year and a half on justice bills that were killed by the prorogation. Bill C-2 attempts to correct that. Let us move the justice agenda forward and make our society a safer place.

Tackling Violent Crime ActGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.

Conservative

Ken Epp Conservative Edmonton—Sherwood Park, AB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to use this occasion, if I may, to correct the record. When I was speaking of the prorogations of the House, unfortunately I looked at the wrong place on my notes. The reference that I made to an 11 day existence of a parliament after a throne speech was actually at the defeat of a government and not on a prorogation. I made that error and I would like to correct that record.

Tackling Violent Crime ActGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, I did not realize we were going to be moving on this quickly, which is a good development because it will move these bills along, as opposed to the government's approach, which has been one of delay.

In that regard, I want to do a quick resumé of what has happened in this Parliament starting in roughly mid-February of 2006, at which time we were faced with a large number of crime bills by the government. I took the opportunity to go through the list of bills that have been dealt with in one form or another.

The list was quite lengthy, starting with Bill C-9, which was a bill on conditional sentencing. That went through both Houses and has royal assent. There was one on the Judges Act, Bill C-17, and it also went through all stages. Another one relating to DNA identification went through all stages. As for Bill C-19 on street racing, a particularly emotional point for the Conservative Party, we got that one through. There was one on criminal interest rates, Bill C-26, and it got through. There was one, Bill C-48, which dealt with international crime syndicates and the need to fight corruption at that level, coming out of the UN, and it got through. The next one, dealing with the illegal recording of movies, went very quickly through the House with all parties cooperating. It never even went to committee.

In addition to that, we have had Bill C-22, which actually is part of Bill C-2, the bill that is before us now, passed at second reading in the Senate. It went through the House all the way to the Senate. We have had Bill C-10, an important bill on mandatory minimums, go through this House and into the Senate, where it was at first reading.

Similarly, Bill C-23 went through this House and got to the Senate, but it is not part of this bill. I am not sure if the government is going to bring that one back or not. On Bill C-35, which was the bill dealing with bail reviews involving alleged gun crimes and the reverse onus being placed, again, it got through all the work in this House and went to the Senate.

The final bill with regard to work that we had done and which was almost through this House was the bill dealing with impaired driving. That had cleared the committee and was coming back to the House. It would have been back in the House if we had not prorogued in the middle part of September.

These are all the bills we have had from the government. The final bill was still in committee and we had just started on it. We had three or four meetings taking witnesses on that bill, which deals with dangerous offenders and amendments to recognizance in the Criminal Code.

In addition, there were at least four to six private members' bills, all of them coming from the Conservative Party interestingly enough, which we dealt with and passed or dealt with in some fashion. One had to be withdrawn. We dealt with those as well.

All of that work was being done at the justice committee, with the exception, and this is really interesting, of two bills that went to special legislative committees. Because the justice committee's workload was so great, we moved them into special committees. However, we worked on those bills and got them through.

All of that is work we have done in a little over 18 months, yet in spite of that, there are two things the government does. It constantly complains about the length of time it takes, in regard to which the Conservatives could have done much better by originally having omnibus bills. I have said that in the House to the point where I am almost sick of hearing it myself, and I am sure everyone else in the House is, but it is the way they should have conducted themselves. Of course, though, because of their political agenda of wanting to highlight each one of these bills, they did not put them together. They finally came to their senses and realized that it is a way of moving bills through the House more rapidly.

However, we did all of that work, and now what we are hearing, which is the second point I want to make about the government, is that the delay is the fault of the opposition. That is absolutely false.

One can see from the length of the list of bills we have had to deal with, plus the private members' bills, plus working on two legislative committees in addition to all the work that we have done at justice, that nobody in the opposition has done any delaying. The delay with regard to the five bills that are incorporated now into Bill C-2 is entirely at the feet of the government. It prorogued and that cost us a month.

It is interesting to note what could have happened in that one month's time. It is my opinion that all three of the bills that were in the Senate would have been through and ready for royal assent, which again is in the hands of the government. If the government had conducted itself with any kind of efficiency, those bills probably would be law today.

The fourth bill, the one dealing with impaired driving, which again is part of Bill C-2, would have come to the House in the middle part of September when we came back. There was not a great deal of debate, and although I and my party have some reservations about it, we in fact would support it.

The bill would have had some debate in the House at report stage and third reading, but it would have been through the House and at least at first reading in the Senate now, perhaps at second reading. It is not beyond the pale to think that the bill also would have cleared the Senate and would have been ready for royal assent.

This bill bothers me. Of all the ones we have, this one bothers me the most because of the conduct of the government in dealing with the individuals, including the police officers and police associations, who lobbied really heavily to get this legislation, and in particular the families and supporters of MADD, Mothers Against Drunk Driving. It bothers me that the government would have misused the loyalty and the support that those groups had given to the bill by leading them to believe that somehow it was the opposition that was holding it up, when in fact it was prorogation. Now there is this tactic of combining that bill with the other bills to actually slow down its passage. Otherwise there is a reasonably good chance it would have been law by now, and if not, it would have been in its final stages at the Senate and it certainly would have been law by the end of the year.

That is much less likely to happen now. It is more likely that this bill will not get final approval and royal assent until well into the spring, no matter what the government tries to do. Quite frankly we will do whatever we can to be cooperative in moving these bills forward.

Our party was quite prepared to have all four of those bills that I have mentioned which form 80% of Bill C-2 back at their original stages, again so they would be law or on the verge of becoming law, that is, receiving royal assent today, as opposed to what is likely to happen now. It is going to be into the new year and maybe well into the spring before these bills become law, assuming of course that the government does not collapse and there is an election, which is another problem.

The government has delayed it, and in addition, it has clearly pushed it back at least until the new year, with the real possibility of an election intervening and a number of these provisions never seeing the light of day until after the election, when we would come back and start the process all over again.

That is reprehensible conduct on the part of the government. The only reason the Conservatives are doing it is so they can stand up in public and say, “We are tough on crime”. They do the macho thing. They beat their chests. They do the King Kong thing as if they are coming out of a jungle. The reality is that the delay is all at their feet.

I am really angry when I think of all the work that so many groups have done, the victims of crime in particular, and now are being misused by the government in such a way.

I am not going to take up much more time but I do want to address the final bill that was at committee. Former Bill C-27 is now part of Bill C-2. It deals with two amendments to the Criminal Code. One would be on the provisions relating to dangerous offenders and the other is with regard to recognizance.

With regard to recognizance, I think I can safely say that all the opposition parties are in support of those provisions. They give additional authority to our judiciary to deal with people who are out in the community on their own recognizance, but we can put additional conditions on them.

The bill provides for things such as requiring them to wear a monitoring device. There is a number of other provisions that would substantially improve security in our communities regarding people who have now been released from charges and who have already served their time. It is a substantial step forward and one that has been needed.

I have said this in the House before, that when I started practising law back in the early 1970s we needed it at that time. Successive governments have tended to shy away from it. Our judiciary has attempted on a number of occasions to introduce these types of control devices, if I could put it that way, in terms of sentencing or conditions imposed on people and it has consistently lost in our courts of appeal. It required legislative intervention. The provision is in this bill and we need to pass that and get it into play so our judges can do a better job of helping protect Canadians, which they want to do.

The other part in this provision, the old Bill C-27 now part of Bill C-2, is with regard to dangerous offenders. We have significant problems with this. Originally when the bill came before the House as Bill C-27, all three opposition parties indicated that on principle they had to vote against it because it has a provision of reverse onus with regard to the dangerous offender.

All of us believe that that part of the bill would suffer a charter challenge that would be successful in striking it down. What I do not think the government has ever understood is that not only would it be struck down, but perhaps the whole dangerous offender section would be struck down. Just as we saw with the security certificates where the Supreme Court said that if it could not be fixed, they were all going down, the same type of thing could happen in a ruling on dangerous offenders. The government has never understood that.

Ultimately, the opposition parties decided that there were perhaps ways of amending this in committee to improve the use of the dangerous offender section, because we know we need to do that, and at the same time make sure that the section was not jeopardized by a successful charter challenge at some point in the future.

We were working on that when we ended in June. We fully expected that was one of the bills for the special legislative committee and that we would be back and working on it in September, that we would complete the witness testimony and improve the bill by way of amendment and if not, then I suppose we would have been faced with a conundrum of whether we could support it or not. That is where we are at this point.

That bill needs significant work in order to be sure that we do not lose the entire dangerous offender section of the Criminal Code. We will be doing that work as soon as we can get the committee up and running again and the bill into the committee.

It is very clear that the government, and I do not say this about the opposition parties, is prepared to play politics with public safety. The Conservatives want to be seen as the champions and they are prepared to take these kinds of manoeuvres of delaying these bills by incorporating them all into Bill C-2 so that they can do that. They want to stand up in the House and in the media and out on the hustings and say “we are the champions of it”, when in fact the truth is just the opposite. They were guilty. They are guilty of delay. The opposition parties are not.

Tackling Violent Crime ActGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.

Liberal

Sue Barnes Liberal London West, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to be a part of this debate because public safety is important to all Canadians and all parties in this House. I really believe that all parties in this House work to improve public safety for Canadians.

In that regard, I have had the pleasure over the years to work on the justice committee and on the public safety committee with the member.

When the Conservative government came into power, a large number of bills were introduced but they sat on the order paper and were not sent to the justice committee, some of them for long periods of time.

I want to ask the member whether or not he agrees with me that the government party is the only party that takes care of the order of business in this House. Some of those original pieces of legislation sat on the order paper for a long time after they were first introduced.

The justice committee of this House is a very effective way of improving legislation.

A lot of the bills that were introduced as part of the original agenda were actually researched and widely consulted on under the former Liberal government. In fact those pieces of legislation tended to proceed much more quickly in committee because a lot of the concerns had been worked out and consulted on before the original bill first entered Parliament. Now we are seeing bills where there has been less consultation and preparation.

I agree with the member that most of these bills are starting over in the House when they could have started at the stage where they left off before prorogation, in the Senate, but we are now dealing with this as it is.

I want to hear the member's opinion on another bill, the street racing bill. In fact when I was justice critic, all the parties, including all the opposition parties, agreed to fast-track that bill because we wanted to see it rapidly in place. That fast-track offer was also put in place with respect to the age of consent bill. I agree with my colleague who made a speech that the original private member's bill from the Conservatives did not have the close in age exemption and that is why the work that was redone was done properly.

I would ask my hon. friend to comment on those points.

Tackling Violent Crime ActGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, anybody who has been in the House for any length of time knows the government controls the order paper. The order in which bills are brought forward is entirely in the hands of the government, and there is nothing the opposition parties can do in that regard. I sometimes think that is a mistake in our system. On the basis of democracy and in a minority government situation, that rule should not be there. Opposition parties should have more control over what comes before the House, but this is not the case. The government completely controls this.

The member is right in terms of bills sitting on the order paper, and I will use Bill C-27, the dangerous offender bill, as an example. It sat on the order paper for almost six months. The bill was introduced in the House in the fall of 2006 and did not get to a vote for second reading and go to committee until well into the spring of 2007. For a good six months, it just sat on the order paper. That is a good example of how backlogged the justice committee was at that point.

As I mentioned in my opening comments, a more efficient approach would have moved the bills along much faster. Let me just emphasize that point and explain what happens.

When bills get to justice committee, there is a tendency to call the same witnesses on specific points. I have been saying in the House that the bills should have been bunched together. The government should have done that originally. It cannot be done now because these bills would be delayed again.

The Canadian Bar Association was forced to appear before the justice committee eight or ten times. Representatives could probably have come once or maybe twice, spoken on all the points and given us their input.

This goes back to consultation in terms of the member's question. The Conservative government has refused to consult with a number of groups because I think it sees them as ideologically unfriendly. Conservatives talk to members of police associations, but do they talk Canadian Bar Association? Maybe some. Do they talk to criminal defence lawyers, who have some significant input to provide on these bills? Hardly at all.

I could go down the list of some of the groups that deal with people who have been charged and convicted of crimes. For women, there is the Elizabeth Fry Society. For men, there is John Howard Society. The government does not talk too much to these people.

That delays the process at committee. These groups come forward at committee to tell us what they think the problems are with the legislation, and that is the first time we hear about it. Perhaps it could have been taken care of by consultation before it ever arrived at committee.

I have already mentioned the issue of street car racing. All parties in the House supported that and we put it through as quickly as we could.

With respect to the age of consent legislation, I fought with the former Conservative justice minister, my colleague from Manitoba, and convinced him that we should put it in. We tried to put it into the child pornography bill in 2005. It resurrected itself in the age of consent bill, Bill C-22, that finally came before the House. The bill went all the way to the Senate. Now it is back before the House and we have to go over it all again.

Tackling Violent Crime ActGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.

Conservative

Ken Epp Conservative Edmonton—Sherwood Park, AB

Mr. Speaker, I have a lot of respect for the knowledge that the member displays on these issues.

He seemed to indicate that there was a potential problem with the reverse onus part of the bill. I question that.

If a person comes up to me, points a gun at me, pulls the trigger and misses, and thankfully, to me he is a dangerous guy. I do not want to live next door to a guy like that. I would move away if he did not. That is just the first time.

The legislation being proposed has a person doing things of that nature, attacking women and children. He does it, not once, not twice, but three times. In each instance, we, the people, through the Crown, have already shown that he is dangerous because he was charged and convicted three times.

To me, the reverse onus is almost a misnomer here. We should not say that. Rather we should say that the person has proven to us and courts have convicted him of these charges three time. It is now just an automatic, he is a dangerous offender and ought to be put away for a long time. To me, that is a given.

Yet now we are somehow saying that reverse onus is a violation. Some people say it is because a person is presumed innocent until proven guilty. However, he has been proven guilty three times.

What we ought to be doing is looking at this issue as giving this guy a chance when he really does not deserve it. If he can convince the court, after having been convicted three times, that he is not a dangerous offender, then he can somehow avoid being given that designation.

Could the member enlarge a bit on the nature of his objection to this?

Tackling Violent Crime ActGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

The hon. member for Windsor—Tecumseh should know that there is less than a minute for him to respond.

Tackling Violent Crime ActGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, it would probably have taken about 10 minutes for me to explain this to the member and perhaps to the public watching.

I have two quick points. The dangerous offender section in the code has been used about 300 and some times. When this happens, when people are found to be dangerous offenders, they go to jail and they never get out. I believe only about 18 out of 350 have ever been released. This is what we are faced with.

We should imagine ourselves as a judge having to tell people that they have to prove why they should not go to jail because this is what the Criminal Code states that.

Tackling Violent Crime ActGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.

Bloc

Réal Ménard Bloc Hochelaga, QC

Mr. Speaker, today we are debating what the government considers to be the most important component of the throne speech presented a few days ago, Bill C-2.

First of all, there is a myth that I would like to dispel. On several occasions the members on the government side have unfortunately taken some liberties with the truth. They have suggested that, in this Parliament, the opposition parties—the official opposition, the Bloc Québécois and the NDP—did not cooperate, that they acted like spoilsports and had unduly and excessively delayed passage of the justice bills. We need to set the record straight. This presentation of the facts is false, dishonest and, at the very least, misleading.

Since coming into power in January 2006, the Conservative government has tabled 12 justice bills. They were studied by the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights and the legislative committee and six of them have received royal assent. Therefore, since the government came into office in January 2006, six bills have been adopted and received royal assent.

I will mention them quickly, for information purposes: Bill C-9, on conditional sentencing; Bill C-17, on the salaries of judges; Bill C-18, on the DNA data bank; Bill C-19, which was meant as a tribute to a Conservative member who unfortunately passed away, and which makes street racing a new offence under the Criminal Code; the fifth bill, namely Bill C-48, on the United Nations Convention against Corruption and on international crime, was fast-tracked and supported by all opposition parties and the government; finally, the sixth one, is Bill C-59, creating a new offence, under the Criminal Code, for the unauthorized recording of a movie in a movie theatre. That legislation was quickly passed, at the request of the Bloc Québécois, which had enlisted the support of the official opposition and of the NDP.

Again, of the 12 bills introduced by the government, six received royal assent. That left six, with four of them being in the Senate. That was the case for Bill C-10, on minimum penalties for offences involving firearms, and for Bill C-22, on the age of protection. The Conservatives proposed to raise the age of protection from 14 to 16 years. As mentioned earlier, opposition parties requested that a close in age provision be included, to provide for a difference of five or two years, depending on the age being considered.

As I just mentioned, Bill C-10 and Bill C-22 were before the Senate. Bill C-23, which is a rather technical bill on the language used during a trial before a jury, was also before the Senate, as was Bill C-35, dealing with the reverse onus, at the pre-trial hearing, for a number of very serious offences. The committee was told that this was already the usual practice, and that a justice of the peace or a superior court judge very rarely grants bail at the pre-trial hearing, when the individual is accused of murder, assault or sexual assault. This was already an established practice.

In summary, six bills have been passed and have received royal assent, and four had already gone through third reading in the House of Commons and were in the Senate. This left us with two bills: the dangerous offenders bill, Bill C-27, which I will address later, and Bill C-32 dealing with impaired driving.

Could the Prime Minister and the Conservative team be asked to be a little more relaxed and show a more nuanced and respectful attitude toward the opposition?

We are going to do our job. In the past, we have given the government our cooperation when that was necessary, but we have introduced amendments because, unfortunately, an entire segment of the Conservative caucus has no idea of nuances. I will give examples. Had Bill C-32 been passed as written, without amendments, anyone driving his or her own car with a passenger on board who was in possession of a small amount of marijuana could have faced prosecution or arrest.

Was that the purpose of the legislation? This bill was intended to address a public safety issue, recognizing that no one should be operating a vehicle on public roadways while under the influence of drugs, and to allow for drivers to be subjected to standardized tests known as standardized field sobriety tests. The intention certainly was not to pass legislation to target drivers carrying drugs without their knowledge. That could happen. I could give three people a ride to my cottage without knowing that one of them has marijuana in his or her pocket. This would have made me liable to prosecution.

This is the sort of excess the Conservatives are guilty of, when we are talking about a bill, a motivation, and an intent that are utterly defensible in terms of public policy. But when the Conservatives are left to their own devices, when they are ruled by that extreme wing of their caucus and blinded by the idea of law and order, they come up with bills that have to be amended.

Conditional sentencing has been mentioned. When we began looking at Bill C-9, the first justice bill the Conservatives introduced—the member for London West will recall—we were told that conditional sentences represented only 5% of sentences.

If you look at all the sentences handed down in all the courts in Canada in recent years for which records have been kept, you see that conditional sentences, which allow offenders to serve their sentence in the community under supervision, represented only 5% of sentences.

If we had adopted the bill as introduced by the Conservatives, all offences punishable by more than two years in prison might have been excluded from this tool judges have for determining how a sentence can be served in the community.

I repeat that I am extremely disappointed with the attitude of the Prime Minister, who asks the opposition to vote for bills, but will not tolerate any amendments to those bills. How can anyone be so authoritarian? How can anyone be so cavalier? How can anyone be so disrespectful of Canadian democracy and tell the 57% or 58% of Canadians who did not elect Conservative members that if their representatives do not fall into line with the Conservative platform, they cannot introduce amendments in this House?

I assure my colleagues that we are going to consider the issue and that we will work very quickly, with all due diligence. And we will introduce amendments if we feel that they are in the interest of the people we represent.

The government wants this bill to go to committee quickly. The leaders have agreed on this. Later today, the whip will introduce a motion, and once again we have offered to cooperate.

Next week, we will have this bill before us, but we will not allow ourselves to be led by the nose by this government. When the Conservatives were in opposition, they were intractable and often mean-spirited. They constantly, systematically filibustered. Never have I seen such filibustering. Sometimes it went on day and night.

The current Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food did the filibustering. He led this House in circles regarding employment equity. At the time, I was a young, naive and vulnerable member. I had just been elected and was experiencing my first filibuster. Furthermore, the current Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development was uncompromising on the issue of employment equity, which was under the responsibility of the Canadian Human Rights Commission.

They cannot have it both ways. A person cannot say that it is fine to filibuster when they are in opposition, only to turn around, once they are in the governing party, and refuse the opposition's right to present amendments. This is irresponsible and disrespectful.

Bill C-2 merges five pieces of legislation. Of those pieces of legislation, the Bloc Québécois supported four of them, with amendments. In committee, of course, we will not ask to repeat the work that has already been done.

However, we have a problem with Bill C-27, concerning dangerous offenders. As we all know, the Criminal Code has included provisions on this matter since 1947. In the past, we did not use the term dangerous offender, but rather habitual criminal. I wonder whether certain members, those who have been practising law for some time, remember that expression. The Liberals already changed those provisions by creating a new category of dangerous offenders—long-term offenders—in Bill C-55.

What is our line of questioning? I would like to be clear. I am telling the government that the Bloc Québécois would like to see three main groups of witnesses. First, we would like to hear constitutional experts on the constitutionality of the reverse onus principle, in the same terms in which this bill was presented.

We would then like to see a second group of witnesses. I would remind the House that when the Minister of Justice appeared before the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, he was unable to tell us what it is about the administrative and judicial process for dangerous offenders that is not working.

Currently, a person can be labelled a dangerous offender after committing a first serious offence. Section 753 of the Criminal Code is very clear. If there is any reason to believe that that an individual is likely to cause a death, is out of control, or is likely to reoffend, that person can be declared a dangerous offender after a first offence. I am not saying that this is what usually happens. We are not talking about a large number of people here. About 350 people have been declared dangerous offenders, and some of them have been released under mandatory supervision. Of course, most of them are inside federal prisons.

We will run this by constitutional experts. It is our responsibility to ensure that this bill is not unconstitutional. We will ask people who make their living dealing with this issue before the courts to explain to us which parts of the current legislation are not working.

We will also ask a third group of witnesses about the list of offences. In the bill before us today, five types of offences would result in an individual being declared a dangerous offender. Naturally, most of them are serious crimes, such as attempted murder, murder, homicide and serious sexual crimes.

The government wants to expand this list to include 42 offences. The preliminary list includes 22 offences, one of which is assault. I do not wish to downplay the importance of assault. However, should an individual who has been convicted of assault three times be put on a list of dangerous offenders, with all of the consequences that entails?

There is a list of designated offences, which, I agree, are offences generally punishable by a sentence of more than five years. The question is, do we need to take this further? Is it important to have these two lists of offences?

Why ask this question? We are not questioning the fact that we need provisions in the Criminal Code for people who are so dangerous and present such a risk of recidivism that they need to be designated long term offenders, or dangerous offenders. A dangerous offender is someone who can be imprisoned for an indefinite period. Obviously, they are denied their freedom and denied eligibility for parole. Certainly—and I am not afraid to say so—this is justified in some situations. We understand that for some individuals there is no chance for rehabilitation and they have to be imprisoned for an indeterminate period.

Nonetheless, it is our responsibility to ensure that if we are going to pass legislation that considerably broadens the scope of this rule—which is in fact an exception to the general rule—then we have to be able to verify the facts in committee in order to make sure there is no risk of abuse or excess.

As hon. members know, the Conservatives are driven by partisan political considerations. That is “partisan” with a capital “P”.

As it stands, the crime rate has gone down in Canada. In any event, the homicide rate has gone down. The incidence of violent crime has gone down. I am not saying there has not been a worrisome increase in property crime in certain communities. However, generally speaking, we know full well that for a number of years now, major crime, such as homicide—crimes involving violence—has gone down year after year.

Criminologists who have studied these issues are saying that there is no correlation between a reliance on imprisonment and lower crime rates in a society. We do not live in a safer society and the communities are not safer because of widespread prison sentencing.

We know that the United States has an incarceration rate seven times greater than Canada's. In Canada, there are 132 or 134 prisoners for every 100,000 people.

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12:55 p.m.

Bloc

Serge Ménard Bloc Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

It is now 108.

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12:55 p.m.

Bloc

Réal Ménard Bloc Hochelaga, QC

The member for Marc-Aurèle-Fortin says that it is now 108. The last time I checked, in the United States it was 732. We can see the numbers and we know very well that the United States has a much higher crime rate than Canada and than Quebec, which certainly has a lower rate.

In conclusion, we will do our job. Obviously, we will offer our help to the government every time these problems come up. We realize this is important. But I would ask the Prime Minister to be a little more Zen when it comes to justice matters. We will introduce amendments if we think it would be in line with the current practices in Quebec.

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12:55 p.m.

Prince George—Peace River B.C.

Conservative

Jay Hill ConservativeSecretary of State and Chief Government Whip

Mr. Speaker, as I have done with all the speeches this afternoon, I listened with great interest to the words of my colleagues from the opposition parties. I would like to take this opportunity to perhaps correct some of the motives the member attributes to the Conservative government in bringing forward this tackling violent crime act, Bill C-2, and then pose a question.

Toward the end of his remarks he asserted that our government is driven by partisan political considerations. I would like to state for the record that no, what we are driven by here is to try to reform our justice system or, maybe more appropriately, that we are driven by a desire to restore fairness and justice to our legal system in this country.

That is the real reason behind the fact that in our short-lived government we have brought forward so many new initiatives in the justice department. In fact, he mentioned the fact that we brought forward a dozen bills alone in this Parliament already.

The other fallacy that I would like to quickly correct for the record is this whole business that somehow by combining these bills we are going to delay them. The fact is, and my colleague clearly identified this, Bill C-2, the tackling violent crime act, encompasses some five previous bills. I will run through them very quickly.

Previously, Bill C-10, mandatory minimum penalties for firearms offences, was stalled in committee for 252 days and the bill died after a total of 414 days before Parliament.

Bill C-22, age of protection, was stalled in committee for 175 days and the bill died after a total of 365 days before Parliament.

Bill C-27, dangerous offenders, was stalled in committee for 105 days and the bill died after a total of 246 days before Parliament.

Bill C-35, reverse onus on bail for firearms offences, was stalled in committee for 64 days and the bill died after a total of 211 days before Parliament.

Finally, Bill C-32, drug impaired driving, was stalled in committee for 149 days and the bill died after a total of 210 days before Parliament.

I think Canadians are waking up to the fact that a lot of these bills were stalled in the upper chamber in our parliamentary system. What are we talking about? We are talking about an unelected, unaccountable, Liberal dominated Senate. In other words, an upper chamber dominated by our process in this Parliament by the opposition.

Obviously, even the temporary current leader of the official opposition, the leader of the Liberal Party, has no control over the Senate. He has no control over his colleagues over there in getting this legislation moved forward.

In the last election campaign, all four parties running in the election said they wanted to get tough with violent crime. Yet, when we put this legislation through, the Liberals allowed it to be stalled over there. What have we done? We have combined them because the Senate will be less able to stall one or two bills because Canadians will be awakened to the fact that if the Liberals stall Bill C-2, they will clearly understand that the Liberal Party has never been serious about violent crime. It says one thing but does the opposite.

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1 p.m.

Bloc

Réal Ménard Bloc Hochelaga, QC

Mr. Speaker, I must inform the House that our colleague did not tell us the whole truth.

First, with regard to Bill C-27, the committee met three times. We cannot say that we will adopt a bill after three committee meetings. The committee had just been formed when the House adjourned.

The government whip speaks of Bill C-32, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (impaired driving) and to make consequential amendments to other Acts. The fact is that we did not block the bill and, what is more, we were at report stage. We had agreed in committee that the chair would table a report. If the whip was in such a hurry to pass the bills, then why did his Prime Minister prorogue the House? We were ready to return and study these bills.

I believe that is a myth. The opposition parties co-operated with the government. However, we will not allow this government to tell the opposition parties that they will not do their job. And when we deem it appropriate, we will amend the bill.

I was not elected on the Conservative's platform. I was democratically elected, with 60% of the votes in my riding, as an alternative to the Conservatives. We will do our work. If we believe it necessary, we will amend the bill.

The Prime Minister must be more democratic.

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1 p.m.

Liberal

Sue Barnes Liberal London West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I know that this particular member from the Bloc, who has participated in the debate, does work very hard on justice bills. I served with him for a time on Bill C-9. That was a bill that we worked on and it was amended by the three opposition parties. It passed the House and went on from this place because it was improved. That is the whole point of going to committee and hearing witnesses.

I know that there are situations that even when the government introduces a bill that it thinks is perfect, that some things can slip by. Even the government can make errors. I think of the example currently where we have disenfranchised rural members under the Canada Elections Act because things were not done properly. It even went through committee and even at that stage it was not picked up. But the government has a responsibility and there is a democratic process in the House, that we deal expeditiously with bills in committee.

Most of the bills could have been in the Senate right now. They could have been reintroduced in the Senate, but we know that they have already passed second reading so we want them to get to committee so that they can be dealt with more rapidly.

When a government makes mistakes like it has just done with respect to the Canada Elections Act, it now has to have a new piece of legislation. We introduce amendments because the government is not infallible when it first introduces legislation.

There used to be a court challenges program whereby an individual or group could challenge government legislation even if it had passed all the stages in the House and Senate but we no longer have that.

Does the member think that some of these issues have to be dealt with practically, logically and completely, not just in an undemocratic way where a prime minister says he needs everything and needs it yesterday? Is it not our job to make good law, good policy and do it properly?

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1:05 p.m.

Bloc

Réal Ménard Bloc Hochelaga, QC

Mr. Speaker, I fondly remember a time when we both sat on the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights.

It would be true to say that the Prime Minister has hurt us all. Opposition members have all been hurt by this heavy-handedness. Which British principle is vital to the operation of the House? The role of the opposition is to work to make the government even better. Each day, every single member leaves this House feeling tired and worn out, because it is hard work to make this government even better. The government is terrible when left to its own devices. This is the British parliamentary system. The opposition improves bills. The opposition must cast a critical light on this government which wants to model our justice system indiscriminately on the American system.

I would remind the House that we worked together on 12 bills. I am counting on the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities to say so in the speeches he will give in Quebec. Of the 12 bills, six have already received royal assent and four others were before the Senate. So, only two remained in this House. Furthermore, of the six bills that received royal assent, three were fast-tracked to adoption. I remember a time when this government was in the opposition. There was no end to the filibusters. Now, the opposition is respectful, restrained and able to work with the government when necessary.

In conclusion, I want to point out that St. Thomas Aquinas once said that virtue lies in moderation.

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1:05 p.m.

Conservative

Jay Hill Conservative Prince George—Peace River, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I assume that the time for questions and comments has expired.

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1:05 p.m.

Bloc

Réal Ménard Bloc Hochelaga, QC

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. We would be happy to adopt our colleague's motion. However, as a matter of courtesy and since it is Friday, could we allow one last colleague, the member from the Ottawa area, to ask a question? The hon. member has served this House well. Could he ask the last question? As he is a friend, I would be very happy to debate this with him.

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1:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

I have just said that the question and comment period is over. However, if I can find unanimous consent for this courtesy, I will agree. Is there unanimous consent?

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1:05 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.