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.