Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to debate this bill and amendment introduced by the New Democratic Party.
I think the Conservatives have a weak argument when they say that the Liberals used the Senate to slow down the passage of some bills. On the contrary, throughout the legislative process the House was asked a number of times for unanimous consent. Such a motion was even introduced on one of the opposition days. This motion would have ensured the quick, the immediate passage of the vast majority of these bills. It was voted against by the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and the Conservative Party.
I think they preferred to make it look like the Liberal Party and its members did not support tougher, more enforceable crime legislation, which is completely absurd.
When I look at the motion presented by the New Democrats and at the bill it modifies, the bill it would amend, I note that we as a party have indicated and continue to indicate that we support the bill before the House.
All through the process, three of the five bills contained within this bill have had and have the full support of the Liberal Party. The fourth we had questions on. That is the one about the famous reverse onus question, the question on dangerous offenders.
As for the reasons we had the questions, there are multiple reasons that can vary among members, of course, but one is that the current dangerous offenders legislation process in Canada is working. There is discomfort with it, but it is working. By the number of applications that are made and by the number of people held behind bars by this process, and we could name a lot of them, the system seems to be working.
What this bill does now is go to reverse onus. If we listened to the minister earlier and if we saw the types of offenders being sought by this, I think we would all agree that these people would inherently pose the threat of being dangerous. I do not know that it is unreasonable to say that these people warrant special consideration and special identification. If somebody has had three offences, has been indicted three times on the same offences and has been found guilty in those areas of very dangerous criminal activity, they warrant special consideration. I do not think one would argue that.
We had a consideration of the Charter of Rights and whether this was within the Charter of Rights and whether it would meet constitutional challenge. We are somewhat assured by the presentation at committee by Mr. Stanley Cohen, senior general counsel in the human rights law section of the Department of Justice.
I still have a little bit of a reservation about the question that it is “not manifestly unconstitutional”, but I will not spend too much time on that, not being an expert on the matter. However, that does give support. Therefore, for that reason, we will continue to support the bill and we will find it very difficult to support the amendment now proposed, which would gut the bill.
In the little time remaining, I would like to point out one area in the bill with which I have certain concerns. It is the question of mandatory minimum penalties. If at first we look at the list that is proposed in the bill where we would apply mandatory minimums, I think all Canadians would agree that these are very serious offences and should be taken very seriously by the judicial system. I think they would agree that there should be a message sent out to anybody who is considering that type of offence and also that there should be protection for the public from the type of people who do those types of offences.
However, there is always the case out there that is a little different. Having some leeway, some discretion in the judicial system for the justices in this country to exercise, I think is always warranted. I will bring the attention of members to one of those cases. I will try to remain as vague as I can because I believe some aspects of it may still be before the courts.
A few years ago in an insular community in New Brunswick, not that long ago, there was one house in that community about which there were a lot of allegations of criminality. There were allegations of drug sales and illegal weapons. All sorts of problems were happening there. There was huge frustration in the community that the RCMP or the police system was not able to take care of the problem and not able to provide security to the community.
It came to the point that there was a blow-up in the community. Although I do not believe anyone was shot at, gunshots were fired. A house was burned. A vehicle was burned. Charges were filed by the RCMP. When I look at that case and those people, I cannot condone their actions. I do not believe in vigilante justice. However, I sort of understand the situation they were in. There is some compassion from me in that regard.
I look at the prescriptive list of penalties. Should these people be incarcerated for two or more years because they were part or party to that activity? Will justice be served? Will we provide more security to the communities or will we have an adverse effect on communities by breaking up families?
I am not the judge in that. Nor am I a legal expert. However, I have enough confidence in our judicial system that we could have some leeway for justices to look at situations around cases similar to that and not necessarily have a system that is this prescriptive.
On the question of impaired driving, Liberals offered to move it along as quickly as possible. There was no holdback by us. Another bill on the list was at the committee, but the House leader in the committee would not bring it to the Senate. It was brought forward by an opposition member on the Senate floor. The Conservatives talk a lot about the bills being stalled, but there was a lot of willingness on their part to stall them. It made their lives and arguments a lot easier.
Liberals support the provisions dealing with drug impaired driving. I do not know if a set of laws can be created to solve the whole situation, but we need to have laws and penalties that discourage people from doing this. It has had an effect. As we have made the laws stricter, both federally and provincially, in the areas of driving while drunk, we have seen a great reduction. Also the population understands that it is unacceptable behaviour.
Great credit for that should go not only to the people who created and applied the laws, but organizations like Mothers Against Drunk Drivers. It has done a great job of sensitizing the population and getting people to understand that when people get behind the wheel of a motor vehicle while impaired, their competency is reduced because of alcohol or drugs. It is not unlike walking around with a loaded gun. People take the chance of causing serious harm.
We all know people in our communities who have been seriously harmed. We also know people who have caused that harm. We know people who have been in accidents because of driving while drunk and themselves have been seriously harmed. My hat is off to all of them who, after having lived through that, have gone to the schools, have talked to young people and have educated them without excuse for what they have done. They show the kids the risks of that type of behaviour.
I am encouraged to see young people in our communities take a very responsible approach, with the designated driver rules, safe graduations, all those other activities that young people live up to and espouse. This is a great advance in our communities.
When we look at the current dangerous offender legislation, my empathy goes to the families of the people who are now behind bars as dangerous offenders. I understand the concerns they have. Every few years dangerous offenders have a right to apply for bail, although they are almost always refused. We know the difficult cases where the families of the victims are again put through the stress, knowing that these people could be freed or they have to relive looking at the evidence again, preparing themselves or being present when the appeal is heard. It is very costly to them emotionally.
However, I thank them because freedom has a huge cost. The right to appeals and hearings of even the worst elements of our society are part of the rights that protect all society. Unfortunately, the cost of freedom is not always borne evenly and a lot is disproportionately toward the victims in the case of criminal justice. We know the cost of the military in the case of our freedoms generally.
It would be difficult for Liberals to accept the amendment proposed by the New Democrats. We will continue our support for the bill.