Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure, at report stage of Bill C-2, to deliver some comments to the omnibus crime bill.
I have had the experience of serving on the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights and also the legislative committees that were involved with the former Bills C-10, C-22, C-27, C-32, C-35 and C-23, which is not part of the omnibus bill.
I speak with experience at least with respect to the bills and I understand how we came to be here today to speak about what the bill contains. A lot of discussion took place in the debates of the House and in committee with respect to the direction we should take with respect to our criminal justice.
It is important for us, as parliamentarians, to consider what we do when we amend the Criminal Code and its corollary acts. We are dealing with the Criminal Code. It is an organic document. It changes with the times. It is copied and exemplified by one of Canada's justice ministers and prime ministers, Sir John Thompson, from eastern Canada. It has certainly changed with the times as has our society.
In the 1890s the crimes that were top priority might have been things like cattle and horse theft, murder and some common ones. However, with the changing times, we have seen a proliferation of gang related violence, e-crimes, things that would not have existed at the turn of the century.
The point of raising that is as our society changes and the code changes, we owe it to this place, to the committees, to the law enforcement official, which include prosecutors, policemen, probation workers, corrections officers, people in the correction system and judges, quite a fraternity of people involved in the criminal justice system, to say that we looked at these various laws. We looked at how Canada was changing and at the end, we did the very best we could to keep track of what tools would be best to tackle the new problems that exist in society. It is not as if we are inventing new aspects of law. Many of these bills represent an evolution or a progression of laws that already exist.
Just briefly on the guts of the bill, if you like, Mr. Speaker, Bill C-10, which is now part of C-2, was of course dealing with the mandatory minimum provisions which were increased by the introduction of this bill, but they were not increased as much as the government had wanted them to be originally.
I would like to thank the hon. member for Windsor—Tecumseh and the opposition Bloc Québécois critic on the committee as well as the Liberal members on the committee who fought very hard to have some sense reign over the debate with respect to the evidence that was adduced at the committee hearings regarding the efficacy of mandatory minimums in general.
A review is in order. Mandatory minimums existed before the Conservative government was elected. Mandatory minimums were in place for serious crimes with the known aspect of repeat offenders and with some hope, which studies will show one way or the other, that there might be a deterrent and a safety to the public aspect of mandatory minimums.
At least on this side we joined with the Conservatives who, I would say, were very sparse in their acknowledgement that mandatory minimums existed before they came into office, but we joined with them and said that these are good tools for the law enforcement agencies and good tools in the realm of criminal justice.
It is a matter always of how far we go. How far do we go in disciplining our children? Do we take away their favourite toy? Do we ban them from seeing their friends for two weeks? Are we less severe or more severe? Many of us are parents and we deal with this every day. It is our form of the justice system that rules in our own house.
With respect to mandatory minimums, it is a question of calibrating to what extent the mandatory minimums are useful, to what extent do they work, and to what extend should they be increased, if at all.
During the debate process we were very successful in getting the government to get off its basic premise, which is if it is good for the six o'clock news and sounds robust, steady and law and orderish, then it has to be good in the Criminal Code. That is where the slip from the cup to the lip occurred, where it was obvious 90% of the witnesses were saying that the severe mandatory minimums that the government side were proposing would be inefficacious.
We can be as tough as we want, but if it does not work, if it does not make society safer, then we have not posited a good solution to the problems that face our community, and that was the case when we looked at mandatory minimums.
The happy medium that exists in Bill C-2 I think will be borne out, but it is very important to remember that this is an organic process and we could be back here some day soon, perhaps, looking at mandatory minimums in general.
How more timely could it be than in today's Ottawa Citizen, a report called “Unlocking America” is reviewed. In this report, it makes it very clear that the mandatory minimums, one of the many tools used by the American government from the 1970s on when it was felt that the rise in criminal activity was abhorrent, was not as effective as the Americans would have hope it would have been. It left the United States with 2.2 million people behind bars, more than China. The nine authors, leading U.S. criminologists, said that they were convinced that they needed a different strategy.
I am happy to report that as a result of the efforts of the NDP, Bloc and the Liberal Party in general at committee, we did not go as far as the Conservative government wanted to, which was close to where the United States had been which now New York State and New York City admits, is ineffective.
The three effects of imprisonment, and emphasis only on imprisonment, at the cost of crime prevention dollars, if you like, Mr. Speaker, is that the heavy, excessive incarceration hits minorities very hard. In the United States, 60% of the prison population is made up of Blacks and Latinos.
We heard evidence at our committee that there is a preponderance, an over-exaggerated percentage, of first nations and aboriginal people in our jail system, according to their population, which is deplorable. It is overwhelming and undisputed that the negative side effects of incarceration outweigh the potential. That is the two bits on Bill C-10,
On the other bill, Bill C-22, the close in age exemption, was never brought up. Despite all the rhetoric from the government, nothing would save Bill C-22. The issue of sexual consent being given by a person of tender years has never been put forward by any member of the opposition while the Liberal Party was in power.
The close in age exemption was never put in there, so for members of the opposite side to say that finally we dealt with the issue of sexual exploitation of 14 year olds is simply not accurate. The close in age exemption, five years between a person of the age specified, will save many relationships that should not be criminalized.
I live in Acadia. And Bill C-23 included many improvements with respect to choosing the first language of prosecutors during a trial. French is the language spoken by most people in my province. That element was very important to us in Acadia, but the government overlooked this fact.
Why did the government turn its back on the francophone people of New Brunswick in this country?