Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in the debate at report stage motion on Motion No. 2, and generally on Bill C-2, which is an omnibus bill consolidating five previously introduced justice bills.
I would encourage members to look back to the last session to the speech of the member for Windsor—Tecumseh in which he gave his, I think, respected views to the House about the problem with introducing 10 or so bills in sequence, all of which would have to go to the justice committee, which could not possibly deal with them all at once.
It would have to deal with them one at a time. By doing that, the government was basically frustrating the process. We should have had an omnibus bill right from the beginning of the last session in order to include some of these items where the same witnesses could have appeared and the same or similar Criminal Code amendments or whatever might have been introduced.
I want to encourage members to look at that speech because what is happening right now with Bill C-2 is exactly what the member said. I think that is why this House honoured that member as the most knowledgeable member of Parliament in a recent survey. I congratulate him on that. It was well-deserved and earned, and I think his record shows it.
I asked the member earlier about whether or not there were certain conditions or criteria or exceptions that would be taken into account with regard to sentencing and penalties as prescribed under the Criminal Code. I specifically mentioned fetal alcohol spectrum disorder not only because it is a matter that I am interested in, and I have tried to do some work on, but because there is clear evidence and testimonials by lawyers and by judges that as much as half of the people who appear before the criminal courts suffer from alcohol-related birth defects.
People who suffer from alcohol-related birth defects, like some form of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, have a problem understanding the difference between right and wrong. They have brain damage. They are in a situation where it is a permanent condition. They are in a situation which cannot be rehabilitated, and yet we have a criminal justice system which says that if people do something wrong, they go to jail. They go there, and what do we do? We put them in a program of rehabilitation
I see a tremendous contradiction in suggesting that somehow all persons in Canada who may run afoul of the laws of Canada and be guilty of a criminal offence have to be subject to the same identical sanctions and criteria for those sanctions. There are certain circumstances for which I believe they should not be.
I wanted to put that on the table because it is not good enough to just have a slogan of “Let's get tough on crime”. It is not good enough for me. I do not think it is good enough for Canadians. We have to be smart on crime. We need to spend as much time on crime prevention as we do on tough penalties and hope that it is a deterrence.
When we talk about mandatory minimums, we are not touching the prescribed maximums. They are still there. They are a discretion, but when we have mandatory minimums, what we do is in fact impinge on the judicial discretion.
Every case is different. I thought that under the laws of Canada, we would have a system which would be responsive to the facts on a case by case basis, taking into account that a crime has occurred, but what were the circumstances?
We do know if there is mental incompetence, there are certain possibilities. We do know if there is coercion or there is some other problem, that it may be taken into account in sentencing, but when we get into the situation of mandatory minimums, it gives the judge no latitude whatsoever to have sentences which would be lower and prescribe, in lieu of that, some other treatment, rehabilitation or appropriate assistance because this person had some extraordinary circumstances.
I wanted to raise that. The previous Liberal government brought in mandatory minimums. There is a level, but we should not raise them to levels in which the mandatory minimums are so high that we in fact impinge on judicial discretion.
I have given this speech before, but I wanted to reiterate that I have no problem with being firm on crime, to strengthen the dangerous offenders provisions for criminals, for bad people, for repeat offenders. Those are important. Canadians expect that. Our legal system must reflect that. We have to deal with those things and we have to have the tools, but what is being created here is somewhat more rigid and maybe not as effective as it otherwise might be.
I raise it for members to be considering as we do this. I am pretty sure that we are going to have support for the omnibus bill, but I think that we are going to always have to be vigilant about what we have done, and what the implications and results are of taking those steps. We have to make sure that we are vigilant enough to make sure that maybe we have gone too far. It is now going to be up to the legislators to be able to monitor what they have done. Hopefully we have not gone too far, but I am still concerned about the issue of judicial discretion.
Bill C-10, which is part of this omnibus bill, deals with the mandatory minimum penalties. It creates two new offences: an indictable offence for breaking and entering to steal a firearm, and an indictable offence of robbery to steal a firearm.
Since there are five bills here, it is impossible for any member to deal with the entire omnibus bill. It is almost impossible for a committee to properly do some of these things when so much is piled on. Where is the prioritization here? There are certainly things that had to be done. There is no disagreement in this place. It could have been fast-tracked through this place.
There is no reason why some of these bills had to be in this omnibus bill. They should have been brought back at the same stage of legislation, and they should have been passed promptly and swiftly, sent to the Senate, returned here, given royal assent and become law in Canada.
I do not know whether there is other work to do in terms of regulations or other matters, but when we have something that is the right thing to do, let us take the most expeditious and the least litigious route to get there. What we have done is taken the longest route and the most convoluted route to get important legislation through, and I do not understand why. What is the motivation of the government to do this?
It piled on 10 bills in the last Parliament. We could not possibly do it, yet the Prime Minister, in the last press conference I saw him give on this, said the Liberals delayed the bill for 1,000 days. We have not been here 1,000 days. I am pretty sure we have not. That also is calendar days and it includes the five months that the House of Commons was not even sitting and could not hear these bills, although a committee could choose to sit outside of the time. It did not take into account the fact that when the justice committee is sitting and dealing with a bill, the other nine bills are waiting to be dealt with. We have to deal with one at a time.
It appears that there is a strategy simply to keep bills in front of this place, to continue to parrot throwaway lines like “I am tough on crime”, but not to deliver effective legislation on a timely basis, which is what we need. That is the issue here.
The Conservatives think Canadians are going to just roll over and say, “Yes, we want to be tough on crime”. They better understand what underlies that because we have some issues here. There are not enough of us, I do not believe, to defeat this omnibus bill, but I think that this approach and what the government has done with regard to these bills has been such that the public interest has not been properly served.
I have a lot more to say and I would ask for the unanimous consent of the House to continue on for another 10 minutes.