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House of Commons Hansard #119 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was bank.

Topics

(The House divided on the motion, which was negatived on the following division:)

Vote #126

Anti-terrorism ActOrders Of The Day

6:10 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

I declare the motion lost.

The House resumed consideration of the motion.

Canadian HeritageCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

6:10 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

The House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred recorded division on the motion to concur in the 13th report of the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage.

(The House divided on the motion, which was agreed to on the following division:)

Vote #127

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

6:20 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

I declare the motion carried.

It being 6:25 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

6:25 p.m.

Conservative

Andrew Scheer Conservative Regina—Qu'Appelle, SK

moved that Bill C-343, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (motor vehicle theft), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, it is a great honour for me to rise today to introduce this bill and speak to it.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

6:25 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Bill Blaikie

Order, please. I ask people to take their conversations outside the chamber and into the lobbies. If you want to talk, that is where you talk. We are doing business in here now.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

6:25 p.m.

Conservative

Andrew Scheer Conservative Regina—Qu'Appelle, SK

Thank you for that, Mr. Speaker.

I truly appreciate how special it is to rise on behalf of my constituents and propose legislation that we will debate, voted on and hopefully pass.

I want to talk a bit about my very large riding that takes in the beautiful Qu'Appelle Valley, with its many lakes and rivers, Big Quill Lake in the north and a large piece of the city of Regina. When one has a riding that is so diverse, it is often difficult to pick just one item to sponsor in the form of a private member's bill. There are so many different kinds of issues facing the riding, but I decided to tackle something that affects my entire riding, rural and urban alike.

For many years Regina has had the title of the car theft capital of Canada. In many years, per capita, more car thefts have occurred there than in any other city in Canada. Thanks to the hard work of the Regina police force and city officials, and I should commend our chief of police specifically and our mayor, that rate has begun to come down. However, Regina is still victim to an inordinately high number of car thefts every year.

Over the past decade the story is the same all across Canada. Vehicle theft rates have doubled in London and Hamilton, tripled in Regina and more than quadrupled in Winnipeg. This has resulted in a large increase in rates in Manitoba and Saskatchewan in particular. In 2000-01 large increases were also reported in Victoria, which was up 55%, and in Edmonton, which was up 39%. However, it is not just cities.

I will tell hon. members about a small but beautiful farming town called Abernethy. There are just 200 or so people who live in the town and on surrounding farms. I was summoned by my constituents from that town to attend a town hall meeting to discuss a crime wave this summer. A town of just 200 people an hour outside of Regina had suffered almost 20 stolen cars in a short period of time. Assuming that every household has at least one vehicle, that is a rate of somewhere between 10% and 20%, which is very shocking. Clearly this issue needs to be addressed.

My bill would do several important things for which stakeholders have been calling for years.

First, the bill would create a separate and specific criminal offence for stealing a car. Currently, the most likely charge arising from someone stealing a car is being charged with theft of over $5,000. If a car is stolen that is worth less than that, a lesser charge along with a lesser sentence, is applied.

As the Insurance Bureau of Canada has said, should it matter if it is a luxury vehicle or a 10 year old sedan? A car theft is a car theft. Should it be more of a crime to steal a car from a rich person than to steal a car from a working class family? I would venture to guess that the majority of households across Canada own a car that is probably worth less than $5,000 and often that is the car they use to take children to school, bring elderly parents to appointments, get to work on time and everything else for which we all use our vehicles. To have the vehicle stolen, it should not matter if it is a luxury Lexus, BMW, a minivan or a 10 year old sedan.

Second, my bill would establish minimum sentences for a first, second and subsequent offence. This is a very important measure and something of which I am glad to see our government doing more. On the first offence, a conviction would result in a fine of not less than $1,000, or imprisonment for a term of not less than three months, or both. On a second offence, a conviction would result in a fine of not less than $5,000, or imprisonment for a term of not less than six months, or both. On a third conviction, being charged as an indictable offence, the fine would be not less than $10,000 and imprisonment for a term of not less than two years.

Why do we need minimum sentences? Right now in Canada there are too many inconsistencies in sentencing. Repeat and dangerous offenders are getting sentences that are quite frankly, too lenient. A study that came out just over a year ago, which was consistent with previous studies, indicated that the typical auto thief was not somebody just out joyriding. Rather he was a 27 year old male, addicted to drugs, who had 10 prior criminal convictions, not charges but convictions. He stole cars to commit other crimes. This is an important fact to remember. Several studies from police groups, insurance providers and others indicate that these cars are being stolen to commit other crimes or because of involvement in organized crime.

Let us talk about organized crime involved in the matter of car thefts. I spoke with the Insurance Bureau of Canada this very afternoon and I would like to share a few of the stats that it told me.

First, the rate of recovery has been significantly lowered in Canada over the past few years. It used to be that over 90% of stolen cars were recovered by the police. Now that number is falling to closer to 70%. Stolen cars were often used for joyriding, often young people out at night, stealing a car, riding around for awhile and then ditching it, so it was easy for the police to recover the car at the end of the night or the next morning, or it was used to commit another crime, most often a break and entry.

One police officer in Regina said that it was not the luxury cars that were often targeted, but ordinary pickup trucks, as thieves, who were breaking into a home, needed a way to haul away their loot. They would steal a pickup truck, drive it to the site of the break and entry, break into the home, steal some property, drive it away and then ditch the truck.

Often that car or truck would be recovered, but nowadays, there is a prevalence in organized crime of stealing the cars to be chopped or to be sold overseas. I was told today that if a car is stolen anywhere along the St. Lawrence Seaway, there is about a 30% chance that by the end of the week, that car is on a ship going overseas. There is an interesting number. In 1996 Polish police reported the seizure of 11,000 vehicles from North America, 70% of which were Canadian, so clearly there is a market overseas for stolen cars that are obtained in Canada.

My bill would deal with this. It would address these repeat offenders and it would go a long way toward addressing the involvement of organized crime. It also contains these escalating penalties. What are the benefits of escalating penalties for an offence? It lets first-time offenders know that the treatment they receive from the criminal justice system will only get worse. It encourages them to take seriously some of the alternative measures that are available to them.

This kind of activity places a high burden on the Canadian public, not just taxpayers but also regular car owners who pay premiums. In fact, the Insurance Bureau of Canada states that in higher premiums alone, $600 million a year goes to compensate for the loss of stolen vehicles. It is closer to $1 billion when we take into account all the court time, the police time and the investigative research that is done. Often it is not the police forces themselves that conduct these investigations. It is the insurance providers, the underwriters of the insurance bureau that engage in these investigative activities. The police do not have the resources, so it is the private sector, and that is often recouped by higher premiums for car owners.

As a taxpayer, I believe money spent on prisons is money well spent. When we look at what governments spend money on, whether it is bureaucratic waste, corporate welfare or nanny state programs, which provide little to no return on the investment of taxpayers, and compare that to money spent on locking up dangerous offenders and keeping our streets safe, I think most Canadians would agree with me.

Many hon. colleagues will tell me that putting more criminals in jail will cost money, and that is true. However, as I mentioned, it is money well spent. The question becomes this. Is there a more cost effective way to deal with these criminals?

Some will say that more money for social programming will have the same effect in reducing crimes for less money and fewer people facing incarceration. I agree that this may be true for young people or for first-time criminals, but once a criminal steals his third, fourth or even tenth car, he is no longer troubled or at risk. He is a car thief. As well, one has to consider the substantial savings from the insurance premiums, from the court costs and from the policing costs and that any new money that might have to go into prisons or capacity in jails will largely be offset by those savings.

Members should also consider the benefits of the deterrent effect of these tougher sentences. If criminals know they will be dealt with harshly, they will be less likely to steal cars and therefore will not be charged and will not go to jail.

In 2001 Statistics Canada reported that in the year 2000 the per capita rate of auto theft was 26% higher in Canada than it was in the United States and that Canada's rate had surpassed the level of the United States for the previous five years. Moreover police reported that rates of motor vehicle theft were higher among Canadian urban centres with populations over 500,000 than among American cities with populations exceeding 500,000. Canada has recently ranked fifth out of seventeen countries for the highest rate of auto theft, and it is easy to see why.

In the U.S. many states have very tough penalties. They have a specific offence for the theft of a motor vehicle and they have correspondingly high sentences for that. As we can see from these statistics, one of the factors has resulted in a lower rate of car theft in the U.S. than in Canada.

Having that lower rate of incidents would save taxpayers' money and would dramatically increase the personal security of Canadians. I think that is a huge priority for this government and something which every member of the House would want to work toward.

Our government has taken some very real steps toward improving the safety of our streets. We have cracked down on criminals who use guns. We have eliminated house arrest for a large number of criminals. We have brought in tough three strikes legislation for dangerous offenders. My bill follows in that vein. It establishes three strikes guaranteed prison time. I believe all members should find something in this bill to support.

In the last Parliament my colleague from Langley introduced a similar bill. At the time, the Liberal parliamentary secretary to the minister of justice said this:

What sort of messaging is being sent when his [meaning an offender] conviction by indictment would have a maximum penalty of five years, in other words, cutting the maximum penalty in half?

My hon. colleague felt that the previous version of the bill was flawed because the maximum penalty was only five years. I have remedied that situation. I can inform all hon. members that my bill contains a maximum penalty on indictment of 10 years for the third or subsequent offence.

The then parliamentary secretary went on to say:

Therefore, the use of mandatory minimum sentences, as found in Bill C-293, could be contrary to the established Canadian sentencing principles, such as proportionality and restraint in the use of imprisonment.

I believe that too often it is the restraint in the use of imprisonment by judges that leads to spikes in criminal activity. If repeat offenders were dealt more prison time, they would be out on the streets less and therefore would have less ability to commit crimes. As I mentioned before, the average car thief has 10 prior convictions.

As well, my bill contains a mandatory minimum sentence of two years only on the third offence. This fits in with the principle of proportionality, dealing with someone who has already established a pattern of offending. We can look at all kinds of offences such as violent assaults, rapes and child molestations that are being committed by offenders who are either out on probation or who have served their complete sentence because their sentence was too light to begin with.

Repeat offenders are better off in jail than in our communities. Once an offender commits a second, third, or fourth crime, he is declaring himself unfit for life in society and is showing his need to be removed. He has forfeited his rights to personal freedom and personal liberty.

I am a big believer in rehabilitation. I do believe that many criminals can be saved, or at risk people can be saved before they commit crimes, with preventive measures like work training, drug and alcohol treatment and anger management. But at what point does society say that enough is enough, and we are not going to subject ourselves to yet another offence by the same person, and put that person in jail? I think three strikes is a fair proposal.

I do want to tell my hon. colleagues that I am open to their suggestions on how to make this bill better. I am eager to work in a constructive way to get this bill passed, and I am open to any amendments that would help make that happen. However, the main thrust of the bill, guaranteed prison time for repeat offenders, is crucial. It is Parliament's job to set the parameters for sentencing for the courts. It is within our rights as legislators to instruct the courts on this matter.

I did not arrive at this conclusion in isolation. Many organizations across Canada are asking for this type of legislation. Richard Duben, the vice-president of investigative services at the Insurance Bureau of Canada, said, “This is a serious, often violent crime”--meaning car thefts--“that is putting the safety and security of our communities at risk. We desperately need stronger laws to curb auto theft, particularly for the repeat offenders causing so much of the problem. We are delighted to see the member for Regina--Qu'Appelle taking the initiative on this important public safety issue and we hope to see his bill passed into law”.

The Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police passed a resolution specifically asking for a separate criminal offence for vehicle theft. The association passed a resolution calling on the government to do just that. My bill accomplishes this goal in setting aside a specific offence in the Criminal Code for theft of a motor vehicle. As I mentioned, the three strikes guaranteed prison time is also a key matter.

I would ask all hon. colleagues to go home during the two break weeks in March and randomly pick some constituents' names out of the phone book, call them, and ask them if they think someone who has been convicted of car theft for the third time should be sentenced to at least two years in jail. I predict that the majority of people will ask why it is only for two years. I offer two years as a starting point for debate. I understand we are in a minority Parliament and there are parties with different priorities. A sentence longer than two years might even be worth it. I urge my colleagues to ask their constituents if they think a sentence of two years for a third conviction for stealing someone's car is too harsh. I predict that most, if not all, members will come back here with the majority saying it is not long enough.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

6:40 p.m.

Liberal

Lloyd St. Amand Liberal Brant, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is trite to say that the primary consideration in assessing all aspects of criminal law and our criminal justice system, including in particular sentencing provisions, is the protection of the public and the safety of each citizen and, by extension, each community in Canada.

We have a collective responsibility to Canadians to ensure that laws passed in the House will truly take us a step further in ensuring the safety of Canada's citizens and that laws passed here are not the result of slogans, gimmicks or calculations. No party in this chamber has a monopoly on the desire to safeguard the security and safety of all Canadians and it is irresponsible to suggest that any of the parties in the House is soft on crime.

We need to set aside conjecture, to set aside speculation and deal with the hard and fast reality of criminal behaviour and the roots of criminal behaviour. The truth is that human behaviour, criminal or otherwise, does not lend itself to a simple or computer driven analysis, and it is too easy to conclude that there will automatically be a deterrent effect if the sentencing bar is only set high enough or the sentencing bar is only set harsh enough.

The member opposite in introducing this bill is of the belief, sincerely held--and I attribute that to him, he sincerely believes--that a potential thief will be deterred from his criminal act when he realizes that a second or third offence of auto theft will yield a certain prescribed penalty. Logic and rationale are not at the forefront of a person's mind when he decides to take property not belonging to himself. For the member opposite who introduced the bill to rather blithely assume that this grid or scale of sentences will actually deter auto theft in Canada is, and I say this with respect, naive.

Unquestionably, auto theft is a serious issue for all Canadians, in the member's riding, in my riding, throughout Canada, but I am not convinced that the manner in which it is addressed in the bill is the best way, or even an effective way, to deal with the problem of auto theft. Indeed, if I were satisfied or persuaded that this type of sentencing regimen or schedule would actually result in a decrease of auto theft in Canada, I would be quite happy to speak in favour of the bill.

Our criminal justice system, which has resulted in Canada becoming unquestionably one of the safest countries on earth in which to live, properly uses mandatory minimum sentences with considerable restraint. Our system prefers an individualized sentencing approach which gives courts the discretion to fashion a sentence which is proportionate to the seriousness of the offence and the conduct of the offender, while also considering any aggravating or mitigating factors.

There are certain myths or misconceptions which surround the issue of criminal law in Canada, chief among them being that the rate of crime is on the increase or, as some feel, the rate of crime is wildly on the increase. According to statistics, the rate of crime is actually decreasing.

The member opposite is again likely assuming that those who engage in criminal behaviour are informed about all aspects of criminal law, including sentencing provisions. In reality, most individuals are not aware that there are minimum sentences, so to suggest or hope that minimum penalties will automatically trigger a decrease in criminal behaviour is simply not realistic.

Although it may be said that reasonable people can be discouraged by harsh legislation, reasonable people are not normally individuals who are committing crimes. Crimes are, in essence, impulsive actions committed by only certain segments of the population.

To use an analogy, when capital punishment was abolished, there were suggestions in some quarters that the homicide rate would surely increase as the harshest penalty then available was no longer the law of the land. As we all know, the homicide rate in Canada has decreased over the years.

Another example is repeat drinking and driving offences. There are mandatory minimum sentences for repeat drinking and driving offences, but these minimum sentences have not changed in 15 years. The legislation has not been changed, and yet in 15 years, significant positive steps have been taken in lowering the number of drinking and driving offenders. The rate has not decreased because punishments have become harsher. Rather, the rate has decreased through education and through increased enforcement of the law.

The ultimate rehabilitation of an offender offers the best long term protection for Canada and for society since rehabilitation ends the risk of a continuing criminal career. There is simply no compelling or persuasive piece of evidence that the sentencing provisions or schedule as outlined in this bill will reduce the incidence of auto theft in Canada.

As has been noted by experts at the Centre for Criminology at the University of Toronto, the literature on the effects of sentence severity on crime levels has been reviewed numerous times in the past 25 years. Most reviews conclude that there is little or no consistent evidence that harsher penalties reduce crime rates. Indeed, a more reasonable assessment of the research to date is that sentence severity has no effect on the level of crime in society.

I heard it said years ago and I still rather tend to believe it is not so much punishment which is feared by individuals, it is the fear of being caught. In my view more resources need to be devoted to the enforcement of our current laws to ensure that more and more wrongdoers are caught.

It has been said that the best deterrent to criminal behaviour is an eye witness. We need to do more at the front end of the spectrum; that is, we need to do more to detect criminal behaviour, including auto theft, and to ensure that those individuals who are caught are prosecuted according to current laws.

It is shortsighted and misleading to the public to pretend that incarcerating more and more individuals for auto theft will actually result in a decrease or a reduction. The statistics loudly tell us otherwise.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

6:50 p.m.

Bloc

Réal Ménard Bloc Hochelaga, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will resist the temptation to talk about foreign affairs, even though I could have a positive influence.

First I would like to congratulate the hon. member for his initiative. He is right to remind us that auto theft is a harsh reality that harms our society. He is certainly right to want us, as parliamentarians, to discuss this reality and propose the most appropriate measures. However, I do not believe that the bill before us this evening allows us to respond to our colleague's concern. In some respects, this bill is even contradictory and inconsistent with the current provisions of the Criminal Code.

Let us start at the beginning. The Bloc Québécois has never been in favour of increasing mandatory minimum sentences. The hon. member for Windsor—Tecumseh knows that the Bloc Québécois is not in favour of this, with only a few exceptions.

Mr. Speaker, allow me in passing to wish my former colleague from Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles the best of luck. He is a brilliant man. You know that Richard Marceau is a candidate for the Parti Québécois in the riding of Charlesbourg, in the Quebec City suburbs.

As the hon. member for Windsor—Tecumseh politely but incessantly reminds me, the Bloc Québécois has supported mandatory minimum sentences before, but in one very specific context, child pornography.

For the rest, it has been well documented, both by the Toronto centre of criminology and the Université de Montréal centre of criminology. When it was time for the parliamentary committee to review and examine Bill C-10, the committee clerk, Ms. Diotte—whom I thank for her fine work—sent us some 30 studies, both American and Canadian, showing that there is no correlation between having mandatory minimum sentences, their deterrent effect and the crime rate.

We know full well that the society with the highest rate of imprisonment in the world is still the U.S., our neighbour to the south. Nevertheless, the U.S. does not have the lowest crime rate.

From the perspective of criminology, law enforcement, and the design of legislation, we do not believe that having a mandatory minimum sentence for an offence will deter individuals. Not only do we believe that mandatory minimum sentences are not a deterrent but, furthermore, we are against such sentences because they do not allow for judicial discretion.

The sacred principle in law, and the sacrosanct principle in sentencing, is the individualized sentence. Appearing before the judge are the Crown and the accused, both represented by lawyers. The truth emerges from the clash between these points of view. The judge, who must be impartial, must weigh the evidence. In some cases, the jury will do so. The judge will hand down a sentence based on the circumstances, the specific offence and the evidence presented.

This is why, in principle, we do not agree with mandatory minimum sentences.

There is something disconcerting about our colleague's bill. Once again, auto theft is a worrisome reality and the Association of Canadian Insurers provided some very convincing testimony in this regard. Section 322 of the Criminal Code defines theft, although it does not make specific reference to auto theft. Section 322 defines theft and Section 344, a little further along in the Criminal Code, sets out the applicable sentence.

In the case of theft of a vehicle worth more than $5,000, the maximum sentence is 10 years' imprisonment. There are not many cars today worth less than $5,000, as we know.

Our colleague has presented a bill in which the maximum sentence for second or subsequent offences is five years. Why dispense with the provisions in the Criminal Code? Even if it is not a subsequent offence, a judge is able to look at the seriousness of the offence, the context and motivations, and the history of the offender. Thus, in cases of theft of a motor vehicle, the judge may impose sentences of up to ten years.

The second problem with this bill is that it relies on fines. For the first offence there is a fine of $1,000; for a second offence, $5,000; and for a third offence, $10,000. This brings up questions about the relevance of using fines in cases of vehicle theft. Obviously fines do not affect criminals in the same way. A $10,000 fine will not have the same impact on an organized crime leader as it would on a person living in poverty. With respect to my colleague's objectives, I am not convinced that imposing fines for vehicle theft is the way to go.

In a way, would it not have been preferable for our colleague to ask us to have a closer look at the charges brought against organized crime? It is clear that, here in Canada, there are certain sectors in which organized crime is very active. This is true in the car sector and the resale of car parts. In certain areas of Canada, especially where there are port facilities, cars are brought into Canada in containers, and this is a real problem. As parliamentarians, it is our responsibility to ensure that we have the best possible detection technology within the various infrastructures, such as our ports. It is also our responsibility to ensure that we have the best investigation mechanisms.

In the past, the Bloc Québécois has been extremely concerned about the whole question of police investigations and the tools available to the police to conduct their investigations. We agree entirely with the police that they should have electronic surveillance warrants, as well as with the notion that reverse onus is possible before a court of justice, in certain circumstances in which property is obtained by crime and when that property belongs to a criminal organization.

To conclude, I would like to emphasize that my hon. colleague's motivation is certainly commendable and that this is a real problem. Every year, I read the reports from Criminal Intelligence Service Canada and from the RCMP, and I know that, in Canada, auto theft is a real problem, especially thefts by organized crime rings. However, I do not think that the bill in its current form will find any support from the Bloc Québécois caucus, given that it contradicts sections 322 and 334 of the Criminal Code.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

7 p.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, Bill C-343 is a private member's bill purported to deal with the issue of auto theft. What it does, as is so common with the response from the Conservative Party and the government, is introduce a simplistic analysis, although I know well-intentioned, to a reasonably complex problem.

Before I proceed, I want to raise an issue that has bothered me since I saw this bill on the order paper. The member for Regina—Qu'Appelle, who is the author of the bill, is also one of the Acting Speakers in this House. I was concerned to see a bill that I would say has, and we have seen that today, a significant degree of controversy behind it in terms of the use of mandatory minimum penalties. We also know, from the speeches that have been given so far today, that both the Liberal member and the member from the Bloc have expressed grave concern about their ability to support and do not intend to support the bill.

I had some of my staff do some research on this and it is my opinion that any member of the House who is also a Deputy Speaker or Acting Speaker should not bring forth before the House a private member's bill or a motion as part of the rotation that we all are entitled to unless it is non-controversial, it would draw or at least be expected to draw support from all the other parties and would be almost non-partisan.

My concern was further highlighted this evening when I heard the member for Regina—Qu'Appelle in his speech to the House extol the virtues of his government. He indicated quite clearly that this private member's bill was completely in keeping with the government's agenda on crime. Clearly, both in terms of the substance of the bill and then the comments this evening, they show no bipartisan approach, just the opposite.

As I said, I had my staff do some extensive research on this. The protocols are that the Speaker and the Deputy Speaker are not to introduce into the House, although they would be, as part of the rotation, entitled to do so, a private member's bill, but that the Acting Speakers can. I was not able to ascertain any protocol, either here or in other houses of similar historical background, as to whether that extended to controversial bills, which is whether Acting Speakers have the right to bring in what are clearly partisan and controversial bills. Nothing in the research that I did told me anything about that.

It would behoove this House to start a precedent in that regard, in that when the Acting Speakers are appointed by the Prime Minister that they would be directed at that time to develop this protocol, that if they are going to bring forward a private member's bill or a private member's motion, that it be one that would be fully expected to draw significant all party support of the House.

I will conclude these comments on this subject with this. The fear, of course, for us, and I say this having practised in the courts all my professional career, is that we always are concerned about appearing in the courtrooms in front of judges who are unbiased and who do not come with any conflict. We are always sensitive to judges who may have expressed a bias in one form or another and then refused to recuse themselves when challenged.

I think it is a similar type of protocol that we need to develop in sensitivity, perhaps, to bias and the appearance of bias and conflict here, because the Acting Speaker, when he or she is in the chair, has the responsibility to keep order in this House and to treat all members equitably, fairly and equally.

The apprehension that as individual members of Parliament we would have is that if we had occasion to speak against a private member's bill that had been brought forward by that same Acting Speaker, as I am about to do, it would be to expect to question and to be apprehensive as to whether I would henceforth be treated fairly by the Acting Speaker.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

7:05 p.m.

An hon. member

Come on now.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

7:05 p.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

That is what the concern is. It is one that needs to be addressed, so I raise it at this point to do that.

With regard to the bill itself, as it is so often with bills coming from the Conservatives on crime, it comes forward well intentioned but then takes it to an extreme. It takes it over the top. That is certainly what this bill does.

This being a private member's bill, of course I am speaking only on my behalf, but I could not support this bill on second reading, even to send it to committee, because quite frankly the parts of the bill that need to be amended out of the bill would almost certainly be ruled out of order as being inconsistent with the principle and scope of the bill. I cannot support the bill. The rest of my caucus will be making their decision on their own as to what they are going to do.

We can recognize that auto theft is of serious concern, although I have to say that in a number of areas, particularly in British Columbia where this had been a rampant crime, the numbers in the last two years in fact have been dropping. I have not seen any numbers for the latter part of 2006, but in the last couple of years before that, the crime rate was actually dropping.

Setting that aside, because it is still a serious problem, the reason I cannot support the bill is that to introduce these mandatory minimums, both in terms of the fines and incarceration, is a response that, in my opinion, is going to have no impact. All the research that I have read on mandatory minimums would confirm that.

More importantly, from my perspective and perhaps from the perspective we want the community to have of this crime, it deludes our society into believing that this bill will have a positive effect in reducing the crime of auto theft. In fact, I do not believe it will have that impact because it also misses the real target we should be going after.

We know from a good deal of information that we are getting from our police services that the increase in auto theft has been driven, to a significant degree, by organized crime, both the traditional organized crime gangs and the bikers and now the street gangs. This is organized crime across that whole spectrum.

The bill does really very little to address that target group. I do not believe it does anything. Those in the target group are the ones we should be going after.

I have to say that if we look at some of the communities that have been successful, that is what they did. They used a dummy car to catch people. They have done a number of interesting and effective mechanisms, which they had already within their investigative tools, to catch the criminals. They have specifically tried to target the gangs. When they have done that, they have driven down the occurrence rate quite significantly.

I know from your signal, Mr. Speaker, that my time is up. Again I want to reiterate that, although well intentioned, this bill does not accomplish at all what it is intended to do. I would be voting against the bill on second reading.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

7:10 p.m.

Conservative

Dave Batters Conservative Palliser, SK

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise today on behalf of my constituents in Palliser to speak to Bill C-343, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (motor vehicle theft), which will toughen penalties for car theft.

Before I begin my remarks, I would like to talk about my colleague from Regina—Qu'Appelle, who of course is an excellent Acting Speaker. This is his chance to rise on behalf of his constituents on an issue of great importance in his riding and to deal with a subject of great importance to him. For the member for Windsor—Tecumseh to impugn his future fairness in decisions is way over the top. He is certainly very capable of balancing his role as an elected member of Parliament representing his constituents and his duties sitting in the chair.

Canadians have a right to feel safe in their homes and on their streets. That is why our government has taken tough action since being elected more than a year ago to crack down on dangerous offenders and to make our communities safer.

However, Canadians also have a right to be protected from car theft. Bill C-343 does that by toughening penalties for criminals who steal cars.

The member for Regina—Qu'Appelle has brought forward an important issue worthy of debate as to whether to create a new distinct offence for motor vehicle theft. Under the current law, a person who steals a motor vehicle is normally charged with theft over $5,000.

After they gutted Bill C-9, we know that the Liberals and the NDP think house arrest should be a sentencing option available to judges. Conservative members strongly disagree.

Bill C-343 would create a separate distinct offence with enhanced penalties for motor vehicle theft. Bill C-343 would amend the Criminal Code so that everyone who steals a car will be subject to jail time or a fine or both. These punishments increase if the person steals subsequent cars.

These reforms are essential. Stealing a car is a serious crime. It is critical that this bill be referred to the appropriate committee so these proposed punishments can be debated. Certainly not all members in the chamber will agree on the specifics of the punishments, but they should at least support the bill on its merits of getting tough on car theft, get it to the appropriate committee and have that discussion there. My colleague from Regina—Qu'Appelle has said that he is certainly open to amendments.

Bill C-343 would help deter car thieves because it promises swift and certain punishment. The importance of that cannot be overstated. Of course we need better social programs and we need to work with the youth who are most likely to commit these types of crime, but as part of that strategy, someone who steps outside the law needs to be punished.

This bill would also help those who prosecute car thefts by creating a distinct offence for motor vehicle theft. A problem currently facing the courts is that very often a prosecutor is unaware that the offender is a career car thief. Normally the offender is simply charged with theft over $5,000 and there is no indication on the record as to the type of property that was stolen. The result is that the prosecutor and the judge do not know if they are dealing with a prolific car thief or someone involved in organized crime. The creation of a distinct offence would help to give the courts a clearer picture of the nature of the offender for bail hearings or sentencing.

It is clear from looking at the statistics that we need to reduce auto theft in Canada. In 2003 there were over 130,000 automobiles stolen in Canada. That is roughly one car stolen every three minutes. Car theft costs Canadian insurers over $600 million a year or $43 a year for every insurance policy. It is further estimated that other costs such as health care, courts, policing and out of pocket costs such as deductibles also cost Canadians another $400 million per year.

The real crime that occurs when a car is stolen goes far beyond the loss of property and the financial cost to replace it. Having a car stolen is a serious breach of personal security and a violation of one's right to own personal property. This is not a victimless crime. For those Canadians who rely on cars to get to work or school or drive their children to hockey practice or swimming lessons, having a car stolen can be disruptive and devastating. We as a society cannot stand idly by while this happens.

There is also the threat to public security and safety when a car is stolen. Very often auto theft leads to dangerous driving which can result in serious injury and death to police officers, the accused or innocent bystanders.

A study carried out by the national committee to reduce auto theft reported that between 1999 and 2001, 81 people were killed as a result of auto theft and another 127 people were seriously injured.

We also know that auto theft is not just kids taking cars out for a joy ride. It is also part of the way that gangs and organized crime profiteer while terrorizing ordinary citizens. Because of this, the recovery rate for stolen cars is on the decline. We also know that gangs target young people to commit car thefts.

In 2002, 40% of persons charged criminally for stealing a motor vehicle were between the ages of 12 and 17. Organized vehicle thefts rely on the legal system to be lenient with young offenders and when apprehended, young offenders are unable to identify other members or senior members of the theft ring.

Motor vehicle theft is an ideal recruitment tool for organized criminal groups. Research shows that youth, whose first offence is motor vehicle theft, are most at risk of continuing along the career criminal path. We need to take better action to prevent this and that is exactly what Bill C-343 will do.

Our government is committed to getting tough on crime. In fact, we have introduced a number of pieces of legislation designed to do just that.

Bill C-10 was introduced to ensure that criminals who use guns in the commission of an offence receive a very serious sentence with escalating mandatory minimum penalties.

Bill C-19 introduced by our government created five new offences to combat street racing and also provided for mandatory minimum periods of driving prohibitions. I am proud to say that this bill is now law.

Despite claims from the opposition parties that they will act and get tough on crime, we have not seen evidence of this in the House. The Liberals have declared that they are fighting Bill C-10. The Liberals and the NDP worked together to gut Bill C-9, an important piece of government legislation designed to eliminate house arrests for arsonists, car thieves, and those who commit break and enter.

The opposition parties are soft on crime. They do not like to hear it, but it is the truth.

In addition to introducing legislation our Conservative government has committed significant financial resources to crime prevention. Budget 2006 allocated $20 million over two years for communities to help prevent youth crime with a focus on guns, gangs and drugs. That is our government's record on getting tough on crime.

We have taken real action and our tough on crime agenda has the support of Canadians and certainly the people in Regina and Moose Jaw, and throughout the great riding of Palliser. Part of the reason that there is such widespread support for getting tough on crime in Saskatchewan is that we have a provincial NDP government that has one of the worse records in the country when it comes to crime. It made a promise in 1999 to hire 200 new police officers. It never did; it broke its promise.

Saskatchewan's overall per capita crime rate is higher than Ontario's. Saskatchewan has the highest homicide rate and the highest rate of violent offences of any province per capita. It also has the highest rate of break and enter in Canada. Regina, which is part of my riding of Palliser, is the second most crime ridden city in Canada and Regina has the highest number of car thefts per capita in Canada.

I guess the member for Regina—Qu'Appelle is going to bring this forward when he has a chance to present a private member's bill. That is shocking and totally unacceptable that we have the highest number of car thefts in Canada.

While the recently introduced Regina auto theft strategy has helped to decrease the rates of auto theft in the city, the numbers are still too high and more decisive action must be taken.

That is what this bill does. That is why I am proud to second the bill put forward by the hon. member for Regina—Qu'Appelle. Toughening penalties for car theft is the right thing to do. It is another step that our government is taking to get tough on crime. That is what the residents of Palliser and Canadians across the country have asked for.

We all have a right to feel safe. Enough is enough. It is time to take action to stop people from stealing automobiles.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

7:20 p.m.

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Bloc Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am happy to take part in the debate on Bill C-343, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (motor vehicle theft).

I can say right off the bat that the Bloc Québécois will vote against this bill. I will use the few minutes I have to try to explain the position of the Bloc.

Right now, in the Criminal Code, car theft is treated as any other theft, that is as a crime against property punishable by different penalties according to the value of the stolen goods. When an individual steal a motor vehicle whose value exceeds $5,000, the offence is punishable by a maximum prison term of 10 years. If the value of the vehicle is less than $5,000, the offence is punishable by a maximum of two years of imprisonment. Light sentences are usually imposed on car thieves and repeat offender rate is high. That is the reality.

Some people would have us believe that minimum sentences and minimum fines could solve the problem of theft. My colleagues from the Conservative Party are mistaken. The repressive system they have in the United States does not reduce the number of offences that are committed. Quite the contrary, the crime rate is higher in the U.S. Reality is very quickly catching up with them.

We need to have faith. We did not create our justice system. What we are trying to do here in this House is make the system better. It was our fathers, grandfathers and great-grandfathers who created the system.

The justice system they created called for punishment that fit the crime. The justice system has a certain balance. Our parents and grandparents and their parents before them chose the very values and foundation of our society. It is a societal choice that was left to us by our ancestors.

Today, because the government is not happy with how the courts make certain decisions—often because they have been highly publicized—it wants to reform the entire legal system. That is what the Conservative Party wants to do: replace judges with minimum sentences. This is just the opposite of what our ancestors wanted.

In Quebec, the people who came before us did not bequeath this type of legal system to us. They left us a system based on equity and the judiciary. We trust in our judges to impose punishments that fit the crime.

The bill does not address certain dichotomies. As I explained earlier, the maximum punishment for thefts of vehicles worth $5,000 or more is 10 years in prison. The bill seeks to reduce the maximum prison term to five years. It sets minimum sentences and reduces maximum sentences.

It is important to understand that the society that was bequeathed to us wants balance, with a justice system based on the judiciary. We have to leave it up to the judges to hand down decisions. There are precedents. There are people who came before us. A whole framework has been put in place. The members of the judiciary do their job very well. We can discuss and argue about court decisions, but every case is unique. It is impossible to make all criminals fit the same mould.

The bill imposes minimum fines of $1,000 for a first offence and $5,000 for a second offence. Usually, people who steal cars do it because they do not have enough money to buy one. Even if we include minimum fines, car thieves who do not have the means to buy a car will not have the means to pay the minimum fine. They will face community work, fine option programs and prison sentences because they do not want to pay. We will have to put them in prison. The prison population will increase.

The law and order policy the Conservative Party is trying to sell us on makes no sense. It makes no sense when you think of the huge amounts of money that will be spent on the penal system. That is what will really happen if the Conservative Party brings this in.

What I just mentioned is only one example. A simplistic bill has been tabled to say that too many motor vehicles have been stolen. Regardless of the punishment associated with auto theft, if there are cars to be stolen and if people can make money selling car parts, there will always be criminals willing to do it. Mandatory sentences will not put the brakes on this system.

We have to be able to supervise people. Rather than focussing on punitive measures, we need a rehabilitation system. We need tools to take care of young people because these are juvenile delinquents who hate society for all kinds of reasons and who will do anything to stand out. They often get involved in bad stuff like auto theft.

We have to try to identify these people and invest in rehabilitation, in people who work with juvenile delinquents, in street workers. We have to try to stop young people from getting involved in criminal activities. That will definitely not happen by increasing sentences.

The Bloc Québécois has never changed its position on this issue. Every time the government tries to impose minimum sentences, it interferes with the judiciary and judges' decisions.

It comes as no surprise that the Conservative Party, given what it is doing with the judiciary, given that it sees that these minimum sentencing bills—

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

7:25 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Bill Blaikie

Order.

The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired, and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the order paper.

It being 7:26 p.m., the House stands adjourned until tomorrow at 2 p.m. pursuant to Standing Order 24 (1).

(The House adjourned at 7:26 p.m.)