Mr. Speaker, thank you for the opportunity to speak to Bill C-35, which is before us here today. First of all, you will not be surprised to learn that the Bloc Québécois is against the principle of this bill, in part because we are opposed to upsetting the balance between the principles of security and the presumption of innocence. We believe that a person accused of a crime must be presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. In accordance with this presumption of innocence, it is important that the onus be on the Crown to demonstrate that the individual should not be released before his or her trial.
The Crown is in a better position to bear the burden of proof, given its expertise and resources, while the accused is left to his own devices, sometimes without even a lawyer to represent him. As a result, any encroachment on the presumption of innocence must be done with great caution, which is unfortunately not the case with this bill. The Bloc Québécois acknowledges that certain exceptions already exist, but refuses to contribute to any violation of the key principle of presumption of innocence.
I would like to begin my presentation by putting things into context. The bill was tabled in the House of Commons on November 23, 2006 and proposes amendments to the Criminal Code to provide that the accused will be required to demonstrate, when charged with certain serious offences involving firearms or other regulated weapons, that pre-trial detention is not justified. In lay terms, we could say that the bill ensures that, for certain crimes, accused individuals awaiting trial must remain in prison, unless they can prove that they do not belong there.
I would like to give an overview of the bill. At present, the general rule states that it is up to the crown prosecutor to demonstrate that the accused should not be released on bail because he or she poses a danger to the public. The Criminal Code provides for some exceptions, however, and in such cases the accused must prove that pre-trial detention is unjustified. These exceptions are: breach of release conditions, involvement in organized crime, terrorism, drug trafficking, smuggling or production, murder, treason or war crimes.
With Bill C-35, the Conservative government is trying to broaden this range of exceptions. If passed, the bill will require the accused to prove to the judge that he or she may be released without causing concern for society for in connection with any and all of the following offences: attempted murder, discharging a firearm with intent to wound, sexual assault with a weapon, aggravated sexual assault, kidnapping, hostage taking, extortion, firearms trafficking or possession for the purpose of trafficking, any offence involving a firearm if committed while the accused is bound by a weapons prohibition order.
This bill has been widely criticized, not only by the Bloc Québécois but also by the legal community. It is clearly in response to the shootings in Toronto, the city in which the Prime Minister chose to announce the introduction of this bill. He was accompanied at the time by Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty, a Liberal, and by Toronto Mayor David Miller, an NDPer. Support for this government bill from these two public figures prompted the Prime Minister to say that, between the three of them, they covered a large portion of the political spectrum, which meant there was some unanimity.
But when the Ontario premier and the mayor of Toronto suggested banning handguns, the Prime Minister was quick to reject the idea. “Simply banning guns we don't think would be effective,” commented the Prime Minister, “What we do need to do is stop the smuggling of illegal weapons”.
This is how the government has come to jeopardize a right that is critical to democracy, namely the presumption of innocence. But at the same time, it will not give a chance to the firearms program, whose costs—