This week, I changed much of the tech behind this site. If you see anything that looks like a bug, please let me know!

House of Commons Hansard #127 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was benefits.

Topics

International Day for CommemorationRoutine Proceedings

12:05 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

International Day for CommemorationRoutine Proceedings

12:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

(Motion agreed to)

JusticePetitionsRoutine Proceedings

12:05 p.m.

Conservative

James Lunney Conservative Nanaimo—Alberni, BC

Mr. Speaker, I have here a large petition of some 18,000 signatures largely collected by the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition.

The petitioners draw attention to the fact that section 241 of the Criminal Code of Canada states that everyone who counsels a person to commit a suicide or abets a person to commit a suicide, whether suicide ensues or not, is guilty of an indictable offence. The petitioners remind Parliament that the Supreme Court upheld section 241 in the Rodriguez decision, finding no charter right to suicide.

They call upon Parliament to retain section 241 of the Criminal Code, without changes, in order that Parliament not sanction or allow the counselling, aiding or abetting a suicide whether by personal action or by the Internet.

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

March 23rd, 2007 / 12:10 p.m.

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre Saskatchewan

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform

Mr. Speaker, I ask that all questions be allowed to stand.

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

12:10 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

Is that agreed?

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

12:10 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Bill C-265—Employment Insurance Act—Speaker's RulingPoints of OrderRoutine Proceedings

12:10 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

On February 7, prior to the second reading debate on Bill C-265, An Act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (qualification for and entitlement to benefits) standing in the name of the hon. member for Acadie—Bathurst, a point of order was raised by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform to the effect that this bill would result in significant new expenditures by lowering the threshold for eligibility for some claimants and changing the formula for the calculation of benefits. The parliamentary secretary supported this interpretation by referring to three rulings where the Chair concluded that similar bills, which extended employment insurance benefits, required a royal recommendation.

Interventions on this matter were also made by the hon. members for Mississauga South and for Acadie—Bathurst. The Chair wishes to thank all hon. members for their comments on this issue.

In replying to the parliamentary secretary’s point of order, the member for Acadie—Bathurst expressed the opinion that a royal recommendation was not required since any new expenditure would be covered by contributions from workers and employers and not by the government.

I have examined the bill carefully and find that the changes to the employment insurance program envisioned by this bill include lowering the threshold for becoming a major attachment claimant to 360 hours, setting benefits payable to 55% of the average weekly insurable earnings during the highest paid 12 weeks of the 12 month period preceding the interruption of earnings, and removing the distinctions made to the qualifying period on the basis of the regional unemployment rate.

It is abundantly clear to the Chair that such changes to the employment insurance program, notwithstanding the fact that workers and employers contribute to it, would have the effect of authorizing increased expenditures from the consolidated revenue fund in a manner and for purposes not currently authorized.

Therefore, it appears to the Chair that those provisions of the bill which relate to increasing employment insurance benefits and easing the qualifications required to obtain them would require a royal recommendation.

In its present form I will decline to put the question on third reading of this bill unless a royal recommendation is received. Today, however, the debate is on the motion for second reading and this motion shall be put to a vote at the close of the second reading debate.

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-35, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (reverse onus in bail hearings for firearm-related offences), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

Before question period the hon. member for Surrey North had the floor for questions and comments consequent on her speech. I therefore call upon the member for Yukon for questions or comments.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, I would like the member to comment on the presumption of innocence in relation to this bill.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.

NDP

Penny Priddy NDP Surrey North, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am not sure that I understand the question the member has asked. Perhaps he could rephrase it for me.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, a basic tenet of our legal system is that a person is presumed innocent until convicted by a court. Therefore, if the onus is put on prisoners, which I definitely agree with for other reasons, to prove their innocence and to prove that they should be allowed bail, could the member comment on that in relation to the philosophy of our judicial system where one is innocent until convicted?

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.

NDP

Penny Priddy NDP Surrey North, BC

Mr. Speaker, I understand it is a tenet of our legal system but we have as a society and as a government decided in a number of other circumstances where people's lives are at risk that reverse onus can play a role. That has been upheld.

That is why I said in my earlier comments that this needs to be tracked very carefully and the results of it reviewed. Any time we move into a reverse onus situation, we have to be very careful that it is not abused. There are at least four or five other examples of where reverse onus is used in order to protect, not from some unlikely threat, but to protect from a very likely threat that violence will happen again. In these circumstances both Parliament and the courts have upheld that.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.

Bloc

Thierry St-Cyr Bloc Jeanne-Le Ber, QC

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—

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

12:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

Order, please. The hon. Secretary of State and Chief Government Whip wishes to rise on a point of order.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

12:20 p.m.

Prince George—Peace River B.C.

Conservative

Jay Hill ConservativeSecretary of State and Chief Government Whip

Mr. Speaker, my apologies to the hon. member, but I rise on a point of order. There have been discussions between all the parties, and I think you will find unanimous consent for the following motion:

That when no member rises on Bill C-35 today, all questions necessary to dispose of the bill be deemed put and a recorded division deemed requested and deferred until Tuesday, March 27, 2007, at the expiry of the time provided for government orders.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

12:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

Does the hon. minister have the unanimous consent of the House to propose the motion?

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

12:20 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

12:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

12:20 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

12:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

I declare the motion carried.

(Motion agreed to)

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

12:20 p.m.

Bloc

Thierry St-Cyr Bloc Jeanne-Le Ber, QC

Mr. Speaker, I was talking about the hypocrisy of this Conservative government, which is claiming to table this bill in the name of preventing crime and specifically crimes committed with firearms. In the meantime, it wants to dismantle the firearms registry and it refuses to have stricter gun control.

To me it would be more logical to have an effective firearms registry and legislation prohibiting the possession of certain firearms—as the police are asking for. In fact, it would be much more effective to prevent the crimes than to reverse the onus of proof once the crimes are committed.

There is another aberration by this government which clearly shows that it is not serious about prevention. Most members in this House are probably faced with this situation in their ridings: currently, programs from the crime prevention research centre are on hold. Everywhere, community organizations working to promote crime prevention are waiting for the minister's signature to launch their projects. In my riding, Tandem, which is an organization that fights crime—by promoting prevention—is waiting for the minister's signature. Other organizations, such as Chantier d'Afrique, are also waiting.

If the government were serious, it would invest money and approve these projects, so that we can move forward in the area of prevention. It would also maintain the firearms program.

In this regard, I would like to quote some relevant figures that the Conservatives would rather not mention. These figures show that the gun registry works. Currently, 7.1 million firearms are registered. All the information gathered is far from being negligible.

Moreover, 90% of these guns are hunting rifles. Every day, the register is consulted an average of 6,500 times. Since December 1st 1998, a total of 1,154,722 guns have been exported, destroyed, neutralized or withdrawn from the Canadian information system, thus reducing by that much the risk of guns being used.

Experts are very skeptical about the effectiveness of the government's proposed measures to fight gun violence.

First, the bail system has not been the subject of as many studies as other aspects of the criminal justice system have. There may not be an answer for even the most simple questions, such as: how many individuals charged with committing a crime involving firearms are currently out on bail? This is a process that remains unknown, because it has yet to be the subject of empirical research.

According to Alan Young, a criminal law professor at York University's Osgoode Hall Law School, in Toronto, the reverse onus proposed by the Conservatives is a “complete shot in the dark”, because we do not even know if the current system is effective or not. The information is too fragmented to know the rate of recidivism or compliance, following court orders.

The need for this bill is dubious to say the least. The Prime Minister claims that 40% of offences involving firearms are committed by individuals out on bail. The Prime Minister quoted a police report which shows that, out of about 1,000 crimes involving guns or restricted weapons, some 40% may have been committed by individuals who were on parole, bail, probation or temporary absence.

However, according to Tony Doob, a criminologist at the University of Toronto, these statistics do not tell the whole story, since someone could be released on bail as a result of simple theft, a situation Bill C-35 does not address.

In addition, people accused of offences involving firearms are already faced with something like reverse onus. The question is whether the bill will make it possible to imprison a dangerous person who would not otherwise have been incarcerated.

Mr. Doob also said that Canada is not particularly lenient when it comes to releasing someone on bail. This is especially interesting since the Conservatives give the impression that this is a big threat, while the numbers do not seem to confirm that the system is lax when it comes to releasing people on bail. Statistics on incarcerations consistently show that there are more people behind bars awaiting trial than people serving sentences. I think this is worth repeating. Statistics on incarcerations consistently show that there are more people behind bars awaiting trial than people serving sentences. So we can believe that the current system does not disproportionately release people on bail.

In support of the point I have just made twice, I will add that according to Statistics Canada, in 2004, there were 125,871 Canadians in prison awaiting trial, while 83,733 people behind bars were serving court-ordered sentences.

I would also like to quote Louise Botham, president of the Criminal Lawyers Association. According to her, the court is already very careful in how it awards release on bail. She also wonders about how the bill before us will serve as a deterrent.

Studies show that mandatory minimum sentences have no deterrent effect on crime. I don't know why a reverse onus would.

It seems quite a stretch to state or to believe that a criminal on the verge of committing a crime with a firearm will say to himself, at the very last minute, that he will not do it because of bail conditions or because of the reverse onus of proof. That is not at all what goes through a criminal's mind when he is about to commit a crime.

In the United States, incarcerating an individual in order to prevent a crime is known as the incapacitation effect. At least one study suggests that hiring more police officers is a more effective use of taxpayers' money than incarcerating individuals.

Thus, the Conservative government, true unto itself, is improvising again in matters of justice. As is too often the case, it is legislating without really knowing what it is doing because it does not have any serious studies to guide its actions.

Its measures, which may seem appealing at first glance, challenge fundamental legal rights and principles without ascertaining beforehand whether or not these measures have real benefits in terms of safety. Nevertheless, we do know that some measures—measures that the Conservative government is not implementing—would have real safety benefits. As I already mentioned, the first is maintaining the firearms registry. We know it works and that it helps police officers to do their jobs. The government proposes to dismantle it.

The other measure consists of the crime prevention programs that I described earlier. All my colleagues have been through this. We are waiting for the Minister of Public Safety to make the money available. We do not need a bill requiring three readings and debates in committee and in the House for that. We only need the Minister of Public Safety to sign the authorizations for this money to go to community groups that are very good at preventing crime. It would be much more logical for the government to take that approach than the one in this bill.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask questions on two topics relating to the speaker's comments.

My first question is related to crime prevention. The member knows that the aboriginal justice strategy does great work with respect to alternative sentencing, but it almost expired. The government let it go until a couple of weeks before it was to expire. Staff were being laid off. During the budget, the government put it in for only two more years.

I would like to ask the member if he agrees with me that the government should make this a permanent program and give it long term funding so it can do its planning?

My colleague said the government had no serious studies on its crime strategy, which is true. The department did not recommend some of the bills it brought forward. There are serious studies and many of them were brought before committee. The member mentioned one of the persons due to appear at committee.

They have all suggested that the alternative sentencing proposals and the minimum sentences would make Canada a more dangerous place. This should not be done. These proposals would take training away from criminals and put them in the wrong scenario. They would not be able to get the treatment they need. They would be put with hardened criminals. These proposals would not work and would make Canada more dangerous.

I would like the member to comment on that.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.

Bloc

Thierry St-Cyr Bloc Jeanne-Le Ber, QC

Mr. Speaker, I think we all agree that in matters of justice, the government clearly does know where it is going. It is absolutely illogical on one hand to make firearms more accessible and on the other to make the rules of evidence more strict and constraining for the accused. That does not make sense. The government is taking the problem by the wrong end.

My colleague talked about the first nations programs. There, too, the government does not seem to know where it is going. It is managing justice matters without a plan; I would even be tempted to say on a day by day basis. It may very well put forward measures that seem attractive and popular but they are inappropriate. The government should go back to the drawing board.

It is not enough to say we are for law and order and tough on crime. That is not what must be done. The government must do its work well and cooperate with experts who know the field. To achieve a real reduction in crime in Canada, effective measures are needed. Obviously, the government does not know where it is going.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.

Conservative

Ken Epp Conservative Edmonton—Sherwood Park, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am very curious about one of the things which Bloc members and some Liberals sometimes bring up and that is their objection to this reverse onus.

It seems to me that if somebody came up to me, and it has never happened thankfully, and pointed a gun at me and pulled the trigger, and through some providential stroke of luck missed, that person might be guilty of attempted murder. By that very action that individual has already demonstrated that he or she is at least somewhat dangerous. To me there is no doubt about that.

If it were proven in court that the individual was actually guilty, which is the premise in Bill C-35, then it would be up to that individual to somehow come up with evidence proving otherwise. I think it would be virtually impossible to let these individuals out on the street just because they do not think they are dangerous. These people are dangerous.

I think it would take an extraordinary effort on their part to prove they were not dangerous. On the other hand, once a person has done that, how can a crown prosecutor prove that he or she is dangerous if this measure is not enacted? I think there is a bit of a problem here, logically speaking, in terms of objecting to this reverse onus measure.