Mr. Speaker, I hope that my colleague from Wild Rose will listen to what I have to say to him because I want to start by pointing out that my intention is not to say that he is a simplistic member. I do not believe he is, for a number of reasons.
I have had the opportunity to see the member for Wild Rose at the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, and he is a reflection of many people in Canada: people are asking serious questions about crime and how to put a stop to it.
I would never dream of telling the member for Wild Rose for whom I have enormous respect, that he is a simplistic person and has simplistic solutions. We are dealing with the extremely complex problem of crime here. My colleague and I do not look at things the same way when it comes to fighting crime.
In the few minutes I am allotted, I will try to show that the way to fight crime is not to increase minimum sentences. I know that I will not show this to the satisfaction of the member for Wild Rose, but I hope that some in this House will understand.
I was a lawyer for 25 years. For the last 15 years, I worked exclusively in criminal law, as a criminal defence lawyer. I have seen virtually all the amendments that members have adopted in the House of Commons in the last 15 years, to amend the Criminal Code. Because I have been here only since 2004, I had nothing to do with the amendments to the Criminal Code made by this House. We criminal lawyers, however, worked with those major changes to the Criminal Code.
I want to point out to my colleague from Wild Rose and all his colleagues in the Conservative Party that from 1991 to 2000—I am not going back very far, and I have the same figures as my colleague has—crime dropped by nearly 26% in Canada. Crime has fallen and is still falling.
But even better, the number of violent crimes—homicide, attempted murder, assault, assault with a weapon, sexual assault, kidnapping and robbery—fell year over year between 1992 and 2004. In 1992, there were about 1084 violent crimes, the ones I have just listed, per 100,000 population in Canada. But in 2004 there were only 946. That is a drop of 13%.
Violent crime fell by 13%, but crime overall fell by 25%. Quebec and Canada are safe countries. These are good places to live. So where is the problem?
There is a fundamental principle, one that has been stated by the Supreme Court of Canada. I hope that the 308 members in this House respect that institution. The Supreme Court of Canada has said, and reiterated, that when sentence is to be passed, one of the essential factors is the individualization of sentences. What that means, in words that are easy to understand, is that when a person comes before the court, the judge must impose a sentence that fits the person standing before the judge. I know that, unfortunately, these are not words that the member from Wild Rose and a majority of the Conservative Party members want to hear. They should go and read the Supreme Court’s decisions. I am not the one who wrote them. Personally, I have enormous respect for the Supreme Court and what it has said, which I repeat: the sentence must be individualized and must fit the individual.
What that means is that when an individual receives a sentence, we must tell that person or make him or her understand that the crime is serious and that society condemns that crime. However, in the sentence that the judge is about to render, an important factor must be considered: the possible rehabilitation of the individual. On that point, once again, I address myself to the member for Wild Rose and his colleagues in the Conservative party. Following recent amendments, the court must take into account the impact of the crime on the victim. In English, that is known as an impact statement. The victims come into the court and give testimony to explain the impact of the crime on them.
I would say to the member for Wild Rose and his colleagues in the Conservative party that since this measure came into force less than 10% of victims come before the court. It is not because we do not want to hear them; it is because, very often, they do not want to have any more to do with the justice system. Why is that? There are a lot of questions to be asked.
In the Bloc Québécois, we think that introducing minimum prison sentences is not the way to solve the problem. The member for Wild Rose and his colleagues in the Conservative party should realize that perhaps the problem lies not at the entrance to the court or prison but at the exit. What we are saying is that an individual who receives a sentence must serve time in prison and, if he or she serves a prison sentence, that person should be eligible for parole. Could someone be paroled too quickly? That is a debate that we should have soon in this House. However, we will not solve this problem by tying the hands of judges with minimum sentences. That is false.
Once again, I address the member for Wild Rose. He was present at the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights when the former justice minister came to testify. We asked him questions. We asked him if there were studies; whether any investigations had shown that increasing minimum prison sentences had reduced crime. The answer is no. It is no.
Therefore, we cannot vote in favour of a bill that does not solve the problem. I will try to explain to the member for Wild Rose and his colleagues in the Conservative party what will happen if this bill is adopted. We will have an accused person, who initially faces a minimum prison sentence of five years, for example.
So on his lawyer’s advice, he will plead not guilty, choose trial by jury, and ask for a preliminary hearing in order to drag out the proceedings as long as possible. Then he will try to plea bargain.
I invite the hon. member for Wild Rose to come to some court houses with me, whether in Calgary, Vancouver, Toronto or Montreal. Anyone who has done any criminal law will tell him that plea bargaining goes on, and the Bar came and told us that Bill C-10 will only cause it to increase.
This means that people will come before the judge, talk to the crown attorney, and ask him to withdraw a charge in exchange for them not dragging out the proceedings forever. We have seen it on many occasions.
I believe that the hon. member for Wild Rose and several of his colleagues were present here in the House when the Supreme Court of Canada determined that a minimum sentence of seven years in prison for importing narcotics was cruel and unusual punishment. I did not make up the Charter. However, we have had a Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms since 1982, and it is applied.
What I am trying to say, not only to the hon. member for Wild Rose but many of his colleagues as well, is that we are not getting at the root of the problem. Increasing minimum prison sentences will just jam the courts with legal procedures. We even have some figures. The hon. member for Wild Rose will agree with me on this because we saw figures in committee showing that we will have to spend nearly $22 million a year just to deal with the additional inmates in the prison system.
If they want to build prisons, they can build them, but that will not solve the crime problem. There are deep-seated reasons for crime. We do not want to get into this debate right now, but there are deep-seated reasons for delinquency and violence. I hope that the hon. member for Wild Rose and his colleagues are familiar with them. It is poverty. That much we know.
As I was studying this situation, a question occurred to me. If the hon. member Wild Rose is so much in favour of Bill C-10, why are crimes committed with hunting weapons not included? They are not in the bill. We have a problem, though, because 35% of the homicides in Canada are committed with hunting weapons. So little holes are starting to appear in this, and soon little holes become big holes.
This bill will not solve the problem. What I mean—and I want the hon. member for Wild Rose to be very aware of this—is that this bill tries to condemn people who walk around with revolvers shooting at anyone at all in the streets. On this point, I totally agree with him. We need to get rid of that. But what is going to happen? Instead of committing armed robbery with revolvers, people will do it now with a 12, 410, 22 or 303 calibre weapon.
This is what I have to say to the hon. member for Wild Rose. This aspect is not in the bill. I put the question to the minister. If the member for Wild Rose was at that committee meeting—like his colleagues, he did not miss many—he knows that I asked the minister. The minister replied that it was not necessary because it could lead to the imprisonment of aboriginal and Inuit people. How ridiculous. We have a problem here. We are in the process of creating a second justice system, and that is unacceptable.
I would add that there are three times more homicides in the United States than in Canada, and four times more than in Quebec. There is a real problem here. This bill does not solve the problem of violent crime. That is what I want the members opposite to understand.
The Bloc Québécois believes that it is perhaps the parole system that poses a problem. I leave it to the hon. member for Wild Rose to pass along this message, because he knows the Minister of Justice very well.
I would like to return to what the member for Wild Rose said in response to my hon. colleague from the Liberal Party. Perhaps judges must be given instructions. In my opinion—at least, I hope this will be the case—there will always be courts of appeal and the Supreme Court to review, study and analyze the appropriateness of a sentence, and to confirm if it was handed down in accordance with the sentencing rules governing the courts. That is what I would like the members opposite to understand, as well as those who are about to vote in favour of a bill that not only is incomplete and fails to solve the problem of violent crime, but will only exacerbate the existing backlogs in our court rooms. If this bill passes, there will be more backlogs. Criminal defence lawyers will make a pile of money. I can guarantee it.
What I find regrettable as well as that huge investments are also planned for the prisons. The hon. member for Wild Rose has visited a number of penitentiaries. I too have been inside on a number of occasions to visit clients, unfortunately. Penitentiaries are schools for crime. No one in this House can convince me otherwise. Programs need to be set up to provide help to people who want to take control of their lives.
Throughout my career, I asked my clients questions, as did others when they were inside. What I asked is whether they would have thought twice about committing such a crime, had they known there was a minimum three year jail time for it. They said no. When a person has made up his mind to commit a crime, he will do anything to make sure he does. We must stop holding on to this belief that crime will be reduced if prison time is increased. It is a false belief.
What we must do is to work as quickly as possible at solving the problems that are the causes. What must be done in particular is to start thinking seriously that there may be a problem at time of release. What I mean by that is that people may be getting out a bit too soon. On this point , I agree with the hon. member for Wild Rose, who shares that opinion and has often expressed it in committee. Inmates are getting out too soon. They get three years jail time and are out on the street in six months. That may be one part of the problem, but it is not going to be solved by tying the judges' hands and telling them they have to impose this or that minimum sentence. On the contrary.
Mr. Normandeau, a Université de Montréal criminologist who has examined most of the files at the Montreal Palais de Justice, reports that the result of having minimum penalties was that lawyers plea bargained to get their clients charged with offences not carrying a minimum sentence. So what will happen next?
It is not difficult to figure out. They will go to court and say to the crown attorney: “Withdraw this charge and I will plead guilty to a slightly more serious charge, armed robbery”. They will then be given a two-year sentence and the problem will be solved.
In closing, I invite the member for Wild Rose and his colleagues in the Conservative Party to think twice about a bill that does not solve the problem of crime. Probably the best thing to do is to admit that they made a mistake, withdraw the bill and to do what it takes to find other means of dealing with crime.