Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from Newton—North Delta. As you know a member of Parliament's life is somewhat frantic at times and this is one of those days. I want to thank him for his generosity and I appreciate the opportunity to speak in this debate.
It is a bit of a bizarre bill. It is quite obvious this is the government's attempt to switch from a pretty bad week it had. Conservatives want to get back to their so-called law and order agenda, which is little more than a cheap ploy to take people's attention away from their hapless handling of Afghanistan, the environment, income trusts, interest deductibility and a whole variety of other economic issues.
It is beyond me why the government considers increasing minimum mandatory penalties to be a matter of such urgent national importance that it has marginalized far more other important issues such as income trusts, interest deductibility and fighting climate change and making excuses and firing incompetent ministers of defence and for that matter, for finance. The emphasis on this matter is even more perplexing when it is taken into account that, contrary to myth propagated by the government, crime rates have in fact generally been declining since the early nineties. Of course facts never get in the way of legislation for the government.
A number of reasonable suggestions were made by Liberal members at the committee with respect to trying to put the bill into some sort of a reasonable context, but they were rejected and the government quite clearly indicated that it was not interested. Conservatives were rather soft on the causes of crime. There is absolutely no interest in dealing with those root causes.
In fact, the government's lax attitude toward gun control makes it easier to obtain guns. It has been starving the gun registry and now there are more guns on the streets of Toronto and other cities. To no great surprise, there is more violence and there is more violence that is associated with guns. So much for a law and order party. The Conservatives want everyone else obey the laws, but when it suits them, they do not want to obey the gun control laws and they want to ensure they fade into oblivion.
It is more than just a little perverse to contribute to the guns on the street and then come along and save the problem it just created. More guns are on the street in part because of that party. More guns and more violence means more criminality. More criminality means more court time and more taxpayer money, more prisoners and a backlogged justice system, all because of the government's fear of alienating the very powerful gun lobby.
Once again we see a vicious cycle caused by misplaced priorities and identification of the problem of a party that is soft on the causes of crime. The Conservatives would rather throw money at the problem after they created it in the first place because of this self-perpetuating counter-productive process.
I suggest that the cynical government's true intent in Bill C-10 is to create the illusion that it is taking effective measures with respect to making Canadian communities safer. In fact, this piecemeal, incoherent, punishment based obsession to crime is all about optics and nothing but optics.
Simply put, the approach of Conservatives to crime is more concerned with appearance rather than substance, which would explain why they ignore the best advice of experts in the area who have long argued for a balanced and comprehensive approach to crime, which consists in equal parts of prevention, deterrence and rehabilitation.
The government is not fond of listening to anyone. In fact, it does not even listen to its bureaucrats. There was an article in the Ottawa Citizen entitled “Tories warned early automatic prison terms won't work”. At various points in the article, it says:
—within days of taking office, was warned by senior federal bureaucrats a central election pledge to impose new automatic prison terms won't deter crime nor protect the public.
The Conservatives, apparently, ignored the advice from the justice department lawyers. Their briefing book said that minimum mandatory sentences had no discernible benefits and that they prompt more people to plea bargain their way out of jail.
It is not just their own lawyers the Conservatives ignore. They also ignore criminologists, the people who make their living in this field, who have actually studied the phenomenon and who give advice that is universally consistent. Many criminologists are actually very dismissive of minimum mandatory sentences because all they do is clog prisons and there is scant evidence they in fact deter crime.
Having ignored their experts and their own department, the Conservatives also chose to ignore international experience where many jurisdictions are backing away from minimum mandatory sentences because they do not work. A number of U.S. states have abandoned this particular approach. The department is ignored, the committee is ignored, the experts are ignored, international experience is ignored and, of course, the community is ignored.
The other reason we oppose Bill C-10 is because of its serious unintended consequence. When discretion is taken away from judges, it impedes their efforts to tailor sentencing in accordance with the particular circumstances of each offender and each offence. Each offence is unique and it is very difficult to achieve a cookie cutter approach to justice. I do not believe the government is actually interested in justice. It is interested in the conviction process. As long as there are convictions, it is fine, and justice is kind of an incidental byproduct.
The fact remains that there is anything but a widespread consensus that mandatory minimum penalties have much value as deterrents to crime, which helps explain why many other jurisdictions and stakeholder groups remain doubtful of their effectiveness.
However, the evidence puts a lie to such a distorted image of the crime situation in this country because crime has actually been going down over the past 15 years, in some categories of crime quite dramatically and in the category of violent crime not as dramatically.
This past weekend I attended a few events in my riding and met with about 100 people over the course of the weekend. I can honestly say that not one person mentioned Bill C-10 to me and not one person wanted to talk to me about minimum mandatory sentences. In fact, I do not even recollect any conversation about criminal issues whatsoever. However, among people's chief concerns were the environment and Afghanistan and one or two talked about income trusts.
Last year the United Way identified a number of postal codes in the GTA which are particularly impoverished areas. One of those postal codes is in my riding. The United Way, the TD Bank and other interested community leaders got together and asked the community what they could do. The community and community leaders worked together. In a short period of time an alliance was formed among the community leadership and they addressed the real causes of crime.
I can say that in the two years that the United Way has been working in that postal code, real crime in real terms has actually been reduced. The police love this initiative, the community is thrilled and the leadership is quietly quite satisfied. Some people are moving back to the area after having put their houses up for sale.
Accompanying this initiative is a commitment on the part of the government to spend something in the order of about $250 million. I put a challenge out to the minister. If he could pro-rate that among 308 ridings, I would appreciate my riding receiving its share and forgetting about this bill. I can tell him and the House that if that pro-rated share came to my riding, it would do more to reduce the causes of crime than all of these minimum mandatory so-called justice and tough on crime bills put together.
I appreciate the opportunity to speak and thank my colleague from Newton—North Delta for sharing his time.