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House of Commons Hansard #145 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was crime.

Topics

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4 p.m.

Bloc

Guy André Bloc Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Mr. Speaker, I was listening to my dear colleague express some of the reserves he has with regard to Bill C-10. I would like to hear what he has to say on one particular point.

As other members of this House, I saw that member introduce last week a bill aimed at reducing violence in television broadcasts. Many members on the government side are claiming that they want to fight crime, to better protect our fellow citizens and to enact bills providing for increased penalties as a form of repression.

However, they voted against that bill to reduce violence in television broadcasts. As you know, certain studies show that television violence can lead to other forms of violence.

I would like the member for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie to comment on this.

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4 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

The member for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie has 30 seconds left.

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4 p.m.

Bloc

Bernard Bigras Bloc Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Mr. Speaker, this is exactly the type of approach that we favour. Studies have shown very clearly, including the one published by none other than the communication department of Virginia Tech University, that a youth who sees images of violence will try to duplicate them. That means that if we focus on prevention with regard to violence, I am deeply convinced that we will be able to fight—

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4 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

Resuming debate. The hon. member for Newton—North Delta.

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4 p.m.

Liberal

Sukh Dhaliwal Liberal Newton—North Delta, BC

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member for Scarborough—Guildwood would like to take my spot. Can we switch?

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4 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

The hon. member for Scarborough—Guildwood.

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4 p.m.

Liberal

John McKay Liberal Scarborough—Guildwood, ON

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.

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4:10 p.m.

Conservative

Daryl Kramp Conservative Prince Edward—Hastings, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate my colleague's interest in the crime and justice issues but some of his information was so factually incorrect that I thought I might stand for a moment to offer some comments on that.

He just made reference to the $250 million and how he would like that spread around. I wonder what he would like to do with the $2 billion spent on the gun registry boondoggle. How many MRIs, et cetera, could that buy across this country. To use such a fallacious argument, as he has just done, is a waste of time.

However, on some of the information that he has presented, he is right in the fact that the rate of crime in this country has gone down, but the rate of violent crime in this country has gone up.

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4:15 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

No it hasn't.

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4:15 p.m.

Conservative

Daryl Kramp Conservative Prince Edward—Hastings, ON

It has and the statistics prove it. I ask the hon. member to check the testimony given at the justice committee when Bill C-215 was presented. The verification of those facts came forward from the justice committee as well as all the independent expert witnesses.

The reason I am a little more familiar with Bill C-215 is from having presented the bill which I authored. However, at that particular point it should be noted that the bill passed second reading with the support of a member of the Liberal Party as well. Quite obviously, regretfully, Parliament was dissolved and the bill did not go on.

The member mentioned that everyone was backing away from this. I can assure him that is not the case. A number of people are backing away from minimum mandatory sentences but they are not for violent crime. They are for small summary conviction offences. I totally agree that we should not have minimum mandatory penalties. However, for certain serious violent crimes, where people are threatened with a gun, I ask the hon. member if he has ever looked down the barrel of a gun or talked to the families of the victims that have been devastated by these potentially deadly weapons.

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4:15 p.m.

Liberal

John McKay Liberal Scarborough—Guildwood, ON

Mr. Speaker, I regret to say that I actually have looked down the barrel of a gun because someone did pull a gun on me. It was not my favourite day, shall we say.

The hon. member seems to have adopted the Prime Minister's somewhat selective memory on issues with respect to crime. Overall crime is down to something in the order of 25% since 1991 and violent crime has actually decreased 7.6% over the same period of time. So again he is wrong.

What the hon. member does not seem to understand is that when the Conservatives basically destroyed the gun registry by de-funding it and by doing pretty well everything possible to destroy the gun registry, they made guns more available. When guns are made more available, it follows that more criminality will occur, more people will be in the justice system, more people will be in prisons and therefore those prisons will need more funds.

What the Minister of Public Safety is doing is funding more prisons. Why does he not deal with something real simple like getting those guns off the street?

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4:15 p.m.

Conservative

Dean Del Mastro Conservative Peterborough, ON

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member mentioned several things and, quite frankly, I think his facts are just wrong. He quotes crime statistics but we all know crime statistics only record reported crime. If one cannot get police officers to respond because they are stretched to the limits of trying to operate within their communities without the resources, people stop reporting it. The problem is that people do not feel safe.

The member knows very well that a number of the individuals who committed gun crimes in the city of Toronto were either ordered not to possess guns, were on parole or were awaiting trial. These people should not have been on the streets. Bills like C-10 would prevent them from reoffending and threatening others with guns. He should support it.

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4:15 p.m.

Liberal

John McKay Liberal Scarborough—Guildwood, ON

I do not know whether this is parliamentary language, Mr. Speaker, but Bill C-10 will do diddly-squat for getting guns off the street or for reducing criminality. It will do absolutely nothing.

If the hon. member cannot read statistics, then I am sure there are people like Professor Doob at the University of Toronto who will help him out with the statistics. He appeared before the committee and he is a noted expert and a noted criminologist who has said that violent crime is down.

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4:15 p.m.

Bloc

Serge Ménard Bloc Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Mr. Speaker, we need to recognize from the outset that all of us here want the same thing. We want less crime and especially less violent crime. We are looking for the best solution, and we do not agree on what the best solution is.

I would first like to talk about my own experience. I began practising criminal law in 1966 by chance. I was one of the first four young lawyers to leave university and join the crown prosecutors' office in Montreal. I then joined the federal crown prosecutors' office. A large firm recruited me, and I eventually opened my own office before entering politics. I served first as public safety minister—the position I held the longest within the Government of Quebec—then as justice minister and finally as transport minister for a short time. My experience has therefore always been in criminal law.

From the start, I asked myself why people committed crimes and what we could do to reduce crime. The answer does not lie just in the practice of law. I quickly realized that criminology might hold the answer, so I joined the Société de criminologie, where I learned things that ran contrary to what I would naturally have thought. For example, fear of punishment has little effect on crime. Fear of being caught is more likely to have an impact. The severity of the punishment has little effect.

Why am I against minimum sentences despite all my experience? Because minimum sentences are meaningless. First of all, criminals do not know what the minimum sentences are. Not only do they not know them, but I am certain that not one member of this House could pass a test on the number and length of minimum sentences in Canada. Just ask any of the members who will be speaking on this bill what the difference is between the minimum sentences for first-degree and second-degree murder. If we do not know them, imagine the criminals.

Furthermore, criminals are not thinking about minimum sentences while they are committing offences. If they think they are going to be caught, they do not go ahead with it. They are not thinking about their sentencing. We must also consider the state one must be in while committing a crime. It is difficult for us to imagine, because we are honest people and we probably all also practice intellectual honesty. Crime, however, is usually committed with extreme impulsiveness. Indeed, engaging in criminal behaviour is not a rational process.

Experience also shows that minimum sentences do not work. The best example of this comes from within our borders. Among the minimum sentences proposed to us here is a seven year minimum sentence. Seven years. That reminds me of a well-known minimum sentence. That was the minimum sentence for importing marijuana. Marijuana began entering Canada in the late 1960s. People began using it and it became quite popular. The marijuana grown in Canada had no hallucinogenic effect. Thus, all the marijuana consumed in Canada during the 1970s and even the 1980s came from outside Canada. The minimum sentence for importing marijuana was seven years of imprisonment. This did nothing to deter people from importing it, any way they could. Most of the time, those who were caught did not know they risked facing a minimum of seven years in prison. I saw this myself in my practice. When that minimum sentence was declared unconstitutional, there was no increase in that particular crime.

We saw the same thing with the death penalty. It seems to me that the death penalty should have had the most deterrent effect on those who commit crimes. Yet, since the death penalty was abolished in Canada, the homicide rate has gone down.

On the other hand, we managed to lower crime in an area where minimum sentences did not apply. Some minimum sentences are small and were around then. We upheld them. I am talking about impaired driving, drinking and driving. There are far fewer impaired driving offences today. We did not achieve these results by increasing sentences; this was achieved through a wide range of public awareness and education campaigns.

South of the border, we see the U.S. experience. The Americans incarcerate six times as many people as we do and, yet, the homicide rate in the U.S. is three times ours. Is this really an example we want to follow? I often see that the Conservatives are truly geared toward the U.S. model, when they are looking for models to support the legislation they want to introduce.

Let us look at a number of countries. The U.S. incarceration rate is six times greater than Canada's and their homicide rate is three times greater than ours. Their incarceration rate is five times greater than England's and their homicide rate is five times greater than England's. Their incarceration rate is four times greater than Australia's and their homicide rate is six times greater than Australia's. Their incarceration rate is six times greater than Germany's and their homicide rate is seven times greater than Germany's. Their incarceration rate is three and a half times greater than France's and their homicide rate is eight times greater than France's. As far as Finland, Switzerland and Denmark are concerned, the U.S. incarceration rate is 10 to 11 times greater than in those countries and the U.S. homicide rate is three times greater than Finland's, six times greater than Switzerland's and five times greater than Denmark's.

Experience everywhere shows that incarceration does not influence homicide rates.

What is funny is that every time I talk to educated Americans and mention the differences in homicide rates, they all tell me that the main reason the homicide rate is higher in the United States is because people are free to obtain guns and because of the number of guns in the country.

The Conservatives, who—as I have noticed—often follow the example of American Republicans, are perpetuating this same contradiction: wanting to imprison more people, but leaving more guns in circulation. They should take the time to look at the American statistics. It is as if they do not want to. If they looked at them, they would see that their solution is not a good one.

I have also noticed something else: when we set minimum penalties, we always look at the worst cases. What is unfortunate is that these minimum penalties must also be applied in less serious cases. I am thinking specifically about cases of being an accessory, where a wife does not like that her husband has a gun, or does not like something, but allows the gun to be kept in their house and even goes as far as hiding it in a certain place. It does not make sense to punish the wife the same way as her husband, who uses guns to commit crimes. But, with the minimum penalties the Conservatives are creating, they would have the same sentence.

The real way to reduce crime is through the important role that judges play by individualizing sentences.

I have also noticed that when the Conservatives give examples of too much leniency in the courts, they give extreme examples. I have never heard them cite an appeal court case. It should be understood that, in this country, probably tens of thousands of sentences are handed down every day by hundreds, if not thousands, of judges. It is public knowledge that the media do not report the less interesting cases; the media report extraordinary cases, and so those are the only ones we hear about.

When a sentence is unwarranted, changing the law is not the solution; an appeal must be filed first. In my opinion, if we examine the decisions of the court of appeal, we see that they are perfectly adequate. I heard a Conservative speaker talking about revolving doors and the fact that people see that sentences are not stiff. An analysis of the statistics shows us that our rate of incarceration is comparable to that of most western countries except for one. There is one country that is quite different from all other western countries.

There is one, I am not quite sure—

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4:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

Order, please. We will proceed to questions and comments. The hon. member for Mississauga South.

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4:25 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member raised some very important and interesting facts about comparative crime rates.

One of the bits of research that I was able to look at basically indicated that the fastest growing industry in the United States today is the privatization and building of jails. It has become an enormous industry in the United States. Arguably, in most jurisdictions the penalty regime in the United States is more severe than it is in Canada, and yet the crime rate on a comparative basis is three times higher.

This is a serious situation to consider in terms of getting it right. Maybe the issue is not so much a theme of getting tough on crime as it is on getting stronger on crime prevention, crime reduction. Canadians want to see a balanced approach and appropriate sentencing as well as appropriate prevention measures and rehabilitation.

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4:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

The hon. member for Marc-Aurèle-Fortin has the floor. Before he stands up, I want to apologize for interrupting him, but I gave him a signal to indicate when he had only two minutes, and then one minute left for his speech.

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4:30 p.m.

Bloc

Serge Ménard Bloc Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for his question.

In United States, things are terrible. They put six times more people in prison than we do. Their murder rate is three times higher than ours. It is also revealing to know that their robbery and armed robbery rates are 60% higher than ours. I hope that we will not follow the American model. I sincerely believe that we cannot afford to put that many people in prison.

Why are there private prisons in United States? It is because most inmates should not be in prison. They represent no danger to society and no supervision problem. In United States, the most serious cases are not in private prisons. The kind of criminals we have in Canadian prisons are not handed over to private companies. What these companies get are the offenders who only need watching. In fact, as soon as they show any sign of becoming dangerous, they are sent to regular prisons.

What an incredible waste of energy, all the more so because prison is still considered to be the school for crime. Prison sentences must be used sparingly as most civilized countries have realized. There is only one civilized country that thinks differently and it is the United States. Earlier, you heard what I said about Germany, the Scandinavian countries, France and Australia. I hope that the present government will not take us on the same path as the Americans.

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4:30 p.m.

Liberal

Rodger Cuzner Liberal Cape Breton—Canso, NS

Mr. Speaker, it is said by many democrats south of the border that the republican's would sooner deal with social issues in the electric chair rather than in the high chair.

Does my colleague believe there is a fear that we are drifting more toward that American republican model in taking these measures? Should money be spent more on housing development and affordable housing rather than housing prisoners? I would like the member to comment on the relationship between investment and social programs, and what is being presented here today as legislation.

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4:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

The hon. member for Marc-Aurèle-Fortin should know that he has 25 seconds left to answer.

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4:30 p.m.

Bloc

Serge Ménard Bloc Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Mr. Speaker, of course, I agree with the member. However, I would say that what distinguishes us, as he has noted, are facts, statistics.

Everyone can look at the statistics on the Internet. We keep a record of crimes in Canada and it is on Juristat. It can be accessed through Google by typing Juristat, and it is now free of charge.

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4:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

It is my duty, pursuant to Standing Order 38, to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup, Aerospace Industry; the hon. member for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, Afghanistan; the hon. member for Don Valley East, The Budget.

Resuming debate. The hon. member for Newton--North Delta.

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4:35 p.m.

Liberal

Sukh Dhaliwal Liberal Newton—North Delta, BC

Mr. Speaker, crime prevention and personal safety hit at the very core of daily life for citizens across this country.

When I sit down with concerned citizens from my own riding of Newton—North Delta in their living rooms, in the coffee shops, or when I visit our high schools, I hear the same concerns I have as a father and as a local businessman.

This has never been a partisan debate. One can try to make it one, as this government has tried time and time again.

It claims that being tough on crime is some Conservative policy. Unfortunately, as with so much of this government's record, this is more fiction than fact. It is fiction to claim that the Conservatives will put 2,500 more police officers in our cities. We know this is a promise that is all talk, no action.

Where are those new officers? Not one in my riding. Not one in any riding across this country. We can look in the budget for new funding to provide for RCMP officers, but we will not find it. Again, it is more fiction than fact.

We can talk to the mayor of Vancouver who has put more officers on his streets than this government has put across our country. He cannot depend on this government to do more than talk about crime. No mayor can and no citizen can.

Talk is cheap. But just talking about crime is not enough for my constituents. It never was and it never will be. If people are in a community like mine and they care about crime, what do they do?

The city of Surrey RCMP and the Delta police have moved forward with the community on their own crime prevention strategy. This was officially launched in Surrey on February 26, an event which I had the honour of addressing. We have worked together, with no help from this Conservative government, and the results speak for themselves. Auto theft in Surrey is down 22% and business break-and-enters in the Whalley area of Surrey are down by an impressive 45%.

This kind of approach has my full support as the elected member of Parliament for the people of Newton—North Delta. This kind of approach has the full support of my leader for Canadians. In fact, it is with examples like my community in mind that the Liberal Party has put forward its own comprehensive crime prevention plan.

The most effective way to protect our homes and our rights is to catch and convict more criminals. It is the government's duty to ensure that criminals know they will be caught and convicted. I believe there is no question that sentences are an important part of the solution. Serious crimes should carry serious penalties.

I can say that when I speak to my constituents, when I speak to my family, and when I speak to other members of Parliament, there is no question that all Canadians are looking for these tougher measures to help stop crime before it happens.

However, we now that fighting crime with longer sentences alone is not the only solution. Canada has to make sure that we have a balance between effective sentencing and strong social strategies.

Surrey and Delta know this. I wonder why this government does not. Action on the municipal level means that we must be just as ready to invest at the federal level.

The Liberal Party has committed to providing funds to hire more police officers. In our platform, we have committed an extra $200 million for more RCMP officers as part of a new rapid response team. We will provide immediate help to local police departments to combat guns and gang activity, as well as organized crime and drug trafficking.

Canadians are tired of waiting for action. They want us to act now. Canadians realize that the Conservative government is not willing to take concrete action toward providing effective policing in our communities.

Over the past years, the Liberal Party has offered to help pass six major pieces of criminal justice legislation. We have offered to help the Conservatives pass legislation that raises the age of consent, improves the DNA data bank and modernizes the criminal justice procedures.

The Conservatives have thus far refused these offers of support and actively worked to delay passing their own legislation.

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4:40 p.m.

Conservative

Mike Wallace Conservative Burlington, ON

I've got a question for you Sukh.

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4:40 p.m.

Liberal

Sukh Dhaliwal Liberal Newton—North Delta, BC

The hon. member can ask the question when I am given the opportunity to answer him.

This is one question I want to ask the Prime Minister on behalf of my constituents. When will he stop the empty electioneering and get serious about moving forward on protecting our children, our seniors and our communities?