Mr. Speaker, as the official opposition's justice critic I am pleased to rise and speak to Bill C-27, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (dangerous offenders and recognizance to keep the peace). Members will no doubt be familiar with this bill as it has been debated at second reading on a number of occasions.
I would like to preface my remarks today with the following facts.
First, it is important to point out that in spite of the fearmongering rhetoric that emanates from the government benches, crime in Canada is, and has been for some years now, in general decline. Though media reports and the occasional sensational story may lead us to believe otherwise, Statistics Canada reported that crime fell by 22% and the violent crime rate fell by 13% between 1992 and 2004. These facts unmistakably belie the government's propaganda to the contrary.
I also wish to state that we Liberals support strong, effective criminal legislation. There is no doubt about that. We want to see tough and smart legislation being introduced in the House, the kind of legislation that will actually make Canadians and their communities a safer and happier place. We will not accept a Prime Minister who pushes a petty, partisan agenda using front line police officers or a Minister of Public Safety who dismantles or tries to dismantle Canada's widely used gun registry. We want legislation that achieves results, not headlines.
That is why our party on numerous occasions tried to fast track a number of justice bills. Inexplicably, these offers have been met with deafening silence from the government. Thus, we are not amused when we hear government members claiming shamelessly and falsely that we are soft on this or that.
With respect to the bill currently before us, we have heard from several members of all parties. I would like to thank them for their contributions. In particular, I would like to thank my colleague from London West, who gave us an eloquent and intelligent analysis of Bill C-27. She highlighted the bill's shortcomings, which I would like to review here.
First, the proposed new section 752.01:
If the prosecutor is of the opinion that an offence for which an offender is convicted is a serious personal injury offence that is a designated offence and that the offender was convicted previously at least twice of a designated offence and was sentenced to at least two years of imprisonment for each of those convictions, the prosecutor shall advise the court, as soon as feasible after the finding of guilt and in any event before sentence is imposed, whether the prosecutor intends to make an application under subsection 752.1(1).
This section would require prosecutors to notify the court as soon as possible after the finding of guilt of their intent to seek dangerous offender designation . The problem with this is that subsections 752.1(1) and 752.1(2) already govern the submission of such applications. The amendment proposed by Bill C-27 is therefore redundant because the relevant provisions already exist in the Criminal Code.
Furthermore, as my colleague from London West explained, there were problems concerning jurisdiction because the list of designated offences included a large number of offences under provincial jurisdiction. Everyone except for the minority Conservative government knows this. The administration of justice falls under provincial jurisdiction. There is also a problem in terms of application because failure to comply with this provision carries no consequence. It seems the government was not being very careful when it drafted this clause.
The second problem is a big one because it is constitutional. As I said, several constitutional experts believe that section 7 and paragraph 11(d) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms would be violated by the clause in the bill that establishes the presumption that an offender is dangerous.
The Liberals believe that this bill can be improved in a way that respects the charter and our Constitution and guarantees real safety for Canadians and Canadian communities. That is why we intend to draft some amendments. We hope that the government will take a close look at them and agree to them. I will explain them.
First, one of the problems with this bill is that there is no obligation, on a third conviction of the most serious personal injury offences, for the crown prosecutor to actually apply for a dangerous offender hearing. It is all very well and good to say that we are going to if an application is made and that the offender will be presumed to be a dangerous offender, but if the crown prosecutors do not make the application, there is no dangerous offender hearing.
We on the Liberal side, we of the official opposition, are open to the idea of reform of the dangerous offender sections. We want to toughen the legislation in committee and address some of the serious concerns that remain regarding the way this bill is designed.
One of the proposed amendments that we will bring is in regard to the fact that currently when a judge is making a determination as to whether or not the dangerous offender designation is appropriate, one alternative already exists after disposition, and that is the long term offender designation. However, if the judge designates someone a long term offender and gives a supervision order that can be as long as 10 years after that offender completes his prison sentence, and if the long term offender violates a term of his supervision order, he cannot, under the current system, be compelled to face a new dangerous offender hearing. He can only face a new dangerous offender hearing if he commits another new and serious criminal offence.
This is a hole in the system that the experience of actually putting it into practice has brought to light. We on the Liberal side, the official opposition, are of the opinion that if an offender has received a long term offender designation that is because he went through a dangerous offender hearing. If that offender violates and is found guilty of breaching the supervision order for a long term offender, it is already a criminal act. That criminal act should be designated as one of the criminal acts that would automatically trigger a new dangerous offender hearing. This is a provision, if it is put in place, that would actually strengthen the entire system and make Canadians safer.
The second is as I mentioned. Currently, and even if Bill C-27 were adopted as is, there is no obligation that a crown prosecutor make an application to have a dangerous offender hearing upon a third conviction of a serious personal injury offence. We believe it should be mandatory. We believe that among the list of the designated offences there is a whole series of offences where it is clear that it should be automatic.
Therefore, we wish to bring an amendment to Bill C-27 that would make a dangerous offender hearing automatic if there is a third conviction on a series of very violent personal injury offences and possibly even those criminal acts that are very violent and in which a firearm is involved. We are prepared to look at that as well.
However, we wish this bill to get into committee so that we can explore this, hear from expert witnesses on the various issues and bring forth our amendments. I would hope that the government would support these amendments, because the amendments the Liberals are proposing would actually strengthen the dangerous offender system, much more than the particular reverse onus or reverse presumption that the government is proposing.