House of Commons Hansard #163 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was tax.


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5:30 p.m.


Olivia Chow NDP Trinity—Spadina, ON

Mr. Speaker, about two years ago when there were a large number of gun crimes in Toronto I was involved in investigating what we could do in the community to reduce gun crime.

Aside from a serious investment in intervention and prevention programs, the mayor of the city of Toronto at the time, together with the chief of police, were pushing for a reverse onus in bail hearings for firearms-related charges. We know it is important. It is very demoralizing for a neighbourhood when someone is arrested and charged with a series of serious gun crimes yet gets bail and is back out in the community in a few days.

Will there be an evaluation, perhaps in a year, to see if Bill C-35, this amendment to the Criminal Code, has the positive impact that it is supposed to have, so that we know whether this amendment actually works or not? Will there be some kind of evaluation or reporting back to Parliament?

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5:30 p.m.


Rick Dykstra Conservative St. Catharines, ON

When good legislation is enacted, Mr. Speaker, and in regard to the opportunity for review and updates and the opportunity to ensure that success has been met, it is something that the committee certainly has talked about. It did not necessarily recommend that, but it certainly talked about how a future justice committee could take a look back at it to see if the foundation that was laid with Bill C-35 was successful. I think it will be. That success will be clear as we move forward.

One of the difficulties, though, as everyone knows, is that we will never know when we have stopped someone from committing a serious crime, perhaps a murder. We will never know whether or not it has been prevented. That is the one difficulty the committee faced. It is certainly one that needs to be looked at in terms of review.

The member for Trinity—Spadina mentioned community programs. I would point out that the 2006 budget laid out community programs. The Minister of Public Safety certainly made announcements on it over the last year. I am not even going to talk about what the figure may be, because I think the figure is not as important as the recognition that this government has put this forward and has asked communities to come forward with programs for youth to make sure they have an education and an opportunity rather than belonging to a gang or, certainly, picking up a gun.

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5:30 p.m.


Dean Del Mastro Conservative Peterborough, ON

Mr. Speaker, I enjoyed listening to the hon. member's speech. I am very supportive of Bill C-35. It is a very important new law that the government is bringing in on reverse onus for serious crimes committed with guns.

Specifically, the chief of police in Toronto, Ontario OPP commissioner Julian Fantino, and my own Chief McLaren are very supportive of this bill. They are very frustrated with the revolving door justice system that they feel we have adopted here in Canada, whereby the offenders are often back out on the street before the police have even been able to leave the courthouse.

I would like to know whether the hon. member feels that this bill addresses those concerns. Does he feel it will be well received by chiefs of police in Canada?

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5:30 p.m.


Rick Dykstra Conservative St. Catharines, ON

Mr. Speaker, we heard presentations at committee and there were very few. If I recall, I think only one organization came forward and said that it did not necessarily support the bill. At the special subcommittee that studied this bill, not one organization or one individual, except that one, said that this was not the right thing to do and that it would not prevent future crimes from happening.

The Montreal police indicated very clearly that this was much needed and that it was long overdue. It was brought forward in a way that showed all party support. Members of police associations and the chiefs believe this is a step in the right direction and that it will make their jobs easier.

The fact that they put so much work into moving forward on an arrest, they believe that putting good evidence forward will then allow the courts to take over. They will have the assurance that it will be up to the individual who is charged to prove to the court that they deserve the right to be outside of the institution that they would be held in.

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5:35 p.m.


Keith Martin Liberal Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak to Bill C-35, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (reverse onus in bail hearings for firearm-related offences).

The attorney general in my province supports the bill, as does the Liberal Party of Canada. This is part of a collection of government legislation that we tried to fast-track in March, including the age of consent legislation and a number of other bills. We tried to move them forward but the government inexplicably blocked our efforts to pass four major pieces of legislation dealing with criminals and criminal activity through the House in one day. Half of the government's legislative agenda on criminal activities could have been passed but the government chose not to. Those members can explain that to their constituents.

People have a lot of misconceptions on who is committing gun crimes and where the guns are coming from. Murders are not being committed by law-abiding citizens who get the background checks done, get the firearms acquisition certificate and then go out and hunt or engage in target practice. Murders are being committed by criminals who get these guns that are generally brought into Canada by gun traffickers.

Guns are often intimately attached to drug trafficking. In fact, trafficking in drugs, guns, other weapons or other contraband is part of what fuels organized crime financially. Guns are just another product to organized crime. The profound tragedy of this is that guns are used to kill people. Many of the guns used in homicides have been brought into this country illegally. They are not used by law-abiding people who get the firearms acquisition certificate. They are used by thugs. With the tough regulations that we have today, these thugs can only get guns illegally. They are brought up primarily from the United States.

It is important for us to focus on that. It is important for us not to veer off into initiatives that have nothing to do with dealing with the people who are committing these crimes. At the end of the day, those initiatives will not reduce crime in our country, which is why we are supporting this initiative.

This legislation is part of a whole collection of legislation that we introduced when we were in government that would have given Canada one of the toughest anti-pedophile laws in the world. Our legislation dealt with strong initiatives against sexual predators, tougher sentences for violent offenders and tougher penalties for those who engage in organized criminal activities. These individuals are actually criminals dressed in business suits.

It is also important for us to implement other initiatives that would make our country safer. One of the most important responsibilities that we have as elected officials is to implement solutions that ensure that our citizens are living in a safe environment.

Let us look at the prison population and at some of the antecedents as to why they are there. What kind of people are in jail? Some of them are bad and nasty people, which is why the federal government should listen to its provincial counterparts. I was having a conversation here with one of my colleagues. The provinces have a big challenge. The police are having a challenge on the ground with respect to this revolving door of people being arrested, going into the system and then coming out quickly. It is disheartening, immoral and defeating for our police officers and our correctional officers who work so ardently to keep our streets safe.

What could the government do? A lot of the people in prison have drug problems and psychiatric problems. It is estimated that 40% of them have fetal alcohol syndrome or fetal alcohol effect. This is a shocking number given the fact that fetal alcohol syndrome and fetal alcohol effect is the leading cause of preventable brain damage in newborns in Canada. It is completely preventable. It would be very smart for the health minister and the justice minister to work with their provincial counterparts to find comprehensive, doable and effective solutions that prevent fetal alcohol syndrome.

It is heartbreaking to see these children with an average IQ of 70. They have incredible difficulties in school and end up falling through the gaps. The teachers cannot handle them and, as a result, some of them act out with predictable consequences. When we go to a jail and we see who is there, we see a panoply of people with different issues.

I hope the government works on a rational drug policy but not the policy in the United States that has resulted in an increased use of both hard and soft drugs, a greater number of people in the prison population, more cost to the taxpayer and less safe streets because that does not work.

We do not need to have a binary situation between our solution and the United States. We could look to Europe. Europe has implemented some very sensible solutions in terms of a drug policy that does a lot in terms of harm reduction. I know the government does not particularly like harm reduction. It only extended the Insite safe injection site in Vancouver for one year instead of three years and it would be a catastrophic mistake if the government were to stop that program.

Why does the government not work with the scientists and the researchers who have done intelligent work on the ground to reduce harm? At the Insite safe injection site, for example, not only was there a reduction in property crime but more people actually became attached to the health care system. As a result, they could access the health care system and use the detox site therapy. A lot of these people have what we call dual diagnosis, which means that some have drug problems and some have psychiatric problems but some of them go hand in hand. We cannot tease these things out in isolation. We need to deal with people for the collection of problems they have. The harm reduction strategies work very well.

The Insite program works well because it gets people off the street. What would be smarter, and I know this would be a real leap for the government, would be to adopt something like the NAOMI project in Vancouver where individuals are given the drug in an environment which disconnects them from going out on the street and buying it from those people who are attached to organized crime.

The worst thing we could do for members of organized crime that would actually cause them to get weak in the knees and be beside themselves with grief is to sever the ties between the drug user and organized crime. We can do that. I know people will say that it is not the business of the government to go out and give addicts drugs but these people will go out and buy drugs from people attached to organized crime and that serves no one.

If we can bring people into the health care system through a harm reduction site, particularly a harm reduction site where they get their drugs, then we can attach them to detox and get them into psychiatric therapy and the treatment they require. This would be something that the government could rationally adopt to deal with this problem.

When the government puts the population in jail, it should make sentence reductions conditional on those individuals participating ardently in the skills training, the psychiatric therapy and the drug therapy that would be mandated to them when they come in front of the court.

People would automatically get one-third off their sentence, which is frequently reduced more, and no conditions would be placed on the individual. It would be a lot smarter if that person had to work for that release by being able to get time off for good behaviour if they actually behaved well.

These people would need to follow the parameters set during sentencing, including the psyche therapy, harm reduction and drug therapy, as well as the skills training. When these people left jail they would then have the skills needed to get a job, their drug problem would, hopefully, be dealt with to a degree and they would be in the medical system where their psyche problems are being dealt with.

Some psychiatric problems are chronic. They may be one of the major psychosis, which is difficult to deal with, but at least they would have a head start when they got out of jail. If these problems are not dealt with while they are in jail, many of them go back to what they did before. As a result, we see the recidivism rate that plagues some populations within the citizen population.

It is also important to look at the population that engages in gun crimes. In Toronto, for example, 40% to 50% of the individuals who actually committed violent offences with a gun were actually on probation or on bail. These individuals were repeat offenders. They had been convicted and were out on bail and 40% to 50% of them committed gun offences. I think it is a really good idea in terms of putting the reverse onus upon them because we are dealing with a very fixed group of individuals who have committed violent offences.

The other thing that is worthwhile to bear in mind is that most people who commit murder do not use a gun. They use knives, baseball bats and other tools to murder another individual. It would be wise to extend the notion of reverse onus to those individuals who have committed violent offences, such as sexual assault, assault causing bodily harm, attempted murder and murder, as a starting group. We would then be dealing with a fixed population of people who have been proven to be a danger and a threat to society. We can look at the small population and ascertain, based on their behaviour and activities in jail, whether or not they are safe to be released.

One of the toughest things I had to do when I was working in a jail was to assess an individual who was about to be released. Some of these individuals had lists as long as their arms in terms of extreme violent behaviour. I remember being attacked by an individual in his cell, which was proof in terms of getting that person into a psychiatric facility. However, what if the correctional officers had not really been aware or called a physician to do the assessment on that individual to get him into hospital? The system should be sufficient to analyze a person to determine whether or not he or she is actually in a position to be released safely into society.

We are treading into very challenging ground in terms of people's rights but I am sure smart minds out there could put together a framework where people's personal rights would be protected but also the rights of society would be honoured as well.

While this is a difficult area to tread ethically, it is important that the government tackle it. I am sure that many people the House, as well as people in the public service and in Canada, have experience and knowledge in this area and perhaps they could guide the government in implementing a rational policy to do so.

I want to emphasize that we can do many things in terms of preventing a lot of problems from occurring. We can do things for those who are convicted and in jail. It is not a simple situation of focusing on higher penalties for individuals who have committed crimes. While those are important under certain circumstances, we need to look deeper into the situation to implement the solutions that work.

I have probably said this 100 times in the House over the last 14 years but I will harp on it again. The Head Start program for kids works when we look at it purely through the issue of youth crime. If I were to tell the House that there is a plan that reduces youth crime by 60%, a plan that saves the taxpayer $7 for every $1 invested, would members not think that was a plan that the government should adopt? A wise government would look at it and not simply dismiss it out of hand as some sort of woolly-headed notion.

The reality is that these programs have more than 25 years' experience and have been analyzed by very competent researchers. Those headstart programs work to strengthen the parent-child bond. They help parents, particularly vulnerable parents, access the parenting skills that they require. That has a profound impact on the development of the child.

In the first eight years of life is when a child's brain is actually developing the neuro connections. Those brain connections occur at that sensitive time. If it is done right, those brain connections work well and the child has the pillars and resiliency within his or her psyche to deal with many challenges. However, subject that child to violence, sexual abuse, poor nutrition, an absence of adequate parenting, and those connections simply do not work as well. Frequently that is the case, but not always.

If we are able to give that child that head start, if that child is able to develop his or her brain during that critical first eight years in a competent way, then that child truly has the ability to live a life that anybody would hope for an individual. Depriving the child of those basic elements, subjecting that child to those horrible events damages the child sometimes forever.

We often hear horror studies of individuals who commit horrible crimes. Sometimes it is difficult for us to sympathize with those individuals given the horrible things they have done and they pay the price. It should also cause us to reflect that things happened in the history of that individual who has committed horrible crimes.

If we are smart we would work with the provinces to implement that headstart program because it works. I am going to try to do that this summer in my riding. There are four teachers who have volunteered to do it. I hope by September we will be able to roll it out as a pilot project in Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca. If it works, maybe it could be shared with teachers in other areas of our country.

One of the most remarkable programs is the Hawaii healthy start program. It reduced child abuse rates a staggering 99%. It looked at parents who were vulnerable, parents who did not have good parenting skills, who themselves lived in vulnerable and sometimes horrible environments. Those parents were matched with women who had had their kids and who had strong parenting skills. In building that mentorship program with those vulnerable parents, child abuse rates were reduced 99%. That is pretty amazing.

It is not complex. It is not rocket science. It is pretty easy to do. It does require leadership.This leadership could be exercised at the federal level, even though the implementation and operation of it would be at the provincial level. I think all of us know that our provincial counterparts are looking for leadership. They are looking for help. They are looking for a hand and it is not that we do not have a plan or a program to do this.

I encourage the government to work with our provincial counterparts on that. I strongly encourage the government to look at the harm reduction strategies that work, to adopt those strategies, to support those strategies across our country.

For heaven's sake, I would ask that the government not cut harm reduction. I would ask it not to cut the Insite safe injection site. I would ask it not to stop the NAOMI project in Vancouver. Rather, it should look at those projects and see how other communities in Canada that want to adopt these programs can have access to these programs.

The failure to do so would result in the deaths of thousands of people in our country, the spread of communicable diseases, some of which are fatal. The costs to the taxpayer would be extraordinary.

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5:50 p.m.


Blaine Calkins Conservative Wetaskiwin, AB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my hon. colleague for his impassioned speech. We are discussing reverse onus on gun crimes. I know that the hon. member did talk a little bit about gun stuff in his speech. I want to thank him for his support and hopefully for his and his entire party's support when it comes time to pass Bill C-35.

I noticed that in his speech he went through the life cycle of a law-abiding citizen acquiring a firearm. A law-abiding citizen would apply for a firearms acquisition certificate, or the possession only, or possession and acquisition licence, go through the waiting period, go through all the criminal checks, dot all the is, cross all the ts and then have to fill out a registration form to purchase a firearm. He said very clearly that these are not the people that we want to go after.

I have a simple question for my hon. colleague. If it makes so much sense to support Bill C-35, which is to put the reverse onus on people who commit dangerous offences, whether their motivation is through drug trafficking or anything else, would it not make more sense to use those resources that we are currently spending on the gun registry, which is Bill C-21? It sounded to me he was making an excellent case for passing Bill C-21 and getting rid of the long gun registry and taking the resources from that and using it for implementing Bill C-35 and some of the other programs that the hon. member thinks are so important for the social well-being of members of his community.

I am just wondering if I could count on his support for Bill C-21 as much as I could count on his support for Bill C-35.

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5:55 p.m.


Keith Martin Liberal Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, the government has not put Bill C-21 back on the legislative agenda. It is not there. When it brings it forward we will be able to discuss it.

The member's question on the issue of the long gun registry was a good one. I have asked a lot of police officers about it. Regarding the operating costs for the gun registry, the economic cost of supporting it, one has to question whether that money would best be used where it is today in the long gun registry or whether it would best be used somewhere else.

I argued against the long gun registry. In fact, I went in front of the justice committee to argue against having it. If it were reintroduced today I would not support it. However, we have it. I have asked police officers should we or should we not get rid of the long gun registry and I have received two answers.

Police officers who work in urban areas say we should keep it because they access it quite frequently. There are thousands of hits on the registry every single day. I have received that answer from that population of police officers.

The other population of police officers to whom I spoke are those who work in rural areas. They say they do not need it. They do not use it. They respond to a situation with the presumption that there are guns in the house. They always do that. The rural police offers say that the registry is not needed.

At the end of the day, I have to say I am in a quandary. The overriding principle as to whether or not I support the abolition of the long gun registry resides in a simple question. What is in the best interests of the police who have to deal with people in a very dangerous situation and what is in the best interests of the Canadian public? It boils down to whether or not the money is best spent doing something else as the hon. member quite rightly said, or since the money has been spent on creating the registry, is it better to have the money there so that the police who are working in an urban area can access the registry? I would not advocating and I am sure that nobody in the House would advocate doing anything that would increase the insecurity and danger to our police officers. At the end of the day, that is the question that we all have to answer.

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5:55 p.m.

Okanagan—Coquihalla B.C.


Stockwell Day ConservativeMinister of Public Safety

Mr. Speaker, I wonder if the hon. colleague is aware, when he mentioned the CPIC system, that there is a bit of a myth about how many times it is accessed daily for the purposes of the gun registry.

The CPIC system across the country, depending on how busy officers are getting, could be used up to 5,000 times a day, but it is used in any and every instance. When officers tap into the CPIC system, included in the information available on the CPIC system are elements tied into the gun registry. It is nowhere near being used 5,000 times a day. That would be horrendous in terms of checking for firearms offences. That would make Canada the most vicious nation with the most firearms in the world--

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6 p.m.


Blair Wilson Liberal West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast—Sea to Sky Country, BC

We are. The number of firearms we have per capita--

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6 p.m.


Stockwell Day Conservative Okanagan—Coquihalla, BC

Mr. Speaker, one member just said that we are. We are not. We are one of the safest nations in the world. People who perpetuate that myth to try to move along their own ideology by scaring people are being irresponsible.

I know the member is sincere in his comments. It is only a few times relative to 5,000 times a day that it is actually used to tap into information on the firearms system. In fact, it was the Auditor General who said that the data on that system related to the long gun registry in fact is not reliable. That is why we want to see dollars focused on more officers on the street, resources to deal with smuggling of firearms and things like mandatory jail time for firearms offences and also prevention programs for youth at risk and gun crimes.

I wonder if the member is aware that relative to 5,000 times a day, it is relatively a few times a day that it is actually used for access to the firearms registry.

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6 p.m.


Keith Martin Liberal Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, the Minister of Public Safety's question is a difficult one, an impossible one really, to answer. To determine which police officers are actually accessing the CPIC system to ascertain whether or not a house or dwelling they are going to has guns is very difficult. Police officers should be asked that question.

I have asked police officers and as I said, the information that I received from police officers was that it is accessed thousands of times. I asked that question only in the context of firearms. I asked how many times they access the registry for the purpose of determining whether an individual or group has firearms. The minister is correct. It is an imperfect system. That is why in part we see the difference in answers between the urban police officers and the rural police officers.

I also want to say to the minister that very clearly my leader has supported more police officers and investment in better training in those areas. The minister articulated some of the more penalty focused initiatives which we support. However, he also has to recognize that if he only does that, if he does not deal with the harm reduction aspects of drug policy, if he does not direct investment into substance abuse rehabilitation, if he does not provide access for psychiatric therapies and treatments, if he does not provide skills training for individuals who have gone down that road, then he will be creating a system that is not going to make our streets any safer in the long run. He is not going to prevent people from going down that road.

I would argue that it is a lot cheaper to go down the road of addressing both of those elements than to simply focus on one. In fact it is incumbent on the government to take both of those duties very seriously and implement both of the solutions that I articulated in my speech.

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6 p.m.


Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, I was quite impressed with the member's comments at the end of his speech about the direction of reducing crime in Canada and working on crime prevention and healing. The aboriginal head start program is an exceptional success in my riding as well. I certainly encourage him to keep pushing for the expansion of that program. I will too.

I wonder if the member would like to expand on the government's efforts at crime reduction. It is probably misguided and not the best investment when simply a number of the bills, not this particular bill which we are supporting, but a number of the bills lead to increased incarceration. Many witnesses have shown that it actually makes society more dangerous. The criminals come out of incarceration and actually reoffend more because of what they learned. More important, the investment would be toward prevention and those types of initiatives. For instance, over half the crimes are committed by someone who is under the influence of something or is purchasing drugs--

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6 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker NDP Bill Blaikie

Order. I am afraid the hon. member will not be able to expand because the question was too expansive. Resuming debate, the hon. member for Windsor—Tecumseh.

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6 p.m.


Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, Bill C-35, back from the special legislative committee, really addresses two points. The major one that most people have heard of is to reverse the onus, so that the accused would have to establish why he or she would be released on bail and the other, which is a secondary point but flows from this, is that we have added some criteria that the judge would take into account when determining whether a person would be released on bail.

To expand on that a bit so that we are clear, we have effectively had the reverse onus within the Criminal Code in many respects if one understood how the practice took place. We are emphasizing and the legislature is sending a message to our judiciary that we want it to be very concentrated in its focus on gun crimes and the use of guns in crimes. If people before the court are alleged to have used guns in serious crimes, they would be required to establish under those circumstances whether they should be released from custody pending their trials or disposition of the charges.

It was interesting to listen to the evidence. The very first witness, other than the minister and the officials from the Department of Justice, was a representative from one of the defence bars in Canada, an association of defence lawyers. I have to say quite frankly that he stunned the committee with his opening statement that the organization in fact was not opposed to Bill C-35.

This was confirmed by a number of other witnesses, but he went on to establish to our satisfaction that this bill simply represents what is now happening in our courts across the country. Both he and other witnesses from the defence bar and other people who might have traditionally been expected to be opposed to this legislation, and in some cases were on principle, came forward with the same evidence time after time.

At least in all of the major metropolitan areas right across the country, the courts have already begun to apply a reverse onus. Even though it is not mandated by statute, they in effect were doing it practically on a day to day basis in our courts across the country. They were doing it particularly when crimes involved youth and the use of guns.

I know I have given this part of my speech before, but I am going to repeat it. When we deviate from what is an accepted practice in our criminal justice system, we do so only when we are faced with a serious problem. We know that in spite of the fact that the murder rate in this country continues to decline, as it has on a regular basis over the last 25 years, there have been some spikes but generally it has declined, the rate of violent crime has declined in similar ratios over that 25 year period.

I will digress for a moment. I use the 25 almost 30 year period now because it was over that period of time that we have had good, reliable statistics with regard to the crime rates in this country. Prior to that, the figures are somewhat suspicious in terms of their validity.

For the last 25 to 30 years the murder rate has continued to decline and the violent crime rate continues to decline, but there are exceptions to that and that is really what this bill, to some significant degree, is attempting to address.

One of the areas of crimes involving guns where we have seen a spike, even with some trend to it, has been in street gangs primarily in our major metropolitan centres right across the country. It is higher in some areas, but generally a trend right across the country.

We know that because there are more handguns and illegal guns, rapid fire guns in particular, that have ended up in the hands of gangs through organized crime, the biker gangs in particular. They have imported a lot more weapons in the last decade or so and we are seeing those guns get right into the hands of street gangs.

Therefore, we are seeing a substantial increase in crime within that very specific group. We cannot help but think if that had not happened, that those guns had not ended up in their hands, that the violent crime rate in this country, both for murder and for violent crimes generally, would have dropped even more dramatically than what we have seen over that 25 to 30 year period.

The bill specifically addresses this with an amendment, not only reversing the onus but it specifically requires, under the facts and circumstances, what the court is to take into account when granting bail. We have added to additional sections and one is an amendment to an existing section.

We had traditionally assigned to the court guidelines in section 515 of the Criminal Code as to what was to be taken into account. The overall encompassing section says that the detention is necessary to maintain confidence in the administration of justice, having regard to all the circumstances, and then we go down this list. Bail was to be denied if in fact there was a loss of confidence in the administration of justice.

As I said earlier, we were hearing from the witnesses that our judges right across the country, in the metropolitan areas in particular, were concerned about the effect of confidence on the administration of justice. They had begun to say to people who came before them, charged with crimes involving guns and involving serious violence, that they must establish why they should not be held in custody pending their trial or the disposition of their charges.

These sections were already in, so the judge in determining whether the administration of justice was falling into disrepute had to take into account, first, the apparent strength of the prosecution's case; second, the gravity of the offence; and third, the circumstances surrounding the commission of the offence.

To that we have now added in this bill, assuming it passes the House, in looking at the commission of the offence, whether it included the use of a firearm. Of course that would be a negative factor to be taken into account and the basis on which bail could be denied.

We then went on to add an additional factor. If the accused was liable on conviction to a potentially lengthy prison term, then we added, in the case of an offence that involved or whose subject matter was a firearm, a minimum punishment of imprisonment for a term of three years or more.

Therefore, the judge confronted with a charge of that kind involving a gun would take into account what the potential penalty is and if it is more than three years, that again would be a negative factor in determining whether the individual would be allowed out on bail and more than likely would not.

That has begun to happen right across the country. What we are doing with this legislation is confirming, I suppose, to our judges that we agree with them, that it is an appropriate practice on their part in giving them in effect legislative authority above and beyond what they already have to continue that practice where it is appropriate to do so.

There were a number of concerns around the bill. We heard those from the witnesses. One of them was on principle. We do not use reverse onus in the criminal justice system in this country in the long history that we have had, that the presumption of innocence is overriding in all cases.

However, again, we have made those exceptions on occasion and this is one of the times because of, I will say fairly and justifiably, the crisis that we are faced with, with the use of guns in those particular circumstances, and so it is justified on that basis that we should do so.

One of the other concerns that was raised repeatedly, and we heard from the member from the Liberal Party, was regarding some statistics that show the number of subsequent offences that are committed when someone is already out on bail.

I want to be very clear that we brought forward one of the first witnesses, the people from Juristat, the individuals from Statistics Canada who keep records on bail. We have not been doing that until very recently. The reliability of how many crimes are committed when somebody is already out on bail is certainly not foolproof at all.

The figure that was quoted came from one of the police associations. It was over a fairly limited period of time. It involved a fairly limited number of charges involving weapons on which bail was granted. It is difficult to assess the basis on which we are making this decision on solid, hard statistical evidence. We simply do not have that.

What we are doing here is making this decision based on the anecdotal experience we are being told about. We do not have solid statistical evidence. It is being gathered now. Our police forces across the country are providing that to Statistics Canada, but they have in effect only started that roughly three years ago.

The validity of that needs a period of time, as much as 10 years, before we know for sure just what our experiences are. How many people do get out on bail and who then subsequently commit an offence? We do not know that. We will have that over the next six or seven years at a scientific level that is reliable, if I can say that, but we do not have that at this point.

A statistic that did come out, and is accurate, is the number of people that we have in custody pre-trial. These are people who have not been convicted of any offence but are in custody. This is a major problem for our provincial governments because we actually have more people in this country in pre-trial custody on any given day than we do who have been sentenced to a period of time either in our federal penitentiaries or our provincial prison system.

I was trying to find the figures earlier but I could not. We have about 9,000 people on any given day in this country who are in pre-trial custody and not convicted of any offence. We are holding them in pre-trial custody versus about 7,000 who are in our federal and provincial prisons.

That is a cause for concern because of the cost. Those costs in the pre-trial custodial system are all maintained by the provinces. Obviously there is some sharing that goes on between the federal and the provincial governments, but there is no specific money that is allocated from the federal government for that.

The best estimate we could get was that the impact of Bill C-35 would have very little impact on adding to the pre-trial incarceration in this country because the judges have already done that. That is the immediate impact.

More long term, where judges may have backed off somewhat, assuming the crime rate goes down by the use of guns, it may very well keep that pre-trial incarceration rate up higher than it would be if the judges had simply been left alone with the discretion they have had up to this point.

That is a concern that we are going to have to continue to monitor on an ongoing basis by dealing with it in either one of two ways: looking at ways of perhaps amending this legislation at some point in the future or looking at ways that we can have more funds flow to the provinces to assist them in the cost of that pre-trial incarceration.

Those are concerns that we will have to continue to monitor. Any government, whether it is this one or some subsequent government, will have to monitor those costs on an ongoing basis.

I want to go back to the bill itself with regard to why we would proceed with it. Last week we had Bill C-10 before us on mandatory minimums which went through the House. I spoke at that time about the importance of us focusing on the use of the criminal justice system on specific areas when we have a specific problem, a significant problem, even a crisis level problem in those areas.

That is what we are doing here in Bill C-35. Our judiciary, to a significant degree if maybe not completely, has already addressed this problem.

What we are doing with Bill C-35 is simply confirming that it is a problem in this country. This legislature is sending a message to those street gangs, to the youth of this country who are inclined to carry guns and use them in crimes, that they are not going to get bail, that they are going to be held in custody and, if subsequently committed, that they are going to be faced with quite severe penalties.

That message is the message that we need to send in a very targeted and very focused way. I believe the combination of Bill C-10 and Bill C-35 goes some distance in doing that.

I would make this final point. One of the witnesses we heard from is a well known professor of criminology and sociology, a highly respected expert. If not the expert in the country, he certainly has no individuals in the country who would be superior to him. He may have a few peers, but there is no one superior.

He made a point in opposition to this legislation. He said that one of the problems with this legislation is that we are creating an expectation that this bill will not meet, because it is already happening. He said that we are creating an expectation that this is going to significantly drive down the crime rate with regard to the use of weapons, illegal guns in particular. He said that it is not going to happen and he is right.

It is not going to happen. It may have a small impact, and he was prepared, I think, to concede that, but as for a major impact, we will hear from some of the government members in particular that it is going to have that major impact, and it is not.

If we are going to drive down the crime rate, especially crime involving guns and serious violent crime, it means more enforcement by our police officers. We saw that again in Toronto, where Chief Blair was very successful in shutting down several of the street gangs by using existing law and existing methodology, before Bill C-10 and before Bill C-35. But he needs more resources, as do a number of our other chiefs across the country.

The other point that we have to be looking at is programming that will prevent individuals, youth in particular, from getting involved in the street gangs, so that they never get to that point where they have to make the decision on whether to take a gun into their possession. Unless we move more dramatically on those prevention programs, we will not see a dramatic reduction in gun crimes in this country.

This is part of the agenda that the government and this legislature have to face on an ongoing basis. I say this repeatedly, and I know it is almost becoming a cliché now, but one violent crime in this country is one too many. The target for us as a legislature is to say that we will do whatever we can to prevent every single violent crime in this country.

Are we ever going to achieve that? I am not naive enough to think we will achieve that ideal society, but I do know, from looking at experiences around the globe, that we can do much more than we are doing now in preventing crime. That is really what the agenda should be for this legislature when we are dealing with the criminal justice system over the next decade.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

6:20 p.m.


Judy Sgro Liberal York West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have a few questions for the hon. member. I know that as we all do he clearly has similar concerns about just what we can be doing to reduce crime in our cities and to improve the overall safety of our country. I think all of us have that same issue at heart, and the question is, what is the answer?

For some of the issues around Bill C-35 and reverse onus, in some cases those things are already happening, but it does send the message that we want to send to the judiciary. My concern is about our large urban centres like Toronto, which I represent, and the unfortunate and continuing gun violence in my riding.

I have two questions. First, what are his thoughts when it comes to the whole issue around handguns in our cities? This is something that the community safety minister in Ontario and the attorney general have talked about. They have talked specifically about a ban on handguns in major cities. They also told me that two weeks ago the police raided an apartment looking for someone and found 260 legally registered handguns and 1,000 pounds of ammunition.

Bill C-35 is not going to be big in helping us in those avenues, so what other suggestions does the member have? Does he think we should be going in that direction as a next step when it comes to the handgun issue?

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

6:20 p.m.


Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, the Liberal Party raised the issue of a ban on handguns as a policy that it would have implemented had the Liberals returned to power. That was one of the promises they made in the last election.

For the NDP, I have done a fair amount of background work with respect to this issue. I remember talking to the chief of police in Windsor who asked me how we were going to ban guns and then referred to the immediate adjacent communities around Windsor. If guns are banned in Windsor, they are going to be found in the adjoining municipalities of Tecumseh and LaSalle. That is one of the problems.

I can say for the member that as a result of the Dawson shooting last year, some members of city council in Montreal are looking at bringing forward a bylaw to ban handguns in metropolitan Montreal. I will be watching that. I would encourage other members to watch as well to see whether or not that comes forward, whether it passes successfully, and then what the experience is with it.

I do want to say with regard to the ban proposed by the Liberal Party in the last election campaign, and I know we would hear this from the Conservatives as well, that it was modelled after what happened in Australia. What Australia did is what I believe the Liberals were proposing to do. People in Australia who had handguns for collection purposes or for recreational purposes were exempted. The situation my colleague described earlier of 200-plus guns and 1,000 rounds of ammunition would have been exempted, because those were all registered legally as the individual was either collecting them or using them for recreational purposes. When Australia did that, it had no ascertainable impact at all on gun crime rates in that country.

If we are going to ban handguns, it will have to be a complete ban. It is hard to imagine recreational shooters and collectors willingly accepting that. I think what we will be looking at, and I am hoping this is what we will see in the experiment in Montreal, is that a different form of storage of the weapons will be required where an individual has them legally because he or she is a collector or uses them for recreational purposes.

I need to make one more point. If we are going to do that, we have to recognize the reality of what we are dealing with. We know that more than half of the handguns and repeating illegal weapons used in crimes in this country are smuggled in from the United States, so a ban on handguns will have no impact on those. It will have some impact on the guns that are stolen from retail outlets and from individual collectors and owners and are then subsequently sold on the street and used in crimes.

The issue of the handguns that are smuggled in is a whole other problem that we need to deal with, but I know I have run out of time, so I cannot tell the House what we should be doing in that regard.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

6:25 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker NDP Bill Blaikie

The hon. member did have another minute or so, but I think we will call it 6:30 because we really do not have time for another exchange.

The House resumed from May 31 consideration of the motion.

International TradeCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

6:25 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker NDP Bill Blaikie

The House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred recorded division on the motion to concur in the ninth report of the Standing Committee on International Trade in the name of the member for Sherbrooke. Call in the members.

(The House divided on the motion, which was agreed to on the following division:)

Vote #194

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

6:55 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker NDP Bill Blaikie

I declare the motion carried.

A motion to adjourn the House under Standing Order 38 deemed to have been moved.

6:55 p.m.


Brian Masse NDP Windsor West, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege to rise to speak to an issue to which many Canadians want answers, and that is a review of the pricing of gasoline in the country.

We have seen a series of different pilfering with absolutely no accountability on this issue. The New Democrats have been calling for a public inquiry about this issue and also for accountability for consumers.

It is important to not this. Even as the price of gasoline has been rising, statistics show that we have not had a lesser use of oil and gasoline products in the country. Until we get a reduction through principles and a program that Canadians will have for the environment, they do not need to be bled dry by the oil and gas companies, which have record profits.

It is interesting, the House passed a motion, calling on the government to amend the Competition Act, which is very important to provide the right tools to do the job. The act has not been reviewed comprehensively since 1969. When I asked a question of the minister of that time, I noted that date was the time of the Woodstock festival. This was a comment from the minister's briefing book, which I obtained from the Freedom of Information Act. The act was built upon that era in time and had not really been reviewed.

It is important to note that the motion called for a petroleum monitoring agency, something for which the New Democrats asked. We voted on that motion in the House of Commons and it passed.

Interestingly enough, since the time the motion passed, the government has done nothing. The Prime Minister, when in opposition, attacked the member for LaSalle—Émard for not respecting a motion passed by the House, calling for an inquiry into the Air-India tragedy. He said:

Will the Prime Minister respect this vote and immediately call a public inquiry into the Air-India tragedy?

Back in 2005, the nowPrime Minister said this to the National Post on May 11:

This is a corrupt party which is in the process of ruining the country's finances and which is now ignoring the democratically expressed will of the House of Commons. This government does not have the moral authority to govern this country.

He followed that two days later with this comment to Canada AM, “It would seem to me the obvious thing and, frankly, the government's lost three votes now in a row. And the fact that they won't listen to the will of the House of Commons I think is fairly disturbing from a democratic standpoint”.

In the past the Prime Minister has called for the House, the chamber, when it votes its conscience, to live up to that.

In the past, New Democrats have had motions passed, whether it be child poverty, our firefighters or seniors. Votes for a whole series of groups and organizations have been passed and the government has done nothing.

Why is the current Prime Minister not living up to his own words when he expected actions on votes in the House of Commons? Why are we not getting that action now, especially when consumers across the country are continuing to be fleeced by the oil and gas companies? He simply cannot stand by and do nothing.

7 p.m.

Lotbinière—Chutes-de-la-Chaudière Québec


Jacques Gourde ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Natural Resources

Mr. Speaker, I fully understand the concerns of my colleague and Canadians concerning the impact of rising gas prices. The rising price of gas and other basic commodities has a negative impact on the cost of living for everyone.

Canada's energy policy is based on an open market in which businesses are free to make business decisions within a regulatory framework designed to protect the current and future interests of all Canadians. We still support the theory that prices established in a free and competitive market are the best way to guide producers in their investment decisions, as well as consumers in terms of the type of energy they use and how they use it. This is how we ensure adequate supply at the most competitive possible prices.

As long as we are not facing a national emergency, the Canadian Constitution does not allow the Government of Canada to regulate energy prices. That is a provincial jurisdiction. At present, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland, Quebec, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick have decided to regulate gas prices. Experience has shown, however, that although regulation may stabilize prices and make them less volatile, it does not necessarily lower prices.

The Competition Bureau has the authority and the responsibility to investigate any anti-competitive practice and, if necessary, to take legal action. The Competition Bureau has conducted several major investigations of collusion in the oil industry. Each time, the investigations revealed that it was impossible to prove that regular increases in the price of gas were due to a conspiracy to reduce competition in the supply of gas. On the contrary, the bureau always found that market forces such as supply and demand, as well as the increase in the price of crude oil, were the leading causes of price hikes.

The increase in the price of oil products is the direct result of the balance between supply and demand. Most refineries throughout the world are operating at almost full capacity and Canadian and American refineries have attained their sustainable level of maximum production. Demand for oil products continues to climb and the inability of refineries to maintain production rates will increase pressure on the price of oil products.

Although refineries continue to make massive investments, most of them have been made to ensure compliance with environmental regulations, leaving little room for investments to increase capacity. In the past five years, Canadian refineries have spent over $4.5 billion on upgrading their facilities in order to meet desulfuration regulations.

Until just recently, refiners' margins did not generate enough profit, even with the new increases in capacity. The steady rise in refining margins in recent months has encouraged refiners to continue investing in increasing capacity. Shell Canada, Irving Oil and Newfoundland and Labrador Refining Corporation recently presented proposals to build new refineries in Canada, and other oil companies are also looking at increasing their capacity, but it will be several years before the effects of these investments are felt.

When the balance between supply and demand is as precarious as it is right now, the markets react more quickly, even to the slightest changes in supply, and inventory levels become the warning signs of potential shortages.

While Canadian inventory levels determine the adequacy of supply in Canadian markets, it is U.S. inventory levels that drive prices across all of North America. For the last 12 weeks, U.S. gasoline stocks have been falling. Unanticipated refinery problems in the United States and other countries have reduced the supply of gasoline. In addition, U.S. gasoline supplies have been reduced by lower levels of imports from Europe. In April 2007, U.S. gasoline stocks reached their lowest level since September 2005, following hurricane Katrina. U.S. gasoline supplies are well below the five-year historical range for this time of year. Traditionally, gasoline inventories—

7:05 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker NDP Bill Blaikie

The hon. member for Windsor West.