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.