Mr. Speaker, I am exceptionally pleased that we are debating Bill C-35 at third reading. According to my colleagues, it is the second best thing that has happened yet today.
It proposes a reverse onus in bail hearings for a number of firearm-related offences.
Canada's new government is following through with its commitment to get tough on crime. That is why, since last spring, we have introduced 11 bills to make our communities safer. We have tackled key issues such as gun crimes, alcohol and drug impaired driving, street racing, and the protection of our youth from adult sexual predators.
This government is listening to what Canadians are telling us. We are making progress on amending the Criminal Code to make it more responsive to their concerns.
It is important that we maintain the trust of Canadians in the criminal justice system. Along with other bills, Bill C-35 aims to do just that. Bill C-35 demonstrates this government's commitment to ensuring that people charged with serious firearm offences do not roam our streets while out on bail.
In my view, the legislative reforms proposed in Bill C-35 are appropriately tailored to the concern that has been expressed by many Canadians, the concern about the release from custody of individuals accused of serious gun crimes who pose a threat to public safety.
Bill C-35 proposes to shift the onus during bail hearings from the Crown to the accused, so that people charged with serious firearm offences will not benefit from a presumption in favour of release on bail. The burden will be on them to demonstrate why it is not justified to keep them in custody until they are dealt with according to the law.
Under Bill C-35, a reverse onus will apply in a number of cases.
First, Bill C-35 creates a reverse onus for eight serious offences committed with a firearm. These offences are: attempted murder; discharging a firearm with intent; sexual assault with a weapon; aggravated sexual assault; kidnapping; hostage taking; robbery; and extortion. It is clear that these are serious offences and their severity is only heightened when they are committed with a firearm.
Second, Bill C-35 proposes a reverse onus for the offences of firearm trafficking, possession for the purposes of trafficking, and firearm smuggling. While firearm trafficking and smuggling are not offences that involve the actual use of a firearm, they are nonetheless very serious offences. Those involved in firearm trafficking and smuggling are responsible for the illegal supply of guns to people who cannot lawfully possess them and who are likely to use them for a criminal purpose.
The Criminal Code already provides a reverse onus for accused persons charged with drug trafficking and smuggling. It should also provide a reverse onus for those who are involved in firearm trafficking and smuggling. Just like those involved in the drug trade, firearm traffickers are also involved in organized and lucrative crime. In some cases, these activities go hand in hand and involve the same network of people.
Regardless of whether the charge is for firearm trafficking and smuggling or for drug crimes, a reverse onus should apply to the accused. The potential for continued involvement in that kind of ring is high, even after the accused has been arrested and then released. From a public safety perspective, firearm traffickers play a significant role in the firearm homicide problem. Their involvement poses an indirect but significant threat to the safety of the public.
Bill C-35 also creates a reverse onus for any offence involving a firearm or other regulated weapon if committed while the accused is subject to a weapons prohibition order.
Weapons prohibition orders are imposed in many cases, such as, for example, when a person is convicted of an indictable offence in which violence against a person was used, threatened or attempted. They are imposed on people convicted of certain drug trafficking and smuggling charges, as well as weapon-related offences. They remain in force for several years and in some cases for a lifetime.
Weapons prohibition orders are a very important tool in our criminal law to help prevent firearm violence, whether it is homicides or other gun related crimes, but also accidental injuries and suicides.
I would like to highlight the fact that there are approximately 35,000 prohibition orders currently in force in our country. This specific reverse onus situation has the potential to apply in a number of cases where the risk of future firearm violence is a concern. People should not be entitled to bail when they have demonstrated their inability to abide by a court order to not possess firearms or other regulated weapons.
Finally, Bill C-35 provides additional criteria specifically related to firearm offences for the court to consider when it decides whether the detention of the accused is justified.
This particular amendment is not a new reverse onus situation. The court will be able to justify denying bail to a person charged with an offence involving the use of a firearm or with a firearm offence that attracts a minimum penalty of three years or more.
If the court is not able to justify keeping a person in custody under the other permitted reasons, under Bill C-35 it will be able to do so if it is necessary in order to maintain confidence in the administration of justice.
Bill C-35 takes into consideration the broader picture regarding crime in the country. When it comes to gun crimes, the situation has changed, and we need to adapt to this change.
The reality is that organized crime and now street gangs are armed. Frequently they are armed with handguns or other restricted or prohibited firearms. Our criminal justice system must be properly equipped in order to step up to the challenges posed by this new brand of criminality.
Several of our large urban centres are now struggling with the criminal use or illegal possession of firearms by members of street gangs and by drug traffickers. Innocent people are affected by inter-gang violence, random shootings, armed robberies and, as we saw so recently, killings in schools. Just a couple of weeks ago, another young person, Jordan Manners, was fatally shot in a Toronto school.
We are adapting to changing times and changing crimes. Bill C-35 will enhance our bail regime to reflect our collective denunciation of gun crimes.
I am very happy that the bill is being met with quite a bit of support from all parties in the House and from various stakeholders. I would like to express how pleased I am with the recent support of the bill by the Bloc. Indeed, the study of this bill in committee has given us the opportunity to find out about important points of view, allowing all parties to appreciate its value. It is proof that committees can work.
The government believes that Bill C-35 is a very sensible piece of legislation. It is focused, strong and right. It is my hope that it will be well received in the Senate and that senators will move on it quickly and expeditiously.