This week, I changed much of the tech behind this site. If you see anything that looks like a bug, please let me know!

House of Commons Hansard #164 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was trafficking.

Topics

Government Response to PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre Saskatchewan

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 36(8) I have the honour to table, in both official languages, the government's response to four petitions.

HealthCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Conservative

Rob Merrifield Conservative Yellowhead, AB

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present, in both official languages, the ninth report of the Standing Committee on Health.

The committee has studied Bill C-42, An Act to amend the Quarantine Act, and has agreed to report it to the House with amendments.

Ukrainian Holodomor-Genocide Remembrance Day ActRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

Borys Wrzesnewskyj Liberal Etobicoke Centre, ON

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-450, An Act respecting a national day of remembrance of the Ukrainian Holodomor-Genocide.

Mr. Speaker, it is with solemnity that I introduce my private member's bill, the Ukrainian Holodomor-Genocide Remembrance Day Act.

The purpose of the bill is to establish the fourth Saturday in November as a day of remembrance for the estimated seven million to ten million Ukrainians who died a horrifying slow death from starvation in 1932-33 during the famine masterminded, organized and carried out by the Soviet regime under Stalin.

This Holodomor-Genocide inflicted a deep and lasting scar on the Ukrainian community throughout the world. Many survivors of the famine and their descendants later immigrated to Canada. This famine was an attempt to crush the longing for freedom and to erase all aspirations for an independent Ukrainian state.

Part of the Soviet strategy also involved suppressing, distorting and wiping out all information about the Ukrainian famine, now and into the future to be known as the Holodomor-Genocide.

By enacting this legislation and recognizing a day of remembrance of this horrific tragedy, Canada will reaffirm her core values of defending human rights and condemning all injustices committed by humans against their fellow human beings, and to condemn the greatest of all evils, genocide.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)

Income TrustsPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

Ken Boshcoff Liberal Thunder Bay—Rainy River, ON

Mr. Speaker, this petition is with regard to the broken promises from the Government of Canada on income trusts. The petition represents another group of citizens who have been hurt by the income trust fiasco and the broken promises. The petitioners are mostly concerned with the recklessness of this and the fact that there was an emphatic promise that there would be no tampering with income trusts.

With expert witnesses now providing clear evidence that the finance minister's decision has been based on flawed methodology, the petitioners trust that the government will rectify income trusts and make good and undo their broken promise.

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre Saskatchewan

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform

Mr. Speaker, I ask that all questions be allowed to stand.

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Is that agreed?

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development--Speaker's RulingPoints of OrderRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Bill Blaikie

Before going to orders of the day I would like to give the ruling on the point of order raised by the hon. member for Wascana regarding the use of Standing Order 56.1 to timetable the proceedings on a bill in the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development.

On May 31, 2007 during routine proceedings the government House leader sought, but did not obtain, unanimous consent of the House to move the following motion:

That, notwithstanding any Standing Order or usual practices of the House, when the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development convenes a meeting, it shall not be adjourned or suspended until it completes the committee stage of Bill C-44 except pursuant to a motion by a parliamentary secretary and, provided the bill is adopted by the committee, agrees to report the bill to the House within two sitting days following the completion of the committee stage.

He then moved the motion again pursuant to Standing Order 56.1 and the motion was adopted when fewer than 25 members rose to object. A short time later, the hon. member for Wascana raised a point of order regarding the use of Standing Order 56.1. He was supported by interventions from the hon. member for Joliette and the hon. member for Hamilton Centre, while the Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons argued that the motion adopted earlier had been appropriately presented under Standing Order 56.1.

Given that a meeting of the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development was imminent, I delivered an immediate ruling promising that the Chair would return to the House later with reasons. I am now prepared to do so.

First, the Chair would like to thank all hon. members who intervened on the point of order for their contributions on this question and is particularly grateful that members have taken note of certain key rulings, specifically those the Speaker delivered on September 18, 2001 and October 3, 2006.

A key element in my ruling today is the fundamental precept that standing committees are masters of their own procedure. Indeed, so entrenched is that precept that only in a select few Standing Orders does the House make provision for intervening directly into the conduct of standing committee affairs. In addition to the power the House has to give instructions to committees by way of a substantive motion that is subject to debate, there are, of course, Standing Orders 57 and 78, which can be used by the House to allocate time or for closure proceedings on a bill in committee. It is toward the use of these very instruments that the Speaker directed the House in his ruling of September 18, 2001, on Debates page 5257, where, as the hon. member for Wascana pointed out, the Speaker stated:

The expanded use of Standing Order 56.1 since 1997 causes the Chair serious concern. The government is provided with a range of options under Standing Orders 57 and 78 for the purpose of limiting debate.

Let us now turn to the Speaker’s ruling of October 3, 2006 allowing the use of Standing Order 56.1 to extend, in an open-ended fashion, the debate on Bill C-24, the Softwood Lumber bill.

It should be noted at the outset that when Standing Order 56.1 was used in reference to Bill C-24, the bill was then before the House at second reading, not before a standing committee. In allowing the use of Standing Order 56.1 in that case the Speaker did so with some concern and on the basis that:

The precedents available to me, including my own previous rulings, are [therefore] insufficient for me to rule the motion out of order on this occasion.

This is part of the Speaker's ruling quoted by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons. At the time the Speaker had more to say. He also encouraged, as had Mr. Speaker Parent before him, the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs to examine the appropriate use of this Standing Order, a pretty clear indication of the difficulties with which the House has had to deal when Standing Order 56.1 has been invoked in questionable circumstances.

In the present case, the Chair has looked carefully at the wording of Standing Order 56.1, which states in reference to the House itself that the Standing Order can be used to move motions in relation to “the management of its business” and “ the arrangement of its proceedings”. Interestingly, the only reference to committees in the Standing Order is one allowing motions for “the establishing of the powers of its committees”, suggesting that the rule was meant to be used not to reach into the conduct of standing committee affairs to direct them, but rather in a routine manner, to provide them powers they do not already possess. A review of the previous uses of Standing Order 56.1 appears to support this. The only examples dealing with standing committees or standing committee activity the Chair has been able to find have to do with granting standing committees the power to travel. The power to travel is, as all hon. members know, a power standing committees do not possess and so the use of Standing Order 56.1 in that regard falls squarely within the parameters of the rule.

Accordingly, to repeat the words I used when this matter was first raised, the use of Standing Order 56.1 to direct the business of the committee, of any committee, is a new development in the House and one that I find out of order.

I thank all hon. members who intervened for bringing this matter to the attention of the House.

The House resumed from June 4, consideration of the motion that Bill C-35, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (reverse onus in bail hearings for firearm-related offences), be read the third time and passed.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

10:10 a.m.

Bloc

Carole Freeman Bloc Châteauguay—Saint-Constant, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today at third reading of Bill C-35, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (reverse onus in bail hearings for firearm-related offences).

Bill C-35 proposes that, at the appearance stage and in some cases even at the preliminary investigation stage, the onus be placed on the person charged. Before the trial, the accused has to be able to show that he can be released. At present, as a general rule, the crown prosecutor has to demonstrate that the accused should not be released on bail because he poses a danger to the public. The Criminal Code provides for some exceptions, however, and in those cases the accused must prove that pre-trial detention is unjustified. These exceptions are: breach of release conditions, involvement in organized crime, terrorism, drug trafficking, smuggling or production, murder, treason or war crimes.

With Bill C-35, the Conservative government wants to expand this list of exceptions. So it will be up to the accused to prove to the judge that he may be released without causing concern for society in connection with any and all of the following offences: attempted murder with a firearm, discharging a firearm with intent to wound, sexual assault with a weapon, robbery, aggravated sexual assault, kidnapping, hostage taking, extortion, firearms trafficking or possession for the purpose of trafficking, or any offence involving a firearm if committed while the accused is bound by a weapons prohibition order.

The Bloc Québécois is reluctant to expand the list for reverse onus, since this approach affects the important notion of presumption of innocence. However, we like the idea of giving police officers the most effective tools for conducting investigations and bringing people to justice. We agree that in certain cases, an accused should not be released and must be detained until the trial starts.

As I was saying to my colleague from Hochelaga, similar provisions existed elsewhere in the Criminal Code, for example the gangsterism provisions passed in 2002. It is true when release conditions have been violated, when someone who was already out on bail or probation violated the conditions. If an individual already tried once to dodge the legal system and violated the conditions, it is completely understandable that he will not be released. There are situations, of course, when it is prudent, justifiable and perfectly comprehensible for the Crown to say that an individual should not be released, for example when evidence might be destroyed, when the individual may not appear as required for his trial, or when the individual poses a danger to the victim or the community.

We had a number of concerns about the relevance of Bill C-35 before it was referred to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. Our first concern was the lack of studies or analyses showing that reverse onus effectively deters people from committing crimes with firearms. Second, the bill would have inevitably led to a greater number of incarcerations in institutions that the provinces own and operate. These institutions are often crowded already, and they need funding commensurate with their responsibilities.

Last, we doubted that this bill would help curb the trade in illegal arms. However, witnesses who appeared before the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights provided assurances on two points. First, the bill must be constitutional and must therefore respect the principle of the presumption of innocence; and second, in practice, a person accused of any of the crimes included in the bill is generally detained before trial. The testimony of two defence lawyers was the determining factor in our decision. They told us that, in practice, amending the act would not bring about injustice because reverse onus would, in actual fact, change very little.

I would like to quote William Trudell, the Chair of the Canadian Council of Criminal Defence Lawyers, who summarized the situation in these words:

The bill provisions, as elucidated now in Hall with a tertiary ground of public confidence in the administration of justice, are already there. It is extremely difficult for someone charged with this type of offence to be released on bail.

In her testimony, lawyer Isabel J. Schurman gave a good description of the situation covered by Bill C-35 when she said that there is de facto reverse onus in the case of firearm-related offences and that, in fact, the chance of obtaining bail is very slim in such cases.

In addition, setting aside the committee testimony confirming the practice of law in this specific situation, it is important to remember that the accused will still have an opportunity to be released on bail. Bail will be granted even if someone is accused for the second time of one of the crimes listed in the bill.

Reverse onus pertains only to release or detention pending trial. It has nothing to do with guilt or innocence. Bill C-35 therefore will not serve as a shining example of initiatives to improve public safety, something this minority government often boasts about. As well, the passage of new legislation will not necessarily dissuade firearms traffickers from selling weapons. Many of the weapons on the streets of our cities are smuggled into the country. Consequently, reverse onus, as provided for in Bill C-35 on bail hearings for firearm-related offences, seems to pose a real challenge. The question is to what extent the bill will reduce the number of firearms in circulation.

My colleagues will understand that we have a responsibility to consider how to prevent crime. Unfortunately, many questions will remain unanswered, even after Bill C-35 is adopted at third reading. Would taxpayers' money be better spent on preventing crime and putting more police on our streets? For example, would it be more effective to assign more police officers to strategic areas than to throw more people in jail and deny them the right to release on bail?

With good reason, during the previous debate in this House, I said that detention offers a certain degree of protection to society. On the other hand, I added, rehabilitation and the rebuilding of social relations are more difficult to achieve once there is recourse to incarceration, not to mention the fact that prisons are often considered to be schools for crime and a great networking opportunity for criminals.

Those are some areas we might reflect on more deeply. This government wants to be seen as fighting against crimes committed with firearms, but it is ready to dismiss the gun registry on the sole grounds of inefficiency and exorbitant program costs. For example, it is letting the registry go to seed by failing to keep it up to date and by extending the full amnesty for holdouts who refuse to register their firearms. Does this not demonstrate a certain inconsistency in terms of the government's goal of making our society more secure?

In conclusion, the Bloc Québécois will get behind Bill C-35 and will support it at third reading so that it can be sent to the Senate. The reason for our support at the end of the legislative process is that the bill will have no major impact on current practice. However, I repeat, shifting the burden of proof will not solve the problem of the traffic in weapons. Bill C-35 will have no effect on that trend. The approaches that the Bloc Québécois advocates reflect the concerns of the people of Quebec with respect to justice. Providing better protection for our citizens means attacking the root of the problem, in other words, the causes of delinquency and violence.

As I mentioned in some recent remarks concerning Bill C-10, poverty, inequality and feeling excluded will always be the breeding grounds of crime. As a consequence, firearm-related crimes always remain as a difficult social problem to eliminate. Again, and this time I will avoid debating the inconsistency that I emphasized previously, that is the government’s claim that it is acting effectively on the problem of firearm-related crimes while at the same time it is weakening the gun registry.

Like my colleagues, I believe that a greater sharing of riches, working toward better social integration and emphasizing rehabilitation represent essential solutions for the prevention of crime.

Unfortunately, this government always has that unproductive tendency to ignore those approaches. It thinks it can achieve security by filling the penitentiaries. What a sad social observation for a government that wants to give the impression that it is doing something, even though what we have here, as Bill C-35 demonstrates, is only the appearance of action.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

10:25 a.m.

Liberal

Brian Murphy Liberal Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate the hon. member on her comments, but as a member of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, I have a question.

I heard testimony from defence lawyers who said that existing practices in criminal courts are the same as Bill C-35 hopes to establish. Indeed, the bill will not bring about any major changes, because judges, attorneys and defence lawyers already practice some of the things set out in the bill.

Does the hon. member intend to accept the lawyers' testimony as true, since they are the ones working on the front lines of justice and they indicated that this is already their practice?

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

10:25 a.m.

Bloc

Carole Freeman Bloc Châteauguay—Saint-Constant, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for his question.

Indeed, during testimony heard in committee, all witnesses said they were in favour of the bill. Only two witnesses were opposed, namely, William Trudell, president of the Canadian Council of Criminal Defence Lawyers, and Isabel Schurman, who is a defence lawyer. The two dissenting testimonies in committee came from those two lawyers. They told us that this bill could prove to be of no use, because de facto preventive detention is already the norm for all crimes committed with a firearm.

This perhaps explains why the Bloc Québécois did not support this bill in the beginning. Indeed, as we have always said, the reverse onus principle poses a problem for the Bloc Québécois. However, in very specific cases of crimes committed with a firearm, all the witnesses heard in committee were in favour of this bill, and those who did not support it simply said that it was redundant because it was, de facto, already used in all such proceedings.

The committee was nearly unanimous in approving this bill, which is why the Bloc Québécois supported it.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

10:25 a.m.

NDP

Denise Savoie NDP Victoria, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for her speech. As she said, and although we will also support it, this bill gives the impression that it will fight gun crimes more effectively. But this is not true since, as we know, judges already have a certain amount of leeway in these cases.

She also talked about how we should focus more on the causes of crimes. For example, I know that in my region, in my riding, we have been trying to obtain funding for a project that aims to help young people obtain not only basic job training, but also life skills: how to dress, how to apply for jobs. We have had many problems finding funding, from the federal government or other sources.

I think these are the types of programs that would really help keep vulnerable young people and youth at risk from joining gangs, and so forth.

I wonder if the member would have any thoughts on this type of program, which would really help prevent crimes.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

10:25 a.m.

Bloc

Carole Freeman Bloc Châteauguay—Saint-Constant, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for her question.

In fact, the Bloc Québécois is just as concerned as my colleague about this government's approach, which gives the illusion of fighting crime. We find that the amounts invested by the government in this form of repression do not attack the root of the problem. To do that we must ask ourselves if the amounts spent on policing, all these forms of repression and detention in penitentiaries are monies invested in the well-being of all our citizens. Why not allocate monies to the rehabilitation of youth, to prevention and training? Why not provide more means and tools to prevent crime rather than constantly focussing on applying repressive measures and imprisonment?

In my opinion, opening penitentiaries and multiplying the types of detention do not reduce crime; they have the opposite effect. The Bloc Québécois is in favour of prevention, rehabilitation, and social integration.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

10:30 a.m.

Conservative

Joy Smith Conservative Kildonan—St. Paul, MB

Mr. Speaker, I realize that the member's intentions are good but this side of the House has put millions of dollars into programs for my province and provinces across the nation to help children stay away from gangs. This is a very important aspect that helps prevent crime.

What would the hon. member say to a family whose mother was killed at four o'clock in the morning in Winnipeg, Manitoba by a group of kids who stole a car and ran into her van? What would she say to the family members when they say that the laws are not strict enough and that these kids get away with absolutely everything?

We also need to have a dialogue about the victims of crime and putting in tough laws that will be a deterrent to this kind of crime happening in the middle of the night in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

What would the member say to the family members who just lost their mother?

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

10:30 a.m.

Bloc

Carole Freeman Bloc Châteauguay—Saint-Constant, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for her question.

I think that there are two aspects to be considered. What is important to this government is giving the appearance of solving everything by implementing very strict laws that increase the rate of detention. In addition, as I was saying earlier, there are all the costs associated with penitentiaries and the infrastructure arising from these laws.

We are keenly aware of what these families go through; it is very unfortunate and we are not ignoring it. However, I do not believe that multiplying these laws truly helps prevent crime. It is not enough to punish. We must look to prevention, especially among youth, because future criminals will be recruited primarily from this group. I believe that is where we should invest our money, and not in penitentiaries.

Having said that, I have a great deal of respect for those who are victims of criminal acts. However, the Bloc Québécois does not agree with the proliferation of repressive measures. We are really in favour of rehabilitation and reintegration.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

10:30 a.m.

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Bloc Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-35, the main purpose of which is to require an accused, when charged with certain serious offences involving firearms or other regulated weapons, to demonstrate that pre-trial detention is not justified in their case. This is a reverse onus, specifically for firearm-related offences.

From the outset I would like to present the philosophy defended in this House over the years by the Bloc Québécois. We are very respectful of the society handed down to us by our parents, our grandparents and our great-grandparents. It is society's choice to say that we are innocent until proven guilty. And that is the society we inherited from those who came before us.

When a society is built on such a principle or such a philosophy, in other words the presumption of innocence, every time we challenge this presumption of innocence we are also challenging the very foundation of our society. We must do so sparingly and with all due respect to this system. We have to take our time weighing the matter. We have to avoid being swayed by the media frenzy surrounding crimes and try to protect the very foundation of our society.

Our neighbours to the south like to hold highly publicized trials that are the glory of television channels and other information networks because they can sell advertising. When these reports are filed—even special reports are filed—not only do the networks make money from the crime, they glorify it. This is not the type of society our ancestors left us. We have to try to be very circumspect and not be influenced by the media when it blows a specific case or matter out of proportion and tries to influence the entire justice system. That is what the Bloc Québécois opposes, out of great respect for the society we inherited from those who came before us. That is why, when it comes to discussing reverse onus, we like to get to the bottom of things.

In the past, we were very interested in certain specific cases, including the fight against organized crime. We proposed, in this House, reverse onus with respect to the proceeds of organized crime. Now, thanks to the Bloc Québécois' action, criminals are the ones who must prove that their money is not the proceeds of crime. It is not up to the State to prove that it is. This had been very difficult to do in some cases, because these people hired specialists to destroy all incriminating evidence and to prove that their fortunes had been legitimately acquired.

I think that reverse onus is good for society as a whole. The Bloc Québécois proposed this after conducting thorough research and realizing that the presumption of innocence did not work when it came to organized crime. The State's burden of proof made it impossible to find any evidence about how the money had been acquired.

In this case, from the very beginning, the Bloc Québécois has considered the matter carefully. During first and second reading, before the bill was referred to committee, the Bloc was against it because of the presumption of innocence and the fact that a person who is presumed innocent can be released on bail, and because it was up to the State to prove that the person should not be released on bail. After hearing all of the witnesses in committee, the Bloc Québécois eventually came to the conclusion that this bill reflects existing jurisprudence.

This bill does not actually change anything. People who have committed a crime with a firearm automatically remain in prison until they appear in court. This is why the Bloc Québécois, after having heard the witnesses and experts who came to shed light on the debate, quickly realized that in the end the bill reflected what actually happens.

In this connection, I will simply read the statement by one witness, William Trudell, Chair of the Canadian Council of Criminal Defence Lawyers. He said: “...it’s our experience on the ground that people charged with gun-related offences are not released”. That means that this bill is not proposing much of a change, contrary to what the government is letting on. It will not change things so as finally to reduce crime. No, this bill does no more than reflect what takes place at present, the current state of affairs in jurisprudence, that is, the court decisions. I will reread this statement by the Chair of the Canadian Council of Criminal Defence Lawyers: “...it’s our experience on the ground that people charged with gun-related offences are not released”.

Bloc Québécois justice critics have said in this House that all the witnesses, almost unanimously, acknowledged this state of affairs. All the bill before us does therefore is acknowledge a practice in effect in Canada’s and Quebec’s courts of justice. They very quickly brought us around to this idea.

After having heard the witnesses, the experts in their fields, we are now in favour of bill C-35. The Chair of the Canadian Council of Criminal Defence Lawyers knows what he is talking about. If the bill is acknowledging what actually takes place in the courts, we can only agree with that.

Furthermore, the Criminal Code already includes some exceptions to reverse onus in bail hearings. It talks about breach of bail conditions, organized crime—I was explaining the Bloc Québécois position earlier—terrorism, trafficking, smuggling and production of narcotics, murder, treason and war crimes. When someone commits one of these crimes, it is up to them to prove to the state, to the Crown, that they can be released, and not the other way round. It is not up to the Crown to prove to the judges that this person should not be released.

The following offences will be added to the exceptions to which the reverse onus applies: attempted murder with a firearm; discharging a firearm with intent to wound; sexual assault with a weapon; robbery; aggravated sexual assault; abduction; hostage taking; extortion; trafficking; possession for the purposes of trafficking; and any firearm-related offences committed when the accused was under an order prohibiting him from possessing a firearm.

Henceforth, people accused of any crime committed with a firearm will have to demonstrate to the Crown that they are not a danger to the lives of their fellow citizens in order to be granted pretrial release. This is actually an established practice, a reflection of what happens now in our legal system. Since this is what really happens, the Bloc Québécois is in favour of it.

However, we need to watch the Conservative government’s position very carefully, especially in regard to firearms. On the one hand, it has decided to eliminate the firearms registry, while on the other, it is reversing the onus of proof in crimes committed with a firearm.

This is important because it helps me further clarify our position on the gun registry: the Bloc Québécois is still in favour of keeping it. I know that some hunting enthusiasts are listening to me now.

In Quebec, 94% of gun owners have registered their guns in accordance with the law. The problem we have with the system is located in western Canada, where a majority of the citizens have not obeyed the law.

For all those people who registered their firearms, paying for renewal was a major irritant. The government decided, with the Bloc’s support, to eliminate this charge. We were happy with the government’s decision to keep the registry but not make users pay for it. In Quebec, 94% of firearm users registered their weapons and were quite happy to obey the law. That left 6%. Some got all worked up because they were told that the registry infringed on their rights. But people know that once their guns are registered, their rights will be respected. The people who use the registry, especially the police, do it before going to a certain address in order to determine whether there are any guns in the house, and if so, what kind.

When this is explained, citizens, even gun owners, fully understand that, in rare situations of violence, it is very important that the police have access to this information before they go to someone's home. If the registry were maintained and respected by all citizens, including Canadians in the west, there would be no problem. The problem is that there are gun users who decided to protest the system for a variety of reasons.

In Quebec, when I sit down with gun owners who have registered their weapons and I explain the situation, it does not bother them. They fully understand that this makes sense. If they committed violent crimes themselves, it would be important for the police to know that they have weapons at home, for the safety of police officers and the people in the neighbourhood.

In a society, we must set important benchmarks and make a distinction between individual and collective rights. Yes, every individual has rights, but their neighbours also have the right to know if they have any weapons, and for several reasons. The ideology that individual rights allow citizens to keep weapons in their homes, while others do not need to know about it, is an American ideology, common among our neighbours to the south.

But here, we have the right to create a society that protects individual rights and that allows citizens to own firearms for the purpose of a certain sport, for example. However, it is also important to know that the individual who practices that sport uses an attack weapon and that he or she can harm other individuals. This is important, even if it is a handgun used for hunting.

People talk to me about many things, such as duck hunting, where you use a .12 gauge shotgun. You can use this gun to rob a bank or corner store. You can do a lot of things. It is important to stop making that distinction and to look at the emotional capabilities of individuals. We have to look reality in the face. People have the right to practice a sport with a gun. However, they must realize that the community is entitled to know that they own guns in case there is a robbery at their home. It could be a case of home invasion. When the homeowner is away, someone could enter their home. It is important to know if there are guns inside the residence.

Things are always a little complicated with the Conservatives because we never know in what direction they are headed. One thing is certain. Increasingly they have this unfortunate tendency of aligning themselves with what is happening in the United States and with Americans. In relation to crime, that is not a model to be adopted. Let us not go there. Americans have increased sentences and they have more crime than in Canada. That is the reality.

That is not the type of society that our ancestors—our parents, grandparents and great grandparents—wanted to leave to us. The Bloc Québécois has a great deal of respect for this way of life that we have adopted. We will always be there to defend the interests of and respect for individuals in the justice system and to defend the presumption of innocence, among other things, which is one of the tenets of our society.

People are always presumed innocent until proven guilty. That has served us well in the past. Today, the problem is that the media have seized on that, as we have seen. I keep repeating this, and I know it may be a bit redundant, but the Americans and their media make a lot of money when a crime is committed by giving it as much media coverage as possible. That is not the sort of society we want to live in.

Clearly, when we make this distinction and take away all the media coverage of a crime, we need to be able to strike a balance and decide what type of society we want to live in. Quebeckers and Canadians have chosen to live in a society where people are presumed innocent.

As I explained, there are some cases that call for the presumption of innocence and others that call for the reversal of the traditional burden of proof. The Bloc Québécois did not hesitate to suggest reverse onus in cases such as crimes committed by biker gangs or organized crime, especially in relation to the accumulation of property by organized crime. At the time, the State had to prove that property had been acquired through the proceeds of crime, whereas now criminal organizations must prove that they acquired property legitimately.

Obviously, this has caused a major shift in how these people are defended. More and more, their property is being seized, and they have no money to defend themselves. I believe this is as it should be, because it was too easy for them to use this money to deny justice or thumb their noses at the justice system. They told themselves that they would get lawyers because they had money to go to court and so on. The Bloc Québécois therefore proposed a major step forward.

My colleagues heard witnesses and our critic, the member for Hochelaga, whom I commend on his excellent work on the committee. After hearing the witnesses, he realized that this bill was putting in place a reality that already existed in our courts. And witnesses told us that this bill will not change anything, because even now, when people commit crimes using a firearm, they are not released pending trial.

Once my learned colleague realized that this was the case, he recommended that we change our position and support this bill, which we are doing. We are serious democrats, we are very mindful of what is happening in Quebec society. For that reason, the Bloc Québécois will support Bill C-35.

However, this bill will still be very, very, very suspect in terms of the advances made by the Conservatives in relation to justice, because—I will say it again and it cannot be said often enough—they have this annoying tendency to become very Republican in how they interpret justice and very American-oriented when it comes to increasing minimum sentences and not giving our society or our judicial system a chance to hear the members of this House, and in fact filling up the prisons.

Believe it or not, the fastest-growing industry in the United States is prison construction. It is a very profitable industry and it is running very well, except that this is not the type of society that the Bloc Québécois wants. On the contrary, when we see the crime rate, we realize that crime does not go down when sentences go up. It is a proven fact: crime goes up. In fact, when a criminal has decided to commit a crime, the criminal does not bother to read the Criminal Code before committing the crime, to know what sentence he or she is going to get. Forget about that. If people think that, their imaginations are—

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

10:45 a.m.

An hon. member

Very fertile.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

10:45 a.m.

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Bloc Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Very fertile. You are entirely correct. Well, the Conservatives have a lot of imagination.

To protect the interests of Quebeckers and of the society passed down to us by the people who came before us, the Bloc Québécois will support Bill C-35. We will also be very vigilant when it comes to the advances made by the Conservatives in relation to justice.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

10:50 a.m.

NDP

Wayne Marston NDP Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, ON

Mr. Speaker, most members understood during the last election campaign that the Canadian public wanted some changes, but Bill C-35, in my opinion, is simply codifying what the justices of our country are doing already. In fact, to some extent, it is window dressing.

One of my concerns is that it is easy to run on a law and order platform, but we cannot lose sight of the fact that rehabilitation is one of the most important avenues of protecting the public, because we know that convicted criminals will one day be back on our streets. I ask the member if he would support the fact that it is essential for our government to make sure that rehabilitation gets equal time in its law and order platform.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

10:55 a.m.

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Bloc Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, my colleague is entirely correct, punishment will always be bad counsel when it comes to the entire criminal justice system.

When an individual, for whatever reason, has decided to commit a crime, the way to ensure that the person does not commit more crimes is to rehabilitate and supervise him or her. But we must be careful. There are indeed changes, but we must put more into rehabilitation.

When it comes to parole and that entire system, we must ensure that there is as much staff as possible, so that the analyses done are the best they can be. Rather than building prisons to try to set up factories to turn out criminals, if there is no rehabilitation, we must invest the money that is needed in rehabilitation so that the entire parole system has the staff that are needed and is capable of doing the analyses that are called for. We have to avoid putting people back on the streets who should not be there.

This is what we should be tackling, rather than trying to amend the Criminal Code and increase sentences and trying to replace judges by mandating minimum sentences. That will change absolutely nothing. We have to rehabilitate young criminals to try to ensure that they do not stay criminals. As well, we have to ensure that we are not releasing people who should not be released. That is the philosophy that the Bloc Québécois has always argued for and that it will continue to argue for.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

10:55 a.m.

NDP

Denise Savoie NDP Victoria, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would also like to speak about programs that would help to prevent crime. This bill, as has already been said, does no more than codify already existing practices. This government slashed literacy programs and summer jobs programs. Yet, those are the very programs that would help young people who are vulnerable or at risk. Those programs would help to prevent crime and would convince young people to follow a different path.

I wonder if my colleague could comment on those cuts. The government not only slashed programs that could otherwise have been useful for creating a more inclusive society, but it is refusing to do long-term planning on literacy and it refuses to implement a long-term funding program for literacy.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

10:55 a.m.

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Bloc Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for her question because it allows me to talk about the street gang phenomenon.

Today, the government is attacking the street gang problem with prison sentences, but we must ask why street gangs have developed. It is because young people did not know what to do and the system marginalized them.

These are programs that people tried to establish and that the government has abolished. Afterwards, questions were asked and a range of measures has been proposed, trying to combat street gangs by means of prison sentences, while the real problem of street gangs is that there was poverty on our streets and we did not concern ourselves with our young people.

This social problem was ignored by the Liberal Party and has become worse today with the Conservative Party. We left young people with social problems on the streets of our big cities and, now, we are very surprised to learn that those young people have become criminals.

The young people who lived in our cities told us that they had problems but we did not deal with them. We really need to try to start over, to wipe out the past and make a new beginning. We have to restore support programs for the young people in our big cities.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

11 a.m.

Bloc

Réal Ménard Bloc Hochelaga, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate my colleague from Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel on his erudition—let us not fear words—and on his willingness to dedicate himself so generously to the work of this House. He never declines an invitation to share his point of view, and I am sure that this is greatly appreciated by all of our colleagues.

Bill C-35 was the subject of much debate in the parliamentary committee. It seems to me that the underlying principle is a good one. The government is seeking to ensure that people who might be a menace to the safety of our fellow citizens cannot be released on bail before trial unless we can be certain that they do not present a danger to society. It is important to understand where Bill C-35 is coming from.

There are various stages in our criminal proceedings: arrest by a peace officer, court appearance, and preliminary hearing. At this stage, a magistrate or justice of the peace—in Quebec, at least—decides whether there is sufficient evidence to allow the Crown to take the matter to trial. So we have arrest, bail hearing, preliminary hearing and, of course, the trial. If the case involves murder or one of the offences set out in section 469 of the Criminal Code, there is a good chance that the trial will be held before a jury of the accused's peers, a group of individuals selected for that purpose.

If the case involves an offence set out in section 553 of Quebec's code, the trial takes place before the criminal and penal division of the Court of Quebec. There too, the stages are familiar: arrest, bail hearing, preliminary hearing, trial and, after that, sentencing submissions. Then, if necessary, a certain number of appeals processes are available.

The Bloc Québécois had some concerns about this bill. What does it say? We should start with the beginning. Under our legal system, bail is generally granted at the hearing stage. In some cases, though, bail cannot be granted by justices of the peace. Only superior court judges, that is to say, judges of the Superior Court of Quebec, can grant pretrial bail to an accused.

This occurs when a person is accused of a crime under section 469 of the Criminal Code. Justices of the peace cannot grant bail when the accused has violated the conditions of release. If a person is on probation, therefore, and is supposed to comply with a certain number of conditions but violates them, he cannot be given bail. For example, if a person is not supposed to be in possession of a firearm but is found with one, that person has failed to comply with one of his conditions of release and cannot be granted bail by a justice of the peace.

When someone is arrested by a police officer, taken before a justice of the peace and charged with an offence related to organized crime, of course, that person cannot be granted bail. For a very long time, all the organized crime related offences were listed in the Criminal Code. Actually it was not the Criminal Code but the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act where all the offences related to the possession of narcotics, drug trafficking, and the exportation and importation of narcotics were listed.

Around 1995, we had an extremely worrisome clash among criminal motorcycle gangs: the Hell’s Angels, the Rock Machine and the Bandidos. There were 35 Hell’s Angels chapters. It is not that there were an awful lot of them—just a few hundred people—but they were obviously very dangerous.

I can recall some conversations I had with senior public servants who thought that the criminal motorcycle gangs could be disbanded using just the existing conspiracy provisions in the Criminal Code. The former Bloc Québécois member for Berthier—Montcalm, who was elevated to the bench because of his great talents and had gone to law school at the University of Ottawa in the 1980s and 1990s, was our justice critic and was as convinced as I that new legislation was needed and some new provisions had to be added to the Criminal Code.

I remind the House that in the 1990s there was one thing that triggered our realization of the need to create new legislation in order to deal with criminal biker gangs. This was of course the car bomb attack that occurred in my area, Hochelaga—Maisonneuve, on August 9, 1995, and that took the life of young Daniel Desrochers. From then on, there was a call by citizens seeking anti-gang legislation. Obviously we could not follow Italy’s example, since Italy did not have to worry about compatibility with the Canadian Charter of Human Rights. In Canada, however, we had to be concerned about compatibility with the Canadian Charter of Human Rights, which—I would point out—was never ratified by the National Assembly when it was patriated in 1982.

I digress here to remind you that René Lévesque, one of the greatest premiers in the history of Quebec—as we all know—was opposed to the unilateral patriation of the Constitution, because he was worried about language rights. There was the possibility of removing whole chunks of Bill 101, one of the first bills that René Lévesque had passed by his government following the adoption of the Referendum Act and, of course, an act on democratic election funding.

So we had to be concerned about the compatibility of the new provisions of the Criminal Code and the Canadian charter, which has never been accepted by the National Assembly because of the incompatibilities regarding language. Of course, with regard to section 27 respecting multiculturalism, there were some very great concerns. In any case, we will recall that René Lévesque became the spokesperson for this long line of premiers who wanted, before the charter was patriated, to give the National Assembly new powers. This was Jean-Jacques Bertrand’s position; it was Robert Bourassa’s position; it was Jean Lesage’s position; it was the position of Quebec’s intellectuals. Even a man like Claude Ryan who, as we know, was not a sovereignist, wanted there to be a new distribution of powers before patriating the Constitution, which was—we agreed—a colonial relic. Of course this was not normal, but it was not a priority.

I do not want to wander too far away—you know my discipline is legendary. Still, I want you to know that it is extremely important to remember that, in the 1990s, the Bloc Québécois rallied in order to obtain anti-gang legislation. The first anti-gang legislation was passed in 1997. We had created a new offence. I mentioned the Canadian charter. But it was not possible to make it a crime to belong to a group.

We cannot say that belonging to the Hells Angels, the Rock Machine, the Bandidos, the mafia or an Asian crime group, that simply belonging to a criminal organization constitutes an offence. This would never pass the Charter test and would not be compatible with the freedom of association. This was the challenge facing the public service and parliamentarians.

I was part of the committee that examined these things to find an offence that would work with the Charter. At the time, a new offence was created: gangsterism. Five individuals having committed an offence punishable by a five-year term, for a criminal organization within the last five years, could be charged with gangsterism.

As unbelievable as it may be, with these provisions, among others, municipalities can play an extremely important role in dismantling organized crime networks. I hope my colleagues will remember this. Municipalities legislated against bunkers. They legislated against fortresses in urban areas. Under municipal bylaws it was not possible to have fortified houses with cameras and bulletproof windows. Believe it or not, this is a good example of the link between federal law, criminal law, and municipal affairs.

If I may digress, one thing that makes a municipality dynamic is festivals. I am sure that the Minister of Labour will agree with me. There is nothing more important than tourism to our communities.

Take the example of Hochelaga-Maisonneuve. It is a working-class neighbourhood with a rich heritage. I could tell you about the botanical garden and the Château Dufresne, the historic middle-class residence. It is important to provide public funding for festivals. I will conclude on this point by wishing all my colleagues a most cordial welcome to Montreal this year and this summer. I hope that the funding that will make it possible for us to spend a beautiful summer with tourists and all of the events we can organize in our communities will materialize. Of course I am counting on all of my colleagues to ensure that this scenario comes to pass.

This is the situation we found ourselves in in the 1990s. Criminal motorcycle gangs were running wild and the public was worried. I and other people persuaded the then justice minister, Allan Rock, to add new provisions to the Criminal Code. Those provisions made it possible for us to end the war that had caused several hundred deaths and claimed an innocent victim, Daniel Desrochers, who died on August 9, 1995.

Thus we can see that the Bloc Québécois has never been unwilling to legislate when it was necessary. The goal of Bill C-35 is to add a number of offences, the seriousness of which we can recognize as a society. I will list them: attempted murder with a firearm, discharging a firearm with intent to wound, armed sexual assault, robbery, aggravated sexual assault, kidnapping, hostage taking, extortion, trafficking, possession for the purposes of trafficking, and any offence involving a firearm if the accused was under a firearms prohibition order.

We have to acknowledge that these offences are in fact serious in terms of criminal law. At the show cause stage, the trial has not yet been held. In Quebec, you appear before the justice of the peace. The accused will have to call evidence, because there is a reverse onus. Reverse onus does exist in the Criminal Code now, as I mentioned, for organized crime, terrorism offences and offences relating to section 469. Reverse onus exists. That does not mean—and we must be very clear on this point—that it will not be possible for the accused to be released.

What it means is that the onus is on the accused, and not the Crown, to prove that he or she is not a threat to society. The judge will then take a number of criteria into consideration.

If the individual is released, the judge must be sure he will appear for trial and will not destroy the evidence, abscond, reoffend or engage in violent behaviour. If the judge is satisfied that all these conditions will be met, in light of the submission by counsel for the accused, the individual can be released. If the judge is not satisfied, the individual—the accused—who will be tried for one of the offences I have mentioned, must remain in custody.

I repeat that this is not the rule in our legal system. As a rule, individuals are released pending trial. Hon. members may remember a famous ruling from early this decade, the Askov ruling, concerning a case in Ontario. The legal system was backlogged at the time.

When the Constitution was repatriated, the National Assembly did not subscribe to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Among the legal guarantees in the charter is the right to be tried within a reasonable time. Waiting for a trial causes anyone anxiety. Waiting for a trial is stressful, and there is also the risk that witnesses' memories will fade. With time, people called to testify could be slightly less accurate in their testimony.

The Bloc Québécois heard the witnesses who testified before the committee, and my colleagues know how reasonable, moderate and cooperative the Bloc is. We ask only to work in the spirit of brotherhood.

I take great personal pride in the fact that I have no enemies in this House. Mr. Speaker, if you were to ask members who consider themselves my enemies to so indicate by a show of hands, I am sure you would see none. I was afraid the member for Jonquière—Alma would raise his hand. That would have made me sad.

The Bloc Québécois will support Bill C-35 because, in committee, witnesses told us that in any event, the general practice at bail hearings for firearm-related offences is for the judge not to release the individual, or grant them bail. The Minister of Justice's bill confirms or recognizes something already being done by judges and the courts.

We do not see why we would be against this bill. A witness from the Council of Criminal Defence Lawyers even told us this was the current practice. There are very few witnesses who oppose the bill, two in fact. A University of Toronto professor, Anthony Doob, opposed the bill, saying there needed to be more focus on prevention. The Canadian Bar Association also voiced some reservations. For the rest, the witnesses were extremely favourable toward the bill.

The Bloc will support this bill since it recognizes a practice the courts have formalized. Of course, that does not mean we are not calling on the government to invest in prevention.

I recently learned that the Prime Minister entrusted, not to the Minister of Health, but to the Minister of Justice, the modernization of the national anti-drug strategy. I hope when the format of this new strategy is known, hopefully a few months from now, that money could be sent to the provinces for prevention, which is still our best defence as a society for living in safer communities.

Since I am running out of time, I will stop here. I want to reiterate my call for money to be allocated to this summer's festivals, more specifically those in Montreal, which is a major tourism centre. I hope my call will be heard.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

11:20 a.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Bill Blaikie

Is the House ready for the question?