Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to begin this debate in the House of Commons and I am grateful to my colleague, the leader of the government in the House of Commons, the Minister for Democratic Reform, for making this a priority and sending a very clear message on a very important piece of legislation of this government.
To indicate just how important this is, let me reiterate something that I said in the House of Commons when Bill C-2 was introduced for second and third readings. I indicated to the House at that time that the government considered tackling violent crime and the provisions of that particular act so important, that if there were any attempt to sabotage that, derail it or gut that bill, we would consider it a confidence motion.
Again, I was pleased that it passed the House of Commons in November of last year, and then it was on its way to the Senate. Interestingly enough, there were a number of people whom I ran into at the Christmas break who said, “Congratulations, you got your bill through. You must be very happy”. I said, “Well, it has gotten through the House of Commons. It has not gotten through the Senate yet. That is not quite the same thing”.
Nonetheless, I remained optimistic. I want to see the bill passed. We got to January of 2008 and the bill had been in the Senate since the end of November.
One of the things that got me very nervous was when the Liberal Premier of Ontario, Mr. Dalton McGuinty, approached the Leader of the Opposition and indicated to him that he wanted to see this passed because this was good for the province of Ontario, this kind of thing had support in the province of Ontario, just as it had support right across this country.
When the Leader of the Opposition sort of hummed and hawed, and he was not sure about mandatory jail terms for people who commit serious gun crimes, that is when I started to get very nervous because I had this feeling that the Leader of the Opposition might get the Senate to do the dirty work that he did not want to do in the House of Commons, and I think that is very wrong.
I was prepared the week before last and was scheduled to go before the Senate committee to address the issues, then my appearance before the committee was cancelled. The committee said it could wait an extra week, so I went last Wednesday, but I made it very clear to the committee members that these issues had been around for a long time and that these were important issues for Canadians.
I was quite frank with them, as they were with me. I indicated to them that if this bill could not be passed by the end of this month, if they could not expedite this, if they could not fast-track this bill to get it done by the end of February, that I believed I had no choice except to advise the Prime Minister that I thought this to be a confidence measure and I would leave it in his capable hands.
We have not received the kind of help that we would have liked from the Liberals in the House of Commons, and we are not getting it right now from the Liberals in the Senate, and that is too bad because I think I have been very honest about this bill.
The components of this bill have been before the Senate before. The provisions that would protect 14 and 15 year olds from adult sexual predators have already been before the Senate. I remember when it did not get passed by the Senate last June. I remember speaking to a reporter in my hometown of Niagara Falls and I said I was disappointed that 14 and 15 year olds were not as well protected as they should be from adult sexual predators because this bill did not get past the Senate.
That was in the summer of 2007 and when I went home for Christmas, again the provisions that protect 14 and 15 year olds that are in the tackling violent crime bill were in the Senate, so I had to say the same thing over again, that 14 and 15 year olds were not as well protected in this country as they should be. That is a shame.
Now I hear the humming and hawing from the Leader of the Opposition to his colleague, the Liberal Premier of Ontario. The man is not in the business of trying to help us get our legislation through. He has his own agenda, but is there anybody in this country who thinks that the Liberal Premier of Ontario is intervening just to help out the federal Conservatives? I do not think so. He is doing it because it is the right thing to do.
I say to members of the Liberal Party that they do not have to listen to me. We have made it very clear, the importance we place on this. The Liberals should listen to some of their colleagues. Mr. Chomiak, the Attorney General of Manitoba, has told me on a number of occasions how important these provisions are to him. He has made it very clear. We do not share the same political party, but we share some of the concerns about crime in this country.
As I have said to members of the opposition, fighting crime is not something that takes place when there is a disaster or a murder on the streets of some of our largest cities. That is not when we wake up to the tackling violent crime agenda. It is not something that can just wait until the election comes. We get all kind of support during the election when everybody wants to be tough on crime. I say be tough on crime between elections. That is what I want to see. We should stand up for law-abiding Canadians, for victims, between elections.
That is what I am asking members to do and this is why I am so pleased that my colleague, the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform, has introduced this very important issue.
We have been very clear throughout this process. We made it a priority since the beginning of 2006. In the very first Speech from the Throne that we presented to Parliament, we said that tackling violent crime was our priority and that victims come first. We want Canadians to know that there are a group of individuals in Parliament who stand up for law-abiding Canadians because people are worried about their communities, worried about safe streets, and worried about the sometimes forgotten individual when crimes take place.
I was very pleased and very proud to introduce the first federal ombudsman for the victims of crime. My colleagues joined with me and others in our government in pushing that initiative. Why? Because there is somebody who speaks for everybody in this town. There are more special interest groups than any of us could count, but my colleagues asked, who is here to stand up for victims of crime, who is that individual, where is he or she?
That office did not exist until this Conservative government created the first office of the ombudsman for the victims of crime and appointed the first ombudsman. That is a tremendous step forward in standing up for those sometimes forgotten individuals.
I believe that Canadians do support the approach that the federal Conservatives are taking, that our government is taking. I have found it more than just passing interesting that within the last week there was a CTV strategic council poll that said that an overwhelming majority of Canadians believed Canada's justice system was too lenient on repeat offenders. This reiterates and underscores what we have been saying on this side of the House, that we have to have a criminal justice system that responds to the legitimate concerns of Canadians.
I indicated when I began my remarks, that the Liberal Premier of Ontario supports us. Mr. Chomiak, the Attorney General from the New Democratic Party in Manitoba supports what we are doing. We have had very good support from the N.S. justice minister, Mr. Murray Scott and his successor. He is very supportive of what we are trying to do. Indeed, right across this country, we have people at the provincial level who have spoken up and who are very interested in seeing legislation of this type passed.
There are many components of the tackling violent crime act, but other individual groups have come forward as well. Mothers Against Drunk Driving, MADD, has come forward. It wants to see the bill passed and become law. The Canadian Police Association, Ottawa Police, the Canadian Resource Centre for Victims of Crime, the Centre for Substance Abuse Awareness, thousands of Canadians right across this country have written expressing their opinions that they want to see the bill passed.
We are not asking Parliament to do anything that Parliament has not had the opportunity to have a look at in depth. I have pointed out on a number of occasions that every single component of the bill has been before Parliament since 2006, never mind 2007. Every single component of this has been before Parliament since 2006.
The mandatory prison terms for serious gun crimes was one of the first pieces of legislation we introduced. On the age of protection, we recommended changes in 2006. The provisions with respect to dangerous offenders, the impaired driving provisions and the reverse onus on bail for serious gun crimes are all elements that have been before Parliament for quite some time.
This is not something new. People say we are trying to push this through. We are not trying to get the thing through in a hurry. It has been here a long time, too long. This should be the law of the country.
When people ask me why we put it all together, I say it is very simple. We did not get it passed when we had it in five different components. Half of the provisions ended up in the Senate and were lost. Nothing happened. The Senate went home for the summer and these things did not get passed, I think to the detriment of Canadians, and the other couple of bills were here in the House of Commons.
In the fall of 2007, since we did not get any of the five pieces of legislation done, I said, “Let us put them all together and see what our chances are”. We underscored the importance of this to our government by indicating that we would consider it a confidence measure if there were any attempt to sabotage the bill.
What is it that we have? What are we asking Canadians to accept? Indeed, Canadians are buying into it, but what are we asking the House of Commons and the Senate to accept? Let us have a look at some of the things we are saying.
For illegal firearm possession and use by persons involved in criminal gangs, we know that type of activity is increasing. We are saying there will be a mandatory five year sentence if one is in the business of using a gun or associated with gangs. What kind of offences are we talking about? We are talking about attempted murder, sexual assault with a gun, aggravated sexual assault, kidnapping, robbery, extortion and hostage taking. This is not jaywalking.
I remember standing here when we introduced the bill. I had one opposition member say to me that he did not understand that a lot of the people who commit those crimes do not understand the consequences of their actions. I said, “that is where I want to help”.
We want to ensure that any individuals who want to get involved with these serious firearms offences will have the opportunity to focus on the consequences of their actions. We are prepared to do that and any individual who does not get the message after the first five year sentence, we will continue to help by making it a seven year mandatory prison term. This is exactly what the country wants and what the country focuses on.
We hear it when people pick up a paper and read about a drive-by shooting in one of our major cities. They start calling for this type of legislation. I tell them the same thing, that it is already here before the House of Commons and the Parliament of Canada. Our job is to get it passed and that is what we are asking this Parliament to do.
We are going to strengthen the bail provisions with respect to gun offences. We are putting the onus on those alleged criminals to show that they do not pose a threat to public safety and that they will not flee before trial.
Why is it necessary? There are a number of reasons. I think it is only a matter of fairness. If someone wants to get involved with some serious gun crimes, if a person has a pattern of being involved with serious gun crimes, if a person is involved with guns and gangs, particularly in our major cities, what is wrong with putting the onus on such a person to show why he or she should be back out on the street?
There is an interesting product of this particular provision. I have had police officers in both Montreal and Toronto, as well as other law enforcement agencies, who have mentioned something very interesting about that provision. They tell me that this would send out the right message. They say that if individuals who have a pattern of gang-related or serious gun crime offences, if they are back out on the street in a couple of hours, guess what?
That sends out the exact wrong message to the victim. It sends out the wrong message to potential witnesses. Indeed, if that individual is back out on the street, it sends out the wrong message to the neighbourhood. This provision is exactly what we need and it is what this country wants. We are determined to provide it.
I indicated as I began my opening remarks, as I have mentioned on a number of occasions, that one of the important provisions of this bill is that it will raise the age of protection in this country from 14 to 16. Canadians ask why this not been done. I tell people quite honestly that this is not something out of the 20th century; this is something that should have been changed in the 19th century.
That is how long this has been around, and what happens is that it allows adult sexual predators to prey upon individuals as young as 14 and 15 years of age. That is absolutely reprehensible. It is exactly what our party has to take a stand against. That is exactly what we are doing here.
One police officer gave me an example. He told me that they had encountered some character from Texas, about 40 years old, who struck up a correspondence by email with a 14 year old. He comes to Canada and has sexual relations with a 14 year old and the police cannot do anything about it. They cannot do anything.
I have had police officers ask me what they are supposed to tell parents when their 14 year old or 15 year old is being victimized by some of these predators. It is cold comfort to say to parents that we are sorry, it is not the law of Canada and these predators can do that in Canada. That is absolutely wrong and we are absolutely determined to change that.
I appeared before the Senate last Wednesday. I can tell members about some of the feedback I received. Someone said that this would drive youth prostitution underground. I did not know what that was all about. Another point was that this would discourage young people from reporting sexually transmitted diseases. I have no idea where that is coming from.
We are talking about protecting 14 year olds and 15 year olds from sexual predators. This is exactly the kind of law this country should have.
There also are provisions to tighten up and improve Canada's impaired driving laws, providing the framework for the drug recognition expert program to be effective.