Mr. Speaker, I would first like to congratulate the hon. member for Mount Royal whose concern for human rights is well established. The member for Mount Royal was a professor emeritus at McGill University. He served as justice minister and his passion for human rights issues is well known both in Canada and around the world. I congratulate him for the timeliness of his motion.
It is at times like these that we realize just how strange our government is, a government that has no common sense, that does not deserve a majority mandate, and I hope this expression is not unparliamentary, that is dangerous. We are no longer talking about healthy differences in ideologies between left and right. We have before us a government that is extremely dangerous, in terms of ideology, that is taking us decades back in time.
We had a somewhat conservative streak in Quebec under Robert Bourassa, who was for privatization and deregulation, but one could not imagine that a government that claims to adhere to the rule of law could be so disconnected from Quebec values. I allowed myself the use of the anglicism in the other official language, and I apologize to any former French teachers among us. One cannot imagine that a government could be so out of touch with the people.
This is no small matter. In the past three decades at least, in international forums such the United Nations, of course, all the governments of Canada have talked about, supported and promoted the fact that the death penalty is not the way to administer justice anywhere on the planet. It is possible to sentence people to life in prison, refuse to release them or make them ineligible for parole. But could any government be so archaic, so prehistoric, so behind the times that it would want to challenge a principle that speaks to the very essence of humanity?
Any country that has signed major international treaties dealing with the human condition, human rights and economic, social and cultural rights has an obligation to report. Canada has ratified the two major international treaties and must report as well. We are not talking about how we fight poverty or whether we are more to the left than other countries. We are talking about a fundamental principle that Canadian diplomacy has defended for 30 years in the international arena: Canada does not want to be associated in any way with regimes that retain the death penalty.
Not only does Canada not want to be associated with regimes that still use the death penalty, but when a Canadian or a Quebecker abroad is threatened with the death penalty, we expect the government to use all the means at its disposal to make representations and plead to have the death penalty commuted to life imprisonment.
We need to be clear. If people abroad, like Mr. Smith, have committed heinous crimes that are against our laws as well, we are not saying that they should be absolved and not punished. That is not our position. But administering justice by taking a life is not human. No democracy worthy of the name will defend such a principle. Despite all that, we have a government that is not able to make representations when they are needed.
This is not the first time that we have been embarrassed by this government on the international scene. We can give a number of examples. My colleague from Abitibi explained, in caucus, that this government was spineless, had no backbone, when the time came to defend the aboriginal peoples and ratify an international declaration. This government does not care about human rights.
For example, here in Canada the federal government and every province but one have a human rights charter with a clause prohibiting discrimination on the grounds of social condition. It is not rocket science. In Quebec, this clause has made it possible for heads of single-parent families to sue and win against owners who refused to rent them accommodation because their income was too low.
On two occasions, I tabled a bill to add social condition as a prohibited ground of discrimination to the Canadian Human Rights Act. The member for Sherbrooke also introduced a motion to this effect. The Liberals and my NDP friends gave their support. Who was opposed? None other than the Conservatives.
It is as though human rights were not on their radar. It is incredible to hear that. Not only are the Conservatives willing to recognize governments, but they are unable to make representations, when needed, to defend Canadian nationals facing the death penalty.
I was listening to the parliamentary secretary and other departmental representatives speak about countries that recognize the rule of law. What does the rule of law matter if you are facing the gallows? Such logic. They recognize the rule of law but are prepared to allow individuals to die, victims of capital punishment.
What a disappointing government.
Anyone who knows me knows that I am not the kind of person who gets upset about every little thing. But I was certainly upset about something that happened in my committee, the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. My colleague, the member for Beauséjour, introduced a motion to conduct an investigation into the Cadman affair. This affair has to do with ethics. There are allegations of corruption. And section 119 of the Criminal Code is very clear. We cannot have allegations of corruption; charges should be laid if necessary. The member for Beauséjour introduced a motion in committee, and we were not able to investigate anything because the Conservatives were against it.
This is not the first time that this government has committed worrisome human rights violations. The Bloc Québécois cannot accept that we are not advocating loud and clear, on the basis of human rights, the principle that the death penalty is not the way to administer justice.
In 1976, the Supreme Court ruled that it went against the great liberties, such as the right to security or the right to freedom, and that we have the right to sentence people, to discourage them from re-offending without using the death penalty.
It is truly unbelievable when we know that Canada has been a huge defender of the principle of the integrity of the individual. And not just Canada, but Quebec as well. We should acknowledge that Mr. Humphrey was one of the authors of the United Nations charter, which certainly defended these principles.
So it is rather disappointing to see that we are once again having this debate.
I know that the leader of the Bloc Québécois, the hon. member for Laurier—Sainte-Marie, made representations to the Governor of Montana about this individual, Mr. Smith, who was threatened, but nonetheless charged. We do not dispute the fact that he should be punished, but we did not think he should have been sentenced to death.
I would like to share with my colleagues the letter that was sent:
As members of Canada's House of Commons, we felt obliged to write to you regarding Ronald Allen Smith who is to be executed shortly in the State of Montana.
As you know, Canada abolished the death penalty in 1976. This position has been reinforced by the Supreme Court of Canada, which ruled that, under Canadian law, the death sentence constitutes cruel and unusual punishment.
The principle of cruel and unusual punishment falls under the charters enshrining the great fundamental freedoms, such as the Canadian Charter and the Canadian Human Rights Act.
The letter continues:
This is in line with Canada's traditional policy to oppose the death sentence, especially when the death sentence is applied to one of its citizens. We feel it is our duty to intervene with you, sir, in order to reaffirm that position.
We are perfectly aware that it is not up to us to interfere in Montana's legal affairs. That is why we are not seeking clemency for the crime committed. Mr. Smith was convicted and we respect that ruling. We are simply urging you to commute the death sentence in his case and to hand down some other form of sentence that will respect the basic right to life.
The State of Montana uses capital punishment. All the members of the Bloc Québécois, if I am not mistaken, signed the letter. And when it says “some other form of sentence” that could be a life sentence without parole. Every jurisdiction has its own criminal law, and it was not the intention of the signatories to interfere in that sort of detail.
The letter goes on:
In no way do we wish to excuse or comment on Mr. Smith's actions. We feel the utmost sorrow for the victims' families.
Of course, out of respect for the families of the victims, we have no wish to excuse this kind of behaviour. We are also very concerned about the repercussions of such crimes on the victims' families.
The letter concludes:
We hope, sir, that you will look favourably upon this letter. We also believe that Montana will do the right thing in the eyes of the international community by reversing its decision to enforce the death penalty, while maintaining its firm stance on the crime committed, by commuting the penalty to a different sentence.
The Ronald Allen Smith case is very similar to that of Stan Faulder, a Canadian executed in the United States in 1999. At the time, Canada intervened and asked that the death sentence be commuted, but without success. However, while the Canadian authorities and a delegation of MPs were intervening, a member of the Canadian Alliance went to Texas to show his support for the death penalty.
That very member currently sits in the Conservative caucus and is chair of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, of which I am a member. The governor who rejected the application to commute Stan Faulder's sentence was none other than George W. Bush, current President of the Unites States, friend and mentor of our Prime Minister.
With their letter, the members of the Bloc Québécois wanted to challenge this traditional view held by people who lean ideologically to the right that the use of the death penalty is a means of administering justice. Fortunately, tremendous progress has been made over the past two decades and fewer and fewer countries use the death penalty.
We have international watchdogs, through organizations such as Amnesty International, that report on this, and often even go to the prisons and intervene.
The members of the Bloc Québécois have done their job. My colleagues will correct me if I am wrong, but I think the Liberals and the NDP have also intervened with the Governor of Montana.
Resorting to the death penalty is not a good way to administer justice or to deter people.
I will conclude by saying that many studies are available. Countries with the death penalty do not necessarily have lower crime rates. That is not the right way to analyze these phenomena. The two are not connected. Some countries have higher crime rates than others, and very often, rising crime rates have more to do with economic circumstances than with criminal justice policies.
Obviously, this does not mean that we should accept just anything or that some situations should not be condemned or discouraged. That is not what we are saying. We recognize that in some situations, it may be justified for a court of law to sentence a person to 20 or 25 years for a particularly sordid crime, as a real deterrent. The administration of justice would lose its credibility without that kind of penalty. However, there is no correlation between the death penalty and lower crime rates in communities. This has been documented for years, and now, more and more liberal democratic countries are getting rid of the death penalty.
Therefore, I think that the government should revisit its policy. Both the Minister of Public Safety and the Minister of Justice should make it clear that they will not make decisions on a case by case basis, and that there is a non-negotiable principle, which is that regardless of the crime committed, a Canadian in a foreign country must be able to count on his government's support to escape the gallows. Of course, we have to make sure that justice will be served in that country. That might mean very heavy sentences.
According to a principle of sovereignty, we must respect other countries' internal justice systems, but we must also defend certain principles. For example, we would never consider deporting a citizen to a country that practices torture. We would consider that kind of scenario or situation unacceptable.
It is very sad that the hon. member for Mount Royal has had to table a motion on this. In my opinion, there ought to be such unanimity on it that it need not be part of the business of the House. As the hon. member for Compton—Stanstead has rightly pointed out, I am convinced that, in a sovereign Quebec, there would be such total consensus on this issue, with our code of values and our collective identity, that there would be no one in the National Assembly interested in defending the death penalty as a solution in the administration of justice.
This is the position of the Bloc Québécois, and one we have had to remind people of on a number of occasions. We have asked questions. Our foreign policy critic, the hon. member for Papineau, and other members have raised this in the House. Every time we have been disappointed with the government's response. What we got was a lukewarm and wishy-washy response, even though we are entitled to expect the government to be intransigent, affirmative and vigilant on these principles. I am sure that the day the government achieves such vigilance, affirmation and determination, it will find that all opposition parties will rise above all partisan differences and give it their support.