Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to participate in the debate on Bill C-13, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (criminal procedure, language of the accused, sentencing and other amendments).
I should note that the bill was originally introduced as Bill C-13 in the first session of the 39th Parliament. It passed all stages in the House of Commons, was sent to the other place and is back here now with some amendments, which I and my colleagues believe enhance the bill. I will be supporting the bill, and I expect my colleagues on this side will as well.
We support the bill because it would a number of positive things to improve and enhance our criminal justice system. Some of these matters are quite procedural and technical in their nature, but, nonetheless, they are very important to ensure the system in the country works efficiently, effectively and brings justice to all.
Some of the aspects of the bill, for example, increase the maximum fine that can be imposed for a summary conviction offence from $2,000 to $10,000. The $2,000 limit had not been changed for some 30 years. The bill also calls for the suspension of a conditional sentence order or a probation order during an appeal. That enhances this law as well.
The proposed bill also provides the power to delay the sentencing proceedings so an offender can participate in a provincially approved treatment program. That is very important. In many cases we can lock people up and throw away the key, but eventually they will get out and have to be functioning and responsible citizens of our country. Therefore, if we can help someone deal with drug or alcohol abuse or some other social problem, this is to be very much encouraged.
In the case of a person serving a youth sentence who has received an adult sentence, the bill clarifies that the remaining portion of the youth sentence is converted to an adult sentence. This follows through on some of the changes that were made previously to the Youth Criminal Justice Act and something I think many Canadians often do not fully comprehend.
There is an impression that young people can commit crimes at will, flaunt the system and do not receive the types of sanctions that many Canadians think they should. However, we need to understand that if we put young people in jail, they can become hardened criminals. If they are not rehabilitated or given the appropriate treatment, in jail they will become even worse criminals. When they get out, they will offend again.
It is important that all criminals be rehabilitated while they are serving their time. At the same time, the youth criminal justice changes we made when we formed government allow a judge, at his or her discretion, to sentence a young person as an adult if, in the view of the judge, that young person deserves to be sentenced as an adult.
If I recollect correctly, the cutoff is age 14, and that is a very young. When people tell me that the age should be reduced further, I tell them that it is not something I would advocate. In fact, 14 is young enough. I think many judges would not be inclined to impose an adult sentence on someone of those young years unless the circumstances warranted it in the view of the judge. Nonetheless, it is important to have that provision so a judge can have the flexibility to do things like that.
One aspect that is not in the bill, although I hope it will come at some point in time, is an initiative that our government started. After two years of serving as government, I am surprised the Conservatives have not really acted upon it. It has to do with the modernization of investigative techniques.
I notice in the bill there are amendments which call for the use of telecommunications to forward warrants for the purpose of endorsement and execution in a jurisdiction other than the jurisdiction where the search warrant was obtained. Therefore, there are measures in the bill dealing with telecommunications, but we still do not have legislation to modernize investigative techniques for our law enforcement personnel. Let me describe what that is.
If we look at our Criminal Code today, if law enforcement officers can convince a judge that there are significant grounds, the judge can execute a search warrant. However, the search warrants and the wiretapping warrants are tailored to technologies that have been superceded, although not completely, and replaced by other types of media, other types of technology.
For example, wiretapping warrants on our books today, in terms of law, deal mostly with land phone lines. We know criminals today use wireless devices. They use cellphones, computers and the Internet. The problem is our laws are archaic in the sense that the police cannot tap these types of technologies. The problem, again, is criminals have moved ahead of law enforcement. In fact, some criminals will make a few calls on a cellphone and then chuck it away. They will do the same for other kinds of wireless devices.
When we were the government, we began a process to modernize these investigative techniques. It raised some concern in certain quarters that this was calling for a change in the ability or the power of the police to seek out a wiretap. The reality is it changed nothing in that regard. Law enforcement would still have to convince a judge that the wiretap was necessary. The only thing that it would do is it would allow the wiretap to be executed against a cellphone number, or a BlackBerry, or an Internet account, or some other telecommunications device.
While there is some confusion and some angst among citizens and others about what this type of legislation would do, in fact, it would do nothing more than what is on the books right now. It would not give the police the power or the authority to wiretap someone's line without a duly executed warrant by a judge.
The Conservative government talks about how it is getting the job done and how there has been 13 years of inaction. Here is something upon which the government should be acting.
There are a couple of other issues with telecommunications companies and servers. There are costs associated with adapting this technology or being in a state of readiness. If a warrant is executed by law enforcement officers, they need to have the capability and capacity, the technology within their own shops. There are costs associated with that.
There are also costs on a going forward basis if we require these telecommunications companies, like a server or mobile phone company, to retrofit to ensure their technologies are capable of putting these wiretaps on this technology. If this law were passed, companies would have to ensure the technology was engineered in such a way that if a warrant were executed, they could implement the wiretap on a cellphone, or on a BlackBerry, or on an Internet account. I believe this is holding the government back from doing something on this initiative, and that is a wrong reason.
Why should we be compromising the safety and security of Canadians because some telecommunications companies are anxious and nervous about the costs they would be faced with to adapt and execute this type of technology?
When we were the government, there were a lot of discussions and negotiations back and forth. My recollection is that there was some compromise, some meeting of the minds, as to how to move forward in this particular environment.
If my memory serves me correctly, these companies indicated a willingness on a going forward basis to build in the technologies and infrastructure needed so they would be in a state of readiness for warrants like this to be executed. I am not sure where those discussions went finally, but it is a matter of negotiation.
As for retrofitting, that is a bigger issue. It is a question of making the law come into force so the companies would have to retrofit all their technology, which is a big ticket item, and that is a matter for negotiation with the government.
However, I am surprised that it has taken two and a half years to negotiate something that would be reasonable in the circumstances. With the passage of time, the safety and security of our citizens have been put at risk. I do not think that is acceptable.
In fact, when we had the new civilian Commissioner of the RCMP, Mr. Bill Elliott, come to the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security, I asked him if the tools he needed to deal with this type of technology were there to make sure we were up to date with the technologies the criminals were using. He indicated that it would be an improvement if enabling legislation were in place so that we could beat the criminals at their own game.
Therefore, I encourage the government to bring forward legislation such as this, which would modernize our investigative techniques and give the police the same tools that criminals have. Does it make any sense for police officers to be using land line phones when the criminals are using not land lines but other technologies? It seems to me that this is an initiative that could have been incorporated into this bill, but it was not. I do not know where that particular item is.
We find in this bill that there are some improvements in the process that deal with our justice system. As I said earlier, I think some of them are more housekeeping in nature, but it is important housekeeping. It is something that I would encourage this House to support.
As an example, the amendments say that a summary conviction trial with respect to co-accused can proceed where one of the co-accused does not appear.
Another feature introduces changes to the process with respect to the challenge of jurors to, among other things, assist in preserving their impartiality.
It also brings in other amendments with respect to language rights provisions of the Criminal Code. This is a very important part of this legislation.
It means that an accused is informed of the right to be heard by a judge or a judge and jury who speak the official language of Canada that is the language of the accused, or both official languages of Canada. The amendments to this bill codify the right of the accused to obtain a translation of the information or indictment on request.
These are very important elements. We live in a bilingual country. We value our bilingualism. It is part of our national heritage. It is part of our strength as a nation. We also respect the right of individuals to be heard and listened to in the official language of their choice, one of the official languages of this country. I think that is also a very important part of Bill C-13.
I encourage the House to get on with this bill. It has been here before, it has been in the other place and it is back. Again, while sometimes the members in the other place are criticized, or that institution itself is criticized, there are many fine and competent people over there who can add value to legislation. In this case, I think they have done that.
I would encourage members of this House to support Bill C-13 in its current form. I certainly will be voting for it.