Mr. Speaker, it is difficult to speak to this bill when I think of the tragedy the member for Palliser described and which, obviously, he experienced on a close personal basis. I could not help but think of identifying with him. Fortunately, I have never had the experience of having a close friend or family member brutally murdered but I have had several clients over the course of my career who have suffered similar types of assaults and ultimate murders.
The inevitable human response is to question our criminal justice system, to question whether we could have done better, whether it is the conduct of our police forces, our prosecutors, our judges or, yes, we here as parliamentarians.
My colleague from Palliser, through this bill, has given a very real sense of the pain that he went through.
However, I have some concerns about the bill. It is appropriate that we, in our role as parliamentarians, look, on a constant basis, at the Criminal Code to see if there are ways to make it better in order to better protect our society as a whole and our citizens individually.
That obviously is the role that the member for Palliser is playing here as he brings forth this private member's bill. I acknowledge that and congratulate him in that regard.
I think the member mentioned having contact with prosecutors in his home province. I think we all recognize the burden we place on the prosecutors and, to some degree in this process, on our police officers, the insistence that they be perfect. However, they are human beings and they are not perfect, nor are judges.
I have a question with regard to the approach in this bill. Are we placing, and we heard this to some degree from the member for Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, an additional burden on prosecutors when we know they have great difficulty meeting the burden at this period of time in the process that involves whether a person will receive an interim custodial order or whether they will be released on bail? The bill clearly would place additional burdens on them if it were to ultimately become law as an amendment to the code.
It has been my experience, from the time I first started practising a long time ago right up to the present in terms of my discussions with crown prosecutors right across the country, that our expectations of what they can do--and the same is true of our police officers when they are involved in this stage of the criminal justice proceedings--and what they can present in a timely, efficient manner to a justice of the peace or a judge. They simply cannot do it.
We saw it in the tragedy this past weekend in British Columbia when those three young children were killed. We are hearing some recriminations. I do not know what the reality is. It is clear that the police wanted the person held in custody. Fingers were pointed initially at the justice of the peace for having released the person but now we are hearing evidence from Mr. Wally Oppal, the Attorney General of B.C., that not all the facts were in front of the justice of the peace. That is a classic case and it happens all too often in our country.
It is about resources. It is about giving our prosecutors and police sufficient resources and time, which means we need more of them, to present cases so that our judiciary, whether justices of the peace or judges, have the facts before them so that they can make a fully informed decision as to whether the person should be granted bail or kept in custody until trial.
I have to say that I do not see that this is going to help. In fact it will impose additional burdens. The amount of evidence that will have to be presented based on what is proposed in Bill C-519, in my estimation, would double, triple, maybe quadruple the workload of the prosecutors at that stage. It is going to at least double it. That would require more resources if we are going to do this.
I have to say to my colleague from Palliser that as much as I admire him, and I agree with the other parties that we are going to have this come to the justice committee, if we can ever get it functioning again, it behooves the member for Palliser and the government to take a look at the resources that we are providing to our prosecutors in particular, and to a lesser degree, our police around this issue.
As a bit of an aside, but it is relevant, I remember the huge fight that prosecutors had in Ontario in terms of their own personal compensation. They were grossly underpaid for a long period of time and only recently, I would say in the last 10 years, have they finally been able to catch up. As they fought for more appropriate wages reflective of their experience, education and the job load that they carried, they kept saying to various attorneys general in Ontario, “ More important, we need more prosecutors because we can't carry this workload. You can pay me double what I am getting now, but I can only work so many hours a week, at which point I collapse. Whether you pay me $100,000 or $150,000 or $200,000 a year, it doesn't matter because I can only work 60 to 80 hours a week and do a decent job. We need more prosecutors and it is really as simple as that”.
I would say to my friend that is one issue I would point out to him that he may want to try to advocate. I would urge him to advocate with his colleagues in government to look at this area and see that we get more prosecutors, and probably justices of the peace as well, to deal with this particular problem.
I want to raise another issue. He indicated that he will be seeking an amendment to the bill when it gets to committee. I want to caution him that he needs to look at whether the amendment he is proposing is going to be acceptable as an amendment. My preliminary reaction is that it is beyond the scope of the bill. I cannot see any way of correcting it, but he has to look at that. There is some real advantage to taking a look at reversing the onus in some cases.
In that regard, within the last six or eight months we passed a bill through the House and ultimately through the Senate reversing the onus on bail in the situation where guns were involved. That made sense. We have similar provisions in other areas. It may make sense to do it here, but I have to tell him I am not sure it is going to get by the legislative clerk in the justice committee, again if the justice committee starts functioning.
I want to commend my colleague from Palliser on the work that he has done on this. Hopefully we can resolve some of the concerns I have raised when the bill finally gets to committee.