Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak again on this matter.
Before I came to this House, I was a member of the Durham Regional Police Services Board. When I was there, I had the opportunity obviously on a regular basis to talk with officers around the changing technologies and the fact that our laws simply had not kept pace. People were committing fraud online or hiding behind anonymity on Internet service providers and performing serious crimes, and the police simply could not follow them.
I was first elected in 2004 and when I came to Parliament, I was pleased to support the work of the then Liberal government to create what was the modernization of investigative techniques act. That bill which was introduced in 2005 is ostensibly what is before the House today in both bills, Bill C-46 and Bill C-47, which is now being debated. Unfortunately, in 2005 the Conservatives precipitated an election and that killed the bill.
The member for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine then reintroduced that as a private member's bill in the next session and again that bill was killed when the Prime Minister walked to the Governor General's office and then killed that legislation.
In this session of Parliament that same Liberal member of Parliament introduced that Liberal legislation yet again. We had to wait until the end of the last session before the Conservatives finally introduced it.
As I said, just before we began question period, it is a little rich to me that the Conservatives would be going on about the imperative need to pass the bill and how much it is needed for police and how critical it is when they in fact have had four years to introduce it and are the ones responsible for killing it in various stages at various moments in time.
When they finally did introduce it, they introduced it in the last week the House was sitting before summer when there was no opportunity to debate it, there was no opportunity to move it forward. Now, it has been left until the end of October before we are finally dealing with the bill.
It shows that the Conservatives' commitment to the bill is fragile at best. In fact, we have seen what they do on criminal justice matters. They introduce bills and let them languish on the order paper. Then they wait for a scandal or a problem to hit and then they seek refuge in those same crime bills, suddenly bringing them back with great urgency saying they need to be dealt with immediately and any opposition party that dares to ask a question on them is somehow soft on crime.
The facts do not measure up. The facts are that they have allowed these things to languish for years and something that should have been dealt with, the Liberal legislation that was introduced so long ago, has meant that those people are committing online fraud and the police officers who need those additional investigative techniques and tools have been left without them as the government has completely failed them.
I think it is important to note as well that this is not the only area where we have seen this problem with the government. I spoke a great deal yesterday about the importance of these new investigative techniques for police. My intention is not today to repeat all of those comments but to make a comment more generally on the direction the Conservatives are heading on crime.
Today, in the public safety and national security committee we had a couple of different witnesses. One of the witnesses was Dr. Craig Jones who is the executive director of the John Howard Society of Canada. His insights into the direction in which the government is heading on crime I think is very telling. I will quote from his comments today. He said at the beginning of his statement:
My second audience is the future. I suffer no illusions that I will be able to alter the course of this government’s crime agenda--which legislative components contradict evidence, logic, effectiveness, justice and humanity. The government has repeatedly signalled that its crime agenda will not be influenced by evidence of what does and does not actually reduce crime and create safer communities.
What we heard as well from Mr. Stewart along with Michael Jackson, who wrote a report about the government's broken direction on corrections and crime, is that we are walking down the same road that the Americans embarked on in the early 1980s, when Republicans came forward and presented the same type of one-type solution for crime, which is incarceration, more incarceration and only incarceration.
If we did not have that example and the example that was in the United Kingdom, perhaps the Conservatives would be forgiven for thinking that would work. The reality of the United States is that this is a catastrophic disaster. In fact, the governor of California is now saying the state is being crushed under the weight of the mistake of these decisions, that the prisons are literally overflowing. The supreme court of California had to release thousands of offenders into the streets because the prisons simply had no room for them.
We also see that these prisons become crime factories. Minor criminals go in often for drug-related crimes, break and enters or smaller but still serious crimes, but instead of getting help for the addiction or mental health issues they face, they get sent into prison environments where they learn to be much worse criminals. We could make the analogy of putting in a butter knife and getting out a machine gun.
In fact, in committee today the director of the John Howard Society quoted an individual who deals with aboriginal inmates and said that our prison systems are turning into “gladiator schools”. He stated:
So our federal prisons have become “gladiator schools” where we train young men in the art of extreme violence or where we warehouse mentally ill people. All of this was foreseeable by anyone who cared to examine the historical experience of alcohol prohibition, but since we refuse to learn from history we are condemned to repeat it.
Everyone can imagine that as we continually overpopulate these prisons and do not provide the services to rehabilitate people, it has to come out somewhere. Where it comes out is in a system that continually degenerates.
In California the rate of recidivism, the rate at which people reoffend, is now 70%. Imagine that, 7 out of every 10 criminals who go into that system come out and reoffend, and those offences are often more serious than the ones they went in for first. In other words, people are going into the system and then coming out much worse.
We have to remember that even when we increase sentences, over 90% of offenders will get out. We can extend the length of time they are staying in there, but at a certain time they are going to get out, and it is the concern of anybody who wants a safe country or community that when people come out of these facilities, they come out ready to be reintegrated, to contribute to society and not reoffend.
The other fundamental problem with the Conservative approach to crime is that it waits for victims. Conservatives think the only way to deal with crime is to wait until somebody has been victimized and a crime has occurred, and then to punish the person.
Of course, we believe in serious sentences. We have to have serious sentences for serious crimes, but that is not nearly enough. If it were enough, if simply having tough sentences were enough to stop crime, then places like Detroit, Houston and Los Angeles would be the safest cities in North America. We know that is certainly not the case.
What the Conservatives are doing is slashing crime prevention budgets. Actual spending in crime prevention has been slashed by more than 50% since the Conservatives came into power. They have cut programs.
I have gone to communities like Summerside and talked to the Boys and Girls Clubs or the Salvation Army in different communities. They said they have either lost funding for community projects to help youth at risk or, instead of being given the power to decide how to stop crime in their own communities, they are prescribed solutions from on high in Ottawa, which is disconnected and often does not work in those local communities.
The net result is that the community, which has the greatest capacity to stop crime, has its ability removed of stopping that crime from happening in the first place, which means even more people go to these prisons, continually feeding this factory of crime the Conservatives are marching forward with.
When we look at the costs of all of this, not only does it not provide a benefit, not only does it make our communities less safe, as has been proven in the United States, but there is a staggering cost to these policies. Pursuing a failed Republican agenda on crime that not even the Republicans would subscribe to any more in most states and most quarters in the United States comes with a staggering cost.
The Conservatives are refusing to release those figures. The minister has been refusing to tell us what exactly the price tag is for all of these measures they are putting on the table. That is why I have asked the Parliamentary Budget Officer to take a look at all of these measures and their approach on crime, and tell us just what the cost is.
That bears some important questions to be asked. Where are the Conservatives going to get the money to build these new super prisons that they are talking about? Where are they going to get the money to house all of these additional inmates? Presumably, they would provide programs and services to make these inmates better. Where is that money going to come from?
If the example in the United States is any evidence, or if the example of the Conservatives' own action in slashing crime prevention budgets is any example, then we know that they will cut from the very things that stop crime from happening in the first place. Imagine the irony of that. To pay for prisons, they are going to cut the very things that stop people from going to prison. It is a backward philosophy under any logic. Upon examination of more than a minute or two, one would recognize that it is a recipe for disaster.
If that were not bad enough, and I think that it speaks directly to this bill, the Conservatives have also betrayed police. I have talked with the Canadian Police Association about the government's commitment to put 2,500 new officers on the street. That association has called that broken promise a betrayal. However, we also know that, with respect to the RCMP, the Prime Minister went out to Vancouver where he made a solemn commitment to RCMP officers that they would get the same wage as other police officers and that they would receive parity with other police officers.
Right after making that promise and signing a contract, he ripped that contract up and broke the promise. Worse, as if that was not enough of an insult to the men and women who are our national police force, the government then challenged in court the right of RCMP officers to have the choice of whether or not they wanted to have collective bargaining. The government decided to challenge a right that is enjoyed by every other police force in the country.
At the same time, the government has ignored call after call by public inquiry after public inquiry for proper and adequate oversight. The reports and conclusions of Justice Iacobucci and Justice O'Connor made it clear that new oversight mechanisms were critical to ensure that public confidence remained in our national security institutions and our national police force, yet the government ignored it. In this example, it ignored for four years Liberal legislation that had been put forward to give officers the tools that they needed to do the job of keeping our communities safe.
In all of this, the government's response is to skew the Liberal record and be dishonest about what exactly Liberals have done on crime. Here is an inconvenient fact that it does not like to talk about. For every year the Liberal government was in power, crime rates went down. Every single year that we were in power, Canada became a safer place. The communities were safer and that is because we took a balanced approach to crime.
However, the government also says that we have blocked its crime bills. That is incredibly disingenuous. Here is the reality. Maybe I will go over a couple of bills just from this session. These are bills that the Liberal Patry not only supported but moved to accelerate and tried to find a way to get passed as expediently as possible in the House.
The government caused an election, so it killed all of its own bill. When it brought back Bill C-2, it included Bill C-10, Bill C-32, Bill C-35, Bill C-27 and Bill C-22, all of which we supported. We supported and looked to accelerate Bill C-14, Bill C-15, Bill C-25 and C-26.
That is the record of Liberals in this session of Parliament on crime, not to mention the Liberal record of reducing crime every year that we were in office previously.
Today I was doing an Atlantic radio talk show with a Conservative member of Parliament who ascribed the motive to the Liberal Party that we did not care about crime, that we are soft on criminals, and that we like to let people get away with things. I will say one thing about the Conservatives. I think that they believe what they say. I think that they honestly believe that these policies will work, even though they have failed. Even though Republicans have tried them and they have been utter disasters, I do believe that the Conservatives think they will work.
However, to ascribe motive to this side of the House and to say that we somehow care less about the safety of our communities is disingenuous. To say that I care less about the safety of my children, family or community is unacceptable. This debate needs to be about who has the best approach to crime.
I would suggest that we have the best approach to stop crime before it happens, to build safe communities, to ensure we strike the right balance between being tough on those who commit serious crimes, but, most important, working with every ounce of our bodies to ensure those who begin to turn down dark paths have people who step in and intervene to ensure they do not commit those crimes in the first place. That is the type of approach we advocate on crime and it is one that I am proud of.