Mr. Speaker, I rise here to speak to a bill for the second time today, but first of all, I must say I will probably be less critical of Bill C-31 than I was, and I will continue to be, of Bill C-36, if that bill ever comes back to the House. That being said, this is an interesting bill, and the Bloc Québécois will support it so it can be referred to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights for a more thorough study.
I hear some Conservative Party members applauding. I invite them to save their applause for five or ten minutes from now. I am not sure if they will still want to applaud, but for now, I cannot help but notice their applause, and I think it is interesting.
I do not know why, but the Conservatives tend to insert what we call a poison pill into an interesting bill. We were reading the bill, which has about 30 pages and 40 clauses, and everything was going well until we got to clause 39, which would amend the Identification of Criminals Act. I will come back to this. Our criminal law includes a very important principle, which the Supreme Court has reiterated on a number of occasions, and that is the presumption of innocence. A person is presumed innocent until found guilty by a jury or a judge who knows the law, on the basis of evidence introduced before his peers. The Supreme Court has said this time and time again. I would remind the members that we do not believe that subsection 2(1) of the Identification of Criminals Act can be amended, because that would go against the presumption of innocence.
I will take this argument further. The main downside to this bill is one small paragraph on the last page of the bill that seeks to amend paragraph 2(1)(a) and that reads as follows:
(a) any person who is in lawful custody after being arrested for...
That means that this paragraph would apply to everyone who is arrested for any reason. People could be fingerprinted and photographed from now on. It is clear that, if the government maintains its position and insists on amending this section, we will fight to the finish to vote against this bill and against this clause, and it is clear that we will try to have this clause removed from the bill in committee. We hope to do so with the support of the Liberals and my NDP colleague.
Why remove this clause? Because it would open the door to all sorts of abuses. My colleague from Edmonton—St. Albert can say what he likes, but you have to know the territory, as we say, you have to have argued cases and know criminal records to know that the police have a tendency to go overboard. Often, they are willing to keep a record on anyone for anything. Obviously, this is not always true, and it is not true of all police officers. But there are safeguards in place, and one of them says that a person cannot be fingerprinted until he or she is charged with or convicted of an offence. That means that at present, an individual who is convicted or who is charged—because the person has to be charged—can be photographed and fingerprinted.
In general, this is how it works. A person receives a summons requiring them to appear in court. They must plead guilty or not guilty and then they may be fingerprinted and photographed.
This process must not change and we will do everything in our power to ensure that it does not change because it is the fundamental right of an individual to be presumed innocent until found guilty. This presumption of innocence is extremely important in our criminal law.
It is unfortunate because it overshadows good intentions. I come from an area 600 km north of Ottawa that is regularly visited by the itinerant court. I also argued before this court when I was a lawyer. The itinerant court travels to Inuit and Cree villages on the shores of James Bay, Hudson Bay and Ungava Bay as well as in regions such as ours.
I will return to the main point of Bill C-31: telewarrants. We believe that the process must be modernized. Police forces are quite right to ask that telewarrants be easier to obtain and that they be made available more quickly.
For the benefit of our audience, telewarrants are search warrants or other types of warrants. The first example that comes to mind is this. Someone is stopped after a motor vehicle accident. The police approach the vehicle and smell alcohol. The person is in his car and unable to give his consent because he is unconscious or too drunk. In any event, he must be taken to hospital. The police accompany him to hospital and obtain a telewarrant over the phone. A justice of the peace, located in an office somewhere in Quebec, will authorize the taking of a blood sample from the individual to determine his blood alcohol level. We agree with the legislator that this telewarrant process should be retained and made more accessible.
The police are right. At present, in 2009, if they suspect that a criminal act has been or is about to be committed, and if they must quickly obtain a search warrant, they have to go before a judge, have him sign a document and then proceed with the search.
We think that the bill is a good idea, because it would modernize the Criminal Code. Even though I am a criminal lawyer, I think that we need to make it easier for police officers to do their jobs and gather evidence. One way of doing this is through telewarrants.
We feel that improving access to telewarrants is a good thing. Police officers must have the possibility of obtaining telewarrants, whether or not they are written or used.
This bill deals with many other things, such as fleeing to another province, and the amendment in response to the Supreme Court ruling in R. v. Six Accused Persons, which amends section 184 of the Criminal Code. There were a number of amendments to be made to the Criminal Code.
There are many details. This bill is long and very technical, but it is interesting. However, there are two main points I want to talk about. The first is representation by an agent, or non-lawyer.
I have a hard time accepting that an agent could represent a client in court, when the client is being charged with a summary offence. The Bloc Québécois has a hard time agreeing with this proposal for a number of reasons.
Representation by a lawyer is extremely important, especially in criminal law. When it comes to appearing, we could probably make some concessions. But I have some serious problems with having an agent question and cross-examine witnesses for and on behalf of the defendant.
I have the same concerns as the Quebec bar, which has provided us with information on this subject, saying:
The Barreau du Québec is concerned that this proposal, as written, causes confusion about the meaning of “agent”, and could lead to lawsuits against individuals for illegally practising the profession.
I am also very worried about this proposal. In Quebec, lots of people have acted as lawyers and have represented individuals, such as claimants before Quebec's occupational health and safety commission. The same thing has happened at the Canada Employment Insurance Commission. People with no legal skills whatsoever have represented others before the board of referees because, they said, they were friends of the claimants. If that same system were to apply to the Criminal Code, we would start having serious problems.
I am very surprised that the government would propose such a thing at the provinces' request. I can confirm that the Quebec bar does not support this proposal. I would be very surprised to hear that the Government of Quebec requested this kind of third-party representation. I believe that the committee will have to pay special attention to the issue of representation by lawyers when it comes time to study this bill.
The other point I want to raise has to do with the amendment to section 2 of the Identification of Criminals Act. I want to discuss this because I think it is important not to create this option. Above all, we must not give the police unrestricted power to take a person's fingerprints and photograph, because there is no telling where that information might end up. Such records, known in our jargon as anthropometric records, could make their way to the Canadian border, to customs, or elsewhere.
If that happened, an individual who has never been charged with anything might be prevented from leaving Canada. The police might go so far as to arrest people for dangerous driving or a highway safety code violation, and tell them to go to the police station for fingerprinting and photographing. The police might even have photographic and fingerprinting equipment with them at the scene of the arrest. I think this goes very, very far. We have to create a process for destroying the fingerprints and photos of people who are not charged with anything and will never be charged, people against whom no complaint or charge will be filed.
At present, not only do we have an individual's fingerprints and photograph—the anthropometric record also included that information—but we know that genetic records can be kept on people who have given a drop of blood, saliva or a single hair for the purposes of DNA identification. We must not forget that.
However, section 10 of the DNA Identification Act contains a provision for the destruction of genetic material.
We think this clause needs to be amended to include the destruction of photos and anthropometric records if no charges are laid within a given timeframe.
One needs to have practised criminal law to understand that it is very rare for clients to come back to us when no charges are laid to ask that their fingerprints and photos be destroyed, even when they have been lawfully taken.
When someone is acquitted of the charges laid against him, his fingerprints and photos should be destroyed automatically, but that is not the case at this time. That is not what happens. Needless to say, this certainly is not more likely to happen if we allow the Identification of Criminals Act to be amended.
We believe that the title of the legislation says it all. It is called the Identification of Criminals Act. So why should someone who has not yet been declared a criminal be forced to submit his photos and fingerprints? In our opinion, this makes no sense, and we find this extremely prejudicial for someone who is arrested.
We think this bill is important. It is an interesting bill and I will close by talking about fighting. I listened to my colleague from Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe and also to my colleague from Windsor. They asked a very important question. There is prizefighting and now throughout the United States there is this type of extreme fighting where violence is involved, of course, but also bets and so forth.
However, we have to be careful because there is very well organized fighting. We know about boxing, but in terms of the Olympic movement, judo and karate have now been introduced. These are extremely interesting sports that are gaining in popularity in Canada.
Judo and karate events are organized under the supervision of national and international agencies. International agencies including the International Olympic Committee, the International Judo Federation, and the World Karate Federation have asked us to ensure that the Criminal Code is amended. I will give an example related to this type of fighting. Canada cannot host the world cup of karate or judo because under the Criminal Code, such fighting is illegal.
We think it is important that this be amended in the Criminal Code. That is what a number of provinces and Quebec are asking for. Judo-Québec, the Fédération québécoise de karaté, the National Karate Association of Canada and Judo Canada, following representations by the International Olympic Committee, which would like to hold major competitions in these two sports, cannot take part.
I see that my time is almost up, but I will close by saying that this is an interesting bill that we will have to address in the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. There are two points, and I have mentioned them, but I think it is important that we respond to the requests and modernize the Criminal Code