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House of Commons Hansard #119 of the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was drugs.

Topics

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

12:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

Is that agreed?

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

12:10 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

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12:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

When question period began, the hon. parliamentary secretary had five minutes remaining for questions and answers.

We will now hear from the hon. member for Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe.

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12:15 p.m.

Liberal

Brian Murphy Liberal Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Mr. Speaker, I have a quick question for the member, who serves with me on the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. I very much appreciated his speech.

The response to my friend from Newfoundland and Labrador was incomplete.

For better preciseness, the question was under what circumstances fingerprints and mug shots would be taken, that is, for what crimes, and whether that would apply to the arrest phase of the offence. Under what circumstances, if there is no charge, would those fingerprints and mug shots be returned?

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12:15 p.m.

Conservative

Daniel Petit Conservative Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, QC

Mr. Speaker, through you, I will try to answer this question as quickly as possible.

The member does indeed serve with me on the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. For the benefit of all Canadians, I will say that this member and his colleagues make it possible for both sides to work together.

The new bill states that fingerprints and photographs can be taken at the time of arrest, if the person is in lawful custody. Under the old legislation, fingerprinting or photographing was not permitted if the individual had not been charged.

That is why arrest warrants often mention section 133, which states how the accused must behave when providing fingerprints and photographs.

This is new, and will help speed up the process. In areas where this is difficult, it will also make it possible to request fingerprinting and photographs immediately, instead of waiting until later, which could be a problem for both the accused and the police forces.

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12:15 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, the contentious point of the bill seems to be the process with respect to fingerprints.

We could possibly solve the problem by making an amendment at committee stage to make certain that the police would destroy the fingerprints if no charges were laid.

As I understand it, right now it would be up to the accused to make a request that the fingerprints be destroyed. If the accused does not make the request, then those fingerprints would not be destroyed. There is nothing in legislation that requires the police to do that at this point. We cannot assume that they are going to voluntarily do it.

I think we are going to have to amend the bill to make it a requirement that if the police do not press charges, they take it upon themselves to erase or eliminate the fingerprints rather than requiring the accused to make that request.

Does the member have any comments on that point?

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12:15 p.m.

Conservative

Daniel Petit Conservative Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, QC

Mr. Speaker, my colleague's question is very relevant. Regarding the destruction of fingerprints and photographs, under the old system, if the individual was not convicted, was acquitted or if the charges were dropped, the individual could ask the police force directly to destroy the fingerprints and photos.

That remains the process in place, because it is important that the individual who knows he is not guilty or is acquitted be able to ask that the photos and fingerprints be destroyed. This must not be left to an automatic mechanism, in order to ensure that the decision or response to his request will be applicable in the future. If there is an automatic mechanism, there is go guarantee that it will happen automatically. However, it is better if the individual who is the subject of the fingerprints and photos can submit a request directly.

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12:20 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak to Bill C-31.

As a follow up to the minister's final comments when he seemed to suggest that it has to be left up to the accused to request the destruction of the fingerprints if no charges are laid, I cannot really agree with what he is proposing. I think what will happen over time is that the accused will simply forget to do it and the police will basically build a database. We have to make it a requirement.

Perhaps we could do both. We could make it a requirement that the police do it, but also have some sort of reminder for the accused to do the same. It would be a pincer movement to make sure it is done two ways. If one does not work, the other one will.

Bill C-31 is quite large. There are 39 pages to it. It is an omnibus bill. Normally we do not like omnibus bills. History shows that omnibus bills are something that governments tend to use. I am aware of one government in Manitoba a number of years ago that was great at bringing in omnibus bills. It would put in a bunch of things we liked and it would stick in some poison pills that we did not like. It was certainly a real conundrum as to how to vote on those types of bills.

That was my first experience with omnibus bills. I am sure they have been around for many years, but certainly that was one government that used them very effectively. The Conservative government has managed to do the same. In the year I have been here I have seen them a couple of times.

The NDP justice critic informs me that in the case of making legal changes, an omnibus bill approach is a good idea. As a matter of fact, he has suggested that he would actually like to see the government do more of these things. I do not think I am going to become a convert any time soon on the idea that the government should be encouraged to bring in more omnibus bills, but evidently, and I know there are a lot of learned lawyers in the chamber, in the area of crime, the NDP justice critic thinks it is a good approach.

We are dealing with some 40 changes. I want to say at the outset that we will be supporting sending this bill to committee. There is one major issue where I can see that all of the opposition parties are going to have a problem. The government probably would have known that in advance. It is the whole issue of fingerprinting. I have been reading over some of the previous speeches on the bill and pretty much everybody has focused on the fingerprinting parts of the bill. Perhaps the committee will resolve that issue with some amendments.

There are a couple of sleeper amendments that I personally would be not too happy about. They do not seem to have drawn a lot of ire from other members at this point, but there may be members in the opposition or even in my own party who may dislike some of the other provisions of this bill and may want to make some amendments.

The whole idea of the bill is to modernize the criminal justice procedures. We want to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the criminal justice system as an integral part of the Government of Canada's commitment to ensuring the safety and security of communities across Canada.

Through continual modernization of criminal procedures, the Government of Canada is creating a justice system that can respond to changes in criminal activity and constant evolution of technology, and certainly that is a point. We are dealing with that in the computer areas, struggling with this issue in the child pornography bill that we have just sent to committee as well as in Bill C-27 that is coming up. There is this whole area of technology, the huge changes in technology, and with it the criminals seem to just simply adapt. Sort of like the viruses, they adapt to the new realities, the new environment. They actually improve on their techniques, and crime continues. So, we do have to update the law. It is a constant battle.

As a matter of fact, the entire Criminal Code is probably in for a rewrite. It is quite ancient, quite old and it certainly needs a lot of work done on it. Perhaps rather than just simply constantly working on a piecemeal basis, the member opposite, who I know is listening right now, I am sure would be agreeable to get together. We are in a minority Parliament here. Perhaps the government should announce a plan to rewrite the whole Criminal Code with a view that in two or three years, or however long it would take, at the end of the day we could come up with a new, modernized Criminal Code that would perhaps be a little more understandable to people in the country.

The government has worked closely with its provincial and territorial partners to create 40 legislative amendments.The fact of the matter is that working with the provinces is a very important part. I know that on a government-to-government basis it is oftentimes very difficult to work with the provinces, because we are dealing with 10 different points of view, and sometimes that can lead to a lot of problems. It is easier for a federal government to simply bring in its own initiatives, even for provinces. However, sometimes in a province, when we bring in an initiative, it then causes a problem, a spillover effect into the next jurisdiction.

So, as much as possible, it is very important for provinces to get together as groups or to co-operate with the federal government. That, by necessity, often results in a very slow and bogged-down process, although I have seen some big improvements, certainly in the last couple of years in Manitoba with the Manitoba justice minister Mr. Chomiak and with Gord Mackintosh actually taking a very strong position on various crime initiatives and driving the agenda through their provincial associations and actually getting results here in Ottawa. That, to me, was proof that one little province, if it is determined and wants to push a certain agenda, can actually get results, even with Ottawa.

So, I do commend the government for actively working with the provinces. I think it should continue to do that, because out of that process, we have developed quite a few good initiatives, even over the last couple of years.

The proposed amendments to the Criminal Code, the Identification of Criminals Act, the Corruption of Foreign Public Officials Act and the Canada Evidence Act will all help to ensure that Canada's laws continue to protect Canadians.

The flight offence is an interesting one. Basically this is a new offence that would target individuals who leave a jurisdiction in violation of the bail conditions. This would create a clear deterrent to fleeing a jurisdiction and would establish a record of such behaviour. Having access to this record would help prevent the release of an accused person who has, in the past, failed to abide by conditions to stay within a jurisdiction. As well, the onus would be placed on the accused to justify why he or she should be subsequently released on bail. In addition, more time may be made available for the arranging for the return of the accused to the originating jurisdiction for trial.

What that really means is that a certain area of the country, in this particular case British Columbia, and I have this in my notes, has, I believe, 700 people hanging out who are wanted on outstanding warrants in other parts of the country. I remember seeing on television and reading in the papers in the last couple of years how authorities had developed this program through which they were providing people with bus fares and sending them back to Ontario or wherever they came from. Now they have a program backed by the business community to return the people to the jurisdictions that they came from, but I believe they are turning them over to the police force. Before they would just put them on a bus and get them out of B.C. They could, of course, simply hide where they went to as well, but this would turn them over to authorities.

What was happening was that a lot of the warrants the police had for the people they were finding in B.C. covered a very limited area. The warrant was written out, for example, for shoplifting and it applied perhaps within a radius of 50 miles of Brockville or Belleville, but of course now the person was in B.C. The authorities looked at this warrant and found they could not do anything about it because they were outside the jurisdiction. So this is probably a very good provision. As I said, it is a new offence and hopefully it will take care of some of this because we should not be tolerating people shoplifting and doing other crimes and then just simply heading out of the province to hide, hoping they never get caught.

These amendments, as I indicated, are the result of an initiative led by British Columbia in a federal-provincial-territorial working group that was endorsed by ministers responsible for justice, in September 2008. That was just September 2008, and we are only a year down the road and already dealing with legislation. Who says that a minority government cannot work? I say that to the government members, but we also have the element of the Senate to deal with, so that is a different issue.

The next part of the bill deals with the identification of criminals. The Identification of Criminals Act does not currently authorize police officers to fingerprint or photograph individuals in lawful custody until they are charged or convicted. This often results in unnecessary delays, according to the police and the government, and can prolong an accused individual's stay at the police station.

The proposed amendments would streamline the process by adding the authority to fingerprint and photograph an individual who is in lawful custody involving an arrest but who is not yet charged. So once again, this is extremely controversial. It will perhaps be amended or deleted at committee, but at a bare minimum, it would have to be amended so that the police themselves would be required to destroy fingerprints that were taken. If doing that is not required, and it is left up to the accused, over time people are going to forget about this and it is not going to be done. If we have time at the end we will come back to this fingerprinting issue, because there are 40 parts to this bill and I am probably halfway through my allotted time at this point.

As for telewarrants, this sounds like a fairly reasonable position. The telewarrants will allow police officers to apply for search and seizure-related warrants by providing information to a justice of the peace on oath via telephone or other means of telecommunications. This is going to save the travel and wait time it would take if the officer had to apply in person. I can certainly see that in the northern parts of the country this should be a huge improvement, rather than having to drive 100 miles at 3 a.m. to get a warrant. The telewarrant system probably should be in place.

Under the current system, telewarrants are available only when it is impractical for the officer to appear in person and are available only on certain types of warrants, so once again, if the officer can drive the 100 miles, then that is what he or she is required to do. This change is going to make doing that optional, so that the officer can simply get the telewarrant instead.

The proposed amendments would eliminate the need to satisfy the impracticality requirement in cases where the telewarrant request is submitted in writing. The amendments would also expand the availability of telewarrants to public officers. These are officials who enforce federal non-Criminal Code legislation but who are not police officers.

Then there are provisions with regard to expert witness evidence. Certainly there is another provision dealing with the use of non-lawyers, and I might spend a minute or two talking about that.

When individuals are charged with summary offences, which are less serious offences that involve fewer procedural requirements, it is important that they have access to adequate representation. The proposed amendments would give each province the power to authorize programs and establish criteria outlining when an agent or non-lawyer can represent a defendant charged with a summary offence.

These amendments would allow for different approaches, depending upon the maximum term of imprisonment associated with the offence, among other things. The proposed amendments would, however, allow agents to appear on behalf of defendants to seek an adjournment of summary proceedings, regardless of the maximum term of imprisonment.

I do want to spend some time talking about the prize-fighting amendments to this bill. Under the current law, it is an offence to have any involvement in prize fighting, defined as an encounter or fight with fists or hands, except for amateur boxing, under the authority of the province. Once again, here we are dealing basically with the devolution of letting the provinces decide.

Many amateur sports, even those without monetary prizes, are technically included in the offence. The proposed amendments would expand the list of permitted exceptions to the prize-fighting offence so that the amateur combative sports such as judo and karate, currently in the Olympic program, would be allowed. The amendments would also permit a province to decide whether to expand the list of sports permitted to take place within the province and authorize specific contests.

Now we get to the issue of mixed martial arts fighting, which many members have seen take off in North America. It is a big deal and is certainly popular. I believe most provinces still ban it, but by approving this legislation, what we are doing is giving the provinces the right to approve these mixed martial arts. Senator John McCain once described mixed martial arts, which is a whirlwind mix of jiu-jitsu, judo, karate, boxing, kick-boxing and wrestling, as human cockfighting, so he obviously did not like it.

Just before I run out of time, a news report talked about Canada's love of hockey brawls. The company that promotes this fighting claimed that men between the ages of 18 and 35 have attention spans that are too short to watch 15 rounds of boxing, so mixed martial arts have bouts that usually last no more than 15 minutes, which are made for today's video culture.

Just before I finish, I just want to point out that with football players today, we are finding traumatic brain injuries. We are finding that football players are dying in greater numbers at young ages after they retire. We are finding, for example, that some wrestlers have the demented brains of 80-year-olds.

Clearly there are a lot of things we have to look at here within our existing sports, without promoting even more sporting activities like this, which could have even worse consequences.

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12:40 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Liberal Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

Mr. Speaker, first I want to commend my hon. colleague from Elmwood—Transcona. Since being elected to this chamber, he has certainly become a star in his own right. I would like to congratulate him on these and many other issues.

I do want to touch on one topic. Near the beginning of his speech, he did mention sleeper amendments and some amendments that, I am assuming, may cause him some trouble or some conflict with his voting intentions. He talked about how some of these problems can be cleared up by certain amendments within the committee process.

One of those, and I think this is what he is getting at, is also causing me some concern, and that is the idea of destroying the fingerprint evidence he spoke of. In this particular situation, if someone has given evidence or his or her fingerprints and a mug shot after being charged, at that point, I am assuming they have to get rid of those on their own accord. I think that is causing him some problems. It certainly is causing me problems as well.

Is there a way in which this can be amended so this would not occur, so that over a period of time, without the input of the particular person charged, the evidence could be taken from the records?

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12:40 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for his kind comments.

With regard to the issue, it seemed to me from reading in Hansard the other speakers' comments on this issue that an amendment will certainly have to be tabled, because the Liberal Party clearly did not like these particular provisions, and the NDP certainly does not, and neither does the Bloc critic. On that basis alone, clearly that particular clause will have to be amended.

Essentially the bill is talking about people being fingerprinted on suspicion alone, before they are charged. If the person is charged, then the fingerprints will stay. However, if the person is not charged and he or she walks out of a police station, why would the police want to keep the fingerprints of an innocent person? The question is whether or not one can trust the police to in fact dispose of those fingerprints. The suggestion from the government is that we should leave it up to the individual.

I would think that most people would be so happy to get out of the police station, the last thing they would think about doing is asking for a copy of their prints. Therefore, I think we have to make it incumbent in law that the police must follow that procedure, particularly as the government just said that we should leave it up to individual. That is not the way to proceed here.

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12:40 p.m.

Bloc

Serge Cardin Bloc Sherbrooke, QC

Mr. Speaker, the government says it worked with its provincial and territorial partners to develop some 40 amendments to address the gaps in the legislation.

Concerning the specific issue of agents other than legal counsel, we know very well that professional codes are a matter of provincial and Quebec jurisdiction. In that context, does my colleague know how we could reconcile the fact that there would be two pieces of legislation, this bill regarding agents at the federal level, and the Quebec Professional Code, as an example? In fact, this is one of the concerns expressed by the Barreau du Québec.

I would like to hear my colleague's thoughts on this overlap in jurisdictions.

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12:40 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, this is certainly one area that will have to be dealt with at committee. The member will have to try to build a consensus with the other two opposition parties to get some sort of amendment done. There is always tension between provincial and federal jurisdiction. The member certainly knows that in the area of securities commissions, I have always argued that we should keep the securities commissions in the provincial realm, and not necessarily just because of provincial rights—although that is an issue—but because of the fact there is really no guarantee that a national system will work any better than the provincial systems. It depends on the people running the systems.

However, with regard to the hon. member's question, we have to get the bill to committee. We support getting the bill to committee. I assume the Bloc does too. Let us get it to committee and start dealing with these issues on a case-by-case basis and see if we can come up with some amendments that could work.

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12:45 p.m.

NDP

Claude Gravelle NDP Nickel Belt, ON

Mr. Speaker, I agree with the member from the Liberal Party who called the member for Elmwood—Transcona a star in the House. I would like to ask the star from Elmwood—Transcona a question on telewarrants.

Telewarrants allow police officers to apply for search and seizure-related warrants by providing information to a justice of the peace by oath via telephone or other means of telecommunication. The amendment would also expand the availability of telewarrants to public officers. They are officials who enforce federal non-Criminal Code legislation, but are not police officers.

That is a bit of a concern to me. I would like the star member to give me his thoughts on this.

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12:45 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I really do not think we are going to have a problem with the telewarrant process. I say this because we simply have to update the Criminal Code and processes and procedures to our current standards, because the law is changing and, certainly, the criminals are changing too.

It makes no sense to drive a car 100 miles and to burn up all of that gas and time to appear before an officer to get a warrant, when it can simply be done by way of a telewarrant. Once again, there is nothing in this bill, outside of the concerns on the fingerprinting issue that we are dealing with, that is causing a lot of ripples here. On that basis, the NDP caucus and critic are in favour of voting for this bill at second reading and sending it to committee.

Hopefully we can iron out in committee whatever problems we perceive there to be. I am not going to prejudge the committee, because once a bunch of lawyers get together in a room, they will find problems that no one else could ever have thought of.

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12:45 p.m.

Bloc

Serge Cardin Bloc Sherbrooke, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to begin by pointing out that I am not a lawyer, but as people so often say, ignorance of the law is no excuse. Anyone who has observed the debates that have been taking place here, particularly for some time now, on the subject of order, justice and the law can see why so many lawyers get into politics. It is obvious. However, we sometimes need good accountants too—that was my previous profession—to help the government with its finances. That is an important thing to do.

In lawyer speak, it was “on or about” May 15, 2009, that the Minister of Justice introduced Bill C-31 for first reading in the House of Commons. The enactment amends the Criminal Code, the Corruption of Foreign Public Officials Act and the Identification of Criminals Act and makes a consequential amendment to the Canada Evidence Act.

There are a lot of things to talk about here. The bill contains nearly 40 amendments. I am going to run through a number of points, then come back to talk about some of them in greater detail. This bill deals with the telewarrant system, as some of my colleagues mentioned earlier. It proposes a mandatory 10-day adjournment when requirements for notice have not been fulfilled. It sets out criteria for determining when a representative can represent a defendant charged with a summary conviction offence. It authorizes fingerprinting and photographing and any other identification measure for persons who are in lawful custody but have not yet been charged. We will have to come back to that point.

It expands the jurisdiction of Canadian courts to include bribery offences committed by Canadians outside Canada. The bill creates an offence of leaving the jurisdiction in violation of bail conditions. It permits the list of permitted exceptions to the prize fighting offence to be expanded. It also updates Canada's pari-mutuel betting provisions. It updates the provisions on interceptions of private communications in exceptional circumstances. It reclassifies six non-violent offences as hybrid offences. This is another case where, sometimes, even though everyone is supposed to know the law, there can be some problems in how it is interpreted. That is what we are trying to clarify, of course. The bill also deletes provisions of the Criminal Code that are no longer valid, corrects or clarifies wording in various provisions and makes minor updates to other provisions.

That was a quick rundown of what this bill addresses, updates or amends. We do hope this will improve the situation. As I was saying earlier, when I asked my colleague a question, the government claims to have collaborated with its provincial and territorial partners to develop these legislative amendments in order to deal with the gaps in the legislation.

However, we, in the Bloc Québécois, intend to hear testimony from one or more representatives from Quebec to determine how much collaboration there in fact was and whether the conclusions are satisfactory to Quebec. Needless to say—but I will say it again nonetheless—the Bloc Québécois is here, in this House, primarily to defend the interests of Quebec and to promote its sovereignty in every jurisdiction of a sovereign government.

I will now to talk about the Bloc's position on Bill C-31. This bill makes a number of amendments, which I just listed. Although some of the amendments are interesting, namely on providing greater access to telewarrants or on bribery offences committed outside Canada, other amendments cause us some concern.

I am thinking, for instance, about the attempt to regulate in a roundabout way the legal profession, which falls within Quebec's jurisdiction, particularly by allowing the application of identification processes to detained individuals who have not yet been charged.

In the face of a bill that contains some good and some bad, the Bloc Québécois will maintain its approach. We will review the bill carefully and in good faith in committee, put forward amendments as required and, then, determine whether or not to support the bill in its final form.

An analysis of the bill makes it evident that several substantive and technical changes are being made to the Criminal Code.

Let us take a moment to get into a few specific aspects.

Regarding telewarrants, clause 2 of the bill introduces the telewarrant procedure for the purpose of seizing weapons. The procedure is outlined for issuing telewarrants whether the application is made by a means of telecommunication that produces a writing or not.

The use of telewarrants is also introduced with respect to offences in connection with to disorderly houses, gaming and betting, special minerals and production orders.

With respect to another aspect, namely fleeing to another province, clause 5 of the bill creates a distinct offence for persons who are at large on an undertaking or recognizance and flee outside their province of residence.

Then, there is the 10-day adjournment, which was explained in greater detail earlier. Clause 30 of the bill amends the current rules on the requirement for one party to notify the other of its intent to call an expert witness. Subclause 2 of the provision amending subsections 653.3(4) and 653.3(5) of the Criminal Code sets at 10 days the minimum period of adjournment ordered by the court whenever the prescribed notice has not been given. This time period may be reduced by consent of the parties.

Coming back to agents other than counsel, clauses 31, 32 and 33 of the bill amend the rules on the ability of an agent other than counsel to appear, examine and cross-examine witnesses for and on behalf of the defendant.

The proposed amendments would give each province the power to establish criteria outlining when an agent, or non-lawyer, can represent a defendant charged with a summary offence, a less serious offence that involves fewer procedural requirements. These amendments would allow different approaches depending on the maximum term of imprisonment associated with the offence, among other things. The proposed amendments would, however, allow agents to appear on behalf of defendants to seek an adjournment of summary proceedings, regardless of the maximum term of imprisonment.

As I said earlier, the provinces and Quebec are responsible for regulating professions. Furthermore, Quebec and the provinces also have jurisdiction over professional regulations for lawyers, as part of the administration of justice in the provinces and in Quebec. This is something, as I mentioned before, that the Barreau du Québec is concerned about.

According to the Department of Justice, under current law, it is an offence to have any involvement in prize fighting, defined as an “encounter or fight with fists or hands”, except for amateur boxing under authority of the province.

Many amateur sporting events, even those without monetary prizes, are technically included in this offence. The proposed amendments would expand the list of permitted exceptions to the prize-fighting offence so that amateur combative sports such as judo and karate, which are now Olympic events, would be allowed. The amendments would also permit a province to decide whether to expand the list of sports permitted to take place within that province and authorize specific contests.

Another thing the Barreau du Québec is worried about is the identification of individuals who have not been charged. Clause 39 of the bill amends paragraph 2(1)(a) of the Identification of Criminals Act, which authorizes the fingerprinting and photographing of persons who are in lawful custody but who have not yet been charged or convicted of a specific offence, which means that such information regarding someone who has been detained but not charged would be on file.

The Identification of Criminals Act stipulates that law enforcement officials can take photographs, fingerprints and measurements of only certain categories of individuals. Those categories are set out in subsection 2(1) of the act:

The following persons may be fingerprinted or photographed or subjected to such other measurements, processes and operations having the object of identifying persons as are approved by order of the Governor in Council:

(a) any person who is in lawful custody charged with or convicted of

(i) an indictable offence, other than an offence that is designated as a contravention under the Contraventions Act in respect of which the Attorney General, within the meaning of that Act, has made an election under section 50 of that Act, or

(ii) an offence under the Security of Information Act;

I would like say something here as an aside. There is a principle that ignorance of the law is no excuse. However, when we read excerpts of legislation, we realize they can be rather difficult to understand. It takes some careful reflection. That is in fact what we want the committee to do, when it receives the bill.

The Bloc Québécois has full confidence in its representatives on the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, both the member for Marc-Aurèle-Fortin and the member for Vaudreuil-Soulanges. We fully trust them to interpret things that often sound like mumbo jumbo to us.

I will continue reading the list of people specified in the act:

(b) any person who has been apprehended under the Extradition Act;

(c) any person alleged to have committed an indictable offence, other than an offence that is designated as a contravention under the Contraventions Act in respect of which the Attorney General, within the meaning of that Act, has made an election under section 50 of that Act...

I will skip a short passage, because I fear I will not get to a very important part, regarding the concerns expressed by the Barreau du Québec.

Clause 39 of Bill C-31 aims to amend this situation by replacing subsection 2(1)(a) of the Identification of Criminals Act with the following:

any person who is in lawful custody after being arrested for [that is the part being added], charged with or convicted of

I will not read out the offences as I did earlier.

In short, with this bill, which primarily addresses this sphere of activity, the government is trying to circumvent the requirement for a person to be charged or convicted by bringing in a far less restrictive criterion stating that the person need only be arrested. As such, identifying information may be taken from a person arrested for an offence other than an offence designated as a contravention before that person is even charged with anything.

I would like to discuss the main issues, which are the concerns expressed by the Barreau du Québec. The Barreau du Québec's criminal law committee reviewed Bill C-31 and submitted its observations and comments on, among other things, telewarrants. To sum up, it said that this system would completely reform and modernize the criminal law process in Canada, which is what the government wants to achieve. However, even though the Barreau du Québec supports the introduction of this measure, it is concerned about how the government is going about it. For example, it believes that it would have been better to amend the section of the Criminal Code that deals with issuing search warrants to state that telewarrant rules apply in all cases, rather than making piecemeal changes.

I will now talk about agents other than lawyers. The Barreau says that regulating professions is a provincial responsibility. In addition, regulating the legal profession is also part of the provinces' responsibility for the administration of justice at the provincial level. The Barreau du Québec states that under the Act respecting the Barreau du Québec, pleading or acting for others before any tribunal is the exclusive prerogative of the practising advocate. There is already a jurisdictional problem here, and the Barreau is afraid that the proposal, as written, will create confusion as to the meaning of “agent” and could give rise to prosecutions for practising law illegally.

The Barreau du Québec also has serious concerns about identification. It is worried about the possibility of keeping a record on someone who is in custody but has not yet been charged. The Barreau considers this an extraordinary power that is currently used only in cases of terrorism. It is also concerned about the real risk that fingerprints taken under such circumstances could be used for purposes other than the ones for which they were intended. The legislative proposal broadens the use of other identification processes, but does not control the use of digital fingerprints before charges are laid and does not set rules for keeping and destroying such information. With regard to genetic fingerprints, I would remind the House that a mechanism for automatically destroying identifying material on innocent people has been introduced.

The Barreau considers that keeping a record on someone has consequences and that that is why such treatment is currently reserved for individuals who have been charged or convicted. Of course, the Barreau du Québec has concerns.

Although the Bloc Québécois sees good things in this bill and is in favour of some of the amendments, it also sees some more biased elements. We will be sure to work with the committee to amend and clarify the bill as needed so that Quebeckers are better protected against crime, but also against the Conservative government.

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1:05 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, the member knows that there is a new offence being put in this Bill C-31.

The new offence is called “leaving the jurisdiction”. It has been created to target people who leave the jurisdiction in violation of bail conditions. I guess the problem is fairly big in B.C. with several hundred people hanging out in Vancouver. When they are approached by police officers, they find a huge number. I actually had the statistics, but I cannot find them right now. Of these 700 people had outstanding warrants in other provinces. Because the warrants are written up in such a way that they only cover a certain radius from where the crime occurred, they are unable to be sent back.

I would like to know, what does the member think of that particular idea, and has that been a problem in his riding in Quebec over the last number of years?

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1:05 p.m.

Bloc

Serge Cardin Bloc Sherbrooke, QC

Mr. Speaker, what better than to describe the concern expressed by the Barreau du Québec on this point, namely flight to another province?

Clause 5 of the bill creates a specific offence for the situation in which a person released on an undertaking or recognizance leaves the boundaries of their province.

The Barreau du Québec wonders about the need to handle this breach of condition so specifically. The Barreau believes that the purpose of this clause is to resolve certain problems involving preserving and communicating information. The Barreau points out that this provision makes the Criminal Code unnecessarily cumbersome and that other existing measures could achieve the desired objectives. The possibility of having this information held at the Centre de renseignements policiers du Québec and at the Canadian Police Information Centre would allow for immediate access to it. These are the concerns expressed by the Barreau. This also shows the Barreau's position on the matter. The Bloc Québécois defends the interests of Quebec and often also defends the positions of the Barreau du Québec.

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1:10 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to follow up on the member's comments regarding the issue of people who are accused being fingerprinted before they are actually charged, and how the Bloc proposes we should deal with that whole issue at committee, whether or not we should be eliminating the provision completely or whether we should be making an amendment to require the police to erase the fingerprints if the person is not charged. Or, if in addition to that, we should somehow build in some requirement that the accused has a responsibility to ask for their fingerprints back.

I wonder what the member's ideas are as to how this particular subject should proceed at the committee stage.

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1:10 p.m.

Bloc

Serge Cardin Bloc Sherbrooke, QC

Mr. Speaker, if a person is simply arrested and if their fingerprints or photograph are taken and they are never found guilty of any offence, I do not see why that information should be kept. We wonder what purpose that could serve.

However, as I was saying earlier, I am not a lawyer and I am no expert. I think that in light of the discussions we will have in committee, with the colleagues I named earlier in whom the Bloc has a great deal of trust, we can clarify things.

That being said, as far as fingerprints and photographs are concerned, in cases where a person is arrested and then, for some reason, the charges are dropped or the person is found not guilty, I do not see why all that information would still be kept on record somewhere.

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1:10 p.m.

NDP

Judy Wasylycia-Leis NDP Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to add a few comments to this very important debate on Bill C-31. It is a rare omnibus bill before the House.

My colleague and our justice critic, the member for Windsor—Tecumseh, spoke on this matter and praised the government for finally bringing forward an omnibus bill dealing with a number of serious issues that ought not to be presented on an individual basis but, in fact, presented for collective consideration.

He has made the point on numerous other occasions that some of the bills introduced by the Conservative government should have been part of an omnibus bill and that it did not make sense to use the time of the House to bring forward very individual, specific pieces to this big puzzle that we are all trying to grapple with, which is how to best crack down on crime in this country and do so responsibly.

We stand in the House so often and hear Conservative members across the way accusing members on this side of the House of being soft on crime every time we dare question or debate a particular item. I hope they are learning from today's debate, both on Bill C-58 and now on Bill C-31, that the New Democratic Party gives very serious consideration to each bill that is before us. We analyze them thoroughly and make constructive suggestions.

On the basis of our analysis, we then choose whether to support a bill or not. If the positives outweigh any negatives and if we cannot get the perfect bill, we usually hold our noses and support the government of the day. In this case, we have said that this is a good bill. It addresses many important issues, but there is one area that has been identified by New Democrat members and also by members of the Bloc that needs to be reconsidered. It has to do with fingerprinting.

We are hoping that, by raising these concerns today in a very serious way with substantial backing and evidence, the government will consider our proposition and ensure that we can deal with this matter at committee.

In the past, members have given their support for the competition about the most wisest MP among us. Members in the House have collectively shown that they agree that the member for Windsor—Tecumseh is the most wise and knowledgeable among us. In fact, he has come to the House on numerous occasions with very wise suggestions and other members have listened to him many times.

Today has to be one of those times. He makes the very important point that we in the House should not be supporting legislation that allows for the taking of fingerprints before a person is charged. I want to quote from his speech. He said:

The taking of fingerprints and this point of not being allowed to take fingerprints unless our police are going to charge an accused person goes way back. It has been in the Criminal Code for more than half a century, since shortly after we had the technology of fingerprinting. It goes way back into the last century.

I think the amendment that we will be proposing at committee needs to be taken very seriously. I am sure that the Bloc will be doing the same. In fact, we hope that will be considered on an expeditious basis because none of us want to see this bill held up. We know that it deals with numerous important issues like providing greater access to the telewarrant process for peace officers. It provides for a mandatory 10-day adjournment where notice provisions have not been followed.

It empowers each province to authorize programs and establish criteria outlining when an agent or a non-lawyer can represent a defendant. It expands the jurisdiction of Canadian courts to include bribery offences committed by Canadians outside Canada. It creates an offence of leaving the jurisdiction in violation of bail conditions. It permits a province to expand the list of permitted exceptions to the prize fighting offence. It updates the legislative language of parimutuel betting provisions.

It updates the provisions on interceptions of private communications in exceptional circumstances. It reclassifies six non-violent offences as hybrid offences. Finally, it deletes provisions of the Criminal Code that are no longer valid or correct, and clarifies wording in various provisions and makes minor updates to others.

That is a long list of important issues. We support 99.9% of this list. We want to see the bill passed to committee and implemented quickly.

We would like the government to seriously recognize the wisdom of my colleague from Windsor—Tecumseh and others in the House for making an amendment on fingerprinting.

In the few minutes that I have remaining I want to talk just generally about the issue of crime and the approach that needs to be taken.

Too often, as I said earlier, we are accused of not giving prompt and swift attention to every procedure and every program presented to us by the Conservative government. Our biggest concern has to do with the fact that the government continues to take a narrow approach to the issue of crime and justice in our society today.

There is nothing wrong with putting dangerous offenders in jail and making sure they serve proper time. There is nothing wrong with making sure that we actually do everything possible to cut down on gang behaviour, drug dealing, the sex trade, and child pornography, which we just dealt with this morning, every issue that is offensive to our sense of what should and ought to be part of any kind of a civil society. Too little time in this place is spent on the root causes of crime.

I want to commend to all members in the House a study that was done in Winnipeg by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives entitled “If You Want to Change Violence in the 'Hood, You Have to Change the 'Hood: Violence and Street Gangs in Winnipeg's Inner City”. It was written by Elizabeth Comack, Lawrence Deane, Larry Morrissette and Jim Silver. What they say in one very brief phrase is that we must look at the root causes of crime as well as have the harsh consequences in place for those who commit the crime. All of the gang members who spoke to these researchers said repeatedly that we need to look at what caused them to get into a life of crime in the first place.

If we can start to look at the lack of inclusion, the poverty, the insecurity, the despair, the previous sexual violence that had been committed, and the root causes of crime, then we will have made a real difference.

I look forward to the government's approach on this very difficult and serious issue.

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1:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

Is the House ready for the question?

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1:20 p.m.

Some hon. members

Question.

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1:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

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1:20 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.