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.