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House of Commons Hansard #29 of the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was justice.

Topics

Business of the HouseOral Questions

3:05 p.m.

Prince George—Peace River B.C.

Conservative

Jay Hill ConservativeLeader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, the hon. House leader for the official opposition has many questions for the Thursday question and I will try to get to all of them.

Today we will continue debate on Bill C-14 on organized crime, which he mentioned. Following Bill C-14, we will consider Bill C-15, drug offences, and Bill C-16, the environmental enforcement act in that order.

Tonight we will complete the debate on the first report of the Standing Committee on the Status of Women.

Tomorrow we will begin debate at third reading of Bill C-2, the Canada-European free trade agreement and continue with any unfinished business that carried over from today.

When the House returns from the constituency week, we will continue with the business from this week, with the addition of Bill C-9, transportation of dangerous goods, which was reported back from committee.

You can add to the list for the week we return, Mr. Speaker, Bill C-7, marine liability, Bill S-3, energy efficiency, and Bill C-13, Canada grains, which are all at second reading and any bills that have been reported back from committee by then.

As to one of the questions that the member specifically mentioned, the last day in this supply period shall be on Tuesday, March 24, when the House will vote on supplementary estimates C, interim supply and the interim supply bill. As he noted, it is a very important day as these are the resources necessary to provide the stimulus to which we have all been looking forward and which Canadians are greatly anticipating.

Hopefully, the Senate will have passed the budget bill, Bill C-10 by then. In fact, as my colleague mentioned, my understanding is the opposition has suddenly discovered the parts of the budget bill that pertain specifically to the extension of employment insurance benefits, which will come into effect immediately upon royal assent of Bill C-10, the budget implementation act. Therefore, rather belatedly, the Liberal senators have decided to work with the Conservative senators in the other place and get the bill passed expeditiously. I hope that takes place this afternoon. It would be therefore my hope as well that royal assent could take place as early as this evening and we would see that bill enacted as quickly as possible.

As to the reiteration of my colleague's support for Bill C-14 and Bill C-15, our two latest justice bills, I welcome his support and I appreciate that. We are open to moving these bills through all stages as quickly as possible. Failing that, we would look to put up a minimum number of speakers, as we have done on many pieces of legislation already in this session, to move legislation through as quickly as possible. The problem, as my hon. colleague well knows, is not with the official opposition on or of the Conservative Party, the Conservative government, but with the other two parties, which are unwilling to do so.

Statements by MembersPoints of OrderOral Questions

3:10 p.m.

Conservative

Tim Uppal Conservative Edmonton—Sherwood Park, AB

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order with regard to the issue of statements by members, also known as S.O. 31. As you will be aware, both myself and the member for Beauport—Limoilou were cut off during our one minute statements by the Chair.

I am aware of a ruling you made earlier today, Mr. Speaker, with regard to decorum in this chamber, and I agree that ensuring the decorum of the House is extremely important. However, I draw your attention to the debate of May 31, 2006, when the former Liberal member for Thunder Bay—Rainy River, Ken Boshcoff, rose and virulently attacked the current Prime Minister during statements by members.

The former Liberal member for Brant, Lloyd St. Amand, also attacked the government and former staff members of the Prime Minister's office in statements by members on June 7, 2006, which you could find in Hansard.

Members of the Liberal Party continued these attacks throughout statements by members that day and on subsequent days, which I am sure you could review in Hansard.

There are numerous other examples from the Liberal Party over the past months and years, attacking members on this side of the House, members of their staff, and many others to which you did not intervene or rule were out of order.

I am only asking that the rules be applied equally to all members.

I believe if you review the blues from today's statements by members, Mr. Speaker, specifically my intervention and the intervention by the member for Beauport—Limoilou, you will find only quotations from past members' statements published in the public domain, such as yesterday's Edmonton Journal, which quotes the leader of the official opposition. Even taking into account the ruling made by yourself earlier today, I do not believe that my statement or that of the member for Beauport—Limoilou, come close to the line of what you set out earlier today.

Expressing opinions on quotations from the national media is what we do in the House every day and constitutes robust debate. We may not like to be reminded of what we have said in the past, but Canadians who elected us to sit in the House have every right to hear our statements and opinions on the issues of the day.

If we cannot quote each other in this chamber, if we cannot express our opinions, then what is this chamber for?

In conclusion, Mr. Speaker, I would ask that you take the time to review the blues and come back to the House with perhaps more clarification for members on what can or cannot be said, since I do not believe that my statement or that of my colleague have gone beyond the standard you set out this morning.

Statements by MembersPoints of OrderOral Questions

3:10 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

I thank the hon. member for Edmonton—Sherwood Park for his remarks.

I gave a ruling this morning because, in my view, the tone was so consistently negative in Standing Order 31 statements that I felt it was appropriate to change the way it is happening in the House, because there are so many of these statements. That is why I made the ruling I made this morning.

It is fine to quote other members, but then there were additional comments suggesting that the member was unfit to lead or unfit to do something because he had made these statements before, which, in my view, are personal attacks. Those are things that are prohibited under our rules.

I read once again the citation I read this morning in my ruling, House of Commons Procedure and Practice at page 364:

The Speaker has cut off an individual statement and asked the Member to resume his or her seat when

offensive language has been used;

a Senator has been attacked;

the actions of the Senate have been criticized;

a ruling of a court has been denounced; and

the character of a judge has been attacked.

The Speaker has also cautioned Members not to use this period to make defamatory comments about non-Members, nor to use the verbatim remarks of a private citizen as a statement, nor to make statements of a commercial nature.

In my view, if we keep doing personal attacks on members in the House, then we will have them go on in almost every Standing Order 31 statement, and in my view, I will not be able to maintain order in this chamber, which is my job.

I think it is time to have a shift in these statements, which I hope will happen as a result of this morning's ruling. I urge hon. members to have a look at the ruling and the wording in Marleau and Montpetit and amend their statements accordingly to avoid attacks on one another in the course of their debates in this chamber, particularly in S.O. 31s, because there is no reply.

Statements by MembersPoints of OrderOral Questions

3:10 p.m.

Nepean—Carleton Ontario

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister and to the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs

Mr. Speaker, on the same point of order, I think it is important for the integrity of your chair to be seen as applying the rules equally, right across the board. It is very important that people in this chamber conduct themselves in a way that make their constituents proud. At the same time, it is also important that members have the right to criticize the ideas of other members.

Part of a democracy is promoting ideas. The other part of a democracy is pointing out the flaws in some of those ideas. In fact, we have an entire section in the Standing Orders dedicated to question period, in which opposition members are rightly encouraged and perform their duty admirably to point out flaws in any government during any era. That is the right of members of the opposition to do that. We invite that sort of accountability.

At the same time, members of the Liberal Party, the Bloc Québécois and the New Democrats have to be prepared, when they come into this chamber, that some of their ideas will be criticized as well. I do not think any of them would want you, Mr. Speaker, to build an umbrella protection over them to shield them from any criticism. Hopefully the leader of the Liberal Party is not so fragile that he would require such an umbrella to be built.

As such, Mr. Speaker, I would ask you to show the kind of respect to the Leader of the Opposition that he believes he is entitled to receive and allow him to defend himself rather than to step in and act as his protector during member's statements earlier on.

As such, Mr. Speaker, I would encourage you also to have respect for the voters who put us here in the first place. They, after all, have the ability, in an unvarnished manner, to watch the statements we make and judge us accordingly at election time.

What is key in our democracy is that the people are sovereign. When they listen to the statements, the people have the right to judge whether they agree with the way in which we comport ourselves and the content of our utterances.

It is not your role, with respect, Sir, to block the people from making that decision and to decide for them. I would encourage you to show due respect for the people in allowing them to make judgments upon us and our words, rather than making that judgment for them.

Statements by MembersPoints of OrderOral Questions

3:15 p.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, first I want to congratulate you on your ruling. I do not want to be difficult, but this is nothing new. You sent the parties a letter last week warning them of your intention to ensure that decorum was maintained in the House, especially in regard to members’ statements.

The Conservative Party was the first to be affected. So what? Next time, it will be someone else. We should feel responsible for conducting ourselves properly in the House of Commons and showing respect for one another as individuals. We can have different ideas and policies, but when we start to attack each other personally, it is your job to stop it, Mr. Speaker, and I can only congratulate you on that. I even think not enough is being done.

I am disappointed to see the Conservative Party trying to defend the idea that we should be able to come to the House of Commons and personally insult one another. We can fight over policies and ideas but should not attack one another personally. Members who do so should be prepared to pay the price. It is your job, Mr. Speaker, to assume this responsibility and conduct the House of Commons in a proper way. We receive letters from schools—from students and teachers—saying they do not want to bring anyone to the House of Commons any more because of all the disrespect shown there.

Once again, Mr. Speaker, you are not going far enough. It is your duty to ensure reasonable decorum in the House, but it is also the responsibility of the various parties. We are not better than other people. It is the responsibility of all of us members to ensure that the House of Commons, where we represent the people of Canada, remains a respectable place.

Once again, Mr. Speaker, thank you for your ruling.

Statements by MembersPoints of OrderOral Questions

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

Derek Lee Liberal Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have listened to the two government members make their remarks. In one way, they confirm—they did not deny—that the Speaker has made a ruling that confirms the rules and precedent governing our debate in the House, including members' statements, that we do not make personal attacks. That should be an open and shut case. The Speaker has ruled on it.

More serious than that, let me read rule 10, which I will abridge slightly, which states:

The Speaker shall preserve order and decorum, and shall decide questions of order...No debate shall be permitted on any such decision, and no such decision shall be subject to an appeal in the House.

I would point out to members on both sides of the House, but particularly to members opposite, that the Speaker has ruled on a point of order, and I, as one member among many, cannot sit by and allow the Speaker to be challenged, as I think he was being challenged, by both members opposite. It is simply out of order and unacceptable.

The ruling has been made, and I think by far the majority of the House will accept that.

Statements by MembersPoints of OrderOral Questions

3:20 p.m.

Bloc

Pierre Paquette Bloc Joliette, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to add my voice and that of the Bloc caucus to what was just said and what was said by the NDP whip.

You made a ruling this morning. Rulings are obviously always open to interpretation and have to be adapted to the realities of the debates in the House. However, you made your ruling, we accepted it, and I cannot understand why the member opposite is challenging it. In any case, the rules are clear and your rulings cannot be appealed.

I assure you that we in the Bloc Québécois intend to abide by the guidelines you indicated in your ruling this morning.

Statements by MembersPoints of OrderOral Questions

3:20 p.m.

Prince George—Peace River B.C.

Conservative

Jay Hill ConservativeLeader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, on the most recent intervention, I would respectfully point out to my hon. colleague, the House leader for the Bloc Québécois, that yesterday you made a ruling as well—

Statements by MembersPoints of OrderOral Questions

3:20 p.m.

Bloc

Pierre Paquette Bloc Joliette, QC

It was this morning.

Statements by MembersPoints of OrderOral Questions

3:20 p.m.

Conservative

Jay Hill Conservative Prince George—Peace River, BC

I lose track of time.

Mr. Speaker, this morning you made a ruling as well, and his colleague, the whip for the Bloc Québécois, got up and did not challenge you—he was very careful about that—but he was seeking further clarification, as I recall. I was in the chamber at the time.

So I would just remind my hon. colleague of that, as well as my colleague from the Liberal Party who just spoke.

We are not challenging your ruling. I did not hear that from either of my colleagues. What we were doing was asking for two things.

First, we were asking that you consider looking at the past examples from all parties to make sure that in enforcing your ruling there is consistency. That is all we were asking, on one hand.

Second, I heard my colleague from Edmonton—Sherwood Park, at the close of his remarks, asking, if possible, that you might consider further clarification of where the line would be drawn in your consideration of what would be a personal attack and what would not.

I think all of us, especially those like you and me, Mr. Speaker, who have been in this chamber for a lot of years now, would have drawn the conclusion after all these years that what would be considered an insult by one member could very easily be considered a reiteration of fact by another member. Oftentimes during heated debates in this place, whether it is during statements or question period or even during normal debate, we get into a lot of argument or potential argument about that.

All I am asking on behalf of the government is that you ensure in applying the rules, as I am sure you always do, that there is consistency, that you review what is being done by all parties and that those rulings are applied in a consistent manner, in a manner that is fair from the chair and fair to all 308 members of Parliament.

Statements by MembersPoints of OrderOral Questions

3:20 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

I think I have heard enough on this point at the moment. My ruling this morning in fact dealt with two issues, one arising out of question period, primarily, but also a Standing Order 31 statement.

I turn to page 363 of Marleau and Montpetit, and I will read another section. This is referring to statements by members.

In presiding over the conduct of this daily activity, Speakers have been guided by a number of well-defined prohibitions. In 1983, when the procedure for “Statements by Members” was first put in place, Speaker Sauvé stated that Members may speak on any matter of concern and not necessarily on urgent matters only; Personal attacks are not permitted; Congratulatory messages, recitations of poetry and frivolous matters are out of order.

The comment goes on to say,

These guidelines are still in place today, although Speakers tend to turn a blind eye to the latter restriction.

I suppose that has happened. Unfortunately it appears I may have turned a blind eye to some of the other restrictions, and my ruling this morning was intended to indicate that is not to be the practice.

It represents a shift, and I have made the shift because of complaints from all sides of the House about the lack of decorum, particularly in that part.

I stress that the rules that apply to Standing Order 31 statements may not apply in debate, where members can quote other members and have a debate. In debate, there is reply; there is exchange.

Standing Order 31 is not intended as a debate. It is intended as a group of statements by members about various matters they regard as important, and in my view, that is a separate time from normal debate.

As regards what members say in debate, I believe there is what we call “freedom of expression” in this House. The restrictions, in my view, are less strict. Sometimes there are attacks during debate because members are hammering away at each other on their views on different things, but members get to reply. They can have a debate and discussion and disagree on their views and make those disagreements manifest. That is fine.

However, when we are in Standing Order 31 statements, using the statement as an attack on another is inappropriate. It is happening too often, on all sides. That is why I am concerned. That is why I made the ruling I made this morning. That is why I cut off hon. members today when they were making statements that, in my view, breached that guideline.

I urge hon. members to take a look at Standing Order 31 statements as a different time from normal debate and go back to the roots of what was intended in the statement made in 1983 when the practice was instituted in this House. If not, in my view, we are going to get in a situation where all the statements become attacks on one another and it is going to turn into a particularly unpleasant experience for all hon. members, and I do not believe that is the way it should be. That is the reason for my ruling.

Statements by MembersPoints of OrderOral Questions

3:25 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Nepean—Carleton, ON

Mr. Speaker, just to conclude, first of all, we want to make clear that the discussion in the aftermath of your ruling is in no way to take away from the respect we have for you and your office, and we thank you for the function you perform.

We know your role is a difficult one, particularly in our system where the Speaker is at once the presiding officer of the chamber and also the member of a political party. As such, the Speaker comes under pressure from a political party to make decisions that may favour the outcome of that political party. I am thankful you have resisted that sort of pressure in the past, and we are looking at this decision to examine whether you have succeeded in doing so in the present.

We understand there are members of the opposition who would want to silence any criticism of themselves, but we would invite them into the world of democracy where all of us are subject to criticism in the House. So when members across the way rise to shield themselves, we ask that you remind them of that same democratic principle.

Statements by MembersPoints of OrderOral Questions

3:25 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

The hon. members can be sure that the intention of the chair is to apply the rule that I believe is in the practice of the House equitably on all sides. So if other hon. members are going to indulge in those kinds of attacks in S.O. 31 statements, I do not care which party they come from, the fact is I am urging them not to do so, and if they persist, they are going to get cut off.

The hon. chief opposition whip also has a point of order.

Statements by MembersPoints of OrderOral Questions

3:25 p.m.

Liberal

Rodger Cuzner Liberal Cape Breton—Canso, NS

Mr. Speaker, on behalf of our party and caucus, we believe the Speaker is a great Canadian.

Statements by MembersPoints of OrderOral Questions

3:25 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

I am afraid that was not a point of order.

The hon. member for Yukon has a point of order.

Oral QuestionsPoints of OrderOral Questions

3:25 p.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, on a point of order, during question period the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance suggested that no Liberals had given input on the budget at the request of the finance minister. I would not raise this except it has been said a number of times before.

I would like to inform the parliamentary secretary that I gave very substantial, comprehensive input to the minister on the budget. So I would like to ask for an apology. He could either give it in the House or in writing. I do not want to make a big deal of it, but I did due diligence for my constituents and put in a lot of suggestions.

Oral QuestionsPoints of OrderOral Questions

3:25 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

I am sure the hon. member for Yukon knows it is really a point of debate, not a point of order, but he has made his point.

Message from the SenateOral Questions

3:25 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

I have the honour to inform the House that a message has been received from the Senate, informing this House that the Senate has passed the following public bill to which the concurrence of this House has desired:

Bill S-3, An Act to amend the Energy Efficiency Act.

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-14, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (organized crime and protection of justice system participants), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

3:30 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

When this matter was last before the House, the hon. Minister of Justice had the floor. He has 18 minutes left in the allotted time remaining for his remarks. I therefore call upon the hon. Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

3:30 p.m.

Niagara Falls Ontario

Conservative

Rob Nicholson ConservativeMinister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

Mr. Speaker, if I took all 18 minutes, I am still not sure it would be enough. I get so excited when I talk about this subject.

Before the break I was talking about how difficult the challenges are when gangs get into fights with each other and the resulting human loss. The impact goes beyond the criminal subculture. In recent years there have been too many incidents where innocent Canadians have been killed as a result of gang activity. We have come to know their stories very well. For the most part, these victims lived and worked in our major cities, in Vancouver, Calgary, Winnipeg, Toronto and Montreal. These tragedies remind us that the threats we face are very real.

During my visit to Vancouver a couple of weeks ago, I met with law enforcement agencies. They were very supportive of this organized crime legislation, as well as its companion piece, Bill C-15, the mandatory minimum prison sentences for drug offences. However, the officials did ask me to continue to do more. I have heard their requests. As a response, I have indicated to them that once we get these pieces of legislation passed, we have more. Indeed, today I introduced amendments to the Anti-terrorism Act to give law enforcement agencies the tools they have demanded over the years to combat terrorism in this country.

We must remain vigilant to ensure our citizens are protected from the full range of activities engaged in by organized crime. We take these threats seriously and view ensuring the safety and security of our people as one of the highest responsibilities of our government. Canadians are rightly concerned and they want action. In a 2007 survey on this issue, Canadians indicated that they believed organized crime is as serious a threat to Canada as terrorism. Nearly half of those surveyed indicated that they felt they were personally affected by organized crime. Approximately 89% of those surveyed know that organized crime is linked to drug trafficking. Just over half indicated that the new legislation was required to more effectively address organized crime.

Canadians are also voicing their concerns with their actions and their pens. Very recently, concerned citizens in British Columbia came together to publicly express their outrage with the gang violence that is impacting their lives. In short, they said that enough is enough. So, too, have the residents of the Hobbema reserve in Alberta. I have received letters from concerned residents there urging me and our government to take decisive action to address the threats that gangs are posing to their communities.

This government agrees that enough is enough and believes it is time to strengthen the criminal justice system so that offenders are properly held to account. Broadly speaking, this bill focuses on four areas: making gang murders automatically first degree; creating a new offence to target drive-by and other reckless shootings; fortifying the scheme for responding to assaults against police and other peace and public officers; and strengthening the gang peace bond provisions.

Taken together, these improvements to our criminal law will provide powerful new tools for law enforcement to respond to the destructive impacts that organized crime has on our communities. How will they do this? With respect to murders that can be linked to organized crime, we are proposing amendments that would automatically treat these cases as first degree murder regardless of whether they were planned and deliberate. These are, in my opinion, extremely important amendments.

I have already spoken of some of the innocent victims of gang violence, but I also want to provide some additional context on the seriousness of the issue. According to the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, in 2007 there were 117 gang-related homicides in Canada. In fact, gang-related homicides now account for approximately 20% of all murders in Canada. In British Columbia, I was told that that number is approximately 40%. This is to be contrasted with the fact that, for the most part, the homicide rate is decreasing in Canada. This troubling trend of gang-related homicides demands immediate attention.

Our proposed amendments provide two separate tests to address murders that are connected to organized crime.

First, if it can be established that the murder itself was committed for the benefit of, at the direction of, or in association with a criminal organization, then it will be classified as first degree murder even in the absence of planning or deliberation.

Second, if it can be established that the murder occurred while the person was committing or attempting to commit another indictable offence for the benefit of, or at the direction of, or in association with a criminal organization, then it will be classified as first degree murder. The person would have to be guilty of murder, of course, in the circumstances. I want to emphasize we are not talking about some form of constructive murder or raising manslaughter to murder in these circumstances. Rather, the effect of the provision would be to make any murder committed in the course of another criminal organization offence first degree rather than second degree.

A person found guilty of first degree murder is sentenced to a mandatory term of life imprisonment without eligibility for parole for 25 years.

These amendments to section 231 of our Criminal Code mean that police officers and prosecutors have another set of tools to treat gang murders as the extremely serious cases that they are.

We also are proposing that a new offence be added to the Criminal Code which would target drive-by and other intentional shootings involving reckless disregard for the life or safety of others.

I believe this new offence will be of immense benefit to those on the front line investigating and prosecuting many of these public shooting cases.

Currently offences available to prosecute these kinds of cases include careless use of a firearm or discharge of a firearm with intent to cause bodily harm. The negligence based offences do not appropriately capture the severity of a drive-by scenario which involves consciously reckless conduct.

Section 244 on the other hand requires proof that the firearm was discharged at a particular person with a specific intent to cause bodily harm, and this is not good enough. While more appropriate if the shooter does have a particular target, it can sometimes be difficult to prove a drive-by shooting scenario where the intent is to intimidate a rival gang, or in many cases the shooter may just be firing wildly without any particular target.

Our proposed offence will fill a gap in the Criminal Code and provide a tailored response to this behaviour. This new offence requires proof that the accused specifically turned his or her mind to the fact that discharging his or her firearm would jeopardize the life or safety of another person, and appreciating this fact, the accused still went ahead. Quite simply, these individuals just do not care.

Canadians should rightly feel outrage at the wanton disregard that is shown for their safety when members of organized criminal groups, such as street gangs, carry out drive-by or other reckless shootings. This kind of criminal behaviour is deserving of more serious penalties and we are prepared to accommodate that.

The proposed penalty scheme mirrors that of similar serious offences involving the use of firearms, such as section 244. This offence would be punishable by a mandatory prison term of four years, up to a maximum of fourteen years. The mandatory sentence would increase to five years if the offence was committed for the benefit of, or at the direction of, or in association with a criminal organization, or involved the use of a prohibited or restricted firearm, such as a handgun or automatic firearm.

In addition, repeat offenders in these circumstances would be subject to a higher mandatory penalty of seven years' imprisonment. It sends the message: five years the first time, but understanding that some people do not always get the message the first time, they get seven years in the hope that this will impress upon them the seriousness of their actions.

As is already the case in the Criminal Code, there is a listed class of serious offences involving the use of firearms. Under our legislation these serious offences would qualify as a previous offence for the purposes of the increased mandatory jail term. As is clear, this new offence would provide a powerful new tool to target not only drive-by shootings but any shooting which involves consciously reckless behaviour.

The third area of reform relates to assaults committed against police, peace and public officers and those who are entrusted with maintaining law and order and preserving public peace.

The Criminal Code currently treats some acts of violence committed against peace officers separately from the same acts committed against the general public. For example, section 270 of the Criminal Code makes it an offence to assault a police officer in the execution of his or her duties.

At the other end of the spectrum, section 231 of the Criminal Code automatically classifies the murder of a peace officer acting in the course of his or her duties as first degree murder, regardless of whether it was planned and deliberate. However, there are no offences covering the middle range of behaviour, which are assaults that involve weapons or cause bodily harm or aggravated assaults directed at these individuals. We are proposing to fill that gap in the Criminal Code's treatment of violent acts committed against police and peace officers by creating these two new offences. It is time that these changes be made.

The first offence would prohibit the assault of a peace officer involving a weapon or which causes bodily harm. This would be a hybrid offence punishable by a maximum of 10 years' imprisonment on indictment. The second offence would prohibit the aggravated assault of a peace officer. This would be a straight indictable offence punishable by a maximum of 14 years.

Taken together, these two offences along with the existing offences would create a complete and separate scheme within the Criminal Code to respond to violence committed against peace officers carrying out their duties. These amendments will address assaults not only on police officers, but on prison guards, wardens, border and coast guards to name just a few.

These amendments send out a clear message: assaults committed against law enforcement officers will not be tolerated. These attacks not only put the lives or safety of the individual officers at risk, they also attack and undermine the justice system more broadly.

In order to ensure that these offences are adequately punished, we have proposed amendments that would require a court, when sentencing an offender for any of the specific offences targeting assaults against police officers, to give primary consideration to the principles of denunciation and deterrence.

The same principle would also apply to cases involving the intimidation of justice system participants, including judges, prosecutors, jurors, and many others who play an important role in the criminal justice system. This conduct is expressly designed to undermine the rule of law and the justice system more broadly and must be strongly denounced and punished.

The fourth issue that is being addressed in this bill relates to the use of the recognizance order that is specifically aimed at preventing the commission of an organized crime offence, terrorist offence or intimidation of a justice system participant offence. Section 810.01 was first added to the Criminal Code in 1998 and its purpose, as with other recognizance orders, is the prevention of future harm.

Ten years later, in 2008, our government's Tackling Violent Crime Act was passed. Among other things, that legislation made changes to strengthen the recognizance provisions that address serious personal injury offences and certain sexual offences against children.

We are now proposing similar amendments to the gang peace bond provisions. Specifically, we are making changes to clarify that when imposing conditions as part of the order, a judge has very broad discretion to order any reasonable conditions that are desirable in order to secure the good conduct of the person before the court. This flexibility is extremely important because it provides those dealing with these persons with the framework they need to craft the most appropriate response to address the particular facts and circumstances of the case at hand. This helps avoid a cookie cutter approach and will result in more effective conditions being ordered. Any breaches of the conditions imposed will make the person subject to prosecution for the breach.

The second significant change we are proposing in this area relates to the length of the peace bond. Like the Tackling Violent Crime Act, we are proposing that the duration of the peace bonds be up to two years when it is established that the defendant has been previously convicted of an organized crime offence, a terrorism offence, or an intimidation of a justice system participant offence.

In the case of repeat offenders, 12 months was often not enough time and this would necessitate a prosecutor having to go back to court to seek a new order. This change will assist in that regard and thereby ease some of the burdens faced by those responsible for the administration of justice.

This bill includes a number of other supporting provisions that I will briefly highlight.

We are proposing to add the offences created by this bill and existing offence to section 183 of the Criminal Code in order to give police officers the ability to seek a wiretap authorization when investigating these crimes.

The bill would apply this to the two new peace officer assault offences, the new offence targeting drive-by and other reckless shootings, and the existing offence of discharging a firearm with intent to cause bodily harm. This will be welcome by police agencies across this country.

In addition, we are proposing to add new offences to the list of offences that are considered to be primary designated offences for the purposes of the DNA data bank.

I would be remiss in discussing these proposals if I did not acknowledge the tremendous level of co-operation between myself, my provincial and territorial counterparts, and the members of my own caucus. I have to say that the dialogue that I have had with them, the support that I have received from them and the encouragement they have received from their constituents to get behind these pieces of legislation has been very edifying and gratifying for me. A number of organizations, such as the Canadian Association of Police Chiefs, have supported a number of the recommendations.

Again, this is exactly what this country needs. These are steps in the right direction. As I indicated during question period and in the brief time I had prior to question period, this is just one of a number of measures that we are taking as a government. We also have the bill, which I call a companion piece to this, on drugs that sends out the right message to people who want to get involved with the drug trade. This is an important component of it.

When people ask me about this and about that, I always tell them that we have a lot more to do in this area and we are just the group of individuals who are prepared to do that.

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3:45 p.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Madam Speaker, I have a great deal of respect for the minister and his outline of the bill was very clear. As he knows, we are very supportive of a number of items in the bill, so I thank him for bringing forward these items.

I do have one comment and a few questions. The minister has been informed in the past a few times that some of these provisions do not have an effect on denunciation and deterrence. That should not be the main motivation but it does not mean we should not do a number of these things.

The justice minister in B.C. asked for a couple of things. One was to change the two-for-one remand credit. As he knows, that has been a sore point. I wonder if he will be addressing that at some time.

The second thing the B.C. justice minister asked for was the modernizing of investigative techniques. I know the member knows that the member for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine has done some great work on this. The police are sort of stymied in their work. I will not explain it because I do not have time.

The last part of my question relates to gang murders. I am delighted that he is taking them on here, but are there any other initiatives related to the prevention of gang murders in some of the other programs and plans of the government? It would a helpful addition to the legislation.

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3:45 p.m.

Conservative

Rob Nicholson Conservative Niagara Falls, ON

Madam Speaker, I would like to take the last part first.

I indicated, in the short period of time I had during question period, that the Prime Minister announced in Winnipeg the national anti-drug strategy. Two-thirds of the new money in that program went directly to programs to help educate and work with individuals who, unfortunately, have become addicted or might consider experimenting with drugs.

I was very pleased to see that. There are a whole group of initiatives that have been undertaken by this government under the guns, gangs and drugs initiatives, the national crime prevention programs, whereby individuals, groups and governments can make application to get assistance to help work with people because we want to get people out of this business. We want to discourage them from getting into it and we want to help those who have found themselves addicted.

Part of what needs to be done is sending out the correct message to these individuals that these kinds of actions will not be tolerated.

When we were discussing the Tackling Violent Crime Act, I alluded to the fact that we had mandatory jail times in there for people who commit serious firearms offences. One of the opposition members said to me that my problem was that I did not understand that sometimes these people do not understand the consequences of their actions. I said that that was where I and my government wanted to help. We want those people to get the message and five years in a federal penitentiary is a great start. We are even going further. If they do not get the message the first time, they will get seven years in a penitentiary because that will give them the opportunity to understand just how serious these offences are.

This is what we are doing in this bill as well. We are giving those individuals time to figure out what they are doing. However, here is the other part of it. We are helping to break up gang activity. Police officers in British Columbia told me that getting these people off the street will disrupt the gang activity.

It is a comprehensive approach, with respect to the hon. member's question. With respect to the other items, I do not want to get into the situation that we were in in the last Parliament. We had five good bills for about a year and a half none of them passed. They were all bills that we needed and that were important for Canada but because it was a minority Parliament none of them went through.

I do not want to get into that situation again so we are taking these one step at a time. We have two bills. I introduced another bill, the third one, the anti-terrorism act provisions, and we know how hard that was to get that through the last Parliament. I am optimistic that with the increased focus, this 11th hour conversion that we are seeing from so many members of the House of Commons, that they will be on side with us--

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3:50 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

Question and comments, the hon. member for Hochelaga.

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3:50 p.m.

Bloc

Réal Ménard Bloc Hochelaga, QC

Madam Speaker, the minister was heading down the slippery slope of partisanship. It is a good thing you stood up.

I want to be clear that we will certainly support this bill in principle. In committee, we will look at which amendments should be reported. It is true that we have been rather resistant to mandatory minimum sentences. Our position is supported by a wealth of literature that clearly shows that mandatory minimum sentences are not effective deterrents but that the efficacy of the sanction and the real fear of being arrested do have a deterrent effect.

That is not the question I want to ask the minister. I was in the House when Bill C-95, which the Liberals authored, was passed in 1997 and the offence of gangsterism was first created. Now, anyone who commits a murder for the benefit or at the direction of a criminal organization as defined in sections 467.11, 467.12 and 467.13 of the Criminal Code is liable to imprisonment for life.

I would like to understand. I am not against this and I want to be very clear. How will classifying the offence as first degree murder change things? How is this different from the existing law? That is my question for the minister.