Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak to Bill C-14, although I will say that if the Conservative government and the Liberals had their way, I do not think I would be speaking. I find it quite outrageous that we have had one speaker from the NDP on Bill C-14, yet we have been accused of delaying the bill and of trying to drag it out.
This afternoon we heard the Conservative government accuse the opposition of trying to delay these proceedings by moving a concurrence motion on a committee report. I have an overall concern that somehow the Conservatives have this incredible belief that the world revolves around the Criminal Code, that it revolves just around their pieces of legislation, that there is no other business in the House. The debate that took place this morning on the war resisters is a very important piece of public business. It deserved to be debated in the House.
The fact that we have two or three speakers on a bill is not about trying to delay the bill. It is about doing due diligence to a very important crime bill and being able to rise in this House to speak on the record about a particular bill. I am outraged at the pressure tactics and the antics that have gone on here to prevent members from speaking in the House. This is not about delay. It is about dealing with legislation and being able to look at it and examine it in a reasonable way. That is what we are here to do. It is what we were elected to do and I intend to do just that.
I am a member from Vancouver and like so many others in our city and in metro Vancouver, I have been quite horrified by the terrifying gun violence and the shootings that have taken place. There have been something like 38 shootings and 17 deaths in recent weeks. I have certainly heard from my constituents via emails and phone calls and I have spoken to people on the street. People are deeply concerned by the level of violence, the guns that are being displayed and the gang warfare that is going on. I certainly want to add my voice that we want to work in a way that we build strong and healthy communities. To see these acts of violence in local communities, people running up and down back alleys shooting, and people being caught in the crossfire is truly terrifying for the people I have heard from. I am sure that many others who did not send an email or make a phone call nevertheless feel the terror and know what it means to worry about going outside or taking their kids to school.
I believe very strongly that no one should have to live in fear in their home and their community. The situation is very serious in the city of Vancouver and metro Vancouver generally. I would note that even the provincial attorney general and the provincial solicitor general noted in a letter that they sent to each of us that of the over 200 incidents of reported shots fired in the Vancouver region in 2008, the vast majority are a direct result of organized crime's drug trade. That came from the provincial officials.
My colleague from New Westminster—Coquitlam and our justice critic, the member for Windsor—Tecumseh, have laid out very well that we support this bill and we support the very limited parameters it has to offer extended protection to officers and justice officials and the fact that the bill contains provisions that will extend the use of recognizance and allow some greater participation in treatment programs. It includes the requirement that a first degree murder charge would be laid when the conduct that results in a death is associated with a criminal gang or terrorism and the drive-by shooting aspect.
While we recognize those elements of the bill, we do see them as being very limited. As New Democrats we have called for over and over again and proposed to the government that we need an overall coordinated strategy focused on gangs and organized crime. One of the strategies that we need but we have not yet seen from the government is leadership around recognizing that more resources are required for prosecution and enforcement.
As my colleague, the hon. member for New Westminster—Coquitlam, pointed out, metro Vancouver has one of the lowest ratios of police officers to population in all of Canada. We know the government failed on its commitment to bring in 2,500 more police officers on the streets of our communities.
There is a huge credibility gap when it comes to dealing with the bill. On the one hand, the government is so caught up in the optics of calling for tougher laws. On the other, it refuses to bring in the broader strategies that will deal with crime prevention in our communities, or provide the kinds of resources needed for prosecution and enforcement.
We have also called for more and better prevention programs to divert youth at risk. Again, over the years promises were made to this effect by the Conservative government, but we have yet to see any effective mechanism delivered and used in local communities to divert youth at risk.
While NDP members support the bill in the very limits it places, and we will look at it closely in committee, we are very disappointed and mindful of the fact that the government has failed to deliver on the broader range of strategies needed.
While we need to be mindful that we should take immediate action to prevent gun violence and shootings in our streets, we also cannot ignore the much bigger question about drug laws and prohibition and the impact those have on what goes on in metro Vancouver right now.
I will briefly reference a very good article that was written by Neil Boyd, who is a very well-known criminologist at Simon Fraser University. He recently wrote in the Globe and Mail:
The greatest irony of our current reality is that individuals are now being shot to death over the trade in cannabis, but it is almost impossible to die from consumption of the drug itself.
In the full article he has brought together very well the arguments to show that, yes, we can bring in tougher provisions in laws and changes to the Criminal Code, but unless we address the much bigger issue of the drug laws themselves, then we are just fooling ourselves.
This is really the agenda of the Conservative government. It is about playing the politics of fear, about fooling people and trying to appease them. By changing the Criminal Code, it will change what goes on in our local communities when it comes to gangs, shootings, violence and the use of guns.
We need some changes, but unless we tackle that larger question, we will be leaving those communities in a state of fear and chaos. That is simply very wrong.
Since being elected in 1997, I have been a very strong advocate for taking on this issue and recognizing that if we rely solely on an enforcement regime, particularly when it comes to gangs, it is not going to be a deterrent. Again, Neil Boyd points out in his article if that if one can place one's self in a gang member's shoes and try to understand what is going on, the idea that there are going to be tougher laws is not necessarily a deterrent at all.
We must recognize what is going on in terms of drug laws and how it is fuelling a huge organized crime black market. The NDP is saying that this will continue and that no changes will happen.
I believe it is time for us to look at new policies, a broader strategy for prevention and to ensure there are programs that can divert youth from gangs and that we provide realistic education to young people. We should educate the public about the question of drugs and substance use.
If we do that and tackle this question of drug law reform, let us at least have an honest debate about prohibition and its impact, similar to what we saw in the 1930s. Then maybe we will be doing something honest. We will be putting in front of people the real question. I am concerned about that in the ongoing debates.
I support and the other members of the NDP support the bill. However, what I find so offensive is the attitude of the Conservative government. It has displayed such a narrow-mindedness about this question. It is such a politically focused and motivated agenda that at the end of the day will not change the kind of reality we see in metro Vancouver.
Even if the Conservatives lived up to their promise of more officers, that would at least make our communities stronger and healthier.