Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise here today on behalf of the Bloc Québécois to speak to Bill C-14, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (organized crime and protection of justice system participants).
First of all, I am delighted to be part of a team like the Bloc Québécois, which includes members such as our colleague from Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, a former public safety minister in the Quebec government, who created the joint forces that gave rise to Opération printemps 2001 against the Hells Angels. Today in 2009, we are still seeing the results. These joint forces continue their hard work and continue to aggressively tackle organized crime, practically wiping out the Hells Angels.
Of course we are also very proud to have the hon. member for Hochelaga on our team. Since 1997, on behalf of the Bloc Québécois, he has been proposing amendments to the Criminal Code specifically to attack organized crime and reverse the burden of proof when it comes to the proceeds of crime, so that the burden of proof does not always fall on the Crown in that regard.
At present, our colleague from Abitibi—Témiscamingue sits on the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. He is a renowned law scholar and criminal lawyer who practised law before being elected to this House. These are all members who can add to this debate and the other parties would do well to listen to the recommendations made by the Bloc Québécois.
Understandably, our party does not oppose Bill C-14. When criminal groups like street gangs disturb honest citizens and put their lives in danger, we must take action. We can improve legislation, strengthen the actions of police forces, provide them with tools that are more effective and better suited to new criminal realities, and most importantly, invest in crime prevention. We must take targeted action that produces real results. Yet the Conservatives seem to prefer only one approach, that is, suppression through punitive measures.
When it comes to justice, the Bloc Québécois firmly believes that the most effective approach is always prevention. We have to attack crime at its roots. It is better to attack the causes of crime and violence than to wait until something gets broken and then try to fix it. That is the wisest approach, not to mention the most advantageous one, both socially and financially. Could it possibly be any clearer than that? We have to begin by attacking poverty, inequality and exclusion, all of which are fertile ground for frustration and its scions, violence and crime.
People need to live in safe places, to be sheltered from extreme poverty, and to have access to an affordable education system. On all counts, the Quebec nation has made choices that set it apart from the rest. Its tuition fees are among the lowest in North America, its daycare network is exemplary, and its social safety net is designed to prevent families from slipping into poverty. The Bloc Québécois recognizes that gangs do commit serious criminal offences, acts for which they must be held accountable in court.
The government's duty is to intervene and use the tools that are available to enable Quebeckers and Canadians to live peacefully and safely. However, its measures must have a truly positive impact on crime. They have to give us more than rhetoric and fear campaigns. We need something better than an imitation of the U.S. system, whose results are dubious, at best. That is why the Bloc Québécois has devoted so much energy to its consideration of Bill C-14. During the committee's work on this bill, the members for Hochelaga and Abitibi—Témiscamingue listened to witnesses, asked the right questions, shared information and checked facts. In the end, the committee's study confirmed our initial position. We support the bill's goal to get tougher on street gangs.
That is why, for so many years now, the Bloc Québécois has been proposing measures to get tougher on criminal organizations, including street gangs, that threaten the safety of honest citizens. Getting rid of the two-for-one credit, among other things, is one Bloc Québécois proposal that the government has chosen to turn into a bill. That idea finally found an ear in the governing party, as has the concept of an anti-gang law, another Bloc Québécois proposal that has been around since the mid-1990s thanks to the member for Hochelaga, as I mentioned earlier.
That does not mean that the bill is perfect. In committee, we proposed an amendment that would have removed the minimum penalties, as they are not in keeping with Quebec's model of justice based on rehabilitation and reintegration. With regard to minimum penalties, members have to understand that we have a justice system in place that is based on judges, who are competent people. It is hard to watch the Conservatives, who probably would have liked to change the judges. They have tried to and have made appointments.
Quebeckers, with the way they have always looked at justice, clearly have an effective justice system and competent judges. Every case is unique, and we leave it up to the judges to set sentences. That is how Quebec understands the fight against crime and how Quebeckers have administered justice day after day, year after year and even century after century. Why try to replace judges with minimum penalties now? That is where the problem lies. The Bloc Québécois will always be opposed to a justice system that does not provide an opportunity for all parties to be heard and does not simply let the punishment fit the crime.
However, we are aware that some provisions of Bill C-14 are derived from existing offences. For example, clause 8 of the bill, which we hoped to amend, uses almost the exact wording of section 244 of the Criminal Code, which already provides for minimum penalties and which we tried to amend in 2007. These are not new provisions, but variations on existing offences.
Even though its amendment was rejected, the Bloc Québécois will not oppose Bill C-14. This bill has a generally noble objective, which is to reduce street gang crime. We share that objective. We cannot allow street gangs to do as they please and threaten the safety of honest people. To achieve that objective, the bill essentially proposes to use harsher penalties for existing offences and even minimum penalties in some cases.
The Bloc Québécois is disappointed that, to achieve such an important objective, the Conservatives are ignoring a series of measures that we find to be much more promising than mandatory minimum sentences. The Bloc Québécois also formulated a number of proposals of interest that the government should include. In short, even though our objective is the same, we do not agree with the Conservatives on the approach.
This does not mean that we are rejecting outright any proposal from the other parties. On the contrary. We are not like the Conservatives. The Bloc Québécois is very rigorous and will analyze the bill's provisions in committee to ascertain how effective it will be in achieving such an important objective. Even though the amendments we suggested were not retained, we will support the bill as long as the committee does its job.
It is worthwhile repeating what we suggested. First, we must combat the root causes of crime. We owe it to Quebeckers to take the fight against crime seriously, not to play petty politics with fundamental rights and, above all, to give them a true picture of the situation. Our party has taken this serious approach on a number of occasions, particularly in its steadfast commitment to ensuring the use of appropriate and effective measures to assess the pertinence of each bill. We have also been very serious in our ongoing concern for crime prevention, which should be at the top of the list of initiatives.
Tackling the causes of crime and violence, rather than waiting for things to break down and then trying to fix them, is the wisest, and more importantly, the most profitable approach, in both social and economic terms. We want this to be very clear. First, we have to tackle poverty, inequality and exclusion, all of which provide fertile ground for frustration and its manifestations: violence and crime. Recent events in Montreal—where the socio-demographic picture indicates that a large portion of the population is struggling economically—clearly demonstrate that the most promising approach is to try to give these people what they need to improve their living conditions. The Bloc Québécois has made some progress in that regard.
We have not been lenient when it comes to criminals and our actions prove it. Given that the activities of organized crime groups continue to increase year after year, thereby compromising public safety, the Bloc Québécois promised as far back as 1997 to insist that the federal government pass concrete measures to step up the fight against organized crime.
On September 24, 1998, the Bloc Québécois introduced a bill to combat money laundering and proposed that the $1,000 bill be taken out of circulation. That was a Bloc initiative. Although that bill died on the order paper, the Bloc did not back down. The government eventually followed through on the Bloc`s request and took the $1,000 bill out of circulation.
During the 2000 election campaign, the Bloc pushed hard to get Ottawa to finally pass anti-gang legislation, so we could lock up the outlaw motorcycle gangs that were running rampant in Quebec. The Bloc Québécois is proud to have been the first party in Ottawa to bring forward the idea of anti-gang legislation and to have made it our priority until it was finally passed by Parliament. The convictions that resulted from the Hells Angels megatrials in 2004 have shown just how valuable this legislation is.
The Bloc Québécois is also proud of its success in convincing the other federal parties to reverse the onus of proof for members of criminal organizations. This is what I was explaining earlier. Now, criminals have to prove that money and assets confiscated from them by law enforcement authorities did not come from criminal activity and that they are not living off the proceeds of crime.
Today, these laws continue to provide enforcement authorities with a set of legislative and regulatory tools they can use to more effectively prosecute organizations or associations that have the hallmarks of organized crime. We saw this recently in Quebec, with Operation Printemps 2009, where police seized criminal assets. Now, the criminals will have to prove that those assets were purchased with money that was not proceeds of crime. Once again, reverse onus, which was proposed by the Bloc Québécois and passed by the House of Commons, provides police with effective tools.
Let us look now at what we are proposing, On June 15, 2007, the Bloc recommended a series of major changes to Canada's justice system. I will list the four proposed measures.
First, we are asking that the Criminal Code be amended so that when violent acts involving firearms or knives are committed, membership in a street gang is considered an aggravating factor for sentencing purposes.
Second, we are calling for the creation of a fund that Quebec and the provinces could use to train crown prosecutors specifically for street gang trials. These proposals come out of the experience of the Government of Quebec, which created the organized crime prosecution bureau in 2001, with teams of prosecutors who specialize in organized crime. By training specialized prosecutors, Quebec has convicted 286 people of gangsterism offences. The bureau will be put to good use after Operation Printemps 2009. This group of specialized crown prosecutors will enable Quebec to tackle organized crime.
Third, since global positioning system (GPS) technology helps police prove and connect movements by gang members, the Bloc Québécois proposes to extend warrants for investigations using GPS surveillance to one year, so that they are valid for as long as electronic surveillance warrants.
Fourth, copies of all court rulings on street gangs and organized crime should be compiled and kept.
I invite all the other parties to listen to the Bloc Québécois recommendations, which were very relevant in the past.