I would like to appeal to my neo-Bolshevik colleagues and friends in the NDP for some quiet, and for some recognition of the fact that the Bloc Québécois is a very wise party.
I even feel that if the Speaker were to ask for the House's consent on that, he would almost get it.
With that said, let me continue by telling this House that, if clause 5 of this bill is passed, it will amend the section on the possession of property obtained by crime. More specifically, it will create a new offence, trafficking in property obtained by crime. That offence will be punishable by a maximum sentence of 14 years. I repeat that the Bloc Québécois never sees a problem with maximum sentences in a bill. Maximum sentences, after all, do not tie judges' hands; they allow judicial discretion to be used, because justice must always be tailored to each individual. Each crime, each offender and each circumstance in which crimes have been committed must be considered. Each aspect must be analyzed on its own merits by a court of law.
Clause 5 of this bill will also define trafficking. “To traffic” is defined as to sell, give, transfer, transport, export from Canada, import into Canada, send, deliver or deal with in any other way, or offer to do any of those acts.
I think the parliamentary secretary explained one of the difficulties that are cropping up at this time. Customs officers sometimes see that material has been imported, or is about to be exported, that would make it possible to rebuild a vehicle. But if these components do not appear on lists of prohibited items, it is impossible for the customs officers who guard our borders to intervene. Clearly this is not a desirable situation and the definition of “trafficking” which we are proposing will allow this situation to be rectified.
Moreover, clause 3 of the bill amends section 353 of the Criminal Code and will create a new offence. In addition to the offence of trafficking in property obtained by crime, an offence specific to tampering with vehicle identification numbers will be created. In Canada, all vehicles must have an identification number, and clearly when a car is stolen, thieves will attempt to alter or falsify that identification number.
If the bill is passed, we will amend section 353.1(1) of the Criminal Code. This new type of offence will specify that: “Every person commits an offence who, without lawful excuse, wholly or partially alters, removes or obliterates a vehicle identification number on a motor vehicle.”
In this bill, the defence of having a lawful excuse will be permitted. We understand that the fact of altering, removing or obliterating a vehicle identification number while performing normal maintenance work should not lead—and my colleague agrees—to charges being laid under the new offence to be created.
Bill C-26 also introduces a mechanism which includes a minimum mandatory sentence. This is a provision of the bill which the Bloc Québécois is going to attempt to amend in committee. This new provision is clause 331.1, wherein a person who commits automobile theft and is convicted for the third time on proceedings by way of indictment will be sentenced to a minimum punishment of imprisonment for a term of six months. The Bloc does not agree with this provision of the bill. This is not as serious or as worrisome as other bills the Conservative government has tabled. This minimum sentence will be tempered by the fact that crown prosecutors will have the choice of laying charges by way of indictment. After three indictments, the minimum sentence will apply. However, motor vehicle theft may also be dealt with through summary conviction.
This provision means that the Bloc Québécois in its great wisdom and sense of nuances, and its extremely nuanced vision of justice—a perception of fine distinctions which its spokesperson totally and completely shares—considers that this provision tempers our position with regard to the bill. Since there are no hard core mandatory minimum sentences such as we are used to seeing from the Conservative Party in other bills, we will be able to propose an amendment to the bill and offer our support to the government for Bill C-26.
An explanation is in order. Why is the Bloc Québécois against mandatory minimum sentences? This is a position all of my colleagues, the party's critics and my predecessors in the area of justice have perpetuated. First, there is no correlation between the existence of mandatory minimum sentences and the recidivism rate and crime rates. Rather, the opposite is true: several studies looking at the American model which the Conservative government holds in high esteem have proved that, for instance, where drug trafficking is concerned, mandatory minimum sentences have not caused a decrease in recidivism rates and drug consumption. On the contrary, as my colleague from Jeanne-Le Ber said, a man who always has a sense of fine distinctions and is not given to excess, and is thus a man who is capable of assessing the true worth of a bill, we are against mandatory minimum sentences because there is no link between such sentences, recidivism and crime rates, and also because they can have an adverse effect on the system. I invite the Minister of Foreign Affairs to ponder that.
When a crown attorney has a choice between laying charges that entail mandatory minimum sentences and charges that do not entail mandatory minimum sentences, it has been proven scientifically that the prosecutor will chose to lay charges that do not entail those sentences.
The Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights is a great committee, one of the best committees a parliamentarian can ever sit on. Yesterday at this committee we heard the testimony of a retired judge, Mr. Jerome Paradis. He came to explain the perverse effect of mandatory minimum sentences and it will be my pleasure to circulate that brief to journalists and to my Conservative colleagues. This is not an opinion held only by the Bloc Québécois, the member for Hochelaga or the member for Jeanne-Le Ber. The opinion comes from a former judge, a magistrate, who administered justice and presided over lawsuits; he came before the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights to remind us of the perverse effects of mandatory minimum sentences. That is the reason the Bloc Québécois, from its inception, has always been opposed to mandatory minimum sentences. As everyone knows, the Bloc Québécois is the primary political force in Quebec and will remain so, we hope. We will certainly work very hard to keep it that way.
We might think that car theft is a phenomenon that affects mainly luxury vehicles. That would be wrong. I have here a list of the top 10 stolen cars in Canada in 2006. I would appreciate it if no one commented on the merits of each model, since everyone has their own opinion. The most stolen car model on that list is the 1999 Honda Civic two-door. It is followed by the 2000 Honda Civic. The third most stolen car is the little four-door all-wheel drive Subaru. There are in fact takers on the market. In fifth place is the 1999 Acura. The sixth model is the 1994 Dodge Grand Caravan/Voyager. The seventh most stolen model is the 1994 Dodge/Plymouth Caravan. In eighth place we have the Acura Integra. Ninth place is held by a little Audi. And tenth on the list of most stolen cars is the 1994 Dodge/Plymouth Shadow.
These are not necessarily luxury vehicles, but again, the consequences of car theft are easy to understand when you live in a remote community, when you live in the regions and when you depend on it.
I am a member from Montreal, myself. In my riding there are nine metro stations. I can go anywhere in my riding by metro. But I entirely grasp the consequences of these car thefts in communities where there is no public transit.
I would like to point out that there are two kinds of car theft. There is the organized crime kind. In fact, two weeks ago, I presented a motion myself at the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights concerning organized crime. We have to be constantly on the lookout for ways to update the Criminal Code and give our police services more effective tools to combat organized crime. I would reiterate that mandatory minimum sentences are not the way to do that.
When I was elected to the House in 1993 I was 31 years old. Obviously, everyone ages in this House. It was explained to me that organized crime was proliferating when we lived in a society where there was a wealth index, where there were communications channels and where there were ways of using stalling tactics in the courts that were authorized by our legislative bodies.
I would like everyone to know that we will be supporting this bill, but that we are going to be making amendments in relation to the mandatory minimum sentences.
I will be pleased to answer any questions my NDP colleagues would like to ask.