Madam Speaker, I am pleased to join in the debate. I think the last sequence of debate took us a bit off the bill, Bill C-15, which deals with changes to the Criminal Code and the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. The purpose of the bill is to impose mandatory minimum sentences on what are called serious drug crimes and to make a couple of other changes. Those other changes, I support. It is the part dealing with mandatory minimums that catches my attention and I regret that the government is taking the approach that it is.
I enjoyed listening to the remarks of the member for Burnaby—Douglas and the member for Marc-Aurèle-Fortin who, from my point of view, really did hit the nail on the head. I would be personally happy to reread those speeches myself, because I thought they delivered to the House a lot of personal experience and a lot of reference material from outside the House that bears directly on point, that being the relevance and usefulness of mandatory minimum sentences.
The government members have, throughout this Parliament and in the prior Parliament, continued to perpetuate what I regard as a myth, the myth being that the solution to crime is to throw people in jail and keep them there.
To me, that is quite simplistic, and in fact, it does not work. However, when we think about it, that is just about exactly what the king used to do 1,500 years ago. If there was a criminal and they caught him or her--I am sure there was employment equity back then--they would throw the person into the dungeon and just keep them there until they did or did not survive, or whatever happened. So the Conservative government's perpetuation of this paradigm that the solution to crime is to put people in jail, put them in the dungeon and keep them there, is a great disappointment to me. As most of the previous speakers have said and as the evidence brought forward at the justice committee shows, not just one hearing, not just one year, because I was a member of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights for 19 years and I had a lot of education in those years at taxpayer expense, I can say without any reservation at all that the concept of throwing people in jail as a solution to crime does not work.
As previous speakers have pointed out, our friends south of the border, in the United States of America, have learned that at great cost, human cost and dollar cost. Building prisons is not going to adequately deal with the challenge of crime.
I would argue that there has been one visible exception to my position that mandatory minimum sentences do not work. That exception is related to the offence of impaired driving.
It is a fact that we as a country have increased sentencing for a conviction for impaired driving and for subsequent convictions. We have added in some mandatory minimum incarceration for impaired driving, and the statistics show that this has had a favourable impact. There has been a reduction in drunk driving, in impaired driving. We have not eliminated the problem. We all know that people are still dying and being injured and maimed on Canadian roads because of impaired drivers. However, the combination of increased penalties, targeted increases in the penalties, firming up of fines, suspensions and some minor mandatory minimum sentencing, together with public education and visible increased enforcement, has produced a result.
However, I am of the view that it is not principally the increased sentencing that has worked. It is the increased enforcement, together with the knowledge that, if we are caught, we will pay a price. There will be a serious consequence. We may lose our licence; we may do time; we may be fined. In addition to that, the type of person who would commit that type of crime is usually quite different from the type of person who might be committing another type of criminal offence.
They are all serious criminal offences, but the most common circumstance involving a person who drinks and drives and does or does not cause injury but just gets caught as an impaired driver involves a person who probably does not have a criminal record, but might have, who simply drinks too much. The act of drinking is a fairly normal human activity. Drinking too much past the limit is an offence, but that is different from someone who plans and executes a bank robbery or someone who is involved in the drug trade and who plans and executes drug deals.
With that one exception, I am irrevocably of the view that mandatory minimums just do not accomplish anything other than placing convicted persons in institutions perhaps for longer than they need to be, and it removes the judicial discretion to fix a sentence that suits the crime and all the circumstances.
In looking at the sequence of procedures involved, surrounding a criminal act, it is not just the end part of conviction and sentence that we should be focusing on. What leads up to that in real life is actually a fairly complex and lengthy sequence of events. There is the planning of the criminal act, there is the execution of the criminal act, there is an investigation by police, there is a charging procedure, a prosecution, a conviction, and then there is the sentencing.
I am urging the House and asking my friends on the government side, can they not see that by changing the law to provide an impact, a mandatory minimum sentence, at the very end at the sentencing could not possibly impact on the front end of all of that sequence? The criminal act, the investigation, the charge, the prosecution, the conviction, all of those things happen before the sentencing. The individual, the alleged criminal, the accused, gets involved in this, and in most cases, as my friend from Marc-Aurèle-Fortin pointed out, as we both practised in criminal courts, the average criminal does not see the end of the process. The criminal is only thinking about whether he or she is going to get caught. It is binary in terms of the person's own head logic: Is there is risk of getting caught or not; can I get away with this crime? That person is not getting out a calculator to figure out what the sentence is and whether it is worth doing or not.
I have asked in the House, what is the sentence for an armed robbery? I know my friend from Scarborough Centre does not know and my friend from Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, who is an experienced counsel, actually does not know either. The reason none of us knows is because the Criminal Code provides that the sentence is determined by a judge.
If a person does a bank robbery, he or she is going to get a sentence. The courts have organized the sentencing in a way that a bank robbery is a very serious offence and the offender is going to do serious time.
The point is that if we in the House who enact the legislation, fix the penalties, and debate the policy do not know what the penalty is, how the heck is that undereducated criminal out there to know? As he or she decides to embark on a crime or a crime spree, that person does not know. They might have a sense of it a little later when they call their lawyer, but when they decide to engage in the crime, they do not give it much thought. They are only thinking about whether there is a Mountie around the corner and whether they are going to get caught.
Members of the House perpetrate the myth with pretense and political posturing when they say they are going to get tough on crime and increase the sentence. That public policy does not have a chance of impacting the sources of the crime, the decision to embark on the crime spree. It just does not compute.
As I said, it will be shocking for my friend from Edmonton—St. Albert if he is going to visit all these prisons this summer. It is a wonderful exercise to meet all these people, but I think he will come to the same conclusion that I and almost every other member in the House who has had the privilege of serving on the justice committee or public safety committee will come to.
There are real limits to how much we in the House can have an impact on the causes of crime just by tweaking the sentence. Nobody will know, but we tell ourselves that we are being tough on crime.
In my view, we are just being stupid. We are just engaging in political posturing and perpetuating a myth, the same one that was there when the king and the sheriff used to throw the body into the dungeon 1,500 years ago. The causes of crime in our society will continue unaddressed.
I want to draw an analogy. Let us say that a bank has a history of bad loans to customers. Let us say the bank president decides that they are going to have to deal with all those bad loans. There are too many bad loans out there. What do we think the solution is for the bank to deal with a very bad history of loans, a lot of write-offs? Do we think the solution is collections at the end of the history of the loan? Do we think the bank is going to improve its bottom line by focusing on the collections? Here I draw the analogy to sentencing.
No. In order to improve the history of bad loans, one has to get involved at the front end, in the loan approval process. A better credit screen has to be provided at the front end, not at the end of the line when the loan has gone bad. That is the analogy I want to urge upon the House. There is no point in cracking down on the bad loans when they are in debt recovery and collection. In order to improve the bank loan history, one has to get involved at the front end, when the loan is approved in the first place, and how the loan is administered.
I am using that analogy to apply to the criminal justice system. We as a society have to make sure that we get out into the front end of the sociological piece to address the causes of crime and the context that breeds crime. We have to better deal with how we manage our laws and procedures to deal with drugs. We have to realize that a person who is addicted is a health problem, not a criminal problem. If we treat it as a criminal problem, we just end up funding it a certain way. It is putting people in the dungeon again, and dungeons do not normally help anybody do anything. They get a little older and little smarter. Actually, they are schools for crime.
I will close by re-emphasizing my view that the government politics, and it is politics and not good policy, on this is taking us down a road built upon a myth related to the dungeons of the king. It does not work. We have to get this right. I am very reluctant to support this bill. This bill has three parts to it: two parts good and one part bad. I regret that.