Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak on behalf of my caucus on the final stage of Bill C-25. I want to put on record very clearly that my leader and the New Democratic caucus are in support of Bill C-25. This does not mean there is not a need for debate and discussion. It does not mean there is not and was not a place for amendments.
I want to commend the work of our colleague, the justice critic for the New Democratic Party, the member for Windsor—Tecumseh, for his steadfast work in this area. My colleague has spent hours and hours dealing with this barrage of crime bills coming forward from the Conservatives, which are often narrow in scope, multitudinous in numbers and not always complete in analysis.
In most cases, the bills brought forward by government have needed some changes. They would not have lived up to a charter challenge. They were not necessarily in line with provincial jurisdictions, or they were completely lacking in terms of the comprehensive approach required with respect to crime in our country today.
We have been very diligent in doing our work on this side of the House, trying to improve the bills that have been brought forward by the government when it comes to crime and safety.
This bill is no exception. My colleague from Windsor—Tecumseh worked very hard to improve the bill at committee, but he was unsuccessful.
However, in the final analysis we have always supported the notion of changing the two for one credit in our remand system. In fact, I want to remind members that long before the Conservatives brought forward this bill, an all party delegation from the province of Manitoba, led by the Premier Gary Doer, accompanied by leaders of both the Conservative and Liberal Parties, as well as the mayor for of the city of Winnipeg, came to Ottawa to meet with all parties to present a number of solutions that dealt with crime and public security.
One of those solutions in fact was the two for one question.
My colleagues from the provincial legislature came to this place asking the government to work and move as expeditiously as possible to change the two for one approach.
That matter has also been raised on two occasions at least of federal-provincial-territorial meetings. Back in October 2006 and then again in November 2007 federal-provincial-territorial ministers of justice dealt with this issue among others and reached a consensus to change, to remove, to eliminate the two for one arrangement. The justice minister in Manitoba, the Hon. Dave Chomiak and before him the Hon. Gord Mackintosh were front and centre in the move to make these changes.
Why, despite the fact we think the bill is not perfect, despite the fact we think the government's approach is less than comprehensive and complete, will we support C-25? It has to do with this whole evaluation, the question of value of pretrial custody. The reason we have had this two for one approach, which for all the listeners involved will know, this means for every year, month or day people spend in custody that two years, that two months, that two days are taken off their final sentence.
Over the years we have moved to a two for one and sometimes a three for one arrangement for a couple of reasons and they cannot be ignored because are important reasons.
One is it took into account, and judges had the discretion to do this, the conditions in the remand centre. It took into account the absence of training and health and support networks at the remand centre level. It did not say that it was simply too bad that we as a society had this horrible penal system and terrible remand conditions under one for one. The judges had some discretion to say that, in those horrible conditions, with the lack of supports and opportunities for rehabilitation, we needed to at least change the one for one to two for one or three for one.
Sometimes, we do things that have other effects, which are not always in the best interests of our society. In this case, we run into some problems with the two for one proposal. There have certainly been inconsistent determinations of the value for pre-trial custody. Now we are in a situation where a two for one credit is often routinely imposed without considering whether it is warranted. On top of that, it is absolutely the case, without doubt, that the conditions in remand facilities today are often the same as those faced by sentenced prisoners.
Furthermore, it has been clear throughout this debate that people have taken advantage of this system. There are indications that accused persons who intend to plead guilty intentionally, choosing to remain in remand as long as they can in order to maximize the total amount of the remand credit they will receive. That, in turn, contributes to the problems of overcrowding in remand facilities.
There is a final reason that has to be talked about in this context, and that is the need to maintain the confidence of the public in our system and for people across the country to know we have penal, justice and corrections systems that are responsive to the goals and aspirations that we all hold for our society. They are goals and values that say the following: We as a society must be forever focused on the need to prevent crime in the first place. That is the first aspiration of Canadians on this issue.
Second, as a government and Parliament, we must do everything in our power to protect citizens from crime and unsafe conditions in their homes, neighbourhoods and communities.
Third, Canadians expect us to put in place punishments that fit the crime.
Although it is impossible to deal with all three of those great values and fundamentals of our justice system, the three-legged stool if I can put it that way, through this bill, we can at least acknowledge what Bill C-25 does in terms of those interests.
We can point to other areas that require government action to compliment and support this approach. On its own in isolation, simply changing and removing the two for one credit and moving it toward 1.5:1 or one for one in some circumstances will not fix the problem of overcrowding in the remand centres. It does not necessarily ensure that the punishments handed out to convicted criminals are consistent with the crimes committed. We have to be vigilant on all fronts.
I recognize some of the concerns raised by my colleagues. My colleague for Burnaby—Douglas raises very legitimate concerns about the conditions found in remand centres and in our penal system in general. He described some very horrific situations.
We have all seen the heritage moment on national TV of Agnes Macphail, the first woman to get elected to the House of Commons, who in 1921 or there about, stood in the House and used a prop, which is not allowed, to demonstrate how people in prisons were being whipped, chained and punished beyond any notion of humanity. That changed things in this place. It made people realize that we all had an obligation to ensure our prisons, although places of punishment, were also not so inhumane that we would fall into what many would describe as a third world country conditions.
My colleague from Burnaby—Douglas said we should not embark on something that would take away all judicial discretion. He said that we should not forget about the important issues that bought the two for one credit in the first place. He wants to see the government and Parliament focus on the whole range of options that have to do with crime and safety in the country. That is what we all want. We support Bill C-25 because it takes a step toward dealing with a serious problem in our system today.
We call on the government today to do more than simply bring forward legislation that would require us to build more jails and lock up more people. We call on the government today to start doing what Canadians expect, which is a three-pronged approach focusing on prevention, protection and punishment.
It is not good enough for a government today to stand in this place and say that if we criticize any of its single faceted bills on specific issues in our justice system, that we are soft on crime, or because we have tried to amend something, we are soft on crime. That is hogwash and absolute rubbish.
The Conservatives have to stop playing those games. We are all trying to work together to make the best system possible. We all have the best interests of Canadians at heart. We all know we are dealing with a very complex issue that requires serious and thoughtful answers, not simplistic and narrow approaches.
I call on the government today to give some thought to what is really required. I want to start by asking it about its broken promises.
Why, since the 2006 election, when the Conservatives promised to increase the police force in the country by 2,500 officers, have they done nothing? If the Conservatives are so concerned about protecting the public, where are those police officers? Why, three years after the fact, have no police officers been added?
Why has the government continued to sit on the motion by Parliament to put labels on alcoholic beverage containers, saying that drinking during pregnancy can cause harm, which results in serious disabilities to people who in turn end up, in many cases, committing crimes and being put in jail where there is no support?
How can the Conservatives expect us all to support bills, without a lot of stats and a lot of evidence, just because on face value they appear to get tough on crime, yet turn around and say they cannot put labels on alcoholic beverages because there is no science to prove that putting on labels would deter someone from drinking? What nonsense.
If the Conservatives are serious about a comprehensive approach, if they really care about the fact that we all are interested in preventing crime, protecting the public and punishing those according to the serious nature of the crime, then surely they would take some basic preventative measures.
The Conservative government has sat on this all the time it has been in government. It has been eight years now since that motion was passed by Parliament, almost unanimously. To this day, no government, either Liberal or Conservative, has had the guts to stand up to the beer and liquor lobby groups and say it is time we put some labels on bottles to show it puts its money where its mouth is.
The government says a lot in terms of getting tough on crime. Does it ever talk about the cutbacks it has made in terms of prevention programs and training programs? Does it not realize that it is more expensive to jail children than to provide positive options?
People in the government seem determined to send more kids to jail rather than putting money in programs in terms of preventing the conditions that get them there in the first place. What about the gang prevention programs? What about the rehabilitation programs? What about training programs? What about mental health programs? What about all those things that will actually prevent kids from committing a crime in the first place? Is that not what we should be all about?
I have never heard the government talk about alternatives. I know the member for Abbotsford today talked about the fact that we cannot fix the overcrowding in remand centres through this bill. We have to get to the source of the problem and support with resources and people our remand centres, prisons and programs that help those in the corrections system. He is right. We have to go beyond simply looking at these very specific single measures and get at the roots of the problem.
Where is the government when it really counts? Where is the money for those programs? In its own jurisdiction, why does it not take some measures where it has absolute authority in terms of the federal Constitution? Why does it never mention alternatives to incarceration that have been proven successful in limiting reoffending?
I want to use the words of someone from Winnipeg who has been working very hard at eliminating unsafe conditions in a neighbourhood, which were reflected in a column by Jeffrey Simpson in The Globe and Mail. It is the Point Douglas effort to curtail crime in that neighbourhood.
As Jeffrey Simpson writes:
Two keys unlocked the Point Douglas puzzle. The neighbourhood had to be mobilized to take itself back; and zero tolerance became the order of the day. No criminal behaviour would go unreported; no houses would be left derelict; no windows would remain broken; no guns would be allowed. Community commitment and law enforcement came together in a polyglot community, with aboriginals making up more than half the population.
He rightfully concludes:
The community must be willing to save itself. It means civic authorities, police, and social agencies working together.
It means government involved in this whole project.
Success might mean that the criminal elements and slum landlords simply go to other areas of the city. But it sure has worked in Point Douglas.
There is a model that has to be considered each day, and I want to quote as well from Shauna MacKinnon, who wrote in a Winnipeg Free Press editorial on March 15:
Youth participation in gangs is a concern in urban centres across the country. Proposed solutions range from the very conservative knee-jerk reactions that lead to “lock em up” solutions, to solutions that tackle the root causes that draw children into gangs.
The research is clear. Access to skill-building recreational activities that develop self-esteem can help protect kids from the lure of gangs. But we don't really need the research to tell us this. All parents know that keeping their kids busy in sports and recreation keeps them out of trouble.
We could go on and on with those important words. I wish the government would begin to understand that it has to someday come forward with a complete response to the issues we are all concerned about when it comes to crime and safety. It cannot continue to focus only on one of the three components of a complete strategy. It cannot simply focus only on punishment. It must look at prevention and protection.
However, as I wrap this up, I will say that we recognize the importance of the step taken by this particular bill. We know that, as Sel Burrows, from Point Douglas, has told me himself, the really hard-core remands figure out to the day how long to stay in remand relative to the likely sentence, to then plead guilty once their double time count gets them released immediately or at least into provincial jail rather than penitentiary. But he went on to say that we need to remember that the poor are the ones terrorized by gangs. We need more alternative sentences for light offences and more time out for society from the hard core until we find something that works to rehabilitate them.
We look to the government for leadership on all aspects of crime and safety in our communities today. We want a multi-pronged approach. We want a government that focuses on prevention and protection, as well as appropriate punishment.