Mr. Speaker, today I rise to speak about an issue that is of tremendous concern to my Etobicoke North riding, namely crime and reducing crime.
My riding is next door to Pearson International Airport and it is where many newcomers come to settle and work long hours for minimum wage, even if they were physicians or professionals back home. It is also home to a high number of single mothers, many holding down multiple jobs just to put food on the table for their children.
Consequently, over 19% of households in Etobicoke North's ward 1 and 16% in ward 2 have income under $20,000. Sadly, Etobicoke North has one of the highest crime rates in the greater Toronto area, including attempted murders, homicide, sexual assaults and other assaults. Our community also has neighbourhoods under siege, where gangs and guns are a cold hard fact of life. It has therefore been identified as 1 of 13 at-risk neighbourhoods by the city of Toronto and United Way.
In 2006 Pastor Andrew King of the Seventh-day Adventists Church described a funeral service of yet another shooting victim this way:
I'm looking at young people mourning the tragic death of this young man, surrounding a casket. And then, amidst the outpouring of tears and sorrow, the unthinkable happened. I hear pop-pop-pop. And it was outside the building. Someone then came in and said, someone's been shot.
More recently in 2008, shots tore through the window of a Rexdale coffee shop, sending four men to hospital.
My constituents, like those of other communities want the violence to stop. Therefore, I will be supporting Bill C-25, better known as the truth in sentencing act.
A judge may allow credit for time spent in pre-sentencing custody in order to reduce the later sentence, largely because holding centres are overcrowded and prisoners wait too long for trials.
Clayton Ruby, one of Canada's leading defence lawyers, described detention centres as a humiliation and explained that credit was developed by courts to ease the hardship of those awaiting trial.
Canadians largely support the credit system. A national justice survey in 2007 showed that more than 75% of respondents thought that credit should be allowed in cases of non-violent offences; however, almost 60% believed that credit should not be allowed for persons convicted of serious violent offences.
Currently, for every one day served in pre-sentencing custody, a two day credit is generally given toward regular detention. Some argue that the two to one day ratio is too generous because, instinctively, it does not make common sense when convicted criminals walk out of court largely free on the day of their sentencing or have their lengthy sentences significantly reduced. For example, kidnappers recently had their sentences reduced by six years due to a two for one credit. And the formula may be applied without verifying that conditions are really harsher in pre-sentencing custody than in regular detention.
Bill C-25 would amend the Criminal Code to limit credit for time served. Under the new legislation, a judge may allow a maximum credit of one day for each day spent in pre-sentencing custody; however, if the circumstances justify it, a judge may extend the credit to 1.5 days.
The bill is the result of an agreement reached at the federal-provincial-territorial meetings of ministers of justice held in 2006 and 2007 at which the ministers decided to limit the credit for pre-sentencing custody and had proposed rules similar to the ones set out in the bill. There is strong support for this bill.
For example, Chris Bentley, the Attorney General of Ontario, welcomes the move to end the practice of giving convicted criminals double time credit, and said that it would speed up the criminal justice system. The Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, which has been urging the government to eliminate the two for one pretrial credit since 2000 and to bring greater accountability and consistency to the sentencing process, also welcomes the introduction of the legislation and urges all parliamentarians to pass the bill quickly.
Despite the positive feedback, the Criminal Lawyers Association calls the proposal “a step backward” that would “promote harsher sentences, produce fewer guilty pleas and give Parliament's approval to inhumane detention facilities”.
Our American neighbours have undertaken a 25 year experiment with mandatory minimum sentences for the so-called war on drugs. We need to carefully look at the evidence of what has and has not worked in the United States as well as other jurisdictions. We must ask ourselves whether we want to turn Canadian correctional institutions and penitentiaries into U.S.-style inmate warehouses.
We all know there are no quick simple fixes to reducing crime, nor are there one-size-fits-all solutions. What other solutions must we employ?
We need a comprehensive plan to attack all forms of public violence with both short-term and long-term initiatives that address immediate concerns, such as the recent increase in gun violence.
We must build on the strengths in our neighbourhoods. We must engage agencies, parents and youth in determining the future of their communities.
A visionary principal, Michael Rossetti, from Father Henry Carr Catholic Secondary School, wants to build a field of dreams for Etobicoke North, a first-class track and field centre and basketball courts for the school as well as for the whole community. Etobicoke North needs that investment as there is no athletic centre in the district.
Investment in Etobicoke North would mean more students would stay in school, less youth would be looking for belonging in gangs, and more young men and women would be eager to improve their lives, if only they were given a chance.
The field of dreams project is receiving strong support from Pat Flatley, a former alumnus of the school and New York Islander captain, who has already met with Toronto's mayor, as well as Michael "Pinball" Clemons. The principal also received letters of support from Bill Blair, chief of the Toronto Police Service, and Ron Taverner of 23 Division.
We are very fortunate in Etobicoke North to have Superintendent Ron Taverner, who believes in community development and policing. He regularly holds community handshakes, faith-based walks, and supports Breaking the Cycle, an organization aimed at getting youth out of gangs.
We must also significantly increase economic opportunities for young people. At a recent public meeting in Toronto, a youth was quoted as saying that it is easier to get a gun than a job.
We must ensure humane pretrial custody. Defence lawyer Heather Pringle described a potential situation as being locked down for 18 hours at a time, no access to rehabilitative programs coupled with nights spent sharing a cramped cell with two other guys, a shared toilet and some vermin.
We must ensure timely trials. To do this we need more courts, more facilities, and more judges.
Finally, Bill C-25 targets punishment. When might we see legislation targeted at prevention?