Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill S-9. This is not the first time we have debated this topic, which is a very serious challenge for the entire country. Many bills have already been introduced about this topic.
This is not the first time that we have stood and talked about doing something with respect to auto theft.
First, before I get into criticizing the government for interrupting its own legislative agenda with the interruption of the sitting of Parliament, one of the most effective ways to battle auto theft and crime in general is to resource our police forces, our prosecutors, our court systems and to restore confidence, which has been diminished in our judicial system by the actions, the words and, in the case of funding, the inactions of the Conservative government.
I met with some representatives of the policing community in Winnipeg. Winnipeg, as members know, once had the dubious distinction of being the auto theft capital of Canada. However, It does not anymore. Therefore, congratulations to the city council and the police forces of Winnipeg. However, another community now has that distinction. Whenever one community falls off the dubious mark, another leaps ahead.
Let us be clear on this. We compliment ourselves in passing laws. We think these great statements and declarations have an effect, and sometimes they do. I do not want to diminish the work of the justice committee, or the Minister of Justice or Parliament itself. However, let us face it, with prorogation, elections, debates and the slowly moving process involving our legislation in our bicameral system, whether it is a Liberal-dominated or now a Conservative-dominated holding up of legislation, the fact is we do not put out a great quantity of precise, surgical legislation for topics like auto theft.
We might ask ourselves, how Winnipeg did it if it did not have our help with this legislation or legislation like it. It did it with resources. It did it with smart tactical policing. It identified groups of what were most likely to be the perpetrators of auto theft and went after them. It also instituted programs outside the Criminal Code and outside strict policing with respect to electronic devices that determined where thefts occurred and where the vehicles would go.
I will take the blame for all of us in Parliament, but we are late at the game in getting to Bill S-9. I have said it before. I hope Bill S-9 does not follow the ill-fated path of its identical twins. We are now into triplets, of which Bill S-9 is a part. Sadly, if this were an obituary in a few months because of an election or something, it would read, “predeceased by identical twins Bill C-53 and Bill C-26” and maybe we would come back again, do another bill and then there would be quadruplets.
The point is we have to get to this bill and we have to pass it. We worked very well at the justice committee, making suggestions, doing the due diligence with respect to Bill S-9, getting statistics and all those sorts of things.
There is no question we want this bill passed. It would give a lot of aid to police services and to communities suffering from epidemics of auto theft.
One thing we know, as the justice committee and parliamentarians in general, is police forces have their hands full, their resources are not necessarily growing and, overall, the criminal element in our country is getting leaner, sleeker, smarter, better resourced, more focused and more efficacious. This is the battle we are fighting on every front, not just auto theft.
However, it particularly bears down on auto theft. The theft of an auto, whether it is for the purposes of committing another crime for temporary use, or committing some other crime of a violent nature so as to hide the identity of perpetrators or the cash value of vehicles, this is an epidemic in our larger communities, for sure. The intelligence of the criminal community in disassembling vehicles, obliterating vehicle identification numbers and transporting parts of cars or whole cars internationally is not in the decline; it is on the rise. Whatever we can do in a modest way to make that better, we should all be for it.
Bill S-9 attempts to amend the Criminal Code. It was introduced, in this case, in the Senate and received first reading on May 4. As I mentioned, it is identical to Bill C-26 and targets motor vehicle theft. It also addresses trafficking in any other property obtained by crime in the exporting and importing of such property.
The raw notion was that we should create a separate offence for auto theft. That, in itself, is a good thing. If we look at the intent of code to develop the importance or hierarchy of offences, one would be surprised perhaps that cattle theft is defined separately in the code, but auto theft is not. Therefore, it is probably time, since the book originates from 1892, that we put auto theft at least on par with cattle theft, with all due deference to ranchers. The auto is the new horse and a way of getting around the community since 1920. Therefore, we are getting in the game and modernizing, and good for us.
It fits very nicely just after section 333 of the code, at about the middle of the section called “PART IX OFFENCES AGAINST RIGHTS OF PROPERTY”. The code speaks first about offences against the person. It speaks mostly about offences against the rights of property. Then it is almost two-thirds caught up with specific offences, modes of trial and procedural aspects of the code, which are so important.
To get back to the very simple nature of the bill, creating the new offence of vehicle theft as punishable is a good thing. We can all support it. It takes it to a maximum sentence of 10 years, which shows that we feel that auto theft is important. It is a serious crime. In the case of a third or subsequent offence, it also provides a mandatory minimum of six months.
There has been a lot of discussion about mandatory minimum sentences in the House and in the newspapers. I think people must understand that this is nothing new, that mandatory minimum sentences in strategic tactical areas have been introduced since the 1980s, more particular under a former Liberal government with respect to specific violent crimes involving guns and organized crime. They were implemented in a very thorough way in 1995. Adding mandatory minimums to a number of offences in the Conservative government's regime has been somewhat scattered, but let us examine it in this case.
If a person steals an automobile with intent to commit another crime, to obliterate the VIN or just simply steals a vehicle three times, is it reasonable that a minimum sentence be applied of six months? We think it is. We think this is a reasonable balance which would meet the test.
The overall test of sentencing in our country in section 718 is proportionality. It bears repeating that section 718 should be the start of any review of offences, any creation of offences, any change to offences because it sets out a scale of how we treat criminals once they have been convicted. Everyone should pay attention to the balance in section 718.
I suppose some would say that we should make rehabilitation of the convicted person the only agenda. I understand and have sympathy for that because every criminal is somebody's son or daughter and every criminal has a very good chance of going back into the community, so we ought to do our best to rehabilitate the incarcerated person. There is no question about that. It is important.
To make it overriding seeks to destroy the balance created within section 718. That balance must include denunciation of the act. In our country the strongest denunciation we give is to offences like murder. Murder in the first degree carries denunciation, meaning a person will be denounced by the judge or a jury of his or her peers by being given a sentence of life in prison with the eligibility for parole, which takes rehabilitation into account.
Therefore, there is a balance regarding deterrence, which is the third factor, suggesting that if the court gives a sentence, through following the laws of Parliament, of severity grave enough to stop someone else from doing the same thing is a good societal reason to up the sentence or consider it.
One of the final considerations in the big four is to remove the person from the public if there is harm.
Keeping all of those in mind, sentences must be proportionate to the offence created. Therefore, we feel that these mandatory minimums placed in this stand-alone section for auto theft are reasonable. They are not new in terms of sentencing and they are something with which we as lawmakers can live.
The stand-alone aspect of the bill is needed. It is modernizing the code. The mandatory minimum that attaches with it is proportionate.
Also, we always have to be mindful of the other provisions in section 718, which specifically suggest that if an aboriginal person is convicted of such an offence, the court must find a way to take into account the special circumstances of the aboriginal community. As we know, aboriginals represent such a high proportion of incarcerated people in our country. There is something wrong that and that is why the section was brought in, under a previous Liberal government. The section suggests to judges that they must take into consideration alternative measures that would better suit the convicted aboriginal person.
I do not see this in any way interfering with the duty of a judge to take that into consideration because the mandatory minimum, frankly, is a short time. Through our committee hearings, we did not hear of the disproportionality of first nations and aboriginal offenders with respect to this proposed offence in auto theft.
That leaves us with the other aspects of the bill, which are quite innovative, and we must compliment the Department of Justice for crafting legislation which is pretty tricky. Those are aspects with respect to giving our Canada Border Services Agency more power with respect to the exporting of vehicles and with respect to the obliteration of the vehicle identification number, or VIN. Those are two topics on which I will spend the rest of my time.
Let us tackle the VIN. I hesitate using the word tackle because it seems every Conservative bill tackles and solves a problem by its short title, when in fact it is a gradual evolution to the good of the Criminal Code. We would prefer the government to be less full of hyperbole and excitement with respect to its bills and concentrate on what is actually happening, which albeit is a good thing. It is evolving the Criminal Code to meet the needs of the changes in society. In this case, the vehicle identification number is something that is a bit tricky.
This is the numbered and lettered code on the dash of a vehicle, which identifies one's vehicle. However, members will know that in recent errors with multifaceted production methods, various parts of automobiles have various identification numbers. In any event, it is the manner in which vehicles are identified. The obliteration of that should be an offence on its own.
If there is a reason to obliterate the number, it has to be a pretty good one. At committee, we could only think of people who were in the automotive repair business and might inadvertently obliterate a VIN in repairs effected in the restoration of vehicles that had been damaged. In the case where the part of the vehicle where the VIN had been damaged, there would have to be a lawful excuse. Therefore, we covered it off, with the help of the Department of Justice, by suggesting that without lawful excuse, the VIN should not be obliterated. However, we wanted to maintain that a VIN alteration was a very serious thing and was something new for the Criminal Code. Bravo for all of us agreeing that this should be the case.
The obliteration of or tampering with the VIN is punishable by imprisonment of up to five years. This is in clause 4 of the bill. We thought that exemplified the seriousness with which we viewed tampering with the VIN. Remember that auto theft is a more serious provision because it is a maximum of 10 years. Tampering with the VIN is a maximum of five years. We think this is the right hierarchy.
Another offence that is created is the offence of trafficking in property obtained by crime and possession of property obtained by crime for the purpose of trafficking. This is punishable by a maximum of 14 years and is a very important part of the bill.
In the time that I have left, I will speak about CBSA and our borders.
While this bill is about auto theft, I think we realize that from sea-to-sea-to-sea we have a long, undefended, porous border. We do our best, but it is a fantastically large task for the Canada Border Services Agency to patrol our borders with the same efficacy that smaller nations patrol theirs. One can imagine that the borders of Liechtenstein might be a lot easier to guard, because it is a much a smaller country.
In our case, we have to admit that we have long stretches of border that are undefended and not monitored. For someone attempting to smuggle guns in, smuggle drugs out, or import or export cars or car parts, it must be easier for them to do that than it is for the RCMP, CSIS, the Canadian government, and the Canada Border Services Agency to plug the holes. With that in mind, we thought it was a great idea to allow the Canada Border Services Agency, by amendment, to prevent the cross-border movement of property obtained by crime, including stolen vehicles.
It might come as quite a shock to people not on the justice committee that this was not an offence before. It will be now, if this bill passes. If the bill does not suffer the fate of its previous twins, it will be an offence to move property obtained by crime, like a stolen vehicle or vehicle parts, across the border.
We had to have assurances from the justice department that there was no extraterritoriality provision in this. Really, it is saying that the vehicle that just left is a party to an offence, and the offence is the exportation. The vehicle might already be gone, might already be somewhere else, and there might be legal issues with respect to obtaining the evidence of the crime, which is the exportation.
We know that the Canada Border Services Agency does a good job. We know that it needs funding, law, and the tools to prevent exportation of vehicles and vehicle parts.
I will segue into something that is controversial.
We had a long debate, not so much in Parliament but certainly outside of Parliament, about gun control. I think all of us would agree that guns are often instrumental in the commission of crimes, and that many guns come into this country illegally through our border. I think we should stop and reflect on doing something about that.
These illegal handguns come through a porous border, and we must give the Canada Border Services Agency the tools they need to prevent this traffic. In the case of auto theft, it is exportation, going the other way. But we want to give CBSA the tools and resources to prevent the intrusion of guns upon our sovereignty. The saying goes that “guns do not kill people, people kill people”, but guns are the objects that are used.
When the Canada Border Services Agency appeared before us, it presented itself in a most professional and informed manner. I want to commend CBSA as an agency of the government. I want to make sure that the government understands that it is ready, willing, and able to take on the task of defending our border.
This little part in this little act is a salute to the men and women of the Canada Border Services Agency for the fine job they do in all parts of our country, whether it is airports or borders, seaports or rail stations. The Canada Border Services Agency protects us and needs our help. Bill S-9 delivers that help.
I am pleased to support the bill in general and the federal agencies that will be affected.