Mr. Speaker, the Shoker bill is a response to a decision by the Supreme Court of Canada that came down in February 2006. The government is finally getting around to dealing with this almost five years after the ruling.
The ruling, even in 2006, was not a surprise because it started at the trial level, went to the Court of Appeal and then the Supreme Court of Canada. In each case, as I recall, the rulings were the same all the way up to the Supreme Court of Canada.
It was interesting to listen to the parliamentary secretary in response to a question from the opposition side saying that the government needed three years to consult before it could even draft the bill. I have a hard time with that. The reality is that it has decided that this bill and correcting the problem are not very important because it does not do the usual thing that its crime bills do. There are no easy victims that it can trot out for photo ops and push its ideological agenda with regard to crime.
On the other hand, for our police forces in particular, and our prosecutors and judges who deal with the criminal justice system, this is a very important problem for them. The solution is quite clear. I am not suggesting that the government could have turned this around overnight but almost five years after the fact is way too long.
In terms of the constant false accusations that we hear from the Minister of Justice about opposition parties delaying crime bills, this bill is before the House only because I asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice a couple of weeks ago why we were bothering with this bill going through its normal process.
It is a technical bill and, even though the bill is fairly lengthy, it is quite simple. We are responding to the Supreme Court of Canada decision. It was only before the House earlier this week and today for debate on the agreement of all parties that we will limit debate and send it through all stages today once I finish my speech.
What it really says is that the government has a priority around crime but only where it benefits it from a partisan political standpoint, and this bill does not do that. I want to go back to just how important this bill is for the police officer on the street. I will put it in context.
I cannot remember how long this goes back, but for a long time people have signed recognizances when they are initially charged and they are sometimes released with financial bail but usually just on conditions and most often those conditions are for the individual to abstain from the consumption of alcohol or, at the very least, drugs and other illicit substances of that nature. There are many cases of where people have been convicted within the criminal justice system and put on probation or, as part of their parole when they come out of incarceration, the same conditions, which are no consumption of alcohol or drugs.
What has been a practice for about 20 to 30 years that I am aware of is that if police officers, in their normal course of duty, came across individuals who were subject to a recognizance, probation order or parole order, including these conditions, and became suspicious that they were breaching those conditions, they would demand a sample, usually urine but sometimes blood, and if the analysis of the substance was that there was alcohol or drugs present, they would lay a charge against the individuals for breach of recognizance, probation or parole and the courts would then deal with it, with the analysis being the principal piece of evidence against the individual.
Around 2004, the Shoker case came before the courts on a charge of breach of probation. The defence counsel raised, for the first time in Canada, that there was no authority anywhere in our criminal laws that allowed the police to demand the sample. Even though accused people, convicted people in most cases, had probably breached their terms of probation or parole, there was no way police officers could demand what in effect was the proof they needed.
As I said earlier, it was found that this was the case, that there was no authority for the police to do this. It went through the Court of Appeal and on up to the Supreme Court of Canada, all confirming there was no authority and unless the federal government set in place provisions within the Criminal Code and a system as to how those samples would be dealt with, the practice had to cease, and that has happened.
The result of that is we have substantial frustration within our police forces. If police officers have a very solid suspicion that a person has breached these conditions, the consumption of alcohol or drugs, they are prohibited to act on that. Unless police officers actually catch the person in the process of consuming alcohol or drugs, which is rare for them to do, there are no effective means of proving the person has broke his or her parole conditions. When police officers catch people who they are suspicious of doing this, they have to turn a blind eye and let the person go.
I want to emphasize the significance of what this has meant in one area. In trying to combat the street gangs, a few years ago Police Chief Blair in Toronto, the chief in Halifax more recently and I believe in Calgary as well will charge an individual who the police are suspicious of is part of a street gang, oftentimes a violent street gang. In most cases that person will get out on bail, but he or she will be under these conditions.
Police forces have been targeting specific areas of their cities. They have been going to the houses of those people every day to check on them, particularly if they are on a curfew. If they have breached their conditions under that recognizance, then they will charge them, and in most cases those people will then be incarcerated until their trial.
It has been a very effective tool. There are areas in the city of Toronto with I am fairly familiar. There are two areas in particular where the crime rate among the youth gangs dropped by 30%, 40% and 50% because of this tool. We have no way of proving this, but we can argue that if Shoker did not apply and if we had Bill C-30 in place, it would be even more effective. In cases where police officers are suspicious of drug or alcohol consumption prohibited by the signing of a recognizance order, they have no way to charge them because they cannot prove it.
We were speculating in the earlier debate on this that the number of cases where the police have been unable to charge people clearly has to be in the thousands over the last five or six years. Again, it is not an issue that the government felt was important enough to deal with, but it has certainly been a very important one for our front-line police officers.
I will go back to the decision by the Supreme Court. It was made very clear that there had to be a clear regime of how the samples would be demanded, how they would be treated and how they would ultimately would be disposed of. I acknowledge that the government has done this, which is a bit surprising given some of the other things it does with crime bills.
The government made it quite clear, and I suppose it was because the Supreme Court would have ruled this ultimately, that any of the samples could only be used for the purposes of proving the breach. The samples could not be used in any other criminal charges.
The importance of that is to be very clear to the Canadian public generally that we understand, the courts understand and the criminal justice system understands that asking for a bodily fluid sample is an invasion of that person's general rights to privacy. Therefore, we had to be very careful, and the Supreme Court made this clear in its decision, in upholding the lower court ruling. That was the major reason for doing it. It said that this was a major incursion into an individual's rights of privacy.
I want to make it clear that this is no reflection on the average police officer. However, some police officers, who were either overly zealous or abusive of their authority, would make unreasonable demands. Therefore, it wants to be very clear that if these demands are made, they are made for a very limited purpose in compliance with that court order or recognizance or parole condition and only for that purpose, thereby reducing the potential for those demands to be made unreasonably or abusively.
That section is in Bill C-30 and it is one that is in keeping with both the wording and the spirit of the Supreme Court of Canada's decision in R. v. Shoker.
As well, I want to be quite clear on the fact that the bill deals with the three separate areas where it is used. I made reference to the recognizance. The majority of cases where the police will attempt to enforce this are probably the recognizance cases. Again, when individuals are charged but not yet convicted or found innocent, if they do not want to be incarcerated pending their trials, they are required sign this recognizance, which in effect is a court order at that point.
There are very standard clauses in the recognizance right across the country. The abstinence from alcohol and drugs is a very common one. Not associating with certain people is also a very common one. Being subject to a curfew between certain hours, not being out on the street, having to be in their residence and having to maintain a regular residence, is very standard. Those are the most common ones that I can think of just off hand. The one on alcohol and drugs is really important.
It is hard to perhaps make the case without talking about the methodology and the mechanism that was used in New York to reduce the amount of crime. Generally the chief of police, but also Mayor Giuliani, really insisted on this. We can look to other communities in the U.S., and in some cases now Canada because of the current administration, where they use legislative responses to high crime rates.
Any number of studies in the United States and some here have shown that a legislative response generally is much less effective in dropping the crime rates than it is using these kinds of tactics. I mentioned the ones that Chief Blair used in Toronto and the ones that chief in Halifax uses currently. I believe other chiefs have done it as well.
New York City went after the little crimes. We talk about them cleaning up the graffiti. One of the areas that it went after was breaches of conditions, and the alcohol and drug one was the major one. Again, much was done in Toronto, this was widespread across the city. If people were caught consuming alcohol or drugs when they were prohibited to under the recognizance, they ended up back in jail.
The effect was the serious crime rate for crimes such as drug trafficking and serious violent crimes, not the graffiti, not consumption of illicit drugs, dropped dramatically because the person was incarcerated and was physically removed. It also it gave the message to that crime element in New York City that it would not longer be tolerated. If people did something like this, they would be caught.
It comes back to everything I learned in law school, in my law practice and in all the work that I have done here as a member of Parliament. It completely reaffirms, every time, that we could have a safe society, as safe as we can make it, by saying to that criminal element, those people who are so anti-social that they will commit crimes, and by convincing them that if they commit that crime, they will be caught. If we have a society where the vast majority of crimes are identified and prosecuted successfully, we very much drive crime rates down and we protect our citizens, which is our fundamental responsibility as parliamentarians.
The fact that we have been unable to do this for the last four or five years has resulted in more crimes being committed that otherwise would not have been. We would have had these people either getting the message clearly that they would not get away with this, or they might be incarcerated and not available to commit crimes. That is why this is so important.
The other point I want to make is with regard to those individuals who have been convicted, whether they are on provincial probation orders from the courts or they are under a parole order from our corrections authorities at the federal level. The availability of this right to demand samples and to use them is a key ingredient for those people, such as the social workers and corrections officers, who supervise people who are out on probation or subject to a parole order.
It is one of the key ways they have of being able to say to people that they are engaged in lives very actively, that they want to ensure they do not commit a crime again. This is the message that goes to people who have been incarcerated but who are now out. The message is they are very closely monitoring their conduct. If they are subject to an order that requires them to abstain from alcohol or drugs and they identify or become suspicious that they have breached that, then they will insist the samples be given. If they are correct in their suspicions, those people will be charged.
It is the ability of the corrections officers to use that tool in their monitoring and supervision that makes their jobs a lot easier. That is not the only consideration, but the major consideration is it makes their jobs much more effective. The enforcement of the probation orders and the enforcement of the parole conditions are much easier if they know they have the ability to turn to the police and say that they are suspicious, that they believe the person whom they have been supervising has breached his or her conditions and that they want to use the provisions of Bill C-30 and take the sample. If the person has breached the condition, then the individual will be charged. This technique makes their jobs much more effective.
Again it begs this question. How many people out on probation, who were not caught quickly enough, who have deviated from the path they were supposed to following, get into more serious crimes? We do not know. I have had comments from other members who have worked in this area in the past and it has to be in the thousands. Therefore, a lot of crimes may have been prevented had this been in effect.
The bill will go through the House today. It will get to the Senate. Hopefully it will not play any of its delaying tactics and we will have this before the courts for use in the next few weeks.