Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege and always a pleasure to speak to any bill that come before Parliament, particularly this bill, which has been a long time in the period of gestation. It began as Bill C-52. One would have hoped it would have had time to morph into a bill that was somewhat more acceptable, but Bill C-21 is still very much the same bill that was brought to us some time ago.
There has been criticism that the opposition parties have delayed the passing of the bill, but, as we all know, it was the government's own action of having introduced the bill and then, last December 30, taking the tremendous liberty of proroguing the House and causing all the legislation that had previously introduced to simply fall off the order paper. The government brought back a new bill. Even though it had supposedly been recalibrated during that time, the bill was virtually identical to the bill it had originally presented.
As part of its overall supposed tough on crime agenda, the government has attempted to tackle this crime but with only a very limited effectiveness.
As most members know, we will support the bill, but it is with some difficulty that we take those steps. We know the bill, while it will probably not cause a great deal of damage, as many of the government's other bills do, it will not be effective in tackling the problem it purports to tackle.
This problem we are talking about is not simply an issue. It is about real people who have trusted their life savings and their very lives into the hands of people who have abused that trust. These people have taken their money and have invested it in schemes that have been fraudulent in nature. This has often resulted in them being left in the care of their families, or friends or on public welfare rolls. This is a serious problem that requires serious attention, not simply window dressing.
Bill C-21 will probably cause no more harm than is already in the system, but it will not be effective. It will not reduce the incidence of this type of crime. Nor will it provide more resources to the prosecution of this kind of crime. Unless we stop the crime before it happens or, failing that, prosecute those who are criminally involved in fraudulent activities, it does not matter whether we have mandatory minimums or various other aspects of this that the bill purports to add to our Criminal Code. It will not help the people who the government says it will help.
The government is fond of saying that it has a bias toward victims and is against the criminals. Everyone in the House has a bias against those who commit crimes and a bias for those who are victims of crime. Whether those a crimes against their person, against their property or against their life savings, every member of the House cares about it. As the government presents its so-called tough on crime agenda, no one can take seriously any longer that it is truly trying to address crime.
This summer I had the opportunity of doing a fair amount of canvassing through the different neighbourhoods of my riding of Don Valley West. About this time, the President of the Treasury Board announced that the government was planning to spend $9 billion on new jails. He baffled most of us who care about reducing crime when he referred to a dated survey about so-called unreported crime. While all statistics continue to point to a slow but steady reduction in crime rates in the country, the President of the Treasury Board pointed to this survey to justify building more and bigger jails.
This is the obvious question. In the event of an unreported crime who exactly will go to jail? If that cannot be answered, then his rhetoric is another example of ideology over reason, fiction over fact and policy based evidence rather than evidence based policy.
It is certain that Canadians care about all kinds of crime, including white-collar crime. While canvassing in Leaside, York Mills and Don Mills, a number of residents raised issues of vandalism, property crime, auto theft, personal violence and fraudulent white-collar crime as well.
Flemingdon Park residents expressed concerns about separate violent incidents that left people feeling personally threatened. Residents in Thorncliffe Park noted an increase in graffiti and vandalism in the community garden. Northlea residents expressed concerns about traffic safety and the high accident rate.
However, statistics show that crime prevention strategies and especially community policing, good education, programs that strengthen family life and a stronger social safety net do more to stop crime, all sorts of crime, than the building of megajails or than bills that have cute, trendy titles as though the government is actually doing something serious about crime.
One Don Valley West resident was eloquent when he said to me, “A bigger prison won't stop my car from being stolen and the higher insurance rates that come along with that. We have to find ways to stop the crime before it's even contemplated”. This means taking a look at the whole of the fabric of our social safety net, about the fabric of society, about the way we fund education and health care, the way we deal with people who are poor, or people who have committed one crime and how we help them get back into society to make meaningful lives and contribute to our communities.
Ironically the work that was called upon by the President of the Treasury Board was done by Statistics Canada just as the government was planning changes to the census, which has been decried by experts around the world. To govern this complex, constantly changing country, more information about crime, not less, is essential. Reason and intelligence should never be replaced by fear and ignorance when it comes to any sort of policy making.
Equally essential, when dealing with crime, is listening to the experts. The government is loathe to bring in experts to talk about what it is we need to do to fight all kinds of crime, including white-collar crime. The government does not want to listen to the chiefs of police across the country when it comes to talking about a long gun registry. I do not know who Conservatives consulted when they came up with this bill, but I know that when I talk to police officers and regulators who deal with these kinds of crimes, they tell me they do not have the resources to have effective, constant prosecution of the kinds of crime.
It does not matter whether minimum mandatory sentences are instituted if we do not prosecute the criminals. If we do not have the resources to go out and get the bad guys, then we cannot impose mandatory minimum sentences. It is like building megaprisons for unreported crime. These crimes may in fact be reported, but they are not prosecuted. Whether it is unreported crime or unprosecuted crime, the government is not taking crime seriously. It is window dressing, it is slogan making and it is simple electioneering, which constantly goes on.
When it gets to actually dealing with crime, I think what Canadians want is a smart, strong response from our government, from our police forces and from the judiciary. This year I was part of a party that supported many of the projects of law that the government offered us because parts of our system had grown lax. However, the overwhelming mandate of our judicial and corrections systems still must be the rehabilitation and reintegration into community of those who have committed crimes. We are not going to change crime rates in our country and further reduce them without a sense of stopping the crimes before they happen. If they have happened, we rehabilitate the criminals so they do not offend again. This is common sense. This is about making a stronger society. This is about actually doing something positive and about making our world a better place.
As a member last year of the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security, I toured federal prisons across the country. I was appalled at the poor mental health capacity at all facilities, the lack of programming for inmates and the fact that more inmates left with drug and alcohol addictions than came in with them. Think about the fact that when people enter jails, they are healthier than when they get out. When they enter jails, they come with certain problems, but they are exacerbated by their life in prison. The mental health capacity, the alcohol and drug treatment capacity is simply too limited to actual criminals who will, even if we have mandatory minimum sentences, get out of jail one day. They will be back on the streets in our communities. If we do not take the time to help them, they will be in trouble.
We have a government that talks about a thicker border with the United States. The government cannot keep drugs and alcohol out of our jails, out of maximum security prisons with thick walls already, yet we expect it to actually stop the drug trade from coming across the border from the United States.
The reality is that we have problems in our prisons, we have problems in our communities, and this kind of law-making does not further our goal of making a better Canada, better families and better communities. It takes a reasoned approach. It actually looks at evidence and bases policy in real facts and real evidence and has a sense that we work with human nature and we actually believe that we can be a better human race.
We obviously have to have incentives in those systems. We actually have to have a way to make our world a better place, and I think we tried to do some of that in committee as a party when we were offering some amendments to this bill.
Building superjails for unconvicted criminals of unreported crimes, adding mandatory minimums without providing resources for prosecution, attempting to solve a problem that is complex and involves several levels of government with a simple bill with a cute title is not good governance. We need to support stopping crime at a community level, in our school systems, with a sense that what we are doing is about making a better society.
Smart on crime is truly tough on crime, and this bill is simply not smart enough on crime. Yes, we will be supporting it. Yes, we will add our vote to it to get it off the table so that we can actually get on to some more important work, but the government needs to hear the lack of enthusiasm we have in this. It needs to hear that we think it could have been a better bill.
We think a mandatory minimum without truly a system of restitution is actually going to be a problem. We have to find better ways of saying to the elderly or to the young in our society who lose their life savings to a fraudster that we are going to find a way, through a banking system that is more effective, through checks and balances all through our regulatory bodies, to get some of that money back.
If there is a fraud that is $27 million in nature and there are several hundred people who have actually lost their savings in that scheme, that money, I am quite convinced, did not disappear. We have to figure out where that money is. If that money has gone into the international banking system, we have to find a way to build a system that Canada is part of, that can actually take this issue seriously and find where that money has gone, so that it can go back to the people who were originally the losers in the fraud scheme.
That, of course, would take an international stature. That would actually take a prime minister and a minister of finance who knew their way around the international tables of this country, of this world. We would have to have the kind of status and stature in the world where the other nations at the United Nations would give us a seat on the Security Council, where they would respect us because of our standing on climate change, on border security, on our role in peacekeeping missions around the world, or on our diplomatic ability to actually solve the problems that need to be solved.
It is that kind of government that can actually effect a change, find the money and get it back to Canadians who need to have true restitution of what they lost. They need to have a recovery.
What this bill lacks is a true sense of where the victim is. If the crime is of a personal nature or a physical nature, or if someone has been killed or hurt, it is impossible to restore that person to where he was or she was before the crime happened. This is not an impossibility. This bill, frankly, is only about money, which is not hard to restore to the person who has lost it. The government needs to know where it is, though, and it needs to find ways to do it.
What is lacking in this is not only the international scope but even within the federalism of Canada. What this bill also requires to be effective is a system where Canada works more effectively with the provinces to understand where the jurisdictional interplay is in the various regulatory systems that affect Canada.
Obviously, if I am in a regulated profession that is part of a provincial jurisdiction and I am going to be disciplined, the federal government needs to find a way to co-operate with the provinces and territories. That means sitting around a table with them.
When is the last time there was a first ministers' conference? When is the last time we had the premiers and the Prime Minister of this country gather together and deal with some of these important issues: financial issues, economic issues, building a country, safety issues, public security issues and how it is that we gather together our federal resources with a federal vision, which my party believes in if there is a place for the federal government to be involved in the aspects that we are given responsibility for, and to work with provinces and territories in the areas where they are given responsibility?
This takes a certain style of government that is co-operative, that likes to listen, that likes to add value and knows that others will add value at the same time. That is what is sadly lacking in this bill.
Liberals proposed several amendments to this bill that I think we need to be sure are on the record, that we were not able to accomplish. We wanted to strengthen the bill. We may be the official opposition, but we are also a party of constructive criticism. We will take a bill and try to strengthen it, try to make it better, try to actually help it accomplish what it was supposed to accomplish.
The Liberal justice critic introduced an amendment at committee that would add market manipulation of stock prices, shares, merchandise or anything else that is offered for sale to the public, through the definition of what could be punished by the mandatory minimum sentence. The amendment failed at committee, with the Conservatives, the Bloc and the NDP all voting against it. It would have expanded the scope of this legislation to make it possible to go into other areas of economic activity that absolutely needed to be considered.
The Liberal justice critic also recommended that an amendment be introduced to modify the Corrections and Conditional Release Act in order to eliminate the one-sixth accelerated parole review rule for white collar criminals. This amendment was ruled out of order by the chair and that was subsequently upheld on a challenge, due to support from the Bloc Québécois.
One would have to ask why. The reality is that Liberals were attempting to make an important amendment that we felt was within the broad scope of this bill, that was not out of character with it and could actually make it more effective. Unfortunately, the Bloc Québécois did not support that.
Yes, indeed, a technical amendment by the Liberal Party was adopted. This amendment, supported by the opposition parties, requires that the court would issue an explanation of a restitution order only when a victim seeks restitution and the court decides not to make such an order. This amendment addresses concerns that were raised by the Canadian Bar Association to relieve some pressures on an already taxed criminal justice system.
Liberals want to find a way to make legislation work. Legislation needs to be more than advertisements. It needs to be more than signs that are placed in front of projects as though the government is actually doing something. We will come back to this legislation when we are in power. We will have an omnibus return-to-sanity bill that will look at the kinds of things that were done. We are going to try to find a way to fix the things that were inappropriate and take the things that we hope would be effective but will probably be proven to have not made the kinds of differences that the government promised.
We will come back to these issues. It was the last Liberal government that brought in the first changes to make sure that white collar crime was taken seriously. We are a party that cares about crime. We are a party that actually wants to reduce crime. We are a party that wants to rehabilitate criminals. We are a party that is aware that no matter how long people are sentenced for, they will one day get out, and if they get out in worse condition than when they went in, our streets, homes, villages and cities are not safer. They are simply not better.
The government needs to know that no matter how long people are locked up for, one day they will be once again living in our neighbourhoods and once again committing crimes if they have not had the kind of care, treatment and effective programming that will help them rehabilitate themselves. We in the Liberal Party actually believe in humans and the human ability to restore ourselves, to make our communities better, and that we can move from poor behaviour to better behaviour.
We actually think there is a chance for redemption, if I can use that word at this season, for individuals. There is possibly even redemption for political parties, and we would pray for that as well.