Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to begin the debate on Bill C-30, Response to the Supreme Court of Canada Decision in R. v. Shoker Act, an important bill that illustrates our government's desire to improve the safety of our communities.
This bill will help ensure that offenders respect prohibition orders on the consumption of alcohol or drugs, which will better protect our streets and communities from offences committed by people under the influence of drugs and alcohol.
Bill C-30 will once again make it possible to require offenders to provide samples of bodily substances in order to ensure that they are complying with prohibition orders on the consumption of alcohol or drugs. The courts lost that power in the fall of 2006 as a result of the R v. Shoker decision, in which the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the Criminal Code does not grant the courts the authority to order that samples of bodily substances be taken in the context of prohibiting the consumption of alcohol or drugs.
This power is essential to solving one of the glaring problems facing our society: the harm caused by people who abuse drugs or alcohol.
Everyone in the House knows that in this country and around the world, drug and alcohol abuse often leads to all kinds of crime: property crimes, violent crimes and sex crimes. The sheer number of crimes committed by individuals under the influence of drugs or alcohol is staggering. The Correctional Service of Canada estimated that about 50% of the 250,000 convictions handed down every year are directly related to alcohol or drug abuse. The more serious and violent the offence, the more likely it is that the individual committed it after consuming alcohol or drugs. Nearly 80% of the offenders sentenced to two years or more stated that alcohol or drug consumption was the cause of the offence.
We also know that most offenders commit crimes to get the substances they abuse. Approximately 38% of federal offenders dealing with substance abuse problems committed the crime that led to their incarceration in order to support their addictions.
This problem has serious repercussions on society. The victims suffer the most, but their families and the offenders' families suffer, too. Businesses suffer major losses, and the justice system has to bear a heavy burden. They health care system is struggling under the weight of efforts to treat victims' injuries and offenders' addictions. Furthermore, these crimes add to the financial burden on police resources and taxpayers.
We will continue to charge, try and sentence individuals who have committed crimes because of their abusive consumption of alcohol and other substances because, if we do not address their addiction problems, they will continue to commit crimes once they are released.
In Canada, federal and provincial correctional services provide inmates with addiction treatment and counselling services. But this kind of support has to continue once the offender is released. The best tools we have to manage the risk posed by an offender with addictions who is released are conditions that require the offender to participate in a treatment program and to abstain from drugs and alcohol. Such conditions can help eliminate the problem that led to the crime.
For example, every time an offender is sentenced to less than two years in prison, the court can also impose a period of probation that can last up to three years. Every probation order also includes a requirement to keep the peace and be of good behaviour. The court can also impose any other conditions necessary to ensure the offender's rehabilitation and public safety.
As I mentioned earlier, one of the most effective and most commonly used conditions is the prohibition of drugs and alcohol. According to the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, approximately half of all probation orders include such a condition.
Until 2006, judges imposed this condition along with a condition requiring the offender to provide a sample of a bodily substance for analysis on the demand of peace officers and probation officers. This condition made it possible to monitor the offender's conduct and his sobriety after his release. This condition was a deterrent since the offender knew that if he breached his drug and alcohol condition, he might be caught, tried and sentenced to two years for breach of parole.
What is more, it is essential to get a sample of a bodily substance to present as evidence at a trial for breach of parole. This is so important that crown prosecutors who do not have a sample that tested positive are generally reluctant to initiate these types of proceedings. The ability to try an offender for breach of condition prohibiting the use of alcohol or other substances is important, because failure at this point means that the substance abuse would continue, leading to new crimes being committed and more people being victimized.
As I was saying, it used to be common for a sentencing judge to impose a condition requiring the offender to provide a sample of a bodily substance. This practice ended following the Supreme Court ruling in Shoker.
In 2004, the accused was convicted in British Columbia of breaking and entering a dwelling house with intent to commit sexual assault. Mr. Shoker, who had a history of abusing methamphetamines, heroin and cocaine, was sentenced to 20 months in prison followed by 3 years of probation. The probation order stated that he must abstain from consuming drugs or alcohol, participate in a treatment program and, at the request of a peace officer or probation officer, allow the seizure of bodily samples.
The accused appealed, arguing that the condition that he provide bodily samples was unconstitutional because it violated his right to be secure against unreasonable search or seizure, as guaranteed under section 8 of the charter. The case went to the Supreme Court, which concluded in October 2006 that the condition requiring the offender to allow the seizure of bodily samples was illegal.
I should note that the court did not declare that requiring an offender to allow the seizure of bodily samples was fundamentally unconstitutional under section 8 of the charter. It clearly established that Parliament could, if it so decided, enact legislation to authorize the seizure of bodily samples. According to the court, the provisions of the Criminal Code simply do not authorize the sentencing judge to impose such a condition in a probation order. Furthermore, the court rejected the Crown's argument that the probation provisions implicitly authorize the imposition of conditions regarding the seizure of bodily samples.
As a result, the courts have since been unable to impose a condition in a probation order requiring offenders to provide bodily samples.
The Shoker case also had repercussions on Criminal Code provisions related to conditional sentences and peace bonds because they involve conditions similar to those imposed under probation orders.
Bill C-30 proposes to amend Criminal Code provisions related to probation, conditional sentencing and peace bonds by clearly establishing that if a court chooses to impose a condition prohibiting alcohol or drug consumption, it can also impose a condition requiring the offender to provide a sample of a bodily substance to ensure that this person has abstained from alcohol or drugs.
Under the proposed amendments to these three regimes, the court could impose two specific conditions requiring an offender to provide a sample of a bodily substance. First, an offender can be required to provide a sample of a bodily substance at the request of a peace officer or a probation officer, if that person has reasonable grounds to believe that the offender has breached an order requiring them to abstain from using drugs and alcohol.
In addition, the bill provides that the court can also impose a condition requiring the individual to provide a sample of a bodily substance at regular intervals. This supplementary condition could be appropriate in cases where there is an increased chance that the offender will have difficulty abstaining from drug or alcohol use or when increased monitoring is needed.
At least seven days must elapse between each sample, but the intervals may vary. Because the probation officer has a direct role in supervising the offender, it is up to the officer to determine the length of the intervals.
This regime contains another important aspect. It offers the possibility of taking samples of more then one type of bodily substance. This concern was raised when the justice department consulted provincial and territorial justice bureaucrats, specialists, police and probation officers in the wake of the Shoker case. All those consulted indicated that the legislation should confer the authority to take various kinds of samples. Thus, any substance included in the growing list of illegal drugs could be identified. It could also be determined when the drugs were taken and what methods offenders use to avoid detection.
Following the consultations, we concluded that, to be effective, a sampling system must be flexible enough not only to meet current requirements, but also to add new requirements over time. To that end, the bill gives the government the power to make regulations governing the types of samples and the authorized methods for taking samples, and to make changes as requirements evolve.
The bill makes it possible for the federal government to confer, by regulation, the authority to take and analyze samples of urine, breath and blood, for example. It may also designate certain types of sampling when the provinces and territories have confirmed their ability in that regard.
I would also like to point out that the authority to make regulations under Bill C-30 has another important role. In fact, it makes it possible to ensure that provincial and territorial representatives responsible for administering the taking of samples do so in accordance with national standards established by the federal government. Although the provinces and territories may determine their own rules for the operational aspects of the system—designating the persons that may take samples, where and when sampling can occur, as well as the manner for storing and destroying samples—the provincial rules are subject to the federal regulatory framework.
This serves two specific objectives. First, each administration can manage the system in its own territory. It can decide on the applicable operational characteristics, which may vary from one administration to the next.
Second, the administrative aspects of the sampling system will not affect the subject's privacy or the samples' integrity. It guarantees that the offenders concerned are treated fairly under this system.
The attorney general of the province will thus be able to designate the persons authorized to take blood samples; however, this discretionary power will be limited by the federal regulations. The regulations could give only qualified doctors the authority to take blood samples; however, the attorney general of the province could choose to further limit the types of qualified doctors authorized to take blood samples in the province. This type of approach could be used to determine not only who is authorized to take the samples but also the types of containers and the methods for storing, analyzing and destroying the samples.
This framework would provide enough flexibility to meet the operational requirements of all 13 provinces and territories while maintaining minimum national standards. In practical terms, this initiative should encourage each administration to collect samples from offenders more frequently, which will result in increased compliance with the prohibition conditions.
I am pleased that we were able to address this major operational issue for the provinces and territories without compromising the need for national privacy and equity standards.
During the consultations held with the provinces and territories following the publication of the Shoker decision, all administrations agreed that authority must be granted to take samples not only in the case of probation orders, but also in the case of conditional sentence orders and recognizances to keep the peace. As I already mentioned, Bill C-30 makes it possible to achieve this objective.
I would like to specify that all provinces and territories are in favour of the sampling regime set out in the bill.
Before closing, I would like to mention the measures taken by the Attorney General of Canada to guarantee the constitutionality of these changes. Given the numerous factors involved, we are convinced that the proposed changes would survive a charter challenge.
Consider the following points. First of all, the use of samples collected by police or probation officers would have to be strictly limited to verifying compliance with a court-ordered abstention condition. Second, the results of the analysis could be disclosed to the offender. Third, the probation officer would have to provide the offender with comprehensive written notice of any obligation to provide a sample at regular intervals, including information as to where and when the sample will be taken. Fourth, there must be a provision whereby a sample may be taken only when there are reasonable grounds to believe that the individual has breached the abstention condition. Fifth, anyone who takes part in the taking, handling, storing or destruction of samples would have to obey very specific rules. Sixth, the samples and the results of the analysis would have to be destroyed when the condition expires, unless the analysis is needed as evidence in legal proceedings resulting from a breach.
In closing, I am proud to say that I believe we have introduced a good bill that deserves the support of all members of this House. It is an effective, appropriate response to the Supreme Court of Canada's decision in R v. Shoker. It gives police and probation officers the tools they need to ensure that offenders with substance abuse problems take their rehabilitation seriously. It allows courts to impose conditions with the assurance that those conditions can be monitored and enforced. Lastly, this bill has the support of all 13 provinces and territories.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker, for the opportunity to speak to this important initiative.