Madam Speaker, once again it is a privilege to rise to speak to this critical legislation before the House. I would say it is a pleasure, but considering the contents of the bill and what I think it will do not only to our country but to our community safety in Canada, I cannot, in all conscience, say that.
I will start by addressing the procedure by which the bill is being introduced in the House.
I have heard members on the opposite side continually try to justify ramming through the legislation. For Canadians watching, they should know that this is an omnibus bill. The government has packaged together nine separate pieces of legislation and thrown it into one bill before the House. As if that is not enough, the government has imposed limits on the ability of Parliament to examine the bills in detail by bringing in closure, which limits debate.
The members of the government have tried to justify this by saying that this has been debated in previous Parliaments. I will pause for a moment to say how fundamentally undemocratic that position is.
Each election Canadians go to the polls to elect a different Parliament. Many members in the House were not present in the previous Parliament. Citizens in their ridings elected members to come to the House because they were trusted to come here and examine the legislation, debate it, understand it and propose amendments.
For the government to deny those members that right, and by extension, to reject the choice of those Canadians who democratically chose those people to come here on their behalf is a fundamental rejection of the rights of Canadians to send a representative of their choice to Parliament. Those Canadians do not care what someone in a previous Parliament has said. Many of those members were defeated. Canadians care what current members in the House have to say about the legislation. The position of the government is fundamentally undemocratic.
I also want to point out what a turnaround this is from the old approach of the Conservatives on the invocation of closure. Through our research, we found dozens of references by the Prime Minister when he was in opposition on the use of closure by government, which he opposed.
This is what the former minister of public safety, Stockwell Day, said in the House:
A columnist wrote something interesting today. He wrote that in his view the decision to invoke closure on the bill represented in some ways the death of the true meaning of parliament. Parliament is the ability to gather together as elected representatives to talk, discuss, debate and hopefully do things that can enrich the lives and in this case the safety and security of Canadians. The federal Liberal government has failed Canadians.
Yet today the Conservatives stand in the House and say, “That's okay, we can ram through a bill that's going to fundamentally change our country and we don't need to debate it”. That is fundamentally wrong.
On the bill itself, our Parliament is poised to reshape Canada's criminal justice system in significant ways and, I would submit, Canada itself. With the omnibus so-called tough on criminals bill, we have a representation of the biggest change to our justice system in recent memory about to be undertaken and, once again, with very little debate.
I think we are all anticipating and participating in a watershed moment in Canadian history, and this matters. It matters for our safety and it matters for the kind of country we want Canada to be.
Surely one key test of a society is how we treat the most vulnerable and, even more important, sometimes how we treat the most despised. Justice policies offer a glimpse into the soul of a nation.
Without exception, I believe those of us who are charged with policy and practice care deeply about victims and their families. We want to prevent crime when we can, but we want to reduce the economic and human costs when we cannot.
I submit that policies and practices should be guided by the following three imperatives.
The first is public safety. In other words, what does the evidence tell us about what works to make our homes and streets safe?
The second is freedom. How do we ensure a measured response that protects our civil liberties, constrains the state and holds it accountable when our freedom is at stake?
Last is justice. What is a just, proportionate and humane punishment when a citizen is found guilty of a crime? Of course the system must adapt to changing times and new knowledge, but rates of crime and violence have been falling for about three decades. That does not permit complacency, nor does it suggest the need for a fundamental change of direction.
I want to put some facts before the House. The police reported crime rate, which measures the overall volume of crime in this country, continued its long-term downward trend in 2010, declining 5% from 2009. At the same time, the crime severity index, which measures the severity of crime, fell 6%. The national crime rate has been falling steadily for the past 20 years and it is now at its lowest level since 1973.
In 2010 police reported 7,200 fewer violent incidents than in the previous year. Theft under $5,000, mischief and break-ins, relatively minor crimes, accounted for close to two-thirds of the almost $1.7 million non-violent offences.
Alberta and British Columbia, the province that I hail from, reported the largest declines in crime in 2010. It fell 6% in both provinces. The crime severity index decreased by 8% in Alberta and 7% in British Columbia.
Police reported that nearly 153,000 youth 12 to 17 years of age were accused of a crime in 2010. That is 15,000 fewer than in the previous year. The youth crime rate, which measures the overall volume of crime committed by youth, declined by 7%.
We know that aboriginals are historically and disproportionately represented in our federal prisons, particularly aboriginal women. We know that 80% of offenders in our federal system right now suffer from an addiction. We know that mental illness is at alarming proportions in our federal prisons. People who are brain damaged, suffering from fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, low cognition, poorly educated, the addicted, the mentally ill of every single type, are populating our prisons.
I said this in my last speech and I will say it here today. I have done something that I dare say 95% of members in the House have not done. I have walked through the doors of 25 federal institutions in this country. I have talked to correctional officers, to wardens, to prison psychologists and to inmates. I have sat across the table from people doing life sentences. I have canvassed a cross-section of people who actually know what they are talking about in the prison system in this country. I have seen what kind of services are, and most importantly, what kind of services are not offered in our federal system.
I can tell members that this bill puts together an approach to crime that not only is expensive, that not only will cost Canadian taxpayers billions of dollars, but it will not make a single iota of difference in terms of making our communities safer. The reason I say that is that it misses the mark.
Of course there are people who commit crimes and have to be locked away to protect the public. Of course there are some people in federal institutions who have to be locked up for their natural lives. However, the vast majority of people in our federal institutions are people who will be coming out. Over 90% of people in federal prisons today are going to come out.
What we need to do if we are truly interested in making sound policy in this country instead of playing to what I will call in a few minutes, junk politics, is to be making sure that we have adequate alcohol and drug treatment programs in prison, and we do not now. We need to make sure that we have vocational and occupational programs in our prisons, and we do not now. We need to make sure that we have adequate psychological, nursing and occupational therapy services in our prisons to deal with the real problems that our offenders are facing in prison, and we do not now.
The sum total of the bill is based on a concept that if we lock up more Canadians for longer periods of time in harsher conditions, it would make our country safer. I have stood in the House three times and challenged Conservative members opposite. I told them they have the resources of the Department of Justice and Public Safety Canada, that surely they have studied this issue.
Every society in the world suffers from crime. We have hundreds of examples to choose from. If we asked the Conservatives to name one country where this approach to crime has achieved a noticeable drop in crime, they would not be able to come up with one example.
Before we embark on a policy of spending billions of dollars, let us make sure that we can spend taxpayer dollars wisely and make sure it will actually make us safer. The bill does not do that.