Mr. Speaker, I wish I could say that I rise here today to speak to Bill C-10 feeling optimistic that I could change things. Instead I have the impression that my speech here today is like our swan song to everyone regarding a bill that is full of flaws and will do more harm than good.
Under these circumstances, as my hon. colleague from Davenport said earlier, we are wondering why we are proceeding in such a hurry, with only two and a half hours of debate here today. It is unbelievable that we are at third reading and we have only two and a half hours to debate Bill C-10 and give it the House of Commons' final seal of approval. At 1:30 p.m., it will all be over and this bill will be sent to the Senate.
This week, the government tried to propose some amendments. Amendments are proposed in order to try to improve the bill or make changes to it. I am a member of the justice committee. The four NDP representatives tried incessantly to propose amendments, not to undermine the bill or its objective of making our streets safer, but to ensure that the objective the government keeps talking about would be achieved. Our proposed amendments were based on the information in several reports we received.
However, people need to understand how this bill was studied. Some have said that the committee conducted a thorough study of the bill, but that is false. I want everyone listening to us here today to know that that is false. Yes, perhaps it was studied in the past, but I was not there, nor were many others who were elected on May 2 to represent their constituents. It is true that the government had announced that it would be introducing a crime bill and that it would pass the House of Commons within the first 100 sitting days.
First, as the Barreau du Québec rightfully says, it is an irresponsible promise. Who can guarantee to Canadians that nine such diverse laws will be changed in the first 100 days? For example, we are talking about terrorism victims, the youth criminal justice system, crimes against children, drug trafficking and so on. These things take time.
I thought Parliament worked like this: at first reading the bill is introduced and at second reading we debate it. We are just scratching the surface with a cursory study. Indeed, some already had the benefit of previous studies from previous Parliaments, but these are not necessarily exactly the same bills.
We saw this with the firearms registry. The government introduced a similar bill, but added a few things. This bill is 100 or so pages long and contains 208 clauses to amend nine acts. We cannot just rubber stamp it because the government says so and that is good enough. As legislators, we have a responsibility, especially when it comes to the criminal justice system. This has an impact on the lives of Canadians. This is not just some bill that changes absolutely nothing. It affects people, victims, families and criminals as well. It affects everyone.
I have said from the start that this has been the most insulting debate I have ever had the opportunity to be a part of in my entire career. This has been the most insulting debate here in Parliament, both when I was here from 2004 to 2006 and now. Why? Because if we did not agree with a single clause in this government bill, we were accused of being pro-criminal, pro-pedophile, pro-whatever. In the meantime, we were just trying to make sure the bill did precisely what it was designed to do.
Can I say mission accomplished? No, not with the shortened debate, not when real experts barely had time to speak. I do not consider myself to be an expert on crime. Far from it. My area of expertise is labour law; but, as a lawyer, I have some knowledge of criminal law. Although it was some time ago, I remember the criminal law courses I took at university. I remember the principles on which this country was built and the presumption of innocence and the fact that the punishment must fit the crime. This is how I analyze things. I study the bill and ask myself if these principles are applied.
In addition, there has been a lot of talk about victims. We also heard from some victims, unfortunately not enough of them to my mind. I would have liked to have spoken a little more at length with some victims about their supposed approval, or endorsement, of the Conservatives' bills.
In fact the beauty of the Conservatives' system is that as soon as someone says it is fine, they immediately stop. They believe that saying it is fine means that there is agreement about everything. However, when we talk one-on-one with people and have a discussion, things are different. I can say that I had more discussions with witnesses who came to see us after the committee meetings because they were only given five minutes at the meetings. That is unbelievable. Our role, our responsibility and our duty, as elected officials and committee members from all parties, is to represent the entire population and not just the 39% of the population who voted for the Conservatives and who may not even have done so because of the promise to enact Bill C-10 within the first 100 days.
Our job is to listen to what these people have to say, have discussions with them and encourage them to think through their arguments to see if they hold water. This also applies to the objections of the Barreau du Québec and the Canadian Bar Association.
I would have liked to further discuss certain subjects but it was impossible because of the time allocated: five minutes. Members were unable to even finish their sentences without being interrupted. It was the same for those who were asking questions. If this is democracy in Canadian Parliament, I would rather not see how things work in countries that we do not think have a democratic system.
This was one of the problems with the process. Many of these victims told us that they did not know much about issues related to terrorism. I therefore understood that they were there only to discuss their right to have a say before a criminal who had served his sentence was released—when he was being considered for parole, for example. We understood that. When we talked with these people about it, there was no problem. Yet since the debate began on Bill C-10, the Conservatives have been saying that if we are not with them, then we are against them. That is not the way to move the debate forward.
What must happen will happen. The official opposition proposed a ton of amendments, which were rejected. We even had to fight like the devil for hours and hours just to have the right to propose amendments and to be able to debate for a reasonable period of time. I grew up thinking that I lived in a democratic country, a country that was not afraid of discussion and debate, where people could have differing viewpoints. Thank you dear Lord for granting us two days until midnight to do the work that was given to us and that should have allowed us to return to the House of Commons and tell our 308 fellow members of Parliament that we thought the bill could now be passed.
There is a third step called third reading. That is where we are right now. What does the government do once again for a 109-page bill that has 208 clauses and modifies nine fundamental laws that have nothing to do with each other? It allows us two and a half hours of debate.
That is laughable. I do not want to be a prophet of doom. I want to tell those watching at home that the government is claiming that Canada will be safer once this bill passes. Once the House has finished studying this bill, it will go to the Senate and there will be press conferences. I almost feel like a psychic with a crystal ball, since I can predict that the Minister of Justice and the Minister of Public Safety will go from police station to police station and will use people who have experienced unspeakable things and people who work tirelessly to make our country safer—I am talking about police officers—to claim that this stack of paper will have a positive impact on their lives.
Yesterday, I read a report that said that 94% of Canadians felt safe in Canada. The Conservatives make it sound as though there is a terrorist or a child rapist around every corner. I am not saying that terrorists or child rapists should not get what they deserve and I am not saying that we should not be cautious. But the government needs to stop sounding the alarm and making people believe something that is untrue and that is not based on any facts.
What we ultimately want is to ensure that the Canadian public feels safe and that criminals are punished for what they have done, based on the nature of the offence and the facts in their case. When I read stories in the newspapers and see that someone spent 20 years in prison only to be declared innocent, I feel rather cheap as a lawmaker and I feel that someone did not do their job. We are trying as much as possible to avoid situations like that.
After talking to one victim, I can say that there is absolutely nothing we can do, as lawmakers, to make up for what victims have been through or what they are going through. Money will never make up for what happened. Yesterday I met with people who work with victims of sexual assault. They say that governments must be more open, to ensure that victims of sexual assault are taken care of quickly, that they are believed and that they are not put on the spot and told that they may have been responsible for the assault.
If we could find a way to ensure that they are supported, to help them recover from their experience, perhaps they would feel a little better. If one was to go and see any victim of crime and tell them the government wants to be tougher on criminals, if one was to say that to any Canadian, myself included, I have no doubt that people would say they want these criminals to receive harsher sentences. As one expert told us—in the mere five minutes he was given in committee—sooner or later, these people will get out of prison. But how will they get out?
That is my concern, and I am no bleeding heart or anything. Once they are locked up in prison, can I simply turn my back and assume that their fate is sealed, that this menace, this dangerous individual, is no longer roaming the streets of my community? Prison guards, whom we did not even have time to hear from in committee, have told me that they are stuck with these people. The guards asked me what we are going to do for them, because they are afraid of working in prisons that are overpopulated. What are we supposed to do with that? The government does not care. The government says there is no need to worry about it, that is not the priority, that is not our concern. One day, if they fear a big headline in the National Post, maybe then the Conservatives will listen and do something about it. Maybe something tragic has to happen for them to act. The Toronto Star is on our side, but perhaps not entirely.
That being said, when we look at all this, there is no way that the bill has been completely thought out without any mistakes. Even the government acknowledges that. When we talk to the victims and we tell them that the offender might eventually be released, we take care of them and provide them with therapy. There are probation officers. We know how the system works because people are released from prison.
I do not know whether hon. members in this House know it, but there is now a section in which the word “pardon” will no longer be used. In Canada, we do not give pardons. If a person is guilty, they are guilty for life. It is true that getting pardon is a privilege.
During a committee meeting, the parliamentary secretary said that if a person commits an offence and is released, if he is given a pardon, then it is in fact society that is giving him a chance. Today, the government wants to suspend this chance for a pardon. It also wants to eliminate measures that told the person we were really going to give him a chance, but if he tripped up again, he would be sent back before the judge. These rules already exist. This bill is not inventing anything new. It is simply a mean-spirited way of telling someone that we are going to stamp his forehead because we want everyone to know that he made a mistake and he will have to live with it for the rest of his life.
It is important to note that 96% of people who are pardoned become and remain good citizens. You just have to talk to people, particularly young people. When I was with the law faculty, some of my colleagues had problems becoming a member of the bar because they had made youthful mistakes. If a person has a prior criminal conviction, he cannot become a member of the bar. Often, people do not even think to request a pardon and do not realize that they can until the last minute. Now, the government is making it more difficult to request a pardon, even in the case of summary convictions.
The government will say that we are thinking too much about criminals, but that is not the issue. We have to achieve a balance. The parliamentary secretary was saying that the Conservatives are the only ones who have a balanced approach, who are logical and who are there for everyone. That is untrue. Everyone agrees that the bill is dangerous because it has so many shortcomings. Why? I am not the one who said this but, according to experts, the people who get out of prison will be more hardened criminals. We have witnessed this. The Americans are now doing the opposite of what we are doing. So there is a problem.
Sometimes, I cannot understand how politicians think. When something goes wrong, they do not do anything about it, and when something goes right, they try to cause trouble to the point where things could go wrong but then they do not do anything about it.
Yesterday, I watched the Minister of Justice's press conference. It took eight months to implement two bills that had already been passed. The Conservatives are tough on crime when it suits them and when they want to send a certain message, but forget about logic and consistency. The official opposition has absolutely no lessons to learn from this government, which is completely illogical. The government is so illogical that, in committee, when it was time to propose amendments and do some serious work, the Conservatives did not want to admit, even for a fraction of a second, that there might be problems with their bill. Proposing amendments would be a little like admitting that errors had been made. They tried to do it quietly just before the vote on the final report. They were embarrassed about it.
I am eager to see if they will give some instructions to our friends in the Senate. If this bill returns without amendments, it will mean that adopting a flawed bill within 100 days is more imperative and important than the merits of the bill. This bill will bring shame to the Conservatives.
I carefully read the 208 clauses of the bill and I found absolutely nothing that really helps the victims. It is one thing to go on the road and give the impression of being tough on crime to please victims. Other than sitting down with and talking to people before offenders are released, I can tell you that there is very little that could make the victims feel that they are being looked after.
The Criminal Code is not a tool for taking care of victims. To take care of them, we must try to make them feel less like victims. We have to ensure that the offences are clearly defined. No one is claiming the opposite. All the clauses on terrorism are just smoke and mirrors. No victim will be able to obtain a dime from the countries on the terrorist list.
These are discretionary lists that change depending on our diplomatic alliances. So much for that. I will now answer questions and ask further questions during the next 10 minutes.