Mr. Speaker, as soon as Bill C-10 was introduced, and throughout the shortened debate on this legislation, the government tried to justify its safe streets and communities act as if the title alone of this legislation proved its relevance. Whenever we raise issues or criticize the bill, the government keeps repeating, as a sort of mantra, like it did this morning, that it has the mandate to pass this legislation.
All governments and all parties have a mandate and a duty to ensure that streets and communities are safe. The real issue that needs to be debated is the merits of the approach chosen by the government. Indeed, one can raise the constitutionality of the bill. For instance, we cannot enact legislation that is unconstitutional and say that these measures are necessary to ensure that our streets and communities are safe. We cannot justify bad policy by repeating a mantra about a mandate. The legislation must be reviewed based on its merits and constitutionality.
Unfortunately, the omnibus bill on crime proposed by the Conservatives will lead to more crime, weaker justice, increased costs, fewer rehabilitation opportunities for offenders, and lesser protection for victims who, and I regret it, will have a harder time being heard.
I want to deal briefly with some of the main flaws in this bill.
Indeed, when I speak of defects in Bill C-10, I have to mention yet again that we are not talking about one particular bill. We are talking about nine principal bills, each of which deserves, but did not receive, its own differentiated appreciation. A best case study is that which the parliamentary secretary began with this morning in repeating yet another mantra not only that the government has a mandate to put forward this legislation, but that this legislation is organized around the protection of victims, and we of course concur about the importance of that, although the Conservatives continue to speak as if they alone seek to protect victims.
There is one ironic case study to which reference has been made, but perhaps has not been fully appreciated. It is with respect to the first piece that the parliamentary secretary brought up this morning, justice for victims of terror. I proposed at the legislative committee a series of amendments to this piece of legislation. May I add parenthetically that I support the legislation in principle; in fact, I tabled my own private member's bill several years ago on this matter. When I proposed amendments that were intended to protect the victims of terror, the very thing the government says this legislation was organized around, those amendments were summarily rejected. Discussion was not even allowed on them. They were summarily rejected.
The government did not take the time initially and moved quickly to report stage, but at report stage the Conservatives suddenly had an appreciation of the amendments. They saw the light and tabled at report stage the very same amendments that they had rejected at committee stage. The Speaker, understandably, rejected them for that reason.
The parliamentary secretary stood today and said that this is historic legislation, and I agree. I referred to it as such at committee when I tabled those amendments. It is historic because we are protecting victims. However, we do not yet have any initiative by the government to implement those very amendments that we now agree upon: the ones that I tabled and which were summarily rejected; the ones the government then sought belatedly to table but were understandably rejected for procedural reasons. We do not yet have the measure and means by which the victims and in particular the victims of terror, can look forward to having those amendments enacted into law as part of the bill.
I will now summarize seriatim and as quickly as possible the main defects in the bill. I sought just by that case study to show how we did not have time for the sufficient appreciation that each of these pieces of legislation warranted in the name of the protection of the victims, in the name of the objective that the government purports to seek by this legislation, namely, safe streets and safe communities. I remind members that the title alone cannot validate the legislation. The fact that the government says it had a mandate from the people, which it did not specifically have for this legislation, cannot validate legislation which may be unconstitutional or which may be bad policy and the like. Let me summarize these lacuna.
First, even before this legislation was tabled, there was a serious problem of prison overcrowding with some provinces already reporting prisons at 200% capacity. We know that overcrowding at over 137.5% leads to more crime within prisons and more crime outside prisons. In fact, the U.S. Supreme Court has found that the overcrowding at 135% can even constitute cruel and unusual punishment.
Regrettably, this legislation in its ill-considered fashion will only exacerbate the problem in Canada, both as a matter of policy and as a matter of the Constitution.
I would add that, with respect to corrections policy, the legislation dropped the term and the threshold principle that with respect to prison management and corrections we are to use “the least restrictive measures”. This constitutional principle was excised from the legislation to imbue a form of arbitrary discretion in the exercise of an authority that previously had a constitutional principle for its threshold exercise.
My second concern is a particularly important one.
I mentioned that prison overcrowding has an attendant concern respecting cruel and unusual punishment. In other words, it raises a constitutional concern. However, it is not the only constitutional concern raised by this legislation, if one looks at the expert testimony that we had before us and does not dismiss it summarily as the amendments were equally dismissed summarily. Speaking as a former minister of justice and attorney general of Canada, a minister of justice of whatever party has a constitutional responsibility to ensure that any legislation that is tabled comports with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
When we look at this legislation we see a series of constitutional concerns. We have the problem of excessive, severe, injurious, disproportionate and prejudicial mandatory minimums. We have the problem of vague and over-broadly worded offences. We have the problem of undue and arbitrary exercise of discretion. We have the problem with section 11 concerns and pretrial detention and the like.
When I asked the Minister of Justice about these concerns in debate in the House, and when I asked him to table the legislation by way of the advice in order to demonstrate how it had gone through a constitutional filter, his answer was to refer to the fact that the government tabled legislation to protect against the molestation of children and to protect against organized crime. Surely, we all agree about those specific objectives.
My point was whether the specific constitutional concerns that I reiterated in the question had been addressed. I asked the minister to address those. His response was, “We have been given a mandate by the Canadian people to proceed in this direction, and that is exactly what we are going to do”. By way of response, I say that mandate does not authorize the tabling of legislation that has unconstitutional provisions, but it mandates the Minister of Justice to ensure that legislation that is tabled will comport with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
When I asked the minister to table the constitutional opinions that the government received in that regard to demonstrate to us that the government had put it through that constitutional filter in order to determine that Bill C-10 comported with and adhered to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, I did not get, and still have not received, any response in that regard.
This leads me to a third concern that I wish to raise. It is with regard to the question of costs.
Not only have the costs of the nine bills not been adequately assessed and disclosed, but the Parliamentary Budget Officer has yet to receive, at his request, the specific costing. Members will recall that in the previous Parliament one of the bills which was adopted was costed at $5 billion over five years. Recently, with respect to the issue of corrections, it was determined that the budget with respect to corrections just at the federal level is half a billion dollars more than what was assumed just for the last year alone.
However, it goes beyond the mere question of undisclosed costs. This raises yet another constitutional and policy concern because we, as members of Parliament, have a constitutional responsibility for the oversight of legislation. In particular, we have a responsibility for the oversight of the spending power and the public purse. How can we exercise that responsibility when these costs are not disclosed to us as they must be?
I might add, in case we have forgotten, that the last election was triggered by a contempt of Parliament vote in this chamber. The contempt of Parliament was organized around the fact that the government had not then disclosed the costs with respect to criminal law legislation. Now that the Conservatives have a majority, they consider that they do not have to disclose the costs and can do so with impunity.
Therefore, this first import is not only a constitutional issue in terms of us having our responsibility to have a constitutional oversight addressed, it also raises a question of ongoing contempt for Parliament as an institution in not disclosing the costs.
That leads me to a fourth concern and one that we have seen throughout the evidence that has been disclosed. There has been insufficient consultation with the provinces and territories that will be assuming these costs at the expense of other government services that they need to dispense and would help ensure also that the focus would have been on crime prevention and not just on punishment. That is what the Quebec minister of justice, Jean-Marc Fournier, attempted again and again to convey to the Minister of Justice. He wrote a letter on September 30 to the minister in which he states:
... that, despite much correspondence and one meeting, the concerns I raised with you have not been addressed in Bill C-10.
That was written on September 30. We know that this pattern of inattention and absence of consultation, particularly with respect to the concerns as publicly and continuously expressed by the Quebec minister of justice, were simply not responded to.
When I tabled amendments to the Youth Criminal Justice Act, I tabled those amendments both as a Quebecker, as someone supporting the work of the Quebec minister of justice, Jean-Marc Fournier, and as somebody who, as minister of justice, worked with Quebec and other provinces on the Youth Criminal Justice Act. However, all those amendments, again, were summarily dismissed.
This brings me to the fifth concern, which is the bundling of bills together in one omnibus piece of legislation. This in itself showed a kind of contempt for the necessary deliberations of Parliament, which were augmented by time allocation in the chamber on the tabling of the bill, time allocation at the committee stage where all amendments were summarily rejected, and then time allocation at the report stage in the abbreviated debate that we have had here.
This brings me to a sixth concern that I have. Even in its approach to deterring crime, the government complicates the issues on both a constitutional and policy level in the matter of protecting victims and the rehabilitation of offenders with its approach to mandatory minimums.
In the course of the government's omnibus bill, it introduced both new mandatory minimums and enhanced existing ones even though Canadian studies, evidence from Department of Justice reports themselves, and evidence from international studies from South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and, most recently, from the United States in the comprehensive report of the United States sentencing commission, which was released just a month ago, show that these penalties do not deter crime but have an excessive, injurious and prejudicial impact on the criminal justice system, as well as a differential discriminatory impact on vulnerable groups, in particular, aboriginal peoples where, for example, of the women in prison, 34% of them are aboriginal.
The seventh concern is on the whole question of privacy. The Privacy Commissioner, Jennifer Stoddart, sent a letter to our committee to address the issue of privacy concerns. She did not say that she was opposed to Bill C-10. She simply said that there were privacy concerns that needed to be addressed and she outlined, in six detailed pages, what those privacy concerns were. We were never even able to address them. I raised them in debate, which the committee summarily dismissed.
With respect to evidence, as Jean-Marc Fornier put it, the subjectivity of the government but not actual objective evidence based consideration, as I showed with respect to mandatory minimum issues, was true with regard to other matters.
With regard to mental health, this is a particularly important concern. We had witness testimony from Mr. Trudell and others who came and pleaded for the bill to address the issue and concerns respecting mental illness. We had a debate in this House and adopted a national suicide prevention strategy because we knew that some 90% of the people who commit suicide, tragically, have problems with mental illness.
We also know that offenders have problems with mental illness. However, when we asked for an exemption with respect to those with mental illnesses that could be treated, which would be better for the offender, better for the criminal justice system, better protection for victims and so on, they were not even addressed in the committee because they were summarily dismissed.
I just want to add that the whole concern with regard to mental health does not appear at all in the bill. That is a scandal, given all the witness testimony that we heard on this. That is a scandal, given the witness testimony we heard from victims that the government itself spoke about.
In closing, I will just mention that even a recommendation with regard to a national crime--