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House of Commons Hansard #18 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was sentences.

Topics

Status of WomenPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

12:10 p.m.

Conservative

Joyce Bateman Conservative Winnipeg South Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to present a petition to the House of Commons. I act on behalf of a great number of citizens by presenting their petition in support of International Day of the Girl.

Their intention is to advocate to ensure girls get the recognition they deserve as citizens and as powerful agents of change within their families, their communities and their nations.

Weekly StatementRoutine Proceedings

12:10 p.m.

York—Simcoe Ontario

Conservative

Peter Van Loan ConservativeLeader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I am rising on a brief point of order to correct something in the Hansard on the Thursday question. I am told I said that all the combined bills for the safe streets and communities act had been before the House, in one shape or another, for a combined total of 2,700 days. The actual total is 7,200 days. That would make it 20 years, as I said. Therefore, it is time to get on with this bill.

AsbestosPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

12:10 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am proud to rise today to present a petition signed by thousands of Canadians from all across Canada who call upon the House of Commons to take note that asbestos is the greatest industrial killer that the world has ever known. In fact, they point out that more Canadians now die from asbestos than from all other industrial and occupational causes combined.

The petitioners also draw the attention of the House to the fact that Canada remains one of the largest producers and exporters of asbestos in the world and that not only is asbestos not banned in Canada, but Canada still spends millions of dollars subsidizing and promoting the asbestos industry and blocking international efforts to curb its use.

Therefore, the petitioners call upon Parliament to ban asbestos in all its forms and institute a just transition program for asbestos workers and the communities they live in. They also call upon Parliament to end all government subsidies of asbestos both in Canada and abroad and that the government stop blocking international health and safety conventions designed to protect workers from asbestos, such as the Rotterdam Convention.

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

12:10 p.m.

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre Saskatchewan

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I ask that all questions be allowed to stand.

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

12:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

Is that agreed?

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

12:10 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Safe Streets and Communities ActGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.

Portage—Lisgar Manitoba

Conservative

Candice Bergen ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise today to add my voice to those of my colleagues in support of this crucial piece of legislation that we are debating.

The Safe Streets and Communities Act is comprehensive legislation that will go a long way toward meeting the government's commitment to Canadians that we will protect families, stand up for victims and hold offenders accountable. I am very proud to say that the government has received a strong mandate to deliver on that commitment.

Since first elected in 2006, the government has been taking action to keep families safe. We have been working to stand up for law-abiding Canadians and victims while holding criminals accountable as well as to protect the most vulnerable in society, especially children, from those who would want to do them harm. That is why I am so proud to speak to Bill C-10, the Safe Streets and Communities Act.

The legislation before us continues the important work that we have started. It proposes important reforms to the Criminal Code, the State Immunity Act, the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. As well, it proposes to enact the Justice for Victims of Terrorism Act.

Bill C-10 addresses a significant number of law and order issues that affect our society. It is wide-ranging and touches on public safety, justice, as well as citizenship and immigration. It includes measures to make the safety and security of Canadians the primary concern when considering whether or not an offender should be transferred back into Canada. It includes measures so that victims of terrorism are able to file an action and seek justice against individuals who carry out terrorist attacks. It includes actions to strengthen the laws around pardons to ensure that repeat offenders of serious crimes and those who commit sexual offences against children are ineligible to apply for a pardon.

It includes provisions to increase the accountability and responsibility of offenders to ensure that they contribute to their own rehabilitation as well as measures that would enshrine in law a victim's rights to make statements at a parole hearing. It also includes reforms that in most cases would prevent offenders from withdrawing their parole applications 14 days or less before a hearing date thus saving victims from unnecessary travel and disruption.

Victims of crime have asked for these changes and the government is delivering them.

I want to point out that we tried to pass bills that would achieve these goals in the last Parliament yet time and again opposition members held them up with their soft-on-crime agenda. Thankfully, Canadians in the riding of Ajax--Pickering and across the country rejected the soft-on-crime mindset of the opposition and elected a majority of Conservative MPs.

The Safe Streets and Communities Act also includes measures that would get tough on child sexual offenders, crack down on illegal drug trafficking and improve the overall efficiency of our judicial system. For example, it proposes to help protect our kids from sexual predators by increasing penalties for sexual offences against children.

It targets organized drug crime by creating tougher sentences for the production and possession of illicit drugs for the purpose of trafficking, which speaks to the grave concern of all parents whose children are directly targeted by drug traffickers. It is a very important piece of the legislation in terms of protecting children from involvement in drug activities. Therefore, I am especially pleased to see that we are getting tough on drug traffickers. I would strongly urge all opposition members, especially those with children, nieces, nephews and/or young people in their lives who should never be involved with drugs, to support this piece of legislation.

The bill aims to protect the public by ensuring that violent and repeat young offenders are held accountable for their actions. Youth sentences would become more proportionate to the severity of the crime. Protection of society would be given due consideration when applying the Youth Criminal Justice Act. I believe parents across the country see this as an important piece of the legislation. It is best for parents to hold their children accountable by ensuring that the consequences match the action, whether minor or severe.

Thankfully, the bill would end the use of conditional sentences or house arrest for serious, violent and property crimes ensuring dangerous criminals would no longer be serving sentences from the comfort of their living rooms.

It also proposes to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act to help protect foreign workers who could be at risk of becoming victims of human trafficking or exploitation, such as low-skilled and unskilled labourers. Combined, these measures provide new tools in our effort to build stronger and safer communities.

Last spring our government made a pledge to Canadians to rapidly move forward and introduce comprehensive law-and-order legislation that would strengthen our laws and courts while putting victims' rights at the forefront.

On May 2, Canadians gave us a strong mandate to continue working to build our economy and to focus on keeping our communities safe. We have listened to them and acted on our pledge by introducing this legislation.

In particular, I will spend some time discussing a measure that falls under the purview of public safety, that being the elimination of pardons for serious crimes. Canadians firmly believe that these measures are long overdue, as do I.

These amendments are a natural next step to further strengthening measures contained within the Limiting Pardons for Serious Crimes Act that our government passed last year, which received royal assent in June 2010. That act ensures that anyone convicted of a serious personal injury offence, such as manslaughter, will not be eligible to apply for a pardon before 10 years rather than five. This 10-year ineligibility period also applies to those who have committed a sexual offence against a minor and have been prosecuted by indictment.

For those convicted of a sexual offence against a minor and prosecuted by summary conviction, the ineligibility period for a pardon is now five years, whereas it previously was three. That act also provides the Parole Board of Canada with the discretion to determine whether the granting of a pardon would bring the administration of justice into disrepute. To make this determination, the Parole Board is now able to give consideration to the nature and gravity of the offence, the circumstances surrounding its commission and the information related to the applicant's criminal history.

Let me speak to what this legislation in Bill C-10 would do. First and foremost, it proposes to change the term “pardon” to “record suspension” as the word “pardon” implies that the government has forgiven the individual. We firmly believe that it is not the role of the government to forgive someone for his or her crime. That can only come from the victim or the victim's family, certainly not from the government.

Indeed, we are aware that it adds insult to injury when a victim discovers his or her offender has received a pardon. That is another reason why we have proposed changing the term to “record suspension”. In addition to being a more accurate and less offensive term to victims, we believe it better reflects how the legal system works. When an individual is granted a pardon, his or her record is not permanently deleted. Rather, it is sealed or, in other words, suspended.

We believe the term “pardon” is misleading and that replacing it with the term “record suspension” in this legislation would clarify that.

Another proposed amendment put forth in this legislation would require the Parole Board of Canada to submit an annual report to Parliament. This report would include statistics on the number of applicants applying for record suspension as well as the number deemed successful.

More importantly, we have proposed amendments regarding who can and cannot apply for a record suspension. We have seen agreement across the board on this issue from victims, victims' rights and community support groups, as well as other Canadians. Individuals convicted of sexual offences against children should never be allowed to apply for a record suspension. We are confident these reforms would be better for victims, would provide better protection for children, and would be better for our Canadian society as a whole.

The government is also proposing that limits be set on how many times offenders can be convicted of serious crimes before becoming ineligible for record suspension. The amendments propose that individuals who have been convicted of more than three indictable offences wherein they have received a sentence of two years or more for each offence be no longer eligible for record suspension.

I can assure the House that we have gone to great lengths to thoughtfully consider how this amendment would be interpreted and applied in the real world for real people.

It is defined in this way. A person who is convicted of more than three offences and receives a penitentiary length sentence of two years or more for each of these three or more offences would not be eligible to apply for a record suspension.

What does this mean in practice? It means that if an individual is convicted more than three times of a serious crime and sentenced to more than two years in jail for crimes such as a major drug crime or home invasion, that individual would not be eligible to apply for a record suspension.

Suffice it to say that an individual who is convicted of indictable offences on more than three occasions and has received a federal sentence for each has certainly demonstrated a pattern of behaviour that establishes a serious risk that he or she will commit grievous harm to members of our society. The government's view is that the risk and consequences of reoffending are so high that this person's record should never be sealed. We believe that this reflects the views of Canadians as well.

Our government has included these measures in Bill C-10 because we want to ensure that the consequences of truly serious criminal activity cannot be sealed with a pardon. The need to protect public safety must be our primary consideration at all times.

We recognize that not everyone agrees with the number of more than three. We believe that setting the limit at more than three offences, or put another way, four or more offences, is tough yet reasonable.

We have all heard of a young adult making a bad decision one night. That person could end up being convicted of multiple indictable offences. If that were to happen, that individual would have a record for life.

This provision accounts for that possibility. Disqualification would only occur where individuals have been sentenced to two or more years in custody on more than three separate occasions and not one bad night or week in which a number of indictable offences occurred. Therefore, a person making one bad choice would be eligible to seek a record suspension whereas a serious repeat offender would not.That is a very important distinction for the members of the opposition to comprehend and take into consideration.

While passing the Limiting Pardons for Serious Crimes Act in 2010 brought about positive changes, it was only a first step in strengthening Canada's pardon regime. We must now continue with the final steps to complete these important reforms.

These changes would ensure the Parole Board of Canada has the tools it requires to properly consider, order and deny where appropriate, record suspensions for ex-offenders.

These measures would ensure that offenders who have committed sexual offences against children will never be allowed to have their records suspended.

Most importantly, these changes would increase the confidence of Canadians in the corrections and pardon systems.

Our government made a commitment to continue to protect the safety and security of law-abiding Canadians. That is why they gave us that strong mandate on May 2. Canadians deserve to feel safe in their homes and neighbourhoods. We are working hard to ensure that they do.

This legislation is too important to be delayed any longer. We must make this a matter of high importance for the sake of victims and their loved ones. Our government has pledged to finish what it has started by moving forward with this bill.

I urge all hon. members on both sides of the House to support and pass this legislation. Let us work together to continue protecting Canadians and the law-abiding citizens that we represent.

Safe Streets and Communities ActGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.

NDP

Dany Morin NDP Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, QC

Mr. Speaker, when I learned that with the Conservative government's omnibus crime bill, mandatory minimum punishments for child rapists would be less severe than for marijuana growers, I was disgusted. It makes no sense that the Conservatives would rather punish marijuana growers than child rapists.

I would like the Conservative member to defend the Conservatives' priorities that child rapists would be less severely punished than marijuana growers.

Safe Streets and Communities ActGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.

Conservative

Candice Bergen Conservative Portage—Lisgar, MB

Mr. Speaker, the member may possibly have misunderstood some of the terms of this legislation. For example, yesterday, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice articulated very clearly the penalties for trafficking marijuana. We are not talking about growing marijuana plants, we are talking about trafficking marijuana, growing it for the sole purpose of trafficking. And there would be additional penalities if offenders were trying to traffic to young people and depending where these offenders would be trafficking.

Certainly, we agree sex offenders, as we said, should not be receiving any kind of record suspension. They certainly need to do the time and there needs to be minimum sentences for them.

As I said in my speech, as a parent, the issue of drugs is such a serious one with young people and marijuana is a gateway drug. There is no question about it. So we have to get tough on those who are trying to traffic and trying to get our young people into drug activity.

Safe Streets and Communities ActGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.

Liberal

Sean Casey Liberal Charlottetown, PE

Mr. Speaker, I do not think there is any denying the Statistics Canada information that shows that crime rates in this country are falling. Also, I do not think there is any denying that the tough on crime legislation in many American states has failed.

Looking at those two, I would suggest, indisputable facts and realizing that we really cannot manage what we cannot measure, my question for the member opposite is this. Once the Conservatives jam through this piece of legislation, how are they going to be able to measure its effectiveness, given that crime rates are falling and will, in all likelihood, continue to fall? Will their plan be to take credit for the crime rates that are falling anyway as a result of these measures, which have been shown to fail in other jurisdictions?

Safe Streets and Communities ActGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.

Conservative

Candice Bergen Conservative Portage—Lisgar, MB

Mr. Speaker, there is a huge gap in the way the opposition looks at crime and how to address crime, and the way that the Conservative government and, I believe, the majority of Canadians look at crime. There seems to be an attitude on the other side of mediocrity, “Let's just kind of do enough so that we're maybe seeing some crime rates reduced”.

That is not the way we look at it. We look at a broken justice system where victims have been victimized time and time again with current legislation. We look at a system where prisoners and criminals have been coddled, many times spoiled, and sometimes even almost rewarded for their criminal activity. We promised Canadians that we would change it. I am so proud that we are doing things differently from the Liberals.

So, on the other side, if they want to look at statistics and decide it is just going to be good enough and “Let's just be mediocre”, I disagree. Let us aim for excellence. We need to ensure our young people are safe. We need to ensure any kind of sexual crime against children is stopped. We need to ensure that pardons for people who have committed serious crimes do not happen.

So, we are going to keep working hard, we are going to aim high, and we are not going to let mediocrity guide us.

Safe Streets and Communities ActGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.

NDP

François Lapointe NDP Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup, QC

Mr. Speaker, there is absolutely nothing mediocre about wanting to help people before they become criminals, instead of developing a repressive society.

I have a very specific question for my hon. colleague on the other side. We have a hodgepodge of legislation here that talks about child sexual predators, pardons for serious crimes and drug dealers. These are all very socially complex elements. Each of them requires discussion and reflection regarding the legal, social, ethical, philosophical and even religious aspects.

How can the government justify putting all of that in one big package and preventing Canadians from having a healthy debate on each of these important issues? That is unacceptable. How does my colleague explain that?

Safe Streets and Communities ActGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.

Conservative

Candice Bergen Conservative Portage—Lisgar, MB

Mr. Speaker, again, we need to acknowledge there is a completely different philosophy on how crime is looked at on the opposition side versus the government side. Here, I think, is the stark contrast. There seems to be an aversion to ensuring that sexual predators and drug dealers are in jail. Instead, we hear time and time again that it is complex and that there are so many factors.

Let me give an example. It seems, though, that the opposition has no problem wanting to put law-abiding gun owners in jail, or farmers who want to sell their wheat in western Canada, or maybe people who do not fill out their census form to the fullest extent that the opposition wants.

There seems to be just this opposite, almost illogical, view of, “Let's protect and coddle and watch the criminal, and make sure that all of their complex issues are addressed”. When a criminal, a violent offender, is in jail I can guarantee that he or she will not be committing that same violent act again. That is something I know. That is something Canadians know. They have asked us to carry forward and we are going to do it.

Safe Streets and Communities ActGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.

Conservative

Bev Shipley Conservative Lambton—Kent—Middlesex, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague not only for her presentation today but for the amount of work that she has done on a topic that she just touched on a minute ago in terms of the long gun registry.

My question to the member would focus a little bit around the response that she gave to the member opposite, I think it was the member for Charlottetown, regarding the difference in terms of presenting these types of bills. What is the focus on of this bill, is it actually on the criminals or families and victims?

Safe Streets and Communities ActGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.

Conservative

Candice Bergen Conservative Portage—Lisgar, MB

Mr. Speaker, the member makes a very important point. So many aspects of this bill are looking at ways in which we can fix and correct some of the mistakes and injustices that have been done to victims through the current legislation.

I would not assume to say that there was any government that purposely did that. I think that sometimes governments can, by making one bad decision after another, come to the place where victims, unfortunately, are not the top priority.

That is something that we want to fix. Sometimes these things are very difficult for the opposition and for different political parties to come to an agreement on.

What is important is that we listen to the people in our ridings, and we listen to the common sense of people on the streets, no matter what their political stripe, in terms of if people commit a crime there should be a penalty and Canadians should be protected, and victims should be protected.

No matter what party we are from, we all believe that victims should be protected and their rights should be top of mind. That is something that this legislation has done. It has done it very thoughtfully. We have tried as much as possible to take some circumstances into consideration, for example, where criminals may have other factors in their lives that have contributed to the downfall and the bad decisions they have made, but never at the cost of protecting communities and Canadians, and never at the cost of victims.

Safe Streets and Communities ActGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.

NDP

Alain Giguère NDP Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

The bills that have been introduced only deal with crime seen in the news, that is petty crime. The small-time criminals on street corners are not the ones bringing in containers of drugs. They do not have the means to bring in planeloads of illegal substances. They do not launder money around the world. They have not transformed Quebec's construction industry into a corrupt industry. They do not attack the democracy of our provincial, federal and especially municipal governments.

Hard-core criminals are responsible for these crimes. They are the ones who make drugs available on the street. They are the ones who make weapons available on the street. The bills introduced by the Conservatives do not address organized crime. This government has abandoned its mandate to defend Canadians and is quite simply doing some marketing and targeting small-time criminals.

Yes, they are targeting street prostitution. Yes, they are targeting low-level drug pushers. No, they are not protecting Canada from organized crime.

Safe Streets and Communities ActGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.

Conservative

Candice Bergen Conservative Portage—Lisgar, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am very happy to hear that there is support for getting tough on organized crime, terrorism, large crime, and people who are dealing and committing crimes that are having a serious effect on our country.

It seems like there is this whole attitude of, “Well, let us not worry about the so-called small criminal”. I do not know about people in this House, but I think Canadians consider someone who is trying to sell drugs to our children a criminal. It has a serious effect and serious consequence.

Instead of looking at things from a view of not worrying about that, letting them get away with it because there might be some complex factors that affect their lives, we have been very clear with Canadians, and Canadians are supporting us with this mandate, that we are going to move ahead.

The more that we can talk about this, discuss it, and talk about ways to help prevent crime, the more productive it is. However, it is not going to be at the cost of protecting innocent, law-abiding Canadians.

Safe Streets and Communities ActGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.

Liberal

Frank Valeriote Liberal Guelph, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Etobicoke North.

There is no doubt that every member in the House is committed to the safety of their constituents, their communities and our nation. The framers of our Constitution knew from the start that peace and order is essential for good government.

That said, evidence-based laws are key to peace and order. Sadly, for all its focus on crime and punishment, the government lacks the evidence to support its legislation. With pieces of the legislation having reached committee stage before, members of the House are fully aware that evidence given at committee completely contradicts the Conservative preoccupation with heavy minimum sentences.

I have talked to the chief of police in Guelph, to prosecutors, to correctional officers, and to criminologists. We have read countless evidence-based reports and statistics, and the jury is in. Based on all the evidence, these experts have come to the same conclusion: in order to be tough on crime, we must first be smart on crime. Locking up everyone is not a smart solution. It makes us dumber on crime.

There are a good number of things that prisons are not. They are not a place where skills are developed. They are not addiction treatment centres. They do not combat the scourge of mental illness and they provide little or no treatment options. A jail cell does not even provide support to victims, except to give them the satisfaction of retribution.

Smart on crime means that instead of spending $108,000 a year on each and every additional criminal the government insists on incarcerating, that money could go to drug treatment programs in my riding like Stonehenge.

Stonehenge was established 40 years ago. Through the dedication of its staff, managers and donors, this program helps to restore hope and dignity to those afflicted by addiction. It restores lives and livelihoods so that those suffering from substance addiction can once again feel a sense of relevance and dignity, and be productive and successful members of our society. Clients at Stonehenge are from the general public, or are people in conflict with the law diverted to Stonehenge in Guelph for drug treatment. Imagine for a moment how many people could be treated using the $108,000 annual sum spent on incarcerating a single person suffering from an addiction, a terrible disease.

Smart on crime means developing and funding programs that reduce poverty, create jobs and tackle mental health issues. Jails, under the government, have turned into public housing for individuals with addictions or mental health issues.

Smart on crime means not increasing the rate of recidivism. Even before this bill was tabled, there were prisons in Canada at 200% capacity. Overcrowding has shown to lead to more crime. There is no way anyone on the other side could argue that increasing the number of Canadians incarcerated would be a deterrent or cut down on the crime rate.

What of the costs? The government refused to disclose the cost in the last Parliament and was found in contempt of this great institution. Despite the hundreds of pages the Minister of Justice cited yesterday that were provided to Parliament, he purposely evaded every single question put to him about the cost of this legislation. Applying 2009 forecasts the total cost to the federal and provincial governments by 2016 would be over $18 billion. Meanwhile, the government has not consulted with the provinces on the additional financial burden they would now shoulder.

Mandatory minimum sentencing is already considered a failed policy in the United States, a nation with an incarceration rate 700% higher than ours per capita. It is illogical for the government to go down this path to satisfy ideological urges. Even in the United States lawmakers are moving away from the “lock them up and throw away the key” mentality that created mega prisons that became crime factories. Experts in the United States came late to the realization that they were spending more on incarcerating citizens than enrolling them in post-secondary education.

As a young lawyer, it fell to me on a couple of occasions to defend one client or another who had, on a lark, or suffering from mental illness or depression, committed a non-violent offence. Remorseful and entirely aware of the impact of their actions and how wrong they were, the judge granted a conditional discharge.

Without the stigma of a criminal record or, in some cases, possible incarceration, these clients were then able to gain admission to university, keep or get a good job, travel across the border and ultimately become the successful contributing members of society they otherwise might not have been.

We must trust our legal professionals, our judges, prosecutors, police and corrections officers, to exercise their judgment on a daily basis. They deal with the law up close and personal. Who are we to presume to know better than they when someone deserves treatments options or diversion from incarceration, a second chance, an opportunity to make something better of themselves, to kick a drug habit, to deal with mental illness, to work in the community and develop skills that will lead to stable employment and a fulfilling life?

Criminal justice is about so much more than just throwing people in jail. It is about recognizing people's circumstances and building programs to help them cope, adjust and manage those things that may otherwise lead to criminal activity.

For all the Conservatives' talk about victims and the terrible costs borne by the victims of crime, the bill is absent of any provision to help them. There is nothing in the bill that deals with the numbers members opposite continue to throw around. Victims cannot be compensated through retribution. An eye for an eye does not make up for a wrong done.

Crime is at its lowest rate in nearly 40 years and yet the government is willing to turn around nearly two generations of decreasing crime rates out of fear and fiction instead of facts, ideology instead of evidence.

My colleague, the hon. member for Charlottetown, put it very succinctly yesterday when he said that the bill was really an act, that it was cosmetic window dressing, rhetoric that was sound in theory but contained little action to address the real problem at its source, investing unnecessary billions of dollars on building unnecessary prisons while crime is receding, instead of investing on crime prevention, social housing, employment assistance, health care and child care, which will create more crime than justice.

Throughout my career as a lawyer and now into my career as a legislator and a representative of my community, I have reviewed the law as a tool to advance the issue of social justice whenever possible.

While engaged on the committee against family violence and women in crisis or the Wellington-Guelph Housing Authority on great projects like Onward Willow Better Beginnings, Better Futures, or changing Guelph's police response to violence between spouses and changing court sentencing for offenders by ensuring their enrolment in anger management programs, not incarceration, I gained a deeper understanding of the complexities surrounding justice issues.

My community of Guelph is a compassionate one. We are top five in Canada for education, number one per capita for volunteers and have an incredibly professional police force. The engagement and care for at-risk members of our community is responsible for Guelph being the safest city in Canada, as identified by Statistics Canada.

Public safety and crime can be a divisive political issue but it does not need to be so long as we listen to the facts and heed our expert evidence. We have an opportunity to be smart on crime and not pass this omnibus bill in its present form.

We do not need to completely ignore painfully learned and carefully documented and researched lessons by treating crime as a black and white issue. There is no strong or weak on crime. That is ideological language used to divide and to provoke misinformation based on fear, anger and misplaced need for revenge.

If more and longer sentences were the answer to increasing public safety, the United States would be the safest country in the world, and it is far from that. Instead, even the most conservative U.S. lawmakers are now turning away from their old approach, while we run ahead on into it.

I implore the government not to continue on this reckless path.

Safe Streets and Communities ActGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.

Conservative

Mike Wallace Conservative Burlington, ON

Mr. Speaker, I totally disagree with what the member said in his speech this afternoon.

He talked about compassion and so on. Recently there was a case in British Columbia where a former sex offender was walking the streets and he took a child from his home for days and days. The parents and the families in that community were suffering because they thought the young child was being abused by a sex offender who was a predator on the street.

The bill before us talks about sex offenders and pedophiles. Where is the compassion? What does the member say on that particular issue? Why are the Liberals not supporting the bill to keep those types of people off the street?

Safe Streets and Communities ActGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.

Liberal

Frank Valeriote Liberal Guelph, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have a great deal of respect for the hon. member.

I wish the question had been placed this way: Are there any provisions of the legislation that I agree with? I would have said, yes, there are provisions in this legislation that I agree with. Sexual predators is one of the sections that I happen to agree with. Perhaps a trafficker trafficking to children at a school might be one of those sections that I agree with. Luring children is a section that I agree with.

What I disagree with is the ideological commitment to absolute minimum sentences in all circumstances, where the government takes away the discretion of a judge, a lawyer, a crown attorney, a probation officer who has prepared a pre-sentence report and they say, perhaps, that in a minor incident of possession of marijuana plants there is a better solution than to throw the fellow in jail.

The solution is going to a treatment program like that offered at Stonehenge because offenders can be rehabilitated there rather than criminalized by being put in jail.

Safe Streets and Communities ActGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.

NDP

François Lapointe NDP Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup, QC

Mr. Speaker, my colleague has touched on an important problem and I would like to hear more from him on this subject.

I am referring to the tendency to establish foolish and specific laws. I have been reading quite a bit about this. This tendency has a significant impact on the legal system and the very discretion of judges who, faced with a crime, must consider why it was committed, whether it was a stupid mistake or whether the offender was compelled to commit it. They must be aware of the context before arriving at a decision. How will it end if we simply apply foolish solutions such as “one plus one equals two” without ever giving judges the freedom they require to analyze cases? I would like to hear more from my colleague on this aspect of the problem.

Safe Streets and Communities ActGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.

Liberal

Frank Valeriote Liberal Guelph, ON

Mr. Speaker, that is precisely it. My hon. friend has hit the nail on the head.

By passing this legislation, it will, in many respects, remove the discretion of judges in the courts to look at circumstances on a case-by-case basis. It is a sad society when all people are painted with the same brush; given no opportunity to explain the circumstances from which they come; given no opportunity for rehabilitation, which is not found in our jails; and given no opportunity to pursue a meaningful life because of the criminalization they will face by being put in jail. They are given no opportunity to attend a mental health treatment program when perhaps it was because of a temporary depression that led to the particular offence. Those offenders have no opportunity to receive treatment for it or, as I said, drug treatment or any other incidents that may be appropriate under the circumstances.

Safe Streets and Communities ActGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.

Liberal

Kirsty Duncan Liberal Etobicoke North, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am compelled to speak to Bill C-10, a 110-page omnibus bill rolling together nine past proposals, as crime prevention and reduction is of major concern to my constituents.

Before I begin, however, I want to praise Etobicoke North's superintendent, Ron Taverner, and the officers of 23 Division for their excellent policing and for their outreach to our community, attending numerous community events, building bridges, participating in anti-drug marches, partnering with faith groups and restoring streets through community cleanups.

I also want to recognize the work of organizations, such as the Rexdale legal clinic and the Youth Without Shelter, that work tirelessly to support those requiring legal services and those requiring a home and a new beginning.

I will now share the story of an extraordinary young man in our community. He has just received three scholarships and is in his first month of college. He is in fact the first one in his family to go to college. He works and has just started an organization to inspire youth to achieve their greatest goals. What few know is that he lives in a youth shelter. He is a remarkable young man who is being celebrated because of his tremendous achievements. In fact, he gave his first public address last week and humbled all those in attendance.

This young man has fought hard for a life following abuse, abandonment and drug use. He is making it today with the necessary supports. He is succeeding and, for the first time in his life, he is part of a family at the shelter and is looking forward to a future.

The point is that we must address the root causes of crime, provide police with the tools they need to do their job effectively, provide necessary deterrents to crime and provide the supports necessary to reduce recidivism, because we all want safe streets and safe communities.

The fundamental question of this debate must therefore be whether this bill would make Canada safer. Would it protect victims who often feel abandoned by the justice system? The reality is that the bill has been highly criticized by criminal lawyers, prisoner advocates and critics as costly, ideological, irresponsible, misguided, and overreaching largely because of falling crime rates and predicted massive costs to taxpayers for prison expansion.

Critics claim that the Conservative government's tough on crime agenda will be fought out in Canadian courts for years to come.

National crime rates are continuing their 20 year decline, reaching levels not seen since 1973. Statistics Canada shows the overall volume of criminal incidents fell by 5% between 2009 and 2010, and the relative severity of the crimes showed a similar decrease. Homicides, attempted murders, serious assaults and robberies were all down last year. Young people were accused of committing fewer offences. Even property crime was reported less frequently, with reductions in both break-ins and car thefts. True leadership would, therefore, provide accurate statistics and reassure Canadians rather than invoke fear to convince them that the bill is for the greater good.

Kim Pate, executive director of the Elizabeth Fry Society, said:

We’re being encouraged to believe we need this for public safety. It’s a farce. If in fact it was true, then the U.S. would be the safest place in the world, the States would not be going bankrupt and they would not be retreating from this agenda. .

Others claim that the bill would allow the government to keep a spotlight on what it considers popular law and order measures at a time when economic news is bleak.

The government appears to be focusing on unreported crime as a rationale for its tough-on-crime approach. Unfortunately, it is unclear how tough sentencing for unreported crime will make communities safer. If under-reporting is the issue, perhaps measures should be put in place to address it. However, evidence of crime being unreported is marginal; in fact, there is evidence that reporting of domestic violence has increased, as has reporting from schools, because of police protocols.

Correctional Service Canada estimates the system's operating cost will rise from $1.6 billion in 2006, when the Conservatives took power, to $3 billion this fiscal year.

Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page is still trying to obtain comprehensive data on the government's anti-crime agenda. The justice minister has been asked repeatedly about the costs of the bill but has declined to specify the projected costs of the measures or even to reveal the federal government's own projections of increased prison populations.

Criminal defence lawyer John Rosen predicts that there will be many constitutional and legal challenges, especially regarding mandatory minimum penalties. He explained that these penalties violate an accused person's right to fundamental justice. He believes the measures will be judged an inappropriate infringement on the case-by-case analysis that has been mandated by the Supreme Court in sentencing cases. He further explained that the Conservatives are trying to Americanize our system.

The Globe and Mail states that Canada is one of the few jurisdictions worldwide that is headed in the direction of cracking down on crime. The article also states that the tough-on-crime approach in the face of contrary evidence is “bemusing international observers”.

Criminologists, judges and policymakers in Australia, Britain and the United States, whose systems for the most part mirror Canada's, have recognized that a jail-intensive approach is counterproductive in reducing crime.

Texas, which had 15 youth incarceration institutions four years ago, is down to six. The executive director of the Youth Commission in Texas said, “There's been a real shift to make sure that we really look at the youth, the seriousness of the offence and the youth's risk to reoffend, and only incarcerate those that are the highest risk in terms of public safety”.

Further criticisms of the bill are that scarce resources will be diverted from treating offenders with mental health problems or addictions and that more youth will serve longer jail times, despite evidence showing longer sentences increase the likelihood for youth to reoffend.

The Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies and the John Howard Society of Canada said the bill would lead to overcrowded prisons, jeopardize inmates with addictions or mental health problems, divert funding from treatment programs and dissuade sexual assault victims from pursuing charges against assailants who are often related to them.

Defence lawyer Rosen has said that most professionals who work in the justice system, whether corrections officials, defence lawyers, judges, prosecutors or social workers, agree that the goal is not only to suppress crime but to prevent the recurrence of it. The government is gradually strangling all of the social programs that address those issues and address the root causes of crime, while spending money to prosecute.

Had my extraordinary young man been subject to this legislation, he would be living a very different life today. He would not have had a chance to get an education. He would not have had a social worker. He would not have had his family at the shelter. He would not be contributing to society.

I have one last question. What will it take to get the government's attention and to re-evaluate?

Safe Streets and Communities ActGovernment Orders

1 p.m.

NDP

Lysane Blanchette-Lamothe NDP Pierrefonds—Dollard, QC

Mr. Speaker, we often hear the argument from the other side of the House that if we do not support this bill we are automatically in favour of criminals. That simplistic argument detracts from the real debate. Right now, the protection of the public is not being called into question. That is not at all what we are talking about here. We simply want to know what debate we can have on how to protect the public and improve the quality of life for Canadians. That is what we are actually talking about here.

I would ask my colleague, who made a very interesting speech, whether she is concerned about the fact that the government wants to increase punishment, but that the bill does not mention prevention, education or reintegration of prisoners.