Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill C-10, erroneously entitled the “Safe Streets and Communities Act”. Bill C-10 is comprised of nine stand-alone justice bills that died, for good reason I might add, during the previous parliamentary session. These nine bills, justly negated then, are back to haunt Canada in the form of an omnibus mega-bill, or what some have referred to as an ominous bill, seeking to destroy the fair and equitable justice system Canadians from coast to coast to coast have come to rely on for their justice and protection.
I am especially disheartened to see that, at a time when almost two million Canadians are looking for jobs in a struggling economy, the Conservatives' priority is backwards crime legislation.
The Liberal Party knows Canadians want a safe and fair justice system. The facts tell us that Bill C-10 will not deliver that. The Conservatives chose to ignore the facts and instead are intent on pushing through C-10. What we witnessed here today was a miscarriage of justice with the closure motion, which passed because the government has a majority. It is scary when things like that happen because members of the government are speaking from both sides of their mouths.
In fact, the Minister of Public Safety said in speaking to another closure motion, “If the bill was the right thing to do, why did the Prime Minister do the wrong thing by invoking closure”?
At one time, another member of the government, who is now the citizenship and immigration minister, said, “I begin by condemning this government for allowing itself to trample on democracy and democratic deliberation by invoking closure and time allocation on Bill C-36”.
Another member of the government, now the Minister of National Defence, said, “Let me be clear. What is happening in this motion, in this use of closure, is an attempt to stifle the debate, to shut it down, to sideline it, to distract, to detract away from the opposition's job to be diligent in asking questions”.
I mention those comments to point out the miscarriage of justice here today with this closure motion and how the government is speaking from both sides of its mouth.
Despite the overwhelming evidence and substantive trial and failure of the very same legislation in the United States as we are seeing today in BillC-10, the Conservatives blindly steamroll ahead. If this type of legislation had any positive effect at all on the safety of citizens and the protection of victims, the United States would be the safest country in the world. Sadly, that is not the case. If C-10 type legislation truly worked, we would not see the Americans' experience with their failed system for over 25 years. For example, Newt Gingrich, who many consider to be the architect of the botched American prison system, declared that his tough-on-crime agenda failed and that the criminal justice system founded on the same blind policies included in C-10 is “broken”.
The Americans spent $68 million in 2010 on corrections, which is 300% more than was spent 25 years before, and their prison population is growing 13 times more rapidly than their population. Clearly, the American model of mandatory minimums did not work in the United States of America and predictably, it will not work in Canada.
We already know that. One need merely to consider the evidence to conclude that the failed justice policies of our American friends imported to Canada will only become failed justice policies of our own. Why is the government not prepared to learn from those mistakes instead of forging ahead prepared to make the same mistakes at enormous cost to the Canadian taxpayer?
Unfortunately for Canadians, the Conservatives have a penchant for ignoring evidence and logic. The fact is that crime in Canada is decreasing. According to Statistics Canada it is at its lowest level since 1973. Existing policies developed in consultation with the provinces by previous governments, many of them Liberal by the way, are working.
The lack of logic was on display only last year when former Conservative minister Stockwell Day reported that the Conservatives intended to build more prisons in order to address unreported crime. This is just one example of the Conservatives' appetite to blindly conclude that the solution to any problem is to build more prisons. That is the problem.
I read with interest recently a letter to the editor written by Dr. Jim Lang of the Department of Theory and Policy Studies in Education, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto. According to Dr. Lang, the Minister of Justice tells us that his government will not let facts or statistics derail its ideological decision to spend our money to make us feel safer on our streets whether we think it is best for us or not. He said that the justice minister cites statistics, the election outcome for example, as justification for the same decision. What is interesting about the content of the letter is that Dr. Lang said that this does not make him feel safer at all, just confused and worried about what those guys will do next and on what pretext.
I agree wholeheartedly with his opinion given that while the government has a majority, it only has 39% of the popular vote, so 61% of voters did not vote for the Conservatives, yet they are going blindly ahead putting something in place that they think is the right thing to do without even considering the views of the majority of Canadians.
Another letter, written by William Trudell, the chair of the Canadian Council of Criminal Defence Lawyers, pleaded with parliamentarians to carefully review this legislation to ensure that it is in the best interests of all Canadians and does not fracture our criminal justice system. The writer said that it does not take a tough on crime agenda to allow judicial discretion to ensure that those genuinely in need find themselves in hospitals and not jails.
Unfortunately, the Conservative crime agenda fails to understand the connection between issues of addiction and mental health and the issue of crime. It is a crime that those very vulnerable in our society will be impacted negatively by Bill C-10.
The government refuses to come clean about the true costs of its crime agenda, which begs the question as to why. The Parliamentary Budget Officer, Kevin Page, said that the price tag for just a few of the measures of the crime agenda will cost over $13 billion. That is the price tag for just a few, not the entire nine bills that are included in this omnibus bill.
As the global economy contracts, Canada has to ensure that we get value for tax dollars. We have heard the government say that, yet Conservatives spend untold billions on a failed crime agenda that takes a blind and unrealistic approach to public safety and does not create safer communities and is not a wise or effective use of Canadians' hard-earned money. Many of these costs will be downloaded on the provinces which can ill-afford such a burden.
I represent the people of Newfoundland and Labrador as the member of Parliament for Random—Burin—St. George's. Our province does not need to be saddled with more inmates and stripped of any judicial discretion. The Liberal Party will not put Canadians at risk by helping to implement this dangerous bill. In order to safeguard the rights and safety of all Canadians, we must oppose Bill C-10.
While the government stands on a soapbox to promote the bill and claims that the bill will help victims, sadly, legislation such as Bill C-10 will only ensure a continued cycle of victimization. The evidence indicates that preventive policy and education, not tougher sentences and bloated prisons, are the path to safer streets and communities. After all, the government can talk all it wants about the rights of victims, but the truth is the right of every Canadian is to not be victimized at all.
The Liberal Party is committed to ensuring a justice approach that is evidence based, cost-effective and focused on crime prevention.
The Canadian Bar Association has said that the mandatory minimum sentences and overreliance on incarceration, constraints on judges' discretion to ensure a fair result in each case and the bill's impact on specific already disadvantaged groups are problems with the bill.
Why is it we do not listen to those who deal with the people who need the services on a daily basis to ensure that they are not victimized? Why is it we are refusing to listen to them? Why is it we are not hearing what is being said?