Madam Speaker, I stand today in opposition to Bill C-10, the omnibus crime bill. I do not stand in opposition to every part of the bill and indeed some parts of Bill C-10 worthwhile.
As a father myself, I have no objection to protecting children against pedophiles and sexual predators. I have no objection to protecting people against violent crimes, of course not, even though the Conservatives may have people believe otherwise. However, that is the rub with Bill C-10, which throws so many pieces of legislation, nine pieces of legislation, aboard the one bus, the one omnibus bill.
I may agree with coming down hard on pedophiles, but I do not agree with filling prisons with people who probably should not be there, like the people who get caught with some marijuana plants. What will throwing a student into jail do for him or her, or for society in general, besides costing us a fortune in new human cages? My answer is nothing. It will do absolutely nothing.
Bill C-10 is also known as the safe streets and communities act which, to quote The Telegram, the daily newspaper in my riding of St. John's South—Mount Pearl, sounds like a new and improved detergent, except Bill C-10 will not make our streets any cleaner. It will not wash away the crime. In fact, chances are, if we put a dirty sock through the omnibus cycle, the sock will come out just as dirty on the other end.
The Conservative detergent: so much of Bill C-10 is a waste of money. It will have no impact on the tougher elements of our society. If anything, Bill C-10 will soak up so much cash to keep what will eventually be our U.S.-style prisons going that there will not be any money left over for infrastructure, such as streets. Forget keeping our streets clean.
The Conservative government has yet to put a price tag on Bill C-10, but it is fair to say it will cost untold billions of dollars as our prisons bulge at the seams. According to a joint statement by the John Howard Society and the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies, the increased costs associated with just one of the bills in Bill C-10 will be more than $5 billion. That is more than double current expenditures for the corrections systems alone.
Furthermore, the provinces and territories would have to contribute the largest portion of the increase. I am sure they will be delighted to step forward.
I do not know about other provinces, but Newfoundland and Labrador's prison system could not handle any more prisoners. Her Majesty's Penitentiary in St. John dates back to Victorian times. The original stone building first opened in 1859. The pen is an aging fortress that has been called an appalling throwback to 19th century justice, which sounds like Bill C-10.
How do people in my riding feel about Bill C-10? I had one particular gentleman write to say he is disgusted. Let me quote from that letter:
This is taking us in the wrong direction both socially and fiscally. I do not want to live in a country with a justice system based on a model developed in the dark ages. We do not need more prisons. We do not need to be taking discretion away from justices of the peace, and we do not need more blanket mandatory sentencing guidelines that will do more harm than good.
Most of all...I'm concerned about “The Penalties for Organized Drug Crime Act”. Yes, I'm concerned about the ongoing substance abuse problems we have in this province and my concerns about the pending legislation doesn't mean I support a legal free for all when it comes to drugs, but increased mandatory sentences for growing a half dozen plants is insane...Who is helped by having a student, a future doctor or engineer, thrown in jail for a year and a half because they decided to make some hash for their own personal use? In what universe does that make sense?...Stop wasting money on cages and start spending it on hospital beds and textbooks.
That is the line that sticks, “Stop wasting money on cages and start spending it on hospital beds and textbooks”. That is a great quote.
According to Statistics Canada, in 2008-09 the average annual cost of keeping an inmate incarcerated was $110,000. Where I come from, in Newfoundland and Labrador, that would pay for roughly two degrees, or eight years of university.
To quote the daily newspaper from my riding once again:
We may buck the American trend — where increasing the number of prisoners has not brought a reduction in crime rates — but the smart money says we’ll simply pay more to keep more people in prison and do little to change crime rates, which are among the lowest we’ve had in decades. You can argue that tougher sentences will make Canada a harder place to do shifty business, but the jury’s out on whether it will end up making this country a better place to live.
The jury is still out.
Bill C-10 will not make Canada a better place to live. It will change Canada. It will change how we see ourselves as Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, as Canadians, and how we are seen on the world stage. Lock them up and throw away the key has not worked well in other tough love jurisdictions, the United States, for example.
For every 100,000 people, the United States holds 724 people in prison. In comparison, for every 100,000 people, Canada has 117 people in prison. That is a big difference.
The question that must be asked until there is an answer is, if there are longer stipulated jail sentences for crimes such as growing a few pot plants, who pays for the dramatic increases in the cost of incarceration of both federal and provincial prisons? Is that the next Conservative action plan or job plan that we have been waiting so long to hear about? Is it to build new cages across the country?
As for other sections of the omnibus crime bill, legislation that allows for victims of terrorism to sue perpetrators, including foreign countries, would do absolutely nothing to deter or prevent terrorism acts. To cut to the chase, suing a terrorist organization in a Canadian court would get us absolutely nowhere. No, that is not quite correct, it would get us in debt.
Returning to the section of Bill C-10 that would impose mandatory minimum sentences for the production, possession and trafficking in certain drugs like marijuana, experts have consistently said that mandatory minimum sentences do not work for reducing drug use, tackling organized crime, or for making our communities safer.
How about taking the money from building more cages and putting it into rehabilitation and retraining programs? That is a novel idea. That makes more sense. That is the Canadian way. Bill C-10 is not the Canadian way.
Nothing in the Conservative crime bill deals with prevention, but 80% of people in federal prison deal with at least one addiction. Dr. Julio Montaner, immediate past president of the International AIDS Society, said that the Conservative government's crime agenda would jeopardize the health of some marginalized people. He said:
[the bill] would make it more difficult for physicians to deliver public health services to people who are poor, First Nations, mentally ill, at risk of HIV, or drug-addicted.
He also said:
This law is all about incarcerating the people that this government views as the “other Canadians” for which they have no time for or no interest.
Speaking for myself, my party believes in leaving nobody behind, leaving no Canadian behind, marginalizing nobody.