Madam Speaker, I rise here today with a bit of a heavy heart, for the vote that was just held suggests that the work ahead of me as a new member of this 41st Parliament is perhaps less important than that of other members in past parliaments.
Bill C-10, An Act to enact the Justice for Victims of Terrorism Act and to amend the State Immunity Act, the Criminal Code, the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, the Corrections and Conditional Release Act, the Youth Criminal Justice Act, the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and other Acts, deals with many sections and many pieces of legislation. I was told this morning that 295 witnesses appeared at 88 committee meetings in previous parliaments. Those individual bills failed to pass during previous parliaments, at least not in the form in which they were introduced by the governments in office at the time.
The government is introducing an omnibus bill that includes all these provisions. Bill C-10 is 102 pages long and includes 208 provisions that amend nine existing laws. This is not a small bill. The explanatory notes alone are 39 pages long. Not everyone in the House has experience in criminal law as it pertains to terrorism or is well versed in the laws relating to young offenders and immigration. That is a lot of things.
The leap of faith that the government is asking us to take is to find that what was done before is sufficient. In the future, when we are not happy, the axe will fall and the government will pass the bill because it committed to introduce the bill and pass it within the first 100 days of its mandate. When we disagree with the Conservatives on any part of the content or form of what they present to us, they tell us that we are in favour of criminals, child rapists and terrorists. I have a problem with this way of categorizing the serious work that all members of the House do every day.
I have a background in law. I worked in criminal law for five years when I began my practice and I was able to see the extraordinary work that the crown attorneys, judges and judiciary do; their work is not always easy. There are also defence lawyers who are obligated, under the Constitution, to represent people who are presumed innocent until proven guilty. There are some rather disturbing isolated cases that seem to have slipped through the cracks in the system. We are all aware that such is the case. I have also had a call-in radio show. Anyone who has listened to this type of show knows how things can sometimes get out of hand when people get started, particularly when such isolated cases are mentioned.
Our judicial system examines thousands and thousands of criminal cases each year. I find it a little rich that the Conservatives are introducing this 102-page bill that contains 208 provisions to amend nine existing laws on the basis of a few cases they have chosen here and there that deviate a bit from the norm.
I participated in a debate with Senator Boisvenu. I have the utmost respect and admiration for the work that he did for years after the crime that led to the loss of his two daughters. However, we must really avoid changing laws simply to respond to a need here or there.
The sad thing is that we on this side of the House are inclined to be in favour of some parts of the bill without even having to do much further study. We are in favour of the provisions having to do with sexual offences against children and parole. The entire system needs to be reformed, and that is often where we run into problems. But this bill lumps everything together.
As a member of the Barreau du Québec I can tell you that we, as lawyers, receive hours of mandatory professional training because the top priority is to protect the public. Every move a lawyer makes is scrutinized. When a lawyer goes the slightest bit off track, he or she is shown the door and is asked to report to the agency that monitors the legal profession.
The Canadian Bar Association has some valid and serious objections to this bill, not because it wants to protect criminals, but because it wants to protect what we should all be trying to protect together, and that is the penal system and the courts. We have to ensure that there is more than just the appearance of justice and that justice is actually served.
My basic concern with this bill, having practised law, is that within the Barreau du Québec and the Canadian Bar Association, two entities for which I have the utmost respect, we are going to see judges become quite apprehensive about hearing minimum sentence cases, because the bill eliminates the wonderful concept that every law student learns on their first day: every case is unique. Under the Conservatives, the concept that every case is unique no longer exists. From now on, if a person commits X crime, they receive X sentence, leaving no room to understand why the crime was committed or to see what would best serve society. Will we create hardened criminals?
Maybe the solution for the Conservatives is to keep everyone locked up for the rest of their lives regardless of the crime. That would be ridiculous. I do not want to put words in their mouths, but sometimes that is the impression the Conservatives give, because under some of the laws affected by the omnibus bill, we will no longer be able to apply this fundamental principle in law. What does that mean? It means there will be legal challenges.
I spoke to a number of my colleagues across the country as I knew that opportunities to hear from witnesses would be curtailed. I consulted several experts in the field who told me that some lawyers believe that constitutional challenges will be launched. Is it contrary to the charter in terms of unusual punishment? Is it this? Is it that? I doubt very much that we will achieve the intended results. Once again, I find it unfortunate that they are playing politics—I was going to say petty politics, but that would be unparliamentary—rather than really trying to fulfill the mandate we have been given, that is to legislate.
When I arrived here for the 41st Parliament, I believed that our job was to ensure that each bill passed is for the good of all Canadians, that each bill is useful, that each bill becomes a good law, and that each bill achieves the intended results.
I have the impression that sometimes it is a question of making headlines. Unfortunately, that does not meet the needs of victims or of the system, and it does not result in the changes the legal community is seeking.