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House of Commons Hansard #22 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was c-10.

Topics

Safe Streets and Communities ActGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.

Liberal

Geoff Regan Liberal Halifax West, NS

Madam Speaker, I do not recall quoting Madam Basnicki. It is not a name that I have read. Perhaps someone else did. I gather the Conservative side quoted her. I would have to review her words to determine whether I would agree. It sounds as though I might, but I would have to look at that.

Safe Streets and Communities ActGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

Dave MacKenzie Conservative Oxford, ON

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to participate in the second reading debate on Bill C-10, the Safe Streets and Communities Act

Bill C-10 is a comprehensive bill that brings together reforms proposed from nine bills that were before the previous Parliament. The short title of the bill, the Safe Streets and Communities Act, reflects the overall intent of this comprehensive legislation. It seeks to safeguard Canadians and Canadian communities from coast to coast to coast. This is such a fundamental principle and objective. To my mind, this objective should be unanimously supported by all parliamentarians in all instances and in all cases. While I appreciate there are many issues on which we as lawmakers may reasonably disagree the safety and security of Canadians, including that of vulnerable children, should never be one such issue.

Let us consider this comprehensive bill is. It proposes amendments that generally seek to do the following:

First, Bill C-10, through part 2, proposes to better protect children and youth from sexual predators. These reforms were previously proposed in former Bill C-54 in the last Parliament, the Protecting Children from Sexual Predators Act.

Specifically, these amendments would propose new and higher mandatory minimum penalties to ensure that all sexual offences involving child victims are consistently and strongly condemned. They would create two new offences to target preparatory conduct to the commission of a sexual offence against a child. They would also enable courts to impose conditions on suspected or convicted child sex offenders to prevent them from engaging in conduct that could lead to their committing another sexual offence against a child.

Second, through part 2, Bill C-10 proposes to increase penalties by imposing mandatory minimum penalties when specified aggravated factors are present for serious drug offences. Those offences would be the production, trafficking, possession for the purpose of trafficking, importing and exporting, possession for the purpose of exporting of schedule 1 drugs such as heroine, cocaine, methamphetamine, and schedule 2 drugs such as marijuana.

These offences often involve organized crime, including gang warfare over turf, which in turn brings its own disastrous impact on Canadian communities. They also enable and feed drug abuse, the negative impact of which is not only felt by the addicted individual but also by the family of that addict, as well as by the Canadian health system and the economy.

These reforms were previously proposed and passed by the Senate in former Bill S-10, the Penalties for Organized Drug Crime Act.

Third, part 2 of the bill includes what was previously proposed in former Bill C-16, the Ending House Arrest for Property and Other Serious Crimes by Serious and Violent Offenders Act to end house arrest for serious crimes.

Under these reforms offences carrying a maximum penalty of 14 years, as well as serious offences that are punishable by 10 years or more and prosecuted by indictment, that result in bodily harm, or the import or export, trafficking and production of drugs, or that involve the use of a weapon, or that is specifically identified, would never be eligible to receive a conditional sentence of imprisonment.

Fourth, Bill C-10, through part 4, proposes to protect the public from violent and repeat young offenders. These amendments include: recognizing the protection of society as a principle in the Youth Criminal Justice Act; making it easier to detain youths charged with serious offences pending trial; requiring the courts to consider adult sentences for the most serious and violent cases; and, requiring the police to keep records of extrajudicial measures.

These reforms were previously proposed in former Bill C-4, Sébastien's law and respond to the Supreme Court of Canada 2008 judgment in Regina v. D.B., and the 2006 Nova Scotia report of the Nunn commission of inquiry “Spiralling Out of Control, Lessons Learned From a Boy in Trouble”.

Fifth, Bill C-10, through part 3, includes proposals to replace the word "pardons" with "record suspensions". It would expand the period of ineligibility to apply for a record suspension and proposes to make record suspensions unavailable for certain offences, including child sexual offences, and for persons who have been convicted of more than three offences prosecuted by indictment and for each of which the individual received a sentence of two years or more.

These reforms were previously proposed in former Bill C-23B, the Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes Act.

Sixth, Bill C-10, also through part 3, proposes to codify some additional key factors in deciding whether a Canadian who has been convicted abroad would be granted a transfer back to Canada. These reforms were previously proposed in former Bill C-5, the Keeping Canadians Safe (International Transfer of Offenders) Act.

Seventh, Bill C-10, through part 3, proposes to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act to recognize the rights of victims, increase offender accountability and responsibility, and modernize the disciplinary system for inmates. These proposals were previously proposed in former Bill C-39, the Ending Early Release for Criminals and Increasing Offender Accountability Act.

Eighth, Bill C-10, through part 1, seeks to deter terrorism by supporting victims of terrorism. Specifically, these reforms would enable victims of terrorism to sue perpetrators and supporters of terrorism, including listed foreign states, for loss or damage that is incurred as a result of an act of terrorism committed anywhere in the world on or after January 1, 1985. These amendments were previously proposed and passed by the Senate in former Bill S-7, the Justice for Victims of Terrorism Act.

Last, Bill C-10, through part 5, proposes amendments to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act to protect vulnerable foreign nationals against abuse and exploitation. These amendments were previously proposed in former Bill C-56, the Preventing the Trafficking, Abuse and Exploitation of Vulnerable Immigrants Act.

I have briefly summarized the nine core elements of Bill C-10. All of these proposed amendments seek to better protect Canadians. That is something on which we should all be able to agree. Certainly, we know it is something on which Canadians agree. I call on all members to support the bill at second reading so it can be quickly referred to and studied by the justice committee.

Safe Streets and Communities ActGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

NDP

Jinny Sims NDP Newton—North Delta, BC

Madam Speaker, as I listen to the debate on Bill C-10, I am trying to understand the motivation.

I listened to the member speak and a question came to my mind regarding the protection of potential refugees against the smugglers. Human smuggling already has the highest penalty. The highest punishment is a life sentence. This bill does not increase that. How will this bill punish smugglers who are engaged in human smuggling?

Safe Streets and Communities ActGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

Dave MacKenzie Conservative Oxford, ON

Madam Speaker, the bill brings forward a lot of matters. Certainly the human smuggling issue has been troubling this country for a long time. It takes different forms in the exploitation of people smuggled into the country. In many cases it directly affects women who are then forced into the sex trade in Canada. There is a whole raft of issues that certainly dehumanize individuals who are brought here by smugglers. This bill is part of the package to improve the quality of life for people in this country and for those who legitimately come to this country.

Safe Streets and Communities ActGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

Liberal

Rodger Cuzner Liberal Cape Breton—Canso, NS

Madam Speaker, obviously, the government's approach in this bill is similar to its approach if a roof is leaking: it would just put out more buckets. If there is crime in the streets, it will just build more jails. That is the government's approach, rather than trying to fix the roof or trying to address social problems. I certainly think that is a wrong-minded approach.

There are components of this bill that we absolutely agree with and we could support them and unanimously pass them through this House. I am sure they would get support from the NDP as well. Why would the government not allow breaking out from the bill those components that could receive unanimous support?

The contentious aspects, the ones that have not been costed, are the ones that scare the heck out of us. Let us go forward and see a fulsome debate on those particular aspects.

Safe Streets and Communities ActGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

Dave MacKenzie Conservative Oxford, ON

Madam Speaker, the very first thing I would say to my good friend from Cape Breton—Canso is that his premise is dead wrong.

We believe that if the roof is leaking, we better fix it. His approach might very well be to analyze each drop of water as it comes through the roof.

With all due respect, this is about protecting Canadians. I do not know why members on the other side want to put a price on protecting victims. I recall talking with a victim of a serious crime. That victim was not concerned about the cost. That victim wanted to see justice.

Justice is not done through an open door. When I listen to members on the other side, their solution is to open the doors of all the prisons and that somehow will fix things. The other problem is they want to blame society for the acts of criminals. Quite frankly, there are criminal acts that should be dealt with.

We should move forward on the bill.

Safe Streets and Communities ActGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.

NDP

Andrew Cash NDP Davenport, ON

Madam Speaker, I listened very carefully to the member opposite. It seems to us on this side of the House that the way to get at crime is to find the roots of crime. We should try to stop crime from happening on the ground floor so that the roof the hon. member mentioned does not leak.

Why does the government not want to look at the fundamental roots of crime: poverty, mental illness and addiction?

Safe Streets and Communities ActGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

Dave MacKenzie Conservative Oxford, ON

Madam Speaker, quite frankly, part of the member's equation is to blame society. In my involvement in these areas, I have seen families where one child chooses a life of crime and the others do not. It is easy to blame society for these things, but at some point those who commit crimes are going to have to suffer the consequences. Many of them feel they should not suffer those consequences.

We should pass this bill. It is about protecting victims.

Safe Streets and Communities ActGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

Order, please. It is my duty, pursuant to Standing Order 38, to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Vancouver Quadra, Veterans; the hon. member for Windsor West, Windsor-Detroit Border Crossing; the hon. member for Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, Fisheries and Oceans.

Safe Streets and Communities ActGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.

NDP

Andrew Cash NDP Davenport, ON

Madam Speaker, I am grateful to have the opportunity to speak to Bill C-10, the government's so-called Safe Streets and Communities Act.

Indeed, of the many ways in which the Conservative government is moving Canada backward, few initiatives do more to achieve this than Bill C-10.

In my riding of Davenport over the last two years, this is one of the issues that has come up most often. There is concern over the government's obsession with spending billions of dollars, and by the way, compelling the provinces to do the same, on a crime bill that will largely not make our streets any safer and will not contribute to building stronger communities.

I live in a riding where in the last two years we have seen schools close, recreation centres close, daycare centres close. Programs to help settle new immigrants have been gutted. Bus routes, used primarily by folks doing shift work, have been cut. Senior services are in dire need of new investments. I live in a city where 70,000 people are on a waiting list for affordable housing.

While the essential services that are needed to create strong, vibrant, safe streets and communities are being choked, the government can find billions upon billions of dollars for an experiment on crime prevention which has failed in every jurisdiction where it has been attempted. It utterly failed, as we know, in the United States.

Members should not get me wrong. It is not that people in my riding are not concerned about crime. They are concerned about crime. Indeed they are, but I am reminded of a conversation I had with some residents who were concerned about drug dealers taking over the local park. I am concerned about that too. It was not that they were just concerned about the dealers. To a person, these residents complained not so much that there are not enough prisons to lock the dealers up, but that there are not enough programs for young people to get involved in. With nothing to do and few local job prospects, young people are vulnerable to falling into gang culture and criminal elements. Bill C-10 does not address this fundamental foundational issue around crime prevention.

While I listed all the closures in my riding, and I could list more, there are things that are being built and opened in my riding. In the riding of Davenport there are two brand new police stations being built as we speak. Many are hopeful, as am I, that these new police stations in our neighbourhoods will help with some of the crime issues that people are dealing with, but the problem underlined in my riding is writ large in Bill C-10: there is no balance.

In communities across the country investment in social infrastructure is desperately needed, yet we are told that we are heading into a period of austerity and that there is no money. Well, there is money for some things, but when ideology trumps common sense, we get nasty pieces of legislation like Bill C-10.

Instead of a national affordable housing strategy that would provide a framework to provide stable affordable housing, a key determinant to health and a primary building block for safe communities, the government will spend over $500 million this year alone on new prison construction. That is the housing strategy for Canada.

While the government squeezes middle and working class families and small businesses, it is happy to spend over $162,000 on average annually for each new prison cell in this country, according to the Parliamentary Budget Officer.

Instead of investing in getting at the roots of poverty, mental illness and addiction, instead of focusing on a comprehensive pan-Canadian job strategy--and rolling over for the oil and gas industry is not a cross-Canada jobs program--the government wants to spend close to $3 billion a year locking up more people, providing fewer programs to rehabilitate them, all the while draining our public coffers, our precious resources, that could truly create safer streets. Indeed, prison costs are up 86% since the Conservatives took power while the crime rate continues to fall to its lowest level since the 1970s.

The government has racked up the biggest fiscal deficit in the history of Canada. Instead of being smart with taxpayer money, it plays politics and lets its dated right-wing ideology continue to craft bad public policy.

For example, a single new low security cell is going to cost $260,000 to build. A medium security cell is going to cost $400,000. A maximum security cell is going to cost $600,000. For goodness sake, even the annual cost of an inmate in a community correctional centre is now over $85,000 a year. Does this make fiscal sense?

As the income gap gets wider and wider in our country, the government hectors Canadians about belt-tightening, while its spends and spends on a prison expansion scheme about which both the Canadian Bar Association and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, among many others, have serious concerns.

The government does not actually want to hear what Canadians think about this omnibus bill. If it did, it would not have limited debate on the bill. Bill C-10 packages up nine government bills from the previous Parliament and presents them to the House and to Canadians as one whopping bill. Then it says that it wants us to accept it all without any conversation or debate.

With the motion that passed yesterday morning, Canadians in the House will only be able to debate for a period of less than two hours for each of the nine bills. For a government that was elected to bring more transparency and more accountability to this place, it is in fact bringing less. The action of limiting debate on this huge and outrageously expensive bill is one more example of its lack of transparency.

It is too bad. Canadians deserve to have Bill C-10 aired to its fullest. Experts say that mandatory minimum sentences do not work for reducing drug use, tackling organized crime or making our communities safer. The measures contained in the bill, for example, will not make it easier for law enforcement agencies to get to the organized crime bosses who run the drug trade, who we need to bring in and incarcerate.

One of the most effective ways to promote public safety is the successful rehabilitation and reintegration back into society of offenders. Our federal prison system lacks the programs to deal with this effectively. This legislation does not deal with this issue in any kind of real way.

We do not oppose everything in the bill. As we saw yesterday in the House, my hon. colleague from Windsor—Tecumseh tabled a motion that would have expedited the passing of elements of the bill that were in the last Parliament, known as Bill C-54. This section seeks to protect children from exploitation and sexual abuse. In fact, the government has adopted measures in this section of Bill C-10 put forward by the NDP in private member's bills.

It is too bad that the government would rather play politics than move quickly on parts of the bill that could get unanimous support in this House, like those measures to protect our children. In fact, immediately after voting down the motion that would have sent that part of the bill to the Senate within 48 hours, government members proceeded with statements on the importance of the very measure they had just voted against putting on the fast track.

As I said, there are things in the bill which we do agree with and which we could find common ground with the government on, but it is not really interested in doing that. The government's decision to limit debate heaps a measure of ideological cynicism on to what should be a very thorough, serious examination.

The bill is too costly and it will not make our streets and communities safer. We on the NDP side of the House have come prepared to work with the government to quickly pass the measures that will protect children and to fix measures that will not work. It is too bad the government wants to play politics and games with the safety of some of the most vulnerable in our society.

Safe Streets and Communities ActGovernment Orders

4:40 p.m.

Conservative

Devinder Shory Conservative Calgary Northeast, AB

Madam Speaker, I listened to my colleague very carefully. This is what I heard in Calgary Northeast. I directly asked a couple of offenders who had been in jail a couple of times, for a few months each time, one specific question. When I asked them if they had to spend a minimum of two years in jail for the same offence instead of only two months, they both said that they would not have done it. That is the deterrence.

The member talked about the costs and about the debate. First, these bills have been debated in the House extensively in the past. It is so unfortunate that I have not heard a line about supporting the victims.

Why can those members not stop playing politics and do the right thing by standing up for the victims, supporting the bill and making a change for once?

Safe Streets and Communities ActGovernment Orders

4:40 p.m.

NDP

Andrew Cash NDP Davenport, ON

Madam Speaker, the fact is that 77,000 fewer crimes were reported in 2010 than in 2009. The 2010 crime rates are the lowest since the 1970s, yet the cost of prisons are up 86% since the conservative government took over. This is the new math of this Parliament. Canadians are scratching their heads. We wonder why the government seeks to spend money in such a fashion without fulsome debate in the House on the bill before us.

Safe Streets and Communities ActGovernment Orders

4:40 p.m.

Liberal

Kirsty Duncan Liberal Etobicoke North, ON

Madam Speaker, Canada's prisons are home to an increasing number of offenders with mental health disorders, ranging from anti-social personality disorder through to schizophrenia, and offenders who may also be addicted to alcohol or drugs. We are seeing criminalization of the mentally ill.

A recent report from the Office of the Correctional Investigator shows that the number of people in federal prisons with mental illnesses has nearly doubled in the past decade, while the incarceration rate has barely budged.

What solutions would the hon. member suggest to treat people with mental illness who run into difficulty with the law, often because of a lack of a national mental health strategy and poorly-funded, disorganized and fragmented community mental health services?

Safe Streets and Communities ActGovernment Orders

4:45 p.m.

NDP

Andrew Cash NDP Davenport, ON

Madam Speaker, that is an excellent question and it is true. Law enforcement agencies across Canada have been saying for years that they need the resources to properly deal with the issue of mental health. We see this time and time again, anecdotally across Canada, that when law enforcement have that training, many situations that previously resulted in tragic outcomes now do not.

It is incumbent on us to provide law enforcement agencies with the tools they need to learn more about mental health, to understand the issue and to understand that this is an illness and not criminal behaviour.

Safe Streets and Communities ActGovernment Orders

4:45 p.m.

NDP

Jean-François Larose NDP Repentigny, QC

Madam Speaker, as a father, it is completely unacceptable to me to watch a government that claims to be responsible hide behind pedophilia to say that some aspects of the bill are commendable and that we do not want to support it. That does not work.

Is it acceptable to hide behind one item in order to try to get others passed in such an irresponsible manner?

Safe Streets and Communities ActGovernment Orders

4:45 p.m.

NDP

Andrew Cash NDP Davenport, ON

Madam Speaker, in fact, this is one of the problems we have with the bill. It is a cynical move on the part of the government to hide the problematic parts of the bill inside an omnibus bill so we cannot, as parliamentarians, as representatives of the Canadian public, properly debate them. We all think this is a very serious problem.

Safe Streets and Communities ActGovernment Orders

4:45 p.m.

Conservative

Brian Jean Conservative Fort McMurray—Athabasca, AB

Madam Speaker, I come from northern Alberta, a very beautiful part of Canada with lush wilderness and five rivers flowing into my community. It is a beautiful place. I have lived there 45 years. During that time I have seen a move from 1,500 people to approximately 100,000 today. That is quite a growth for any community, but during that period of time I also had the opportunity to practise law. I practised several different types of law, including criminal law.

My family has lived in that community in the centre of town for 45 years and during that time period we have seen a tremendous growth in one particular trade. That trade is obvious and seen daily on the streets of downtown Fort McMurray as the drug trade.

I get many calls from constituents in relation to this activity, which carries on during the day. That is why I am so pleased today to rise to speak in support of Bill C-10, which would help those beautiful communities across Canada that have turned into places where drugs are sold openly in public at all times of the day.

This must stop. This is Canada. This is not some third world country. This is Canada where we believe in the rule of law, where we believe in obeying the laws. I am glad to say that Bill C-10 is not just in relation to punishing drug dealers, but also to protect our youth, to protect our country and 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. We are getting a lot of work done here notwithstanding the NDP's position on the bill.

I have received tremendous support, not just from Fort McMurray but from small communities like Slave Lake and High Prairie, which are nestled in a different area of Alberta about five hours by vehicle further south. However, these communities have seen a tremendous increase in plain and obvious drug trafficking as well. They have spoken loudly and clearly that they want this off their streets.

The bill, the safe streets and communities act, responds to and reflects our commitment to reintroduce our law and order agenda legislation to combat crime and terrorism. We hear members on the other side say that we should study it some more. We have studied it and many of the positions that are found in these bills have been Conservative Party policy for many years. They have been thoroughly debated in the House before. Maybe some of the members are new, we understand that, but they have been debated. The people of Canada spoke in the last election. They gave us a clear mandate to move forward with this agenda because they knew that the Liberal Party, which is now pretty much gone except for a few members, had blocked our agenda.

I can hear those members over there talking about standing up—

Safe Streets and Communities ActGovernment Orders

4:45 p.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh!

Safe Streets and Communities ActGovernment Orders

4:50 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

I ask members who do not have the floor to wait until questions and comments.

Safe Streets and Communities ActGovernment Orders

4:50 p.m.

Conservative

Brian Jean Conservative Fort McMurray—Athabasca, AB

Thank you, Madam Speaker, just like the Conservatives stand up for victims, you are standing up for me and I appreciate that.

As noted by the Minister of Justice in his speech to the House last week, this bill reflects the strong mandate that Canadians have given us to protect society and ultimately hold criminals responsible for their actions. That does not mean a slap on the wrist. It means time away for the crimes they have committed, proportional, of course, to the crimes they have committed.

Bringing these nine bills together, that died on the order paper in the last Parliament, sends a clear signal to Canadians that we have listened to them, that we are following the mandate they have given us, and we are following through with our commitment. Canadians know that they can count on this government to do exactly that.

We have, through a series of bills and legislative moves, sought to improve public safety and strengthen our justice system since we formed government in 2006. While we have enacted significant criminal law reforms, there is much more to be done. Moving forward on this particular piece of legislation will certainly be a step in the right direction.

However, our work is not done and we look forward to constructive criticism from the opposition. We are sure it will be constructive and we know there will be criticism, but we look for suggestions from them because nothing is perfect. We know that we have to go further to better reflect what Canadians want. That is clearly safety on their streets, to take drug dealers off the streets, and ensure their children can play on the streets.

The suggestion by the opposition that we should somehow cherry pick parts of the bill and fast-track them is not listening to what Canadians said in the last election. They clearly support our law and order agenda, and the NDP and Liberals should get on board and do exactly that, not just with this bill, as I know the Liberals have said they will support some parts of it, but other bills because clearly Canadians should be the final boss of this place and of us.

As I said, this debate is welcome because we have an opportunity to put in the forefront what we are trying to do for Canadians and that we are listening to them. It is also important to recognize that we have continued this debate time and time again with many of the same people across the way now complaining that we are not having proper discussion.

Clearly, we know that moving forward with this bill would ensure public safety. It would ensure offenders are held more accountable. There are minimum sentences to ensure that happens and so that judges have clear knowledge. I remember when I practised law that I would stand before judges who would say they did not have a clear indication from Parliament here or there, that they did not know which sentence to give, that an offender in a certain case went away for two years and in another case an offender got two months for the same offence, maybe drug trafficking in Vancouver versus Edmonton. That happens. I can assure everyone that happens.

This sends a clear message to judges that the minimal sentences we are passing, with the help of the Liberals, hopefully, and convincing some NDP members about what Canadians want, will actually happen. We are sending clear direction to judges across this country. We want to see this stopped. Judges have asked for direction and I hope they are listening today. They should recognize that Canadians speak to us by electing us and we speak to them through putting laws in place that judges will interpret. Judges will impose the sentences we ask them to because Canadians have clearly told us they want that.

I have heard a good overview of Bill C-10 by many members in the House. I know many have complained it is a bit too large and complicated. I have had an opportunity to sit in on special legislative committees, passing 15 bills in this place through committees, and I do not see any complication. It is plain language and is very clear. It has been before the House in some cases for years and years.

I would suggest it is not too large nor complex. However, if members on the other side have difficulties with particular clauses, I would be happy to go through them with them. I am sure many members in this place, at least on the Conservative side, would be happy to sit down and explain some of the more complex details. Clearly, we have to listen to Canadians and pass these laws, and I am looking for support from the opposition side to do exactly that.

Safe Streets and Communities ActGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

NDP

Anne Minh-Thu Quach NDP Beauharnois—Salaberry, QC

Madam Speaker, I find the government member's comments to the effect that new members may not be familiar with this omnibus bill somewhat condescending. On the contrary, we are very familiar with it; we are informed. We know that bills of this nature have been introduced in the past, although certain provisions were a little different and several minimum sentences have been added.

Accordingly, when we talk about offender accountability and responsibility regarding drugs, can the member across the floor explain to us on what basis they can say that measures are in place to help offenders? We know that only one in five offenders receives any help in terms of mental health and rehabilitation, and that few of these people get any meaningful help.

Safe Streets and Communities ActGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

Conservative

Brian Jean Conservative Fort McMurray—Athabasca, AB

Madam Speaker, I thank the member for the question regarding provincial jurisdiction.

I have seen in this place some constructive work by Liberal, Bloc and NDP members on some of our legislation. I can assure the member that we do not believe that this is perfect legislation. It is large and it has been around for a while, but it is not perfect. That is why there have been some changes over the summer. We would ask for her input, and the input of all members, to make it even more perfect. If they see places where we should impose minimum sentences or increase sentences for particularly violent offences or offences against children, I would suggest that the Minister of Justice would be more than happy to have that input and implement those changes.

If the member does have that, please come across and explain exactly why the punishment is not severe enough; how we could utilize it to rehabilitate or actually change the justice system; and, as to what has happened in this country over the last 20 or 30 years, how to make the streets safer for Canadians and respond better to what they want.

Safe Streets and Communities ActGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

NDP

Matthew Kellway NDP Beaches—East York, ON

Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague for his speech and I am delighted to know that he has practised criminal law. He would likely know that jurisdictions around the world, including jurisdictions here in North America, our own federal government and five provincial governments, are seeking ways to relieve congestion and delay in our court systems.

One of my many concerns about the bill is that it is, in fact, going to overwhelm our court system. It would do quite the opposite of its purported intention, which is to provide justice for victims and safer communities.

I wonder it the member could advise us as to what the bill does, or what the government is prepared to do, to relieve congestion and delays in our provincial and federal court systems.

Safe Streets and Communities ActGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

Conservative

Brian Jean Conservative Fort McMurray—Athabasca, AB

Madam Speaker, the member is correct. It is a concern of mine as well having practised law in Fort McMurray, and it was a very busy criminal practice.

I would note some other statistics. I do not have them in front of me, but from memory I think only 6% to 8% of crimes are actually solved in this country. I also understand that somewhere around 70% or 80% of the offences committed in this country are done by someone who has committed them before and has been in jail before. These are startling and troubling statistics.

I have represented people who had 10 or 12 previous impaired driving convictions and those with four or five assaults. There were some people who had three or four pages to their record, which does not mean four or five assaults but probably somewhere in the neighbourhood of 30 or 40 previous convictions, and it is difficult to get the convictions.

We clearly need to send a message, but to save a dime, the cost to taxpayers, the cost to the citizens of Canada, for not making sure people pay for the crimes they commit I would suggest far outweighs the opposite.

Safe Streets and Communities ActGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

NDP

Anne Minh-Thu Quach NDP Beauharnois—Salaberry, QC

Madam Speaker, when the Minister of Justice told us that he would not govern on the basis of the most recent statistics, he was basically saying that he would not use facts or evidence to guide his decisions. That is very worrisome.

Are we going to be subject to governance without logic or reason for the next four years? Should we also expect the Conservative government to rule by fiat without recognizing that 61% of Canadians did not vote for them? The day after the May 2 election, when the Conservatives had only 39% of the votes, the Prime Minister admitted that the results of the election showed that Canadians wanted the parties to work together. Was this a false promise? I think that the whole government and, more specifically, all members of Parliament who are paid by taxpayers and represent the people in their ridings, have the duty to govern in a reasonable and thoughtful manner.

When the government stubbornly insists on passing a bill when it does not know the actual costs of that bill but does know that certain extremely costly measures will not address the actual problems and, worse, could very well create more problems, it is not logical, responsible or thoughtful. I would even go so far as to say that the government is acting in bad faith.

I find it hard to believe that all the Conservative members agree that the government should put the provinces further in debt when they do not have the slightest bit of evidence that the proposed measures will actually make our streets and communities safer. In fact, by taking just 15 minutes to read the news or the press releases issued by experts such as the Canadian Bar Association, we quickly learn that minimum sentences do not reduce crime rates; this could save us $90,000 a day. Minimum sentencing does not work and costs a fortune.

The government needs to tell taxpayers the truth by revealing the costs and by explaining the basis for its proposals, particularly those related to minimum sentencing. The government needs to ask taxpayers directly whether they would like it to pass a bill of unknown costs that threatens health and education or whether they would rather the government take the time to ensure that their money is invested responsibly and adopt measures that would truly make their streets and communities safer. Clearly, Canadians would chose the second option.

We all agree, even the members of the opposition, that criminals must be punished. I do not want to dwell too long on what has already been said, but there are measures that we are prepared to support right now, namely, all those related to violent crimes and sexual offences against children.

However, the government seems to forget that 95% of prisoners will eventually be released and that the correctional system is a dangerous environment, rife with drug trafficking and violence, which can lead to other kinds of crimes. Thus, it is possible that increasing the number of prisoners and taxing the prison system even further, without investing more judiciously in preventive measures that tackle the source of the problem, could have very negative, or even dangerous, consequences.

If the purpose of Bill C-10 really is to make our streets and communities safer, why does it not include more investment in rehabilitation and prevention programs? I know the government does not like statistics, but 80% of incarcerated women are in prison for crimes related to poverty, including 39% for unpaid fines. These figures released this morning by the National Council of Welfare point to a real problem. The council also noted that the cost to incarcerate a woman who fails to pay a $150 fine is $1,400.

I am sure the Minister of Finance will be pleased to hear—and free of charge too—that for every dollar invested in prevention and rehabilitation, the government would save far more in incarceration costs, addiction costs and the cost of crimes committed in prisons themselves. Front-line workers such as social workers, street outreach workers, school psychologists and counsellors are looking for an opportunity to become more involved on the ground to prevent crime by targeting at-risk groups—young people in distress, people with mental illness or substance abuse problems, and marginalized people. Their work allows would-be offenders to get help and referrals to the services they need. All studies and examples from elsewhere demonstrate that prevention is more effective than incarceration and punishment.

Prevention not only stops the crimes from being committed, but also contributes to the well-being of Canadian society. Therefore, fewer crimes mean fewer victims and less incarceration. Is that not a nicer social and economic picture? It appears that we are not all on the same page.

As members of Parliament, we are all paid to make difficult decisions, but we are also paid to make logical decisions and to undertake the necessary research to ensure that taxpayers' money is not being wasted but is being spent effectively.

Why is the government so anxious to pass a bill that includes measures that have failed in other countries?

With a government that so often takes a page from the United States government when developing new policies, it should learn from one of the United States' concrete examples, which shows that minimum sentences do not decrease drug trafficking crimes. Not only that, minimum sentences are expensive and can exacerbate a large number of issues such as overcrowded prisons and negative effects of repression on society.

Logic tells me that if the Conservatives truly want to improve public safety—and I have no doubt that that is what they want, as do the rest of us—why not ensure that the proposed measures truly target the root of the problem?

To do that, we simply need more time to do the necessary research and base the measures on facts, on concrete examples from other countries and on responsible reasoning.

With this very uncertain economic climate, it is not the time to act like reckless cowboys and pass laws with unknown price tags, which could be detrimental to the economic health of the country and the provinces, as well as public safety.

To justify the bill and evade our questions, the Minister of Justice, who says he does not rely on figures and statistics, often cites the price paid by victims, which runs to $99 billion. I hope that this is not an arbitrary amount.

But where is the evidence that this cost will decrease with implementation of this legislation? Taxpayers deserve answers. If there is clear and objective evidence that minimum sentences do not reduce drug-related crimes in the U.S., how will they lead to a reduction in the price paid by victims?

Why not vote for measures that are unanimously accepted in the House, continue a healthy and democratic debate on the contentious issues and find the right, intelligent and effective solutions to ensure the safety of Canadians?

And above all, why not show Canadians that the Conservatives are prepared to work with the opposition parties, which represent 61% of the population, and make considered decisions by splitting the bill and debating the laws one by one?

I can confirm—and this is more free advice—that the majority of Canadians will be pleased to see that the government is prepared to make good decisions and consult experts rather than hastily proposing repressive laws with unknown social, economic and legal consequences. This would bode well for the next four years.

Therefore, I do not support passage of this amalgamation of repressive and unjustified bills in Bill C-10. I invite the Conservatives to review this bill and allow a debate that is healthier and more democratic for everyone.