House of Commons Hansard #90 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was refugees.


Safe Streets and Communities Act
Government Orders

10:50 a.m.


Jack Harris St. John's East, NL

Madam Speaker, the minister talked about accepting amendments, yet some 60 amendments from the New Democratic Party in committee, and amendments from the Liberals and amendments in the House were rejected. In fact, all opposition amendments were turned down by the government. Whatever amendments may have been accepted in previous Parliaments in committee when there was co-operation were stripped out of the bills that were brought forward. The government has accepted no amendments from the opposition.

How is it that the minister can claim that this is the best legislation possible and that the government actually listened to the experts and the amendments that flowed from hearing them?

Safe Streets and Communities Act
Government Orders

10:55 a.m.


Rob Nicholson Niagara Falls, ON

Madam Speaker, I actually do not agree with the hon. member. There were changes made in the previous Parliaments with respect to the drug bills that continue to be included in this.

The people whom we are listening to are the people of Canada. As I have indicated, through four elections now we have been very clear that we would get tough on the people who bring drugs into the country and the people who are in the business of sexually exploiting children. We make no apology for that.

I for one am very grateful, and I know I am joined by all of my colleagues on this side of the House in that, for the Canadians who have responded and come forward and supported us on this legislation.

Safe Streets and Communities Act
Government Orders

March 6th, 2012 / 10:55 a.m.


Jack Harris St. John's East, NL

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to have an opportunity to talk about the effects of Bill C-10 and the amendments we have brought forth from the Senate, which are up for consideration.

These amendments deal particularly with one aspect of the act, the provision for a new international tort, called the justice for victims of terrorism act. In essence, it allows Canadians to sue countries or terrorist groups for the consequences of acts of terrorism. It is a new tort altogether for Canada. It never existed before. We debated this in committee but not very much in the House. However, there are now six amendments coming back from the Senate.

It is interesting that when we talk about the process involved with this particular piece of legislation and what the Minister of Justice just said concerning the acceptance of the amendments, this particular aspect is quite instructive as to the approach taken by the government with this bill. It has put together, as the minister said, nine bills. Four had been previously introduced by the Minister of Justice himself and four in a previous Parliament when there were other members of the House, not the approximately hundred new members here today. Four were introduced by the Minister of Public Safety and one by the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration.

This particular bill went to committee. The member for Mount Royal, who participated quite actively in this aspect of the bill in committee, had proposed a number of well-thought-out amendments. We had heard experts testify before the committee, which I will go into a little bit later. That member has a degree of expertise in legal matters, having been a law professor for some 30 years at McGill University and being a recognized expert in international humanitarian law. He brought forward a number of thoughtful amendments that in his submission to the committee were intended to improve the bill. To suggest that they got short shrift is an understatement. We spent two hours of a committee meeting discussing those amendments, and none were accepted. They were all voted down, apparently under instructions from somewhere outside the committee, and we got nowhere.

The next day we came back, after having discussed eight clauses of the bill. The bill was quite extensive, having some 208 clauses. Eight of them had been discussed at the first meeting in a sincere attempt to improve the bill, but were not listened to. We came back the next day at 8:45 for a two-hour meeting to continue discussing some 200 further clauses in the bill, which included some nine different pieces of legislation, as the minister just said, and we faced a motion that the matter be dealt with that day. There was no warning, no consultation, no discussion or consideration.

We had listened to numerous witnesses over a series of meetings up to then, with expert witnesses from the Canadian Bar Association, the police associations, and also correctional officers, experts and academics in the corrections field and child law field. We heard from the Barreau du Québec, with its expertise and work in the criminal defence and prosecution bars, similar to what we have with the Canadian Bar Association. We had an enormous amount of material to consider and a whole host of suggestions, many of which were embodied in amendments presented to the committee through the usual process for consideration.

However, from the approach taken by the government, we faced the prospect of having one day for the first eight clauses and another day for all of the rest. If the legislation were not dealt with by 11:59 p.m., it would be deemed to have been brought forward, passed and sent back to the House for consideration. That is the kind of approach the government took with this legislation, despite the minister's claim here this morning that he wanted to listen to all the proposals and amendments and everyone who had anything to say. In fact, we went through that process and discovered in the end that everyone was going through the motions. They were moving their mouths and tongues, but no one on the other side was using was their ears and actually listening to what was being said. That is very unfortunate in a democratic country.

As I had occasion to say in joining the debate on whether we would deal with the legislation in one day or not, this seems to be Parliament where the other side thinks that because it has a majority of some 11 members, a razor thin majority as the member for Winnipeg Centre says, it has the right to do anything it wants at whatever speed it wants and claim that it has a strong mandate from the people of Canada.

As I said to the committee, I was here in the 33rd Parliament when the right hon. Brian Mulroney was prime minister. I believe there were about 295 members in the House at that time. Sitting on the government side with the Progressive Conservative Party were some 211 members out of some 295 members in total. However, in that Parliament, when legislative committees met, they had discussions and heard from witnesses and amendments were moved by the opposition and were accepted. I moved a number of amendments to a particular piece of legislation to establish the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency. Those amendments were accepted in committee. We travelled, we heard from people and amendments were proposed by government and opposition members. There was a collaborative approach in recognition that the people on the committee were elected to Parliament and had the knowledge and wisdom to bring something to legislation.

That seemed to be totally absent in our committee, and certainly in the approach taken by the current government here. I say that only as a preface to the substantive remarks that I want to make here, because there are substantive issues and problems with the proposed legislation, Bill C-30.

The minister talked about mandatory minimum sentences. Here there is a small anomaly, which I have to acknowledge, on the part of our party. The NDP, generally speaking, is opposed to mandatory minimums, and I will go into the reasons why. However, on our part, there were two exceptions to that in the last Parliament. One was regarding sexual predators against children. We believe there is a strong consensus in this country on mandatory minimums for sexual offences against children, the Internet predator offences that are contained in the bill and sexual assaults generally against children. The second was regarding the provisions contained in the gun bill, that is, in regard to the use of guns in the commission of a crime. Mandatory minimums should be imposed in those circumstances to send a very strong message that the use of guns for crime in this country is not tolerated at all.

However, I think there is even a lesson in that. We supported that as a party, but I think we learned our lesson about a month ago when a supreme court judge in Ontario had occasion to recognize a significant problem with the mandatory minimum sentence of three years. In this case, someone had had a loaded gun in his hand when the police had broken down his door when looking for someone else. Under the provisions of the Criminal Code, a mandatory minimum sentence of three years was required in this case. The judge had no choice under the law but to issue a mandatory minimum sentence. However, in that case, and I suspect it is going to be appealed, the judge declined to impose the mandatory minimum, although the law provided for that as the sentence.

The judge, because of the circumstance of this fellow taking a picture of himself and putting it on the Internet, and for some reason people feel the need to do that, showing he was some sort of tough guy and holding a gun in his hand, she decided that to impose a mandatory minimum of three years in jail would amount to what would be considered, under the Criminal Code, to be cruel and unusual punishment and she declined to impose that sentence. Whether that will stand up under appeal, we do not know. However, I would be very surprised if the prosecutor did not appeal the case to the Court of Appeal for Ontario to ensure that law was as the judge stated in that case.

There is the issue of mandatory minimums, and a lot has been written about that. There is a general sense that there is something wrong with the notion of mandatory minimums. The government has decided that this is a principal tool of Parliament to impose sentences on people who contribute to particular crimes. However, our society is based on the notion that judges determine what is an appropriate sentence in a particular case because they have the opportunity, in real time, to determine what is an appropriate sentence in a case.

The minister talked about people appearing in committee and being concerned about having strong sentences for offences. I guess if we asked Canadians whether they or their families had been victims of crime and should the penalty fit the crime, everyone would answer yes. I do not think anyone would say that a punishment should be too strong or too weak, but that the punishment should fit the crime. People agree with that. People who have been victims of violent crimes obviously think the punishment ought to be very high.

Our system of civilization demands that we have a punishment that fits the crime, which involves not just the person's actions but also the responsibility of the individual for the crime and all of the surrounding circumstances, including the history of the person. Someone who commits a crime in one particular circumstance may get a stiffer sentence than some other person who committed the same crime. Why? Perhaps the individual was a repeat offender, or had a history of crime, or the victim was particularly vulnerable or there were aggravating circumstances that surrounded the crime. We cannot have the legislature deciding all of the circumstances. That is not our job.

Principally the Criminal Code says that the maximum penalty shall be a certain amount and then it is up to the judge to determine what sentence fits that crime, a particular offender and the circumstances that surrounded it. This is the principle of justice that prevails.

For example, some amendments were proposed to try to ameliorate some of the arbitrary sentences put forward. We talked about the experience in the United States, which has quite a lot of mandatory minimum sentences. We talked about the reasons why they were negative. The opponents to mandatory minimum sentences, which the committee heard, said that they had little or no deterrent or denunciatory effect. That is particularly true for children. That is why changes were made to the Youth Criminal Justice Act regarding stronger sentences for young people. They have little or no deterrent effect. Experts told the committee that.

The problem with mandatory minimum sentences is that they maintain rigid penalty structure limits on judicial discretion, thereby preventing the imposition of just sentences by having a mandatory minimum.

There is also the concern that the rigidity of mandatory minimums would result in some grossly disproportionate sentences. The case in Ontario of the individual with the loaded gun taking his own picture is an example of that.

In addition, opponents assert that mandatory minimums can make it difficult to convict defendants in cases where the penalty is perceived as unduly harsh. That involves a couple of factors. Sometimes, people who are charged with crimes may be persuaded to plead guilty if they feel they will be treated by the courts in a manner consistent with the actual severity of the crime. However, if they face a mandatory minimum, they will plead not guilty, seek a trial and they may be successful. The rate of acquittals in situations where people go to court trials can be quite high. If we have a jury and the jury is aware of the mandatory minimum, it has been less willing to convict in certain cases.

There is also a concern about the fiscal consequences of the penalties, increasing the burden on prosecutorial resources and substantial increases in prison population. We have heard from across the country that this would place a significant burden on provincial resources throughout the country.

Then the concern was that mandatory minimums would exacerbate racial and ethnic biases in the judicial system if they were applied disproportionately to minority groups. We already have a significantly disproportionate population of aboriginal people in our jails. They represent about one-fifth of the population of Canada in our jails, or more than that.

These are some of the reasons that people oppose it in principle.

In this case, we see even mandatory minimums for possession of six plants of marijuana. That would get a person a mandatory minimum sentence of six months in jail. More than six plants would get a person nine months in jail if there were an aggravating factor involved, and the minister talked about grow ops. One of the aggravating factors would be the plants growing on somebody else's land. That is aimed at renting a house and starting a grow op.

What if it is not a grow op at all? What if it is somebody who throws a few seeds on a farmer's field or on somebody else's land in the woods? Throwing a few seeds on someone's land in the forest is an aggravating factor. Therefore, if people threw half a dozen seeds and half a dozen plants grew, they would be subject to nine months in jail for something like that. That is horrendous. To put people in jail with all the other offenders is a very significant and severe punishment.

The Canadian Bar Association talked to us about this issue. Attempts were made, through amendments in committee, to have some safety valve for judges in dealing with mandatory minimums. However, they were not permitted. There was a lot of talk about the United States and how terrible things had happened with mandatory minimums, and it is very true. The United States has the highest rate of prison population as a percentage of the population of any country in the world. I have the Canadian Bar Association saying “by far the world’s highest incarceration rate”. A lot of that is attributed to mandatory minimums, the “three strikes you're out” laws in California and the various areas heavy sentencing policies. However, even in the United States, judges may depart from the mandatory minimums in defined circumstances, including where the offender did not have a significant criminal history or did not use violence or a weapon or cause serious bodily harm to any person.

Also, in the United Kingdom there are two formulations of an exemption provision in relation to mandatory minimums. These provisions are there to allow what is referred to as a particular circumstance that, “would make it unjust to do so in all the circumstances”. That is by far a much easier test than the cruel and unusual punishment provisions in our Charter of Rights.

Provision to ameliorate the effects of mandatory minimums, particularly in some of these matters where they are enacted in quite an arbitrary manner, were rejected in the committee and in fact were given very short shift. As we have heard today, the minister has adopted a policy of harsher laws, which he states is aimed at reducing crime, organized crime, and responds to what the Canadian people want. That is one view.

It is becoming increasingly clear that this approach, which I would call the “war on drugs”, the terminology that gets used in the United States and sometimes in Canada, needs to be taken in order to reduce organized crime and to prevent the proliferation of drugs in our society. However, there is another view, and we heard that in committee from witnesses from the Canadian Bar Association, people who have a great deal of history and experience with the drug trade and criminal law generally. They suggested that this approach did not work. It does not work in the United States or in Canada. In fact, it leads to a proliferation of criminal activity.

Last week, which is a little late in this debate because it was after the House, the people's democratic House, dealt with the bill, which was then before the appointed Senate for consideration, the Global Commission on Drug Policy issued a statement to the right hon.Prime Minister of Canada and to the senators in the Senate asking to reject mandatory minimum sentences. The Global Commission on Drug Policy is the author of this. It is talking particularly about Canada.

I mentioned some of the problems we have with the sentencing for cannabis. I will read the last sentence. It states:

The clear path forward to best control cannabis in Canada and other jurisdictions throughout the world is to move away from failed law enforcement strategies and to pursue a public health approach aimed also at undermining the root causes of organized crime. Canada has the opportunity to take a leadership role in implementing such policies. And it would be completely in keeping with Canada’s global reputation as a modern, tolerant and forward-thinking nation.

Who makes up the Global Commission on Drug Policy? It is signed by six commissioners. Members will recognize some of these names.

Louise Arbour is a former justice of the Supreme Court of Canada. She resigned that position when she was appointed as the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court to prosecute war crimes. That was a very significant position and a recognition of her stature, knowledge and ability. It was also a great honour for Canada to have her take that position. She was also a former United Nations high commissioner for human rights. She now serves as the president of the International Crisis Group for Canada, which is a very important player in international affairs.

That group offers very high level, considered and valuable advice to countries on how to deal with international crises such as we had in Libya, Afghanistan, Iran and other places where we are trying to find solutions that do not involve the heavy use of military force but work with existing nations to try to resolve international crises.

It is significant that a Canadian is on this commission. There is also Richard Branson, a well-known entrepreneur, founder of the Virgin Group of companies. Virgin Airways is one of his businesses and he is involved in various others. He is a commissioner. The other commissioners are: former president of Brazil, Fernando Cardoso; former president of Switzerland and minister of home affairs, Ruth Dreifuss; the former minister of foreign affairs of Norway; the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees; and the former president of Colombia, César Trujillo, who is also the former secretary general of the OAS.

These are very significant, high level, international players with experience and knowledge of how countries should deal with matters such as drug policy. There is a bit of a change that is being put forward which has been seen not only by these individuals, but by other countries.

They say in their letter:

Building more prisons, tried for decades in the United States under its failed War on Drugs, only deepens the drug problem and does not reduce cannabis supply or rates of use....Many Global Commission members have first-hand experience with the violent illegal markets that emerge in drug-producing regions, where corruption, organized crime and violence are inevitable consequences of cannabis prohibition that cannot be successfully addressed by strengthening anti-cannabis law enforcement. We hope that Canada—where both production and consumption are an issue—remains open to new and better ideas.

I did mention the people who signed this letter, but the commission said in its letter that it also includes: the former secretary-general of the United Nations, Kofi Annan; former United States secretary of state George Shultz; the business expert I mentioned, Richard Branson; the former chair of the U.S. Federal Reserve, Paul Volcker; and also the former president of Mexico.

Mexico and Colombia have significant histories with the drug trade and they know of which they speak. This is really only about cannabis and not about drugs in general, but what is suggested is that the approach Canada is taking to cannabis, as contained in the bill and elsewhere, is in fact wrong and that a harm reduction approach should be pursued.

They suggest, and I am not saying I agree with everything, that there be a new regime involving taxation and production regulation. We agree with the decriminalization of marijuana and that this approach is not working.

I do not think anybody has any details worked out yet. Instead of going down the path of further driving marijuana production into the arms of significant organized crime with legislation like this, it will make it more possible for what the police officers sometimes call the low-hanging fruit, the people who are easy to catch, the people who are not exactly involved in any significant way at the higher levels of operations, but the people who are closer to the street and closer to very modest involvement to be eliminated. They will be put in jail. They will be taken off the streets. What will happen then? The people with the guns and significant organized criminal activity will increase, not decrease.

The Canadian Bar Association, the Global Commission on Drug Policy, and experts come to our committee and say, “This is called the safe streets and communities act, but in fact the consequences of the measures that you are bringing here are going to make our streets less safe and literally have more criminals on the streets. Why is that?”

The minister does not seem to understand. He finds that laughable. However, we are told by experts such as Professor Nicholas Bala and others that if a young person is put in jail for a significant period of time, he or she is not deterred by a longer sentence. He said that young people do not think about the consequences of their actions. They do not think about the sentence for something they are going to do. That is one of the functions of being an adolescent. They are working on things like trying to think ahead. Some people are impulsive when they are teenagers.

I see the member for Winnipeg Centre nodding his head. I imagine he was impulsive as a teenager, as we all were.

Safe Streets and Communities Act
Government Orders

11:25 a.m.


Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB

The brain is not fully formed.

Safe Streets and Communities Act
Government Orders

11:25 a.m.


Jack Harris St. John's East, NL

The member said that the brain is not fully formed. Magazines talk about how there is something different about the teenage brain. I think our law mirrors that, or should mirror that.

The Government of Quebec passionately spoke to our committee about its 40 years of experience with the Youth Criminal Justice Act and the approach to rehabilitation. I must say I admire the minister who came to our committee and the way he talked with obvious passion and knowledge about the kind of people who come into the youth criminal justice system. He looked around the room and said he was talking about young people who do not have the advantages of the people sitting around this room, who did not grow up in homes with everything they needed and many of the things they wanted. In some cases they grew up in very difficult circumstances.

He saw the youth criminal justice system as a way to save those children, those young people and to use the principle of rehabilitation, not put them in jail for four or five years where they would meet and interact with other people who have committed crimes, learn from each other and come out in a criminal mode as opposed to being rehabilitated.

He said that their approach has worked. They were angry that their approach was being undermined by legislation that was being proposed, and has now passed this House and in the Senate.

We have amendments here from the Senate on one aspect of the bill. The people of sober second thought should have used some of that thought to send this back to the House with a whole bunch of amendments saying, “Hold it, you are going too far. This is not going to work.” What Quebec's public safety minister said to the committee of the House is true. What the experts said to the committee of the House is true. I am sure they could have heard that from them, and probably did. Why do we not see amendments on that?

That is what is wrong with what is before us today. It does not do the job. It does not respond to the problems the bill creates. I have talked about mandatory minimums. I have talked about the Youth Criminal Justice Act.

One of the other things the Youth Criminal Justice Act decided is our policy on rehabilitation of young people. This says it is wrong. Now the notions of denunciation and deterrence in sentencing have been introduced. We are told that deterrence does not work. We are told that denunciation is not appropriate. People who come into contact with the criminal justice system are there because society does not accept what they have done. They are going to be subject to the criminal justice system. The object of the youth criminal justice system for those under 18 is rehabilitation.

What else does this bill do? The minister talked about making pardons more difficult to get. The government is going further than that. Nobody can get a pardon anymore, unless the person goes to cabinet. The cabinet can give a pardon, just as the king can give a pardon. The royal prerogative is still there.

However, in this process people who might have been found guilty or pleaded guilty to a shoplifting offence at age 18 or 19 cannot get a pardon. They can apply under the Criminal Records Act to the Parole Board. It costs $600 now whereas it used to cost $25. People can pay $600 and go through the process, but at the end of the day, they will not get a pardon. If they are successful they will get what is called a record suspension. I do not know exactly what that means. I have an idea that their record would be suspended, but it is still there and presumably can appear again. The so-called man or woman in the street does not know what a record suspension is. Most people who have heard of record suspensions think of suspended sentences or something like that.

The whole notion of a pardon has a certain redemptive quality. It is something that says yes, the person did something when he or she was age 18, 19 or 20 and he or she received a pardon for it. The person may have done something, but he or she has been rehabilitated and can demonstrate to the Parole Board that his or her behaviour since the commission of the offence is such that the person does not have to have it hanging over his or her head for the rest of his or her life.

If people do not think this matters, they should talk to the woman in her forties who came into my office recently. She said that she cannot get a job with the hospital corporation. It will not hire her. She is a single parent with responsibilities for her children. She had taken a course and was ready to go into the workforce. She had been accepted for a job, but she cannot have the job because when she was age 18 or 19, she pleaded guilty to shoplifting a few chocolate bars. Her parents paid a fine. This criminal record has been following her around for over 20 years and is preventing her from getting work.

There is still a provision for her to get a record suspension at great cost and it could take as long as two years now because the procedures have changed. We enquired to the Parole Board on behalf of another individual.

There used to be a provision that if an individual was eligible for a pardon and had a job offer that depended on it, the instructions to the Parole Board officials were to fast-track that. Guess what happened? Last fall, instructions were given that that was to be no more. The first person who applies is the first person who gets consideration and other people go to the bottom of the list. There is no consideration for someone who has rehabilitated himself or herself, like the woman I mentioned who has a job offer, who can be a contributing member of society, working and supporting her family, doing a job for the health care corporation. No, she cannot have that. She has to go to the end of the line and we understand the waiting lists are getting longer and longer.

This is consistent with the attitude we hear from the government. There is this punitive attitude for people who have run afoul of the law, who have done something wrong at some time in their lives, and granted, some are more serious than others. We have to recognize that serious crimes deserve serious punishment. No one is objecting to that. Our Criminal Code provides for maximum sentences that are quite high for serious crimes. There is provision for sentencing guidelines that can be put in place. However, when a punitive approach to criminal law is applied down the line, this is the kind of result we get. A single parent is denied an opportunity to work because the system cannot respond to her desire to have a pardon in order to get a job. That is wrong.

It is wrong to say people cannot have a pardon, that they can have a record suspension. Why are the Conservatives doing that? I did not hear any rationale. I did not hear anything that said there is something wrong with the word “pardon”. I did not hear it from one end of this debate to the other from anyone opposite. We know what pardon means.

As I said earlier, there is a redemptive aspect to it, whether we go back to the Bible or various aspects of religion, if people apologize for something that expiates their guilt somehow or other. If people serve their time, pay their debt to society and all those notions, the state can tell the Parole Board to pardon them for their offences and they can now hold their heads high. A young fellow who did something stupid when he was 18 or 19 and is now 24 or 25 can say that he wants a fresh start and wants to be a citizen with a clean record . A pardon does that but the government wants to take that away.

A lot of things in this bill are reprehensible but that one is more than reprehensible. It is, in fact, punitive. I cannot think of enough words to express how wrong it is to tell someone that he or she can only be pardoned if the cabinet agrees, which is basically what is being said. The word “pardon” is still there but it is not available anymore unless the cabinet agrees to it. I do not know when the last time that happened, if ever. It is actually the royal prerogative of pardon.

We have the issue of drugs and the heavy use of mandatory minimums. However, I want to comment briefly on the things we did support in this bill. We are over here in opposition and the Conservatives like to say that anybody on this side who does not agree with everything they say is standing with child pornographers. I think in this case we were supposed to be—

Safe Streets and Communities Act
Government Orders

11:35 a.m.

An hon. member


Safe Streets and Communities Act
Government Orders

11:35 a.m.


Jack Harris St. John's East, NL

Sexual predators. We are on the side of sexual predators in this case. Not only that, the Minister of Public Safety thought it was okay to suggest that people practising criminal law and defending people, which is their right to do, were standing on the side of the criminals and that was the choice they made in their careers. That is the Minister of Public Safety in a government that is supposed to believe in the rule of law. The rule of law includes, I must remind him, the presumption of innocence.

In our criminal system, the government does not decide who is guilty and puts people in jail, and neither do the police. The Minister of Justice does not decide who is guilty and put people in jail. The Minister of Public Safety does not decide who is guilty and put people in jail. They do not have the right to do that in our society. Does anyone know why? It is because we have the rule of law.

We talk about Libya and ask that it develop the rule of law. In Afghanistan, the rule of law is what we are all about. We want the judicial system to work. We only want people to go to jail who are prosecuted in accordance with the law. We want judges to be free of corruption. We expect them not to carry out the will of their political masters. We want free and fair court systems. That is the rule of law. We want that in Libya and in Afghanistan. We have asked some of our young men and women to die for that.

However, when we are in the House, people are pointed at from across the way and told that they practise criminal law and chose to use their career to act for criminals. Members will underscore mockingly that it is an honourable thing. If we read it on paper, it looks fair enough, but that is not the way it was put, as if there is something wrong with somebody ensuring that the rule of law operates.

As I told my friends many years ago when they were wondering why I was practising law, one of the jobs of people practising criminal law was to ensure that the laws we have operate fairly for everybody and that nobody goes to jail unless he or she has been proven guilty in accordance with the law. A defence lawyer would ask if the law had been followed, if the person were truly guilty and if there were proof beyond a reasonable doubt. An individual charged with an offence does not have the means to defend himself or herself.

An old saying in the legal profession, which every lawyer and probably everybody else knows, is that a man who defends himself has a fool for a client. I have even seen lawyers defend themselves and prove that aphorism to be true because they did not have a clue how to defend themselves. They were not paying attention to the law. They were more concerned about their own particular issues as opposed to what defences were there. We have a system of justice in this country that is based on the rule of law. The lawyers who defend the people who are charged are there to ensure that people do not go to jail unless they ought to, unless they have actually committed the offence and it can be proven by a court. All of this is part of our judicial system.

We have a government that implicitly disrespects the rule of law by attacking opposition members for practising law in this country. Since when did it become reprehensible to act as a lawyer, to defend the rule of law and to ensure that people who are charged with offences have a proper defence? We have a legal aid system in this country because we recognize that the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the right to liberty, require that an individual who is charged with an offence has a proper defence. We do not have the Charter of Rights and Freedoms for nothing. It is not just a piece of paper. To disrespect that by disrespecting the whole process is absolutely wrong.

Despite being accused by the other side of standing with child pornographers, in the case of Bill C-30, or defending criminals, there are some aspects of the bill now before us that we do support. However, in order to avoid the prolongation of the issue, we proposed that certain aspects of Bill C-10 be taken out and fast-tracked, that they be given special consideration and that the bill be split. We moved that in this House and I spoke to it.

However, instead of recognizing that this proposal was an effort to speed the passage of part of this bill, which is what I said, the government deputy House leader stood and said that it was a delaying tactic. I do not know how it is a delaying tactic to say that we take a section and pass it right away. The section was part 2 of the bill. There were a couple of sections. One related to creating the new offence of making sexually explicit material available to children, part of what is called grooming in the offence of sexual predators against children, and there was a new offence of agreeing to commit a sexual offence against a child.

We considered that those new offences were important and we wanted to see them implemented immediately. It also would increase the mandatory minimums that were already there. We believe those sections should be brought forward and passed immediately. As we indicated, there is a consensus on certain aspects of this legislation that we wanted to separate and pass but we were put into the position, with an omnibus bill, that either we accept all of it or none of it.

We wanted to see the speedy passage of the provisions of part 2 that related to sexual offences against children. However, that did not stop the Conservatives from saying that whenever they bring in legislation that is designed to protect children against sexual predators that the opposition votes against it. They continue to say that kind of nonsense over there but it needs to be on the record that we sought specific and immediate passage of that particular aspect of the bill.

We had experts before our committee from the Barreau du Québec, for example, who talked about the concerns they had regarding Bill C-10 and the cost implications and the failure of imprisonment in reducing the incidence of crime.

The government calling the bill the safe streets and communities act is a very apolitical title. However, the Barreau du Québec has taken the position that Bill C-10 has come at a time when figures from Statistics Canada show that crime is on the decline in Canada. Its figures show that the crime rate in 2011 reached its lowest level since 1973, and that violent crime also was declining to a lesser degree than crime generally but, nevertheless, declining.

The Barreau du Québec said that it was obvious that the national crime rate has been falling steadily for 20 years. It suggested that the reason it was now at its lowest point since 1973 was primarily because the sentencing system currently seeks a balance between denunciation, deterrence and rehabilitation of offenders and that proportionality and personalization of a sentence were fundamental values of that system.

We were told that this legislation would produce less safe streets and here is why. Numerous studies have shown that imprisonment does not reduce the incidence of crime. Public Safety Canada has released the results of a study dealing with the impact of imprisonment on recidivism for offenders serving prison terms. That is how many of them go back. It is the revolving door that the minister talked about. We need to know whether recidivism and the revolving door will be reduced by these measures. The conclusions of the study showed that for most offenders prisons did not reduce recidivism.

Therefore, to argue for expanding the use of imprisonment in order to deter criminal behaviour is without empirical support. The use of imprisonment may be reserved for the purpose of retribution and selective incapacitation of society's highest risk offenders. The cost of the implications of imprisonment need to be weighed against more cost efficient ways to decrease offender recidivism and responsible use of public funds. Evidence from other sources suggest more effective alternatives to reducing recidivism than imprisonment.

There has also been a lot of evidence suggesting that keeping prisoners in jail longer makes them more hardened against society and more likely to commit crimes. If we take away or reduce the emphasis on rehabilitation and focus on punishment, people will come out of prisons more angry, less rehabilitated and more likely to commit crimes.

Another aspect of the bill that I have not touched on is in relation to international prisoners, Canadians who are incarcerated abroad, the International Transfer of Offenders Act found in the bill.

We have a treaty system with other countries whereby if a Canadian citizen is serving a prison sentence in Mexico, the United States or in another country that is part of the treaty, the Canadian citizen can apply to serve his or her sentence in Canada. Up until recently, that has been a pretty automatic expectation, not only for the prisoner but also for the country where the prisoner is now serving a sentence.

For example, we have a number of Canadians who are in prison in the United States.They are serving time for various offences, whether ordinary run-of-the-mill criminal offences or drug trafficking. They can apply to the U.S. and Canadian governments to serve their sentence in Canada. When they come to Canada, they are then subject to Canadian corrections laws and rules with respect to how much time they serve, the availability of rehabilitation programs and all of the things that go with that. These provisions have been in use for many years. However, we have a new situation now.

The government, the Minister of Public Safety and his predecessor have taken it upon themselves to refuse to allow people to come back to Canada. However, people could come back eventually. The government could not deport them. If they served their time in the United States or Mexico, they could get on a plane or a bus and come back to Canada. No one would know necessarily that they had been in prison somewhere else. They could show up at the border as Canadian citizens, show their passport or birth certificate and come in. No one would know where they were or if they were a risk to society. They could come to Canada unless they were serving an indeterminate life sentence or three sentences of 50 years, which they give out in the United States sometimes.

There is a public safety aspect to this. If they serve their sentence in Canada, they are subject to our parole system, our supervision, the mandatory release provisions, a halfway house and everything that goes with that. They are integrated back into the community and are given rehabilitation programs.

However, the current government and this minister have taken it upon themselves to refuse them for what appears to be arbitrary reasons. The Federal Court does not seem to agree with the decision that the minister is making. The Federal Court is telling him that he failed to follow the legislation and the act. It is issuing orders to the minister to review and reconsider these motions because the existing law requires that there be a reason.

In the bill before us, this is slipped in from part of a previous bill that the Minister of Public Safety brought in once before. Proposed changes to the act would give the minister virtually unlimited discretion when it comes to the international transfer of offenders. These provisions would make legal what was previously illegal and contrary to the existing act. The Federal Court of Canada has told the government and this minister on several occasions now that they are not following the legislation as it exists.

What is the answer? Is it to follow the legislation and do the right thing to ensure that the government is acting in accordance with the principles that ensure that Canadians have an opportunity to come back to Canada to serve their time? No, the Conservatives' answer is to change the legislation to make legal that which was otherwise illegal.

Now the Conservatives have added that the minister, in determining consent to the transfer of a Canadian offender, may consider the following factors. The list is here. Many of these factors were already on the previous list. The list talks about whether, in the minister's opinion, the offender is likely to continue to engage in criminal activity after the transfer. This is tantamount to saying that the minister can decide whether, at some point in the future, that person would engage in criminal activity. Is that not what the Parole Board is for? Is that not what we have a corrections system for? Is that not the whole point?

Therefore, if an offender were serving six years in the United States, he or she could come back to Canada and do as he or she pleases. The minister would not even know that the offender is in Canada. There would be no record of the offender's activity in the United States. The minister would not know that the offender exists. Yet, if an offender applied to be transferred back to Canada, the minister could decide whether the offender were likely to continue to engage in criminal activity after the transfer. That is a consideration that the minister would be entitled to give.

The bill includes a long list. The Conservatives might as well leave the list out, because at the end of the list under (l) is “...any other factor that the minister considers relevant”. We may as well get rid of (a), (b), (c), (d), (e), (f), (g), (h), (i), (j) and (k). We may as well say, “in determining whether to consent to the transfer of a Canadian offender, the minister may consider anything he or she considers relevant”. That is the essence of clause 136 of Bill C-10. That is what we would be doing here. We would be giving the minister unlimited discretion, with no policy and no guidelines, except a series of factors that he may or may not consider and then any other factor that he or she considers relevant.

That is irresponsible. It is irresponsible to give power to a minister to have control over whether an offender who is in the United States comes back to Canada or not. That is not a proper guideline. It is not a judicious framework for a minister of the crown of the Government of Canada, in a country of 33 million people, to have one man or woman decide, based on anything he or she considers relevant. Where is the opportunity for judicial oversight of something that involves the liberty of a Canadian citizen? That is what we are talking about.

When a person is sentenced to jail, if someone thinks it is wrong, he or she can appeal and go to court. In this case, the minister would have control over whether a person served his or her sentence in Mexico, the United States or back in Canada. How would the minister use that discretion? Based on what? Is it based on any arbitrary factor? Is it relevant that a person is known to a member of Parliament who thinks that he or she is a decent person and will come back to Canada and be a good person? If the minister thinks it is relevant, perhaps it would be. Is that the kind of society we want, where the minister could withhold consent based on anything that he or she considers relevant? Not for me, not for the members of the New Democratic Party.

There are other factors there. Some of those factors are quite relevant. However, the history of the use of this section has been to recognize that this is of value, not only to the individual involved but to Canadian society. Our friends to the south and the American government are not too happy that Canada is not accepting people. It is part of the understanding that we will take our citizens back if they are in jail in the U.S. and the U.S. will take its citizens back if they are in jail in our country. That is the understanding. The Americans are getting a bit concerned that Canada is not fulfilling its side of the bargain. I do not think there is anything written down that says we must. However, it is a matter for international relations between Canada and the United States to ensure that we operate in accordance with the understanding where there is good reason to. I do not mean that we have to follow every tradition just because it has always been like that. Where is the reason to say “for any factor the minister considers”? It is only there for one reason. It is there to protect the minister from the reach of the judicial oversight of the Federal Court of Canada. The government seems to be content to do that.

Where is the rule of law in that? The Conservatives will say they are obeying the law. Yes but they would have just changed it to make sure that the courts could not have any oversight. They would be following the law they had just made. That is what we see in the government. If it runs afoul of the law, if the Federal Court says it is doing something wrong, the Conservatives use their slim majority, which they call a strong mandate, to put through legislation that changes the law. If Conservatives do not like the law or they feel constrained by the existing legislation, then they change it. That is what we have.

I want to talk about the amendments because there are changes before us by way of the Senate. They are roughly related to the changes that were brought to the committee by the member for Mount Royal, but have been changed in some way.

I want to talk about how the State Immunity Act actually works. We do not have a lot of faith in this legislation. It had different lives in earlier Parliaments. It was at one time a bill called an act to deter terrorism and to amend the State Immunity Act. Conservatives went off that approach because it would not have any effect on deterring acts of terrorism against Canada and Canadians. The short title of the bill was the justice for victims of terrorism act. That perhaps comes a little closer to what the bill tries to do which is to give a right to Canadians to sue states or non-state actors for acts of terrorism.

It has been called a diplomatic minefield by some commentators. The way the act is written, it forces Canada to name countries that have sponsored terrorism. We cannot say we are suing country X because it has financed a particular organization that conducted a terrorist act that affected me or my family.

With ordinary torts, if we want to sue someone in our jurisdiction, we go ahead and sue them. However, we have to prove that they did the act. That person does not have to be on a list of people that some other body has put there. In this case, there is a list that is determined by the Government of Canada. Having that role of the minister of foreign affairs and the government to draw up and review that list from time to time is a diplomatic minefield.

For example, countries like Afghanistan and Pakistan are commonly seen as incubators of terrorism. Yet listing them could cause significant diplomatic problems as the Canadian government seeks to support the governments of these countries. Therefore, they are not put on the list. If Pakistan is supporting the Taliban, for example, and the Taliban commits an act that can be called terrorism under this legislation inside Afghanistan and a Canadian soldier or a civilian is injured, the relatives of that person cannot sue Pakistan even if they could prove that there was a direct relationship between the Pakistani government or military and the action of a particular group, unless Pakistan were put on a list.

We now have a government with the right to put a list together. Who is on the list? Which countries would be there? What is the experience of listing countries in other countries?

Other countries, such as the United States, have had a list. The U.S. experience is based on similar legislation, which has been in place for more than a decade. Only the listed countries can be sued. Currently, the listed countries are Cuba, Iran, Syria and Sudan. Interestingly, North Korea, Iraq and Libya were originally listed, but have since been delisted. Therefore, if a plaintiff were suing Libya in retaliation, say for example for the Lockerbie bombing, and was in the middle of a lawsuit and then Libya was delisted because the Americans decided they wanted to develop friendlier relations with Moammar Gadhafi, which they did in the mid-2000s, all of a sudden the lawsuit would be gone based on some action by that government to change the list.

A common problem that was identified, based on these torts, was that the defendants refused to recognize the jurisdiction of the American courts. As such, the defendants, whether it be the country of Iraq, Libya or whatever, would not appear. Then default judgments would be rendered and the debtor countries would ignore or refuse to pay. What is the point of having a lawsuit to get a judgment when the assets of the country are not accessible because it has refused to pay and is not part of the jurisdiction?

Therefore, recovery has become a major problem in the United States because many of these countries have limited assets held in the United States. In fact, the executive branch of the U.S. has been very reluctant to allow frozen assets to be used for this purpose and made available. What happened over time was as Congress attempted to create avenues for recovery, the executive resisted efforts over concerns of retaliation from the other countries against U.S. assets, for example, inside countries like Libya or other places. It was concerned about retaliatory measures and losing leverage over the country concerned, as well as potentially violating international law on state immunity. There was a whole quagmire of problems.

For example, in 1981, as a result of the Algiers accords, American embassy staff who were being held hostage by Iran were released. However, the hostages were then barred from initiating civil suits. Hostages had been taken in Iran, released by the agreement, but then as part of the deal, the government agreed that the hostages could not take civil action against Iran or the groups. The U.S. Congress sought to provide a right of action to those hostages through various laws. The executive resisted because of the international implications of such an accord being violated. Then Iraq changed the circumstances, causing the Bush administration to delist Iraq.

Under Saddam Hussein, Iraq was listed as a state that could be sued. A number of lawsuits had been successful wherein the plaintiff sought recovery by seizing Iraqi assets. However, after the invasion of Iraq by the U.S., the American government no longer had an interest in allowing such assets to be taken as it wanted them to be used for the benefit of the Iraqi people in rebuilding the country. Therefore, the victims of terror, or terrorist acts, who had been successful in suing Iraq would not get any redress. The assets, or whatever they had gained from their lawsuits, would now stay in Iraq because it suited the American government. As such, Iraq was retroactively delisted and many plaintiffs were unable to recover the money granted to them in judgments. That has been part of the U.S. experience with these political lists that are determined by the cabinet. All of these amendments, with one exception, implicitly recognize that these lists are key to whether a plaintiff can actually sue under this section of Bill C-10.

There would also be a situation where there would be limited seizable assets in Canada for any countries that might be expected to be listed on such a list. Victims would find themselves competing for the few if any assets available for recovery. The concerns outlined above with respect to retaliation appear to have come true in the American situation, as equivalent measures have been introduced in Cuba and Iran in consequence. What has happened is that not only the countries themselves do not have significant assets in Canada for action, but there are retaliatory measures in the countries that are put on the list.

We have a situation with the legislation that has been put forward that is well-meaning. In fact, there were proposals to make significant changes to it.

We heard from the Canadian Coalition Against Terror, which proposed that this whole approach be changed altogether, allowing suits against any foreign state that did not have an extradition relationship with Canada. In other words, it called it a negative list as opposed to a positive list. It was concerned as well that placing a country on a positive list would expose Canada to ongoing political and diplomatic pressures. It said that the U.S. experience showed that factors unrelated to whether a country sponsors terrorism sometimes would become the determining factors. It would make the process unprincipled and would undermine the credibility of the government, the listing process and the bill itself.

The group went on to say that by not listing countries that objectively should be listed, Canada would be effectively be declaring them as non-sponsors of terror, which would undermine the deterrence object of the bill.

We have a situation where we have very complex legislation requiring very complex litigation. The difficulty is the bill then effectively becomes symbolic, although the government denies that.

The Toronto lawyer who works with the Canadian Coalition Against Terror admits that the litigation would be quite complex: classified information would be involved; the links between terrorists entering the states in question would have to be proven, which would be difficult; and showing causation would be challenging. For example, a government may provide funds to an organization involved in numerous activities from health care to terrorism and tracking where specific funds go could be time-consuming, costly and impossible. The complexities and difficulties associated with these types of lawsuits were acknowledged by the government, but its claim was that it was not just a symbolic gesture, but it recognized the great difficulties involved.

We have legislation that is fraught with political and diplomatic problems, ineffective solutions in terms of remedies and recovery and something we think is unwieldy and difficult for Canada to operate in a principled way, as I have discussed.

When we deal with the specifics of the individual states that are put on a list, that causes a lot of problems. The Canadian government would be in a much stronger position with the legislation if it took the stand that the courts would make that determination. It would be in a stronger position if it could take a stand on the terrorist sponsorship by a particular foreign state if the courts would make that determination. The government is affected by various other relationships with that state.

As pointed out with the American experience, things that have nothing to do with whether a state is sponsoring terror comes into play, such as the Iraqi experience, where even when people had judgments against the state of Iraq, they had no opportunity to get any redress because the government delisted the state. People who had been successful then got nothing, after having gone through the effort of ensuring they had a lawsuit.

The bill, as has been noted by the minister, includes a large number of provisions in various acts. Of the nine acts involved, four are public safety acts, four are Criminal Code related acts, one is the state terror legislation, the new tort. There is another on immigration, and I do not know why the Immigration Act is included.

As a result of the legislation, we have a piece that appears to be unrelated, but nevertheless is a part of it because it is an omnibus bill and the Conservatives figured they could add it and get away with it. That measure would give immigration officers another discretionary reason why they could refuse to allow an individual to come into our country, based on the instructions by Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism. The minister could authorize officers to refuse work permits to foreign nationals who might be at risk of being subject to humiliating, degrading treatment, including sexual exploitation. We are not opposed to the visa application process being used as a tool to prevent human trafficking and to prevent exploitation. However, the emphasis should be part of a larger process. In an effort to prevent exploitation, the legislation is very vague and would be ineffective by itself in stopping trafficking. It would do nothing to strengthen the rights of workers in Canada, which is the source of the problem, and what would truly protect workers from exploitation.

We see examples of exploitation. The bill has been around for awhile in other forms and seems to have been mounted in response to some exotic dancers who were given visas to work in Toronto. The suggestion was that this was a cover for other activities and that this bill would now give discretion, under instructions from the minister, to refuse people entry into Canada if it was thought they would be subject to exploitation.

If people are eligible to get a visa to come to Canada and the fear is that they would be subject to exploitation, surely they should have the protection of Canadian labour laws that prevent them from being exploited in Canada. If there is a danger that people coming to Canada would be exploited, then the answer is to let those people come to Canada and ensure that their freedom of movement and their ability to choose employment are not compromised by criminal and exploitative activity. That is the dream.

People coming to Canada are not coming to be exploited. They are coming here because they may be given some information that their role or their job is one thing and then someone may try to exploit them once they get here. What is the answer? Is the answer to leave them where they are? Is the answer to say that they are entitled to come to Canada, but we will ensure that our laws protect them? We have a problem with the focus of the legislation being on this exotic dancer notion. However, all foreign workers are vulnerable. One example is live-in caregivers. We have a lot of them in our country. Agricultural workers, for example, are subject to potential exploitation.

Temporary labourers are another group that we have lots of experience with in this country going back to the building of the CPR. They are subject to exploitation. Temporary labourers are some of the most exploitable workers in Canada, but the bill is not likely to assist them because it is not part of a significant effort by the government to clamp down on the exploitation of workers in general. Indeed, I do not think the Conservative government takes that issue seriously at all.

We have support for our position on the bill from many different groups across the country. For example, the Canadian Bar Association expressed its concerns with several aspects of the bill, both in media and press releases and in a 100-page brief presented to committee. It is concerned about mandatory minimums and the government's over-reliance on incarceration, and the constraints on judges' discretion to ensure a fair result in each case. It is concerned about the bill's impact on specific already disadvantaged groups and mentioned in its brief the effect on aboriginal Canadians.

In its extensive brief, the Canadian Bar Association talked about the changes to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, for example, including the provisions that would add to mandatory minimum sentences with respect to drugs. The association said it was opposed to the passage of what was then called Bill C-15 and opposed the same provisions appearing in Bill C-10 dealing with the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. It believes that the public safety concerns could be better met with existing legislative tools. The association stated:

We believe the bill would not be effective, would be very costly, would add to strains on the administration of justice in Canada, could create unjust and disproportionate sentences and ultimately would not achieve its intended goal of greater public safety.

Now there is a statement:

—[The bill] would not achieve its intended goal of greater public safety.

I am not saying that because the Canadian Bar Association has said this that it is gospel. I am a former member of the Canadian Bar Association, as are many members of the House. This is an organization of lawyers across the country who represent not just one side of the bar but also prosecutors, defence counsel, people who work in the Department of Justice or justice departments and public prosecution services across this country as well, who are in the courts day in and day out prosecuting crimes, and people on the other side who are defending the accused. As our system is built around the rule of law, there are people who ensure that our system works, that people are innocent until proven guilty. There are two types of lawyers, and together they put this submission forward. When they say they do not think the bill would be effective in achieving the goal of greater public safety, that has to be taken seriously.

When the association talks about the mandatory minimum sentence with respect to marijuana plants, for example, it says that the bill would require mandatory minimum sentences even though the circumstances of the offence and degree of responsibility varied significantly.

The penalties in the bill are based on arbitrary factors and do not meaningfully distinguish the levels of culpability. For example, the clause that poses escalating mandatory minimum sentences for the production of marijuana is geared to the number of plants produced. If it is six plants or more, the sentence would be six months. The mandatory minimum would be nine months for the purpose of trafficking or the plants are on someone else's land. Then there is a one-year sentence for 200 plants, but less than 500. We are almost telling the judge to look at the list, with the number of plants on one side and the mandatory minimum on the other.

This in fact is an affront to the judges of our country. Many of them would say that one of their most important functions is to determine what an appropriate sentence is for a particular crime. This legislation says that the deciding factor is how many plants are involved. If a person has five plants, there is one sentence; if they have six plants, there is another; if they have 200 plants, there is another; and if it is on someone's else's land, it goes up even further, even if someone had only sprinkled a few seeds over a back fence and was growing the plants on that other person's land.

I can see why people do that. They might do it thinking they might not get caught, which is probably the idea. However, because it is on someone else's land, there is a higher mandatory minimum than if it happened to be on the own person's land. Does that make sense?

I am sure members here and all those listening are wondering if that makes sense or not. I go along with the Canadian Bar Association, which says that is arbitrary. It is totally arbitrary and has nothing to do with the degree of responsibility, the degree of guilt, the degree of punishment that is required.

When the Canadian Bar Association says this, it gives some bolster to the common sense of people who say there is something wrong with this picture when penalties have this arbitrary nature. For some reason, the government does not have faith in the judges who are appointed to decide what is fair and reasonable.

There is the case in Toronto of a judge who was dealing with a young man who had a loaded pistol in one hand and a computer in the other when the police broke into this apartment. The situation is actually rather ludicrous. I think the person was in his shorts with a computer in one hand and a loaded pistol in the other, and he was taking a picture of himself with his computer so he could put it on Facebook.

I have to confess I have no idea why someone would want to do that.

Safe Streets and Communities Act
Government Orders

12:25 p.m.


Mike Wallace Burlington, ON

Good question.

Safe Streets and Communities Act
Government Orders

12:25 p.m.


Jack Harris St. John's East, NL

The hon. member says it is a good question. Why would someone want to do that?

According to the law that the judge was dealing with, that was an offence coming under the category of offences where the person concerned was required to receive a sentence of three years. The judge decided that was pretty arbitrary, that the degree of responsibility involved and the stupidity of the act, or whatever one wants to call it, did not endanger anyone.

The judge was also concerned about what would happen to this person by putting him in jail for a minimum of three years. What would that do to him? Would that rehabilitate him? Would that help him to learn from his mistake?

Safe Streets and Communities Act
Government Orders

12:25 p.m.


Pierre Lemieux Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

What about the victims?

Safe Streets and Communities Act
Government Orders

12:25 p.m.


Jack Harris St. John's East, NL

That is a very good question: what about the victims? I am not sure who the victims of that particular crime were. Not every crime has a victim.

This guy was going to take a picture of himself and put it on the Internet. I do not know who the victims are here. Obviously it is a crime against society, having a loaded pistol when the police come in.

According to the law, the minimum jail sentence was three years. The judge decided that that was arbitrary and did not meet the test of our law that punishment fits the crime. In fact, she determined that it was what the Charter of Rights calls cruel and unusual punishment. That is the same provision that was used by our courts to determine that capital punishment amounted to cruel and unusual punishment. That is why it is contrary to our law to this day and has been for 50 years.

That is the point here. The other side asks, “What about the victims”, that we do not care about victims over here? I find that rather ludicrous, but it is also part of Conservatives' notion of dividing Canadians. They say, “We are in favour of victims and they are not”. Not only do they say we are not in favour of victims but that we are also in favour of criminals and are standing with child predators or molesters. That is the kind of dynamism the government is trying to impose on sensible, common sense Canadians, but that is ludicrously wrong. In fact, it is so wrong, I need to explain it.

We came to the House and said we would like to carve out part 2, the sexual offences against children provisions, the new provisions on Internet luring, the new offence of showing pornographic pictures to children, as an aspect of the so-called grooming of children for sexual offences. We wanted to take them out, put them on the table and pass them right away. What did the Conservatives say over there? They said no, that we are just wasting time and want to delay things. In fact, we want to fast-track those things.

Why? I can go back to my speech on the day. I said that the New Democrats thought it should be brought in now because it would actually prevent other crimes of sexual assault and predation from being committed. Those provisions, which we support, would prevent crimes of sexual assault before they were committed. If someone were caught in the act of Internet luring, grooming or the other offences, and were arrested, they would not get to the point of sexual predation or sexual assault. They would have been caught before that. The experts and knowledgeable people on sexual offences know there is a process and that one thing leads to another. There is a continuum along which offenders go and this legislation would stop them. This was for the victims.

I want to say, by the way, to those over there who think that no one over here cares about victims, I am not prepared to listen to that. I spent seven years fighting for the victims of the Mount Cashel Orphanage scandal to get redress in the courts. That is what I did for seven years and I do not want anyone over there suggesting that this member or my caucus does not care about victims.

When it comes to justice for people before the courts who are being subjected to an injustice, they too deserve the protection of our law and of parliamentarians. I do not want to get caught up in the Conservatives' black hat-white hat mentality, saying that they are the only ones who care about victims and no one over here does. We care about justice and that the laws we pass give opportunities for justice to be achieved in this country.

There are groups in our society, non-governmental organizations and so-called civil society groups, who are also entitled to have their views heard. They have gone to committee and to the House. They have talked to members of Parliament. The Canadian Civil Liberties Association is an important body, a bit of a watchdog over laws that are being passed.

It expressed its concerns as well about the costs, both short and long term, of putting more people in jail, particularly in light of the increasing overrepresentation in Canadian prisons of aboriginal Canadians and offenders with mental health and addiction problems. The association expressed its concerns about that, and they are concerns which we echo.

There is a bad problem in this country with the failure to adequately address the mental health needs of Canadians. The Mental Health Commission is looking at ways of addressing that. The reality is that even though someone may be, as the legal term goes, not guilty by reason of insanity, there are people who end up before the courts because of their circumstances which are, in large measure, defined by their mental health problems or mental health diseases, concerns and afflictions. They end up in jail rather than in treatment. It is because they do not get the treatment they need that they end up in circumstances which put them in jail. That is a concern as well. That is a lack of justice for them.

Through better treatment programs for sufferers of mental health diseases or mental afflictions, we can make our streets safer, which is what the bill says it is about, instead of putting them in jail. Even those with mental health problems in jail do not get the help they need. They do not come out of jail in a position to make our streets safer.

On the issue of costs, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives suggested that the costs of this crime agenda would be colossal. It said that a large part of it would be borne by the provinces which are responsible for implementing whatever is passed on. The provinces and territories would be expected to pay for additional courts, clerks, prisons, crown attorneys, judges, sheriffs, court reporters and so on, as well as the places in which the prisoners would have to be incarcerated. There have been significant objections from a number of provinces as to the passing on of those costs.

There were significant objections from the Government of Quebec. There were representations before our committee in November from Quebec's minister of justice and attorney general, Jean-Marc Fournier. He made a strong and passionate objection to the provisions of the bill, particularly as they relate to the Youth Criminal Justice Act.

This is the last opportunity this House will have to deal with the bill. We dealt with it at first, second and third readings under time constraints. We were told it would go to committee and the committee would have all the time in the world to deal with it, but it rushed through the process. Witnesses in some cases were stuck with very short timeframes to give presentations, five minutes in most cases, to comment on a bill with 200 provisions. Some with 100-page submissions had five minutes to talk about it.

The bill was rushed through committee. The Conservatives tried to compress the consideration of the bill into two days, one two-hour day and the other day we were told, “We are here at 8:45, and we will finish it today”. That suggestion came from the government members, which of course was not accepted by the opposition and a great deal of discussion took place over several hours as to why that was wrong. That changed and we did have another couple of days, but it was not very long, and as we pointed out, no amendments from the opposition were accepted.

The bill came back to this House for third reading and lo and behold, some of the amendments that were presented at committee by the member for Mount Royal were presented on the floor of this House by the minister himself. Guess what? They were ruled out of order by the Speaker for a very good reason. They were ruled out of order because they could have been dealt with in committee.

The fact of the matter is that the amendments were not dealt with in committee. For some reason the committee was told that because the amendments came from the opposition, they would not be accepted. Not only were those amendments not accepted, but no amendments were accepted. We had many amendments at committee. There was a whole package of amendments presented to the committee and debated, but they were not accepted. No amendments were accepted.

We have a government that is prepared to be arbitrary in its sentencing. It is prepared to give the Minister of Public Safety ultimate discretion on the liberty of Canadian citizens who are incarcerated abroad. It would give mandatory minimum sentences which have been determined to be arbitrary and in some cases unfair. We see a situation where the approach to drugs, particularly marijuana, would lead to greater criminal involvement, violence involving guns, gangs and criminal organizations as a result of the bill.

This is an approach which has been described as wrong. We have to start being sensible about it. We have to find a way to get away from this war on drugs that has failed in the United States and is failing also in Canada. It is not an easy road. I am not saying there is a simple solution, but this solution would make things worse, not better.

Mr. Speaker, if members opposite are wondering if I am running out of speaking notes, I have lots of speaking notes here.

The bill has generated more objections across the country than has any other piece of legislation that has been before the House since I first came here in 2008. We have received thousands and thousands of emails. People across the country are asking what is wrong with the government when it cannot see that criminality in our country in fact is going down. The violent crime rate has decreased. According to Statistics Canada, we have the lowest crime rate since 1973. That was 39 years ago. We have the lowest crime rate in almost 40 years, but we have a government that is saying it is time to be tough on crime because crime is exploding. It talked about violent crime exploding, drug crime, drug gangs and the proliferation of drugs, but that is not in fact the case. We have a government that is out of touch with reality. It is ignoring principles that have been part of our law.

Mr. Jean-Marc Fournier, Quebec's minister of justice and attorney general, said that for 40 years, “We have demonstrated that this system works. Our approach to youth criminal justice works. We are taking young people who could be headed down the path of crime and giving them an opportunity to be productive members of society. We have done a very good job of it and have had successes”. He came to our committee pleading with the government not to make the changes that are in the proposed legislation.

Mr. Fournier proposed some changes. These proposals were put in the form of amendments by our party, but they were refused. I will mention some of the issues that were brought forward.

He said that maintaining the introduction of the principles of deterrence and denunciation specific to the adult system jeopardizes the distinct character of the youth criminal justice system and doing so appears to fundamentally contradict the teachings of the Supreme Court of Canada. He said that it is not enough to adapt the Criminal Code to young people as Bill C-10 appeared to do; rather, a balanced system truly suited to their situation from beginning to end of the judicial and extrajudicial process must be provided for.

These are words of wisdom. He talked about the fact that the bill would put pressure on public prosecutors with respect to the identity of a young person. Instead of what is there now, a blanket prohibition on making known the identity of young people, the prosecutors would now have to prove the identity of young people should be published because that means there is no option but to do that or be told that they are not doing their job.

In speaking on behalf of the citizens of Quebec, Mr. Fournier said that instead of the amendments to the current legislation, we should strive toward greater flexibility and a broader range of means that would enable stakeholders, the courts and the youth criminal justice system to apply the right measure at the right time for every young offender.

He was talking about flexibility. The bill talks about rigidity. He was very concerned, because Quebec said that its notion of the fundamental principle of rehabilitating young persons and reintegrating them into the community was designed to ensure the long-term protection of society as opposed to an immediate crackdown without sufficient follow-up. He said that these principles had enabled Quebec to post the lowest rate of recidivism in the country for decades.

When the minister spoke this morning he said that we needed to stop the revolving door. Well, the revolving door is what is called recidivism. One goes in, comes out, commits a crime, goes back in, comes out and goes back in again. The only solution the minister has come up with to stop the revolving door is to shut it when an offender is inside. There is no exit. They stay there longer.

What happens then? Do they come out better citizens or do they come out angrier citizens?

Safe Streets and Communities Act
Government Orders

12:45 p.m.

Some hon. members

Con college.

Safe Streets and Communities Act
Government Orders

12:45 p.m.


Jack Harris St. John's East, NL

Someone just called it con college. Do they come out better criminals? Are they more angry citizens, less willing to rehabilitate themselves or conform themselves to society's norms? Are they less able to participate in a meaningful role in society by getting a job? All of these things will be consequences of locking that door when they happen to be on the inside. That is what the bill would do, and at great cost.

We need to get rid of the notion that this is for the long-term protection of society, claiming that the streets would be safer. I think there is a little germ of an idea there that at least while offenders are inside they will not be able to commit crimes. That is the simplistic notion that the government throws out. I guess it does not really believe in rehabilitation.

The Conservatives say that while offenders are in jail the streets will be safer. The trouble is that is a false notion. The evidence as to how we make our streets safer when it comes to youth criminal justice comes from decades of experience in the province of Quebec. A minister from the province of Quebec came to see us and told us Quebec's approach to this. He spoke with great passion about how Quebec wanted to ensure that young people who were running afoul of the law would get a chance to rehabilitate themselves.

For decades, Quebec has posted the lowest rates of recidivism in Canada. Does the government want to learn from that? Does the government want to say that there is something happening there, we should study it and try to emulate it? If Quebec has the lowest recidivism rates in the country, we have a laboratory in which this approach has been tried par excellence, followed rigidly with the understanding of what it was doing. It was not just willy-nilly. It was not an accident. It happened as a result of Quebec's policies, its approach, its understanding of what works with young people and putting it into practice over decades.

If one has had the lowest rate of recidivism in Canada for 10, 20 or 30 years, would one not want to emulate that in Manitoba, in Newfoundland and Labrador, in Ontario and in British Columbia? We cannot forget about B.C. Do the people of Alberta not want to find out how Quebec has the lowest rate of recidivism in the country? Are they somehow or other less with it than the rest of the country? I do not think so. We should ask the people of Alberta if they would like to have young people, who are brought into contact with the traditional system, to come out, after being treated, and not commit crimes. Is that not what we would rather have or would we rather have them as they are now, part of a revolving door? Even if we lock them up longer, they will get out. We do not lock people up until they die. Even if they get a two year, three year, four year or five year sentence, they will get out.

When they do come out, what do we have? Do we have a person who is remodelled somehow, rehabilitated? Is that what we have the longer we put them in? That is not what any of the literature and the experts will say. It does not work. That is why we have this approach to rehabilitation, which is built into the principles of the Youth Criminal Justice Act. It was not designed primarily as a punishment, although there is some punishment.

Some offenders will be removed from society to what they call closed custody because some of these people are a danger. I have no illusions about that. Just because they are young people, it does not mean they cannot be a danger. Young people of the ages of 14, 15 and 16 can do terrible things, and they do. The question is what do we do with them. We will not put them in jail until they die. We will put them in jail, in custody or subject them to a system of criminal justice. However, what do we want to achieve? We want to achieve a safer society. We want to have a young person who is capable of being rehabilitated. We want to have a young person who may have to be given some program and some assistance to make up for the fact that he or she is where he or she is.

I am not saying that every person who commits a crime is somehow a victim of society. I have been around too long to think that. We have people from all walks of life who get into difficulty with the criminal justice system. However, many who do run afoul of the law have societal problems or poor backgrounds. Some may have difficult family lives or may have no proper home in which to live. They may be living in poverty and do not have the essentials of life. They may be in a home that is forced to go to a food bank. We know that by the number of food banks. We know by the demographics of this country that many people live in poverty, especially families headed by a single parent where the children do not have the opportunities that some of our kids have. They do not get the music lessons. They do not get to play hockey, join a soccer team or participate in extracurricular activities. They may have difficulty even having the right clothes to go to school and be accepted by their classmates and friends. They may grow up in an aboriginal community with a poor school. They may not have the things that make their life and their prospects something positive to look forward to and they may run afoul of the law one way or another and come into contact with the youth criminal justice system.

What attitude and approach do we want to take? The youth criminal justice system as it is written right now is telling us that the object of this act is rehabilitation, that based on that and based on the Quebec system and approach totally having the means, through its approach, for decades, and resulting in it, that this must be significant.

I do not know if this has been discussed in the House before but when we hear the Minister of Justice and the attorney general of Quebec saying that this approach has been used in Quebec for nearly 40 years and that for decades it has had the lowest rate of recidivism for young people in the entire country, I feel like yelling hallelujah. I am pleased that somebody has proven that rehabilitation works so let us get on the bandwagon and find out how we can replicate this from Newfoundland and Labrador to Yukon.

Safe Streets and Communities Act
Government Orders

1 p.m.


Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. First, for my hon. colleague from St. John's I mean no offence by this interruption or interference in what I find has been a very useful speech to date.

However, as a member of Parliament from the province of Manitoba, I have noticed that a number of times during the context of my colleague's remarks, he has cited Manitoba, in an argumentative way, to help flesh out a point that he was making regarding the way that certain provinces deal with their criminal justice system and their approach to recidivism. I have to argue that it is not fair, accurate or even allowable under the rules of order to put forward an argument on behalf of the province of Manitoba without any documentation or at least verification.

I do not mind my colleague using the province of Manitoba in the context of his remarks, but I did not hear him cite a chapter, or verse, or comment, or recommendation or submission that may have been made about the amendments by the province of Manitoba. Therefore, I have to ask him to be considerate and allow Manitobans to advocate on behalf of Manitoba in the context of the amendments to the bill.

Safe Streets and Communities Act
Government Orders

1 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

I thank the hon. member for Winnipeg Centre for his intervention. I took care in listening to his explanation. I do not find it to be a point of order. It does actually speak to a debate on the facts, as it relates to the remarks of the member for St. John's East, so we will let the hon. member for St. John's East continue.