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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.

Topics

Alleged interference of Minister's ability to discharge responsibilities--Speaker's RulingPrivilegeRoutine Proceedings

March 6th, 2012 / 10:15 a.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

I am now prepared to rule on the question of privilege raised on February 27 by the Minister of Public Safety regarding cybercampaigns following the introduction in the House by him of Bill C-30, An Act to enact the Investigating and Preventing Criminal Electronic Communications Act and to amend the Criminal Code and other Acts.

I would like to thank the minister for having raised these matters, as well as the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons, the House Leader of the Official Opposition, the member for Toronto Centre, the member for Bas-Richelieu—Nicolet—Bécancour, the member forSaanich—Gulf Islands, and the member for Westmount—Ville-Marie for their interventions.

In raising his question of privilege, the minister raised three issues, each of which he believed to be a contempt of the House.

The first concerned the use of House resources for the so-called vikileaks30 account on Twitter, which he claimed was used to attack him personally, thereby degrading his reputation and obstructing him from carrying out his duties as a member of Parliament.

The interim leader of the Liberal Party then rose to inform the House that he himself had intended to rise on a question of privilege, having been informed on February 26 that it was an employee of the Liberal research bureau who had been responsible for the vikileaks30 site. The interim leader offered his unequivocal apology and that of the Liberal Party to the minister.

In view of this unconditional apology made personally by the member and on behalf of his party as a whole, and in keeping with what has been done in similar circumstances in the past, I am prepared to consider this particular aspect of the question of privilege closed.

I also wish to inform the House that the House of Commons' policy on acceptable use of information technology resources was applied in this case, given that an unacceptable use of House IT resources occurred.

The minister also raised the matter of an apparent campaign to inundate his office with calls, emails and faxes. This, he contended, hindered him and his staff from serving his constituents, and prevented constituents with legitimate needs from contacting their member of Parliament in a timely fashion.

As the member for Windsor—Tecumseh reminded the House, my predecessor, Speaker Milliken, was faced with a similar situation in 2005 in a matter raised by the former member for Glengarry—Prescott—Russell.

In his ruling on June 8, 2005, Speaker Milliken concluded that, while the member had a legitimate grievance that the normal functioning of parliamentary offices had been affected, the members involved and their constituents had still maintained the ability to communicate through several means. Thus, he could not find that it was a prima facie case of privilege, as the members were not impeded in their ability to perform their parliamentary duties.

Having reviewed the facts in the current case, I must draw the same conclusion on the second aspect of the question of privilege.

This brings us to the third and what I consider to be the most troubling issue raised in the question of privilege, that of the videos posted on the website YouTube by the so-called Anonymous on February 18, 22 and 25. These videos contained various allegations about the minister's private life and made specific and disturbing threats.

The minister has stated that he accepts that coping with vigorous debate and sometimes overheated rhetoric are part of the job of a politician but argued that these online attacks directed to both him and his family had crossed the line into threatening behaviour that was unacceptable. He contended that the threatened actions contained in these videos constituted a deliberate attempt to intimidate him with respect to proceedings in Parliament.

In House of Commons Procedure and Practice, Second Edition, it states:

It is impossible to codify all incidents which might be interpreted as matters of obstruction, interference, molestation or intimidation and as such constitute prima facie cases of privilege. However, some matters found to be prima facie include the damaging of a Member’s reputation, the usurpation of the title of Member of Parliament, the intimidation of Members and their staff and of witnesses before committees, and the provision of misleading information.

In spite of the able arguments advanced by the member for Westmount—Ville-Marie, the Chair is in no doubt that the House has full jurisdiction to decide the matter.

As is noted at page 108 of O'Brien and Bosc:

Speakers have consistently upheld the right of the House to the services of its Members free from intimidation, obstruction and interference. Speaker Lamoureux stated in a 1973 ruling that he had “no hesitation in reaffirming the principle that parliamentary privilege includes the right of a member to discharge his responsibilities as a member of the House free from threats or attempts at intimidation.”

Those who enter political life fully expect to be able to be held accountable for their actions to their constituents and to those who are concerned with the issues and initiatives they may advocate.

In a healthy democracy, vigorous debate on issues is encouraged. In fact, the rules and procedures of this House are drafted to allow for proponents and opponents to discuss, in a respectful manner, even the most difficult and sensitive of matters.

However, when duly elected members are personally threatened for their work in Parliament, whether introducing a bill, making a statement or casting a vote, this House must take the matter very seriously.

As noted by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons, threats or attempts to influence a member’s actions are considered to be breaches of privilege.

I have carefully reviewed the online videos in which the language used does indeed constitute a direct threat to the minister in particular, as well as other members. These threats demonstrate a flagrant disregard of our traditions and a subversive attack on the most fundamental privileges of this House.

As your Speaker and the guardian of those privileges, I have concluded that this aspect, the videos posted on the Internet by anonymous, therefore, constitutes a prima facie question of privilege and I invite the minister to move his motion.

Reference to Standing Committee on Procedure and House AffairsPrivilegeRoutine Proceedings

10:25 a.m.

Provencher Manitoba

Conservative

Vic Toews ConservativeMinister of Public Safety

Thank you, Mr. Speaker, for that ruling. I would make the following motion:

That the matter of the threats to interference with an attempted intimidation of the hon. member for Provencher be referred to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.

Reference to Standing Committee on Procedure and House AffairsPrivilegeRoutine Proceedings

10:25 a.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Reference to Standing Committee on Procedure and House AffairsPrivilegeRoutine Proceedings

10:25 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

No.

Reference to Standing Committee on Procedure and House AffairsPrivilegeRoutine Proceedings

10:25 a.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.

Reference to Standing Committee on Procedure and House AffairsPrivilegeRoutine Proceedings

10:25 a.m.

Some hon. members

Yea.

Reference to Standing Committee on Procedure and House AffairsPrivilegeRoutine Proceedings

10:25 a.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

All those opposed will please say nay.

Reference to Standing Committee on Procedure and House AffairsPrivilegeRoutine Proceedings

10:25 a.m.

Some hon. members

Nay.

Reference to Standing Committee on Procedure and House AffairsPrivilegeRoutine Proceedings

10:25 a.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

In my opinion the yeas have it.

And five or more members having risen:

Call in the members.

And the bells having rung:

Reference to Standing Committee on Procedure and House AffairsPrivilegeRoutine Proceedings

10:25 a.m.

Gordon O'Connor

Mr. Speaker, I ask that the vote be deferred until this evening following government orders.

Reference to Standing Committee on Procedure and House AffairsPrivilegeRoutine Proceedings

10:25 a.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

A recorded division will take place at the end of government orders.

Safe Streets and Communities ActGovernment Orders

10:25 a.m.

Niagara Falls Ontario

Conservative

Rob Nicholson ConservativeMinister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

moved the second reading of, and concurrence in, amendments made by the Senate to Bill C-10, An Act to enact the Justice for Victims of Terrorism Act and to amend the State Immunity Act, the Criminal Code, the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, the Corrections and Conditional Release Act, the Youth Criminal Justice Act, the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and other Acts.

Mr. Speaker, I never get tired of talking about this subject. As hon. members know, the safe streets and communities act reintroduced nine bills that died on the order paper with the dissolution of the last Parliament. The government promised to enact these reforms within 100 days and we are delivering.

Before I turn my remarks to some of the key elements of the safe streets and communities act, I will highlight why our government has pursued these reforms and why and how this is important. It would be an understatement to say that our lives have changed substantially since the Criminal Code was first enacted in 1892. Much like other parliamentary democracies around the world, Canadian society and its values have and are continuously evolving and our justice system needs to evolve as well.

As Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, it is my responsibility to maintain the integrity of the justice system. We need legislation that is responsive to what is happening on our streets and meets the expectations of Canadians in the 21st century. The proliferation of drugs and violent crime is, unfortunately, a reality in this day and age and it is our job as parliamentarians to deal with criminals, to protect society and do whatever we can to deter crime.

The truth of the matter is that no parent wants their child to be the victim of a crime. We need only ask Lynne Lacasse whose 19-year-old son was senselessly murdered at a house party in 2004. Her son matters. She appeared before the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights and before the Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs in their studies of the safe streets and communities act. Her message was clear and it was not about vengeance. It was that the justice system needed to respond effectively and to learn from experience like that of her family so that, hopefully, other families do not suffer in the same way.

No parent wants their child to fall prey to a pedophile. In fact, parents list abduction and sexual exploitation as two of the three concerns they face with Canadian children. Any story on child pornography, whether it is about the pedophile who perpetrated the act or the one who watched it online, outrages each and every one of us. When involving a child, the consensus seems to be that sentences must be serious and lengthy.

Canadians are also concerned about the illicit drug trade. No Canadian wants to live next door to a grow op.

In British Columbia, Surrey Fire Service conducted a study and found that a home with a grow op was 24 times more likely to catch fire than a home without one. Even more troubling is that these fires are not always reported because no one actually lives in those dwellings, but there are families living right next door or across the street.

There are countless stories of Canadians who have been victimized and they are the first to lose confidence in our justice system. Many do not like to think these things happen in Canada until it happens to them or their loved ones. If we were to ask parents, I am sure they would say that the last thing they want is for their child to get involved in a life of crime or to become addicted to drugs. However, the sad reality is that it sometimes happens.

According to the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse, illicit drug use costs Canadian society an estimated $8.2 billion a year. Canadian statistics show that offences involving certain types of illicit drugs, such as crystal meth, ecstasy, LSD, barbiturates and date rape drugs, rose by 168% between 1997 and 2007. As a parent, the fact that these are readily available is simply unacceptable. It is our job as parliamentarians to ensure we give the tools to law enforcement officials to prevent this and other crimes from happening.

My own Department of Justice conducted a comprehensive analysis of the cost of crime in 2008. The analysis included costs to the criminal justice system, for example police, court and prosecution costs; costs to the victims, including health costs, losses to property and losses to productivity; costs to third parties; and intangible costs such as pain, suffering and loss of life. It was estimated that those costs amount to approximately $100 billion. That is astounding and unacceptable.

Since 2007, I travelled from coast to coast listening to victims, community leaders, the police and my provincial counterparts. I have heard from them how best we can improve the Criminal Code. Victims tell me they want to ensure that nobody has to suffer the same sense of loss and frustration as they have.

Police impart upon me the necessity for more robust legislative tools so they can better protect Canadians. The provinces provide important regional perspective into crime and justice issues. For that, I have been very grateful. They often come forward with recommendations and requests for changes in the Criminal Code. Likewise, Canada's police forces across the country provide helpful insight and advice on our criminal justice system. They are, of course, the front-line experts when it comes to fighting crime. This input is crucial. We have responded.

Despite what some of our opponents say, we believe in a balanced and comprehensive approach to justice. Our government wants to prevent further victimization and make sure that Canada's most serious, violent criminals are kept off our streets. Our experience shows that toughening sentences does not create new criminals. It keeps the existing ones in prison for a more appropriate period of time. We want to make sure there is not a revolving door of justice.

Parliament has seen and debated all the measures included in the safe streets and communities act. This comprehensive legislation brings together nine bills: four previously introduced by me, four previously introduced by the Minister of Public Safety and one previously introduced by the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism. Over the past four years, the justice committee has spent 67 days reviewing these measures. That is 139 hours of discussion, 95 hours of debate, 261 speeches and 361 witness appearances.

It should be apparent by now why we have immersed these reforms into the safe streets and communities act. The act targets organized crime by imposing tough sentences for the production and trafficking of illicit drugs, and it responds to concerns about violent young offenders. It ends house arrest for serious crimes such as sexual assault, kidnapping and human trafficking, and it eliminates pardons for serious crimes such as sexual offences against children. It enacts legislation for victims of terrorism. It also prevents the abuse and exploitation of vulnerable immigrants. It enacts mandatory penalties for serious drug offences and all child sexual offences, all of them.

Much has been written about our government's introduction and passage of mandatory penalties for certain crimes. There are some myths surrounding this issue. Mandatory sentences have a long history in Canada. We are not the first government to introduce them. Indeed, over the years, both Liberal and Conservative governments have imposed mandatory minimum sentences. Today, the Criminal Code contains over 40 offences which carry a minimum sentence.

Criminal organizations that rely on the drug trade do not respect current penalties. They simply see them as a cost of doing business. The safe streets and communities act contains tougher penalties which specifically target the source of the illicit drug trade, the drug traffickers. The bill does not target substance abuse victims or experimenting teenagers. There are, contrary to some reports, no changes to the laws with respect to simple possession.

The kinds of offenders that we are targeting are those involved in exploiting the addictions of others. The fact is that police and prosecutors, those who work hard to keep our country safe, have been calling for these sentences for some time. They know all too well the reality on our streets with respect to drug dealers who infiltrate communities and cause irreparable harm, especially to our youth.

The amendments to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act would impose mandatory penalties for the offences of production, trafficking, possession for the purpose of trafficking, importing and exporting, possessing for the purpose of exporting Schedule I drugs, such as heroine, cocaine and methamphetamine, and Schedule II drugs, such as marijuana.

Mandatory penalties would apply where there is an aggravating factor. This includes where the production of a drug constitutes a potential security, health or safety concern, or the offence has been committed in or near a school.

The bill includes a specific exemption to allow for the use of drug treatment courts so that those who are unfortunately addicted can get the help they need. Drug treatment courts are for adult offenders who have committed non-violent crimes that are linked to their addictions. Our national anti-drug strategy provides $3.6 million per year to six drug treatment courts across Canada. By helping offenders overcome their addictions and improve their social stability, we will help reduce crime rates in this country. It is worth clarifying that even where there is no drug treatment court, the court sentencing the offender for a drug offence can still refer the offender for treatment if an appropriate treatment program is available and approved by the attorney general of the province.

The amendments for child sexual offences in the safe streets and communities and act have two objectives. First, they aim to consistently and adequately condemn all forms of child sexual abuse through the imposition of new and higher mandatory penalties for all sexual offences where the victim is a child. Second, they aim to prevent the commission of a sexual offence against a child through the creation of two new offences that target a certain type of conduct, as well as directing the courts to impose conditions that would prevent a suspected and convicted child sex offender from engaging in conduct that would enable or facilitate their sexual offending against a child. The current approach to penalties for child sexual abuse must end. The reforms in the safe streets and communities act would do just that.

The bill deals also with conditional sentences, usually referred to as house arrest. Our legislation would ensure that serious crimes such as sexual assault, kidnapping and human trafficking would not result in house arrest. Conditional sentences would continue to be unavailable for any offence with a mandatory minimum penalty. In addition, a conditional sentence would never be available for offences with a maximum of 14 years or life imprisonment; or for offences with a maximum penalty of 10 years that result in bodily harm or involve the import, export, trafficking or production of drugs or involve the use of a weapon; nor for a range of other offences including kidnapping, theft over $5,000 or motor vehicle theft. Our act would ensure that serious offences, including serious property offences like arson, would also not result in house arrest. This would ensure that jail sentences for such offences are served in jail.

Part 4 of the safe streets and communities act proposes amendments to the Youth Criminal Justice Act. These reforms would improve the ability to deal with violent and repeat young offenders, for example by highlighting the protection of the public, making it easier to detain young people charged with serious offences pending trial, ensuring that prosecutors consider seeking adult sentences for the most serious offences, prohibiting youth under 18 from serving sentences in an adult facility and requiring police to keep records of extra-judicial measures. The act continues to be a good framework to address young offenders. There is a shared view that young people should have the opportunity to be rehabilitated and have a second chance. However, there is also the concern that some youth, a small number who are out of control, are not being effectively dealt with under the current legislation. The safe streets and communities act reforms build on and preserve the solid framework of the act.

The amendments would not change the Youth Criminal Justice Act's current approach to making the principles of rehabilitation and reintegration of young persons who have committed offences the basis of our youth justice system. These reforms are not about detaining more or fewer youth. They are about facilitating appropriate and effective decision making at the pre-trial stage. This includes managing youth in the community where this is possible and ensuring that youth who should be detained can be detained. These reforms were previously proposed in the former Bill C-4 or Sébastien's law.

At the January 12 meeting of federal, provincial and territorial ministers of justice, we had a good discussion of the safe streets and communities act and the need for us to continue to work together toward its implementation.

Many of these reforms have been the subject of discussions over the years. Many are well supported by provincial and territorial ministers. The proposed reforms in the safe streets and communities act would come into force in the same manner as originally proposed. There is a coming into force clause for each part of the bill. The only parts of the safe streets and communities act that would come into effect on royal assent are the amendments relating to the Criminal Records Act and acts of terrorism. The other reforms, those to the Criminal Code, Controlled Drugs and Substances Act and the Youth Criminal Justice Act, would come into force on a day or days to be fixed by the order of the Governor in Council.

The Minister of Public Safety and I noted that we would seek the views of our provincial and territorial counterparts about the timely and effective implementation of these reforms. Clearly, as many of these amendments have been proposed for years, there is good reason to proceed expeditiously.

With the safe streets and communities act, our government would be once again sending out a message to criminals that they will be accountable for their actions and that crime will not be tolerated in this country. Our goal is to restore a sense of balance so that Canadians can continue to be confident in our justice system. The enactment of the safe streets and communities act would be another positive step for the people of this country.

Safe Streets and Communities ActGovernment Orders

10:45 a.m.

NDP

Jasbir Sandhu NDP Surrey North, BC

Madam Speaker, I come from British Columbia. Over the last number of years we have seen the court system overwhelmed and overburdened with the number of cases that are coming through. Not only that, a number of cases have been thrown out because it has taken too long to get them through the due process.

We have a court system that is already plugged. The provinces are wondering where they are going to find this money. On the one hand, the government is picking the pockets of the seniors. On the other hand, it has this grandiose plan to spend billions on prisons. So my question to my colleague is, where is the money coming from? There is only one taxpayer, whether the tax is paid to the provinces, the municipalities or the federal government. Where is the money coming from for all of this?

Safe Streets and Communities ActGovernment Orders

10:45 a.m.

Conservative

Rob Nicholson Conservative Niagara Falls, ON

Madam Speaker, I think the hon. member misses the whole point.

With respect to working with our provincial counterparts, he may remember the bill that we brought in, the truth in sentencing bill, eliminates the two-for-one credit that was the standard among individuals who were awaiting the disposition of their case.

I was told by my provincial counterparts, including the Attorney General of British Columbia, that this was clogging up their courts, using provincial resources and clogging up the remand centres.

I told them I was only too pleased to be part of a government that was moving forward to bring in legislation that would eliminate the two-for-one, or sometimes three-for-one, credit. I had better be careful, as sometimes the individuals waiting for disposition of their case were getting triple credit.

The Attorney General for British Columbia told me that he had heard of a case where an individual did not want to have a bail hearing, in order to rack up double credit waiting for the disposition of the case. That is absolutely ridiculous.

We have moved forward to help our provincial counterparts. Our counterparts in British Columbia came forward very early in my mandate as justice minister to say we should bring in tough laws and send a message out that if people bring drugs into this country, they are going to jail. That is as it should be.

Safe Streets and Communities ActGovernment Orders

10:45 a.m.

Liberal

Sean Casey Liberal Charlottetown, PE

Madam Speaker, part of the reason we are here today discussing amendments to this legislation coming back from the Senate requires a little context. When the bill was at committee, the member for Mount Royal indicated that with respect to victims of terrorism, the bill needed to be strengthened. The member for Mount Royal put forward some very reasonable amendments that were routinely rejected by the Conservative members of the justice committee.

Realizing their error, the Conservatives came back to the House and tried to adopt those amendments as their own. They were ruled out of order. Now here we are, considering those amendments having come through the Senate.

My question for the minister is, what is more important, political partisanship or the rights of victims of state-sponsored terrorism?

Safe Streets and Communities ActGovernment Orders

10:50 a.m.

Conservative

Rob Nicholson Conservative Niagara Falls, ON

Madam Speaker, that is actually a good question by the hon. member. Is he miserable about the procedure by which these amendments took place? I take it that he still likes the amendments introduced in the Senate but not the way they were done.

Ultimately, we want to get the best legislation possible. Over the years I have listened to all proposed amendments from wherever they have come. All of them are carefully considered and, yes, we have made changes to bills. As a matter of fact, there are amendments in the drug bill before us that the Liberals and their friends in the NDP collaborated on. Those are part of this particular legislation.

The hon. member may not like the fact that the amendments came from the Senate, but I hope he still likes the amendments we are proposing to the terrorism provisions within the bill. I hope he will be supportive of these changes.

Safe Streets and Communities ActGovernment Orders

10:50 a.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Madam Speaker, the Minister of Justice and I have at least one thing in common: at one time or another we have been members of the Canadian Bar Association. That very knowledgeable body presented a brief of over 100 pages, based on substantial evidence, that the bill could put more criminals on the street than it could incarcerate. In other words, it is a complete failure from the get-go in meeting its objectives.

I plead with the hon. Minister of Justice to allow more amendments to the bill now that it has come and thus an opportunity to redress those sections that are least likely to work and most likely to hurt our society.

Safe Streets and Communities ActGovernment Orders

10:50 a.m.

Conservative

Rob Nicholson Conservative Niagara Falls, ON

I have heard it both ways, Madam Speaker. When we introduced the bill people were saying that we would be putting more people in jails and that jails would become overcrowded. Then I get criticized by their saying that less people would be convicted and more people would be out on the street. I guess the critics of the bill have it both ways.

I appreciated getting input from the Canadian Bar Association. Certainly, I like to get input from all segments of society.

We were very clear in the last election. I am grateful to the people of this country because they keep giving us a stronger mandate, and we make it very clear in every election that this is the direction in which we are going.

We are sending a message to drug traffickers. People who bring drugs into this country will not like this particular piece of legislation, as it includes mandatory jail time. While it is a balancing act that we negotiate whenever we put these bills together, we are sending very strong message to people in the business of either sexually exploiting children or trafficking in drugs. We are sending out the correct message to them and I am proud of that.

Safe Streets and Communities ActGovernment Orders

10:50 a.m.

Glengarry—Prescott—Russell Ontario

Conservative

Pierre Lemieux ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture

Madam Speaker, I have listened to the debate whenever the bill has been in front of the House. I have rarely heard the opposition talking about victims or the justice system needing to protect innocent Canadians and the victims of crime. Could the minister comment on this? He works closely with victims' groups. What is their view on the legislation and the amendments we are putting forward?

Safe Streets and Communities ActGovernment Orders

10:50 a.m.

Conservative

Rob Nicholson Conservative Niagara Falls, ON

Madam Speaker, I want to thank the member for all of his support on our justice-related legislation. It is very much appreciated by me and every member of this government.

I speak with victims' groups on a regular basis. When I have made announcements on our various pieces of legislation, I have been honoured and privileged to have many of these victims' groups appearing with us because they are so supportive.

Nineteen justice bills have been passed in my term as justice minister. Whenever we pass such legislation, I am always asked how it would affect victims. We always ensure that the interests of victims and law-abiding Canadians are protected and that we are standing up for them and their rights. I think that is only appropriate.

Safe Streets and Communities ActGovernment Orders

10:50 a.m.

NDP

Jack Harris NDP 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 ActGovernment Orders

10:55 a.m.

Conservative

Rob Nicholson Conservative 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 ActGovernment Orders

10:55 a.m.

NDP

Jack Harris NDP 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 ActGovernment Orders

11:25 a.m.

NDP

Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

The brain is not fully formed.

Safe Streets and Communities ActGovernment Orders

11:25 a.m.

NDP

Jack Harris NDP 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—