Mr. Speaker, I propose to begin my remarks with my respective conclusion, which also frames the narrative of my intervention, and that is if, at the conclusion of this debate, we adopt Bill C-10, we will be adopting legislation that lacks an evidentiary basis in its pertinent particulars, that is constitutionally suspect, thereby violating our obligations and inviting further charter challenges while the costs remain unknown, thereby breaching our responsibilities for the oversight of the public purse while also burdening the provinces. If we adopt Bill C-10, we will increase prison overcrowding, also giving rise to charter concerns, while, again, not improving the safety of Canadians in any way.
Indeed, adopting the legislation would be a betrayal of the very mandate common to all parties in the House to which all we aspire, namely, ensuring safe streets and safe communities. We will end up, as I said when the bill was first introduced and must reaffirm again, with more crime, less justice, spiralling yet undisclosed costs, less rehabilitation for the offender, less protection for the victims and less safety for our citizens.
I have risen in the House on the bill before when time allocation permitted. I rose also in committee seeking to propose amendments at committee, again when time allocation permitted.
As has been pointed out, even today's debate would not have been necessary had the government simply read my amendments to the justice for victims of terrorism act when I first proposed them.
Simply put, it is as arrogant as it shocking that the government rejected opposition proposals out of pure partisanship rather than considering them on the merits. These Senate amendments, which the government rejected at committee only to attempt their reintroduction at report stage in the House, are themselves proof that the proposals were well-founded.
Let me be clear. I am pleased that the government changed its mind on the need for these amendments. However, government comments suggesting that the amendments when first proposed were imperfect and defeated for that reason, flies in the face of the evidence.
As I indicated in committee, I proposed these amendments to improve the justice for victims of terrorism act, a bill that I not only supported but felt was precedential and necessary to provide victims of terror the civil remedies in domestic courts against their terrorist perpetrators and against such terrorist perpetrators who have previously been shielded, and I would have accepted friendly subamendments at committee.
Yet the government had no such changes to offer. Indeed, the government did not say, “We agree with your amendments, but we want to change their form”. Rather the mocking response was, “Why are you wasting our time when we want to get this bill passed?”, adding, again, in a mocking tone, that only the government cared about victims and the opposition only cared about criminals, a mocking tone that has been repeatedly used in this debate, the whole underpinned by fear-mongering in complete disregard for the evidence and the truth.
Time does not permit for me to detail and document every defect of the legislation. Accordingly I propose to organize the balance of my remarks around the principal defects of the bill, which I remind the House were nine bills put together into one omnibus piece of legislation, and that is the first issue, which is the bundling of nine major pieces of legislation into one omnibus bill and imposing closure in both the House and in committee deliberations as if we were debating only one simple bill. This did not allow for the necessary and differentiated parliamentary discussion and debate, let alone the necessary oversight of the legislation, as required by Parliament in discussion and debate.
That is, in part, the reason we are having this debate today. The government insisted this whole thing had been debated before in a previous Parliament. Yet the government cannot point to a single page of Hansard wherein we discussed the bill that we are amending, the justice for victims of terrorism act. It simply was never considered in the House. Moreover, each separate bill needed individual consideration. Each amendment needed careful review. The government refused to do this and this was reason enough to reject this ill-considered legislation with its pre-emptive preclusion of any review of the legislation.
Second, even before the legislation was tabled, there was a serious problem of prison overcrowding, with some provinces already reporting prisons at 200% capacity. We know that overcrowding leads to more crime within prisons and outside prisons.
The U.S. supreme court has found that overcrowding of over 137% can constitute cruel and unusual punishment. Accordingly this legislation will only exacerbate the problem in Canada, both as a matter of policy and as a matter of the Constitution.
At a time when crime is falling, when the evidence does not warrant it, why are we going down a path that seeks to put more people in prison for longer periods of time and risking a situation where the courts will be forced to set people free because of such overcrowding? It simply does not make constitutional or policy sense. Moreover, in the legislation itself, the requirement that correction administrators use “the least restrictive measures”, again a matter of sound constitutional protection and policy-making, has been removed, generating yet another constitutional concern relative to incarceration.
Third, the Minister of Justice has an obligation to ensure that legislation comports to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, yet prison overcrowding and the attending risk of cruel and unusual punishment are not the only constitutional concerns in Bill C-10. The expert witness testimony identified a series of constitutionally suspect provisions, including: severe, excessive, disproportionate and prejudicial mandatory minimum sentences; vague and over-broad offences; undue and arbitrary exercise of executive discretion; unconstitutional pretrial detention issues invoking section 11 concerns; and intrusive privacy concerns, such as those enunciated by the Privacy Commissioner of Canada.
When I asked whether the minister would provide assurances that the legislation comported with the charter, a due diligence responsibility on the part of the minister, the minister repeated the mantra about the mandate and avoided a response to the question.
I will address mandatory minimum sentences more specifically later, but I must note that it is highly undesirable for us to be adopting legislation that puts in place a sentencing scheme which the courts themselves have recently found untenable. Should we not be prudent and wait for the courts to pronounce on matters before it prior to Parliament enacting legislation that presents an affront to our Constitution? This is but one example of constitutionally suspect legislation within Bill C-10.
As I said before, but it is worth repeating, we must consider legislation on its merits. We cannot enact unconstitutional legislation and then say, repeating the mantra, that these measures are necessary to protect safe streets and safe communities. We simply cannot justify bad or unconstitutional policies through the repetition of the mantra about a mandate.
Fourth, we must also raise the important issue of the cost of this legislation. The costs associated with these nine bills have not been disclosed, and when one of these bills was introduced during a previous Parliament, the office of the Parliamentary Budget Officer determined that that bill alone would cost approximately $5 billion.
Canadians and Parliament are entitled to full disclosure and accountability. This lack of disclosure represents not only a denial of the public's right to know but also a breach of parliamentarians' constitutional responsibility to monitor government spending and taxpayers' money.
Since we last discussed this bill, another report from the Parliamentary Budget Officer was released. In the matter of constitutional sentencing alone, the report found that the federal government would bear additional costs of about $8 million and the provincial and territorial governments would bear additional costs totalling about $137 million.