Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague from Surrey North for agreeing to share his time with me as we debate Bill C-26. I asked specifically for an opportunity to join the debate today on behalf of the constituents I represent in the riding of Winnipeg Centre.
Every time I poll the constituents in my riding as to what their top of mind issue might be, consistently for the last 15 years the number one issue has been safety, crime and criminal justice issues, safe streets and the right to walk the streets free of molestation and with a sense of comfort and safety. That has been the prevailing issue of about 34% or 36% of those people answering my surveys. Things like tax cuts are down around 8%, and perhaps that is a function of the socio-economic demographics of my riding as it is one of the poorest postal code areas in the country. Low income people are more likely to be affected by and have their lives touched by crime, violence and even the criminal justice system.
I am particularly interested in this legislation and how it would affect ordinary Canadians.
I also want to compliment and pay tribute to my colleague from Gatineau for representing the party on this sometimes controversial issue with integrity and a sense of balance that such a sensitive issue calls for. I also recognize the comments that were made by other members of the NDP and the origin of this particular bill.
The member for Trinity—Spadina can claim responsibility for us having this debate today as Mr. David Chen, the owner of the Lucky Moose Food Mart, resides in her riding. It was the very high profile issue associated with Mr. Chen's frustration at so often being the target of shoplifting at his small business that he was compelled to take what we would consider to be dangerous and extraordinary action but which most Canadians would agree was justified and necessary at the time.
However, we are dealing with a bunch of competing rights. As with many pieces of legislation that properly fall before the chamber, it is an issue on which reasonable people can reasonably disagree and therefore we do not want to take this issue lightly.
In the few moments that I have I will start from the premise that the benchmark of a civil society is the quality of its criminal justice system and that the criminal justice system should be measured by its fairness and its application instead of the concern that there is sometimes an arbitrary application of criminal justice issues. Also, in the element of fairness, we must take into account some of the driving forces underlying the problem as it is presented to us.
I am a former labour leader. I have negotiated dozens if not hundreds of collective agreements. Every time we sought to change a clause in a collective agreement, two questions were put to us by the management side: First, why do we want to make this clause change? Second, has this clause been a problem during the life of the collective agreement?
I think we can safely say in this example that there is justification for opening section 494 of the Criminal Code that deals with a citizen's arrest based on the extraordinary case of Mr. Chen and the Lucky Moose Food Market that brought the public's attention to this compelling issue.
The reason I began in the context of trying to describe the socio-economic demographics of my riding is that the opposite of poverty is not wealth. The opposite of poverty is justice. When we look at the high incidents of crime and in fact violence and contact with the criminal justice system in low income areas I think the argument makes itself.
When I look at the circumstances surrounding Mr. David Chen and the case that was put forward so compellingly by my colleague from Trinity—Spadina, I am gratified to know that all parties in the House of Commons acknowledge the necessity but, at the same time, we are confounded by the Conservatives' approach to criminal justice issues in the 41st Parliament and, in fact, even in the 40th Parliament when they were in a minority situation.
We have seen issues used as an excuse to raise the spectre of crime and violence in the streets as justification for putting forward legislation that cannot be easily justified. I am thinking of Bill C-10 where the Province of Manitoba, my home province, actually came to the government asking for certain changes with the detention, for example, in the auto theft situation when Manitoba was experiencing a great rash of auto thefts, often by young offenders. The police and the courts were frustrated by the limitations of holding a young offender who may have been apprehended that evening in the act of auto theft, being released the same night and then sometimes getting picked up by the same police in yet another vehicle, all in the context of a 12-hour period.
The Province of Manitoba came to the federal government urging it to make changes to where young offenders could be detained overnight until such time as they could make their first court appearance. That found its way into this new bill that has been quite controversial, but talk about baby and the bathwater. The ultimate legislation that we wound up with went far beyond any reasonable justification.
As I illustrated, the first question we need to ask when we open legislation to amend a clause is whether there is justification for it. We need to know whether the clause has been a compelling problem? In many of these cases, the only thing we were trying to address was a straw man built up by the Conservatives to strike fear in the hearts of Canadians and then they tried to paint themselves as the great saviour, the only ones who could protect the people from this manufactured fear. However, all the empirical evidence shows us that the rate of crime, especially crimes of personal violence, et cetera, is way down statistically.
However, that did not stop the Conservatives from mailing ten percenters into my riding trying to whip up a frenzy of fear. I saw one of the ten percenters, back when MPs could actually mail ten percenters into other people's ridings, and it had a picture of a guy breaking through a window with his face shielded and with a knife raised above his shoulders as if he were going to break into our house and murder us in the night with a knife if we did not vote for the Conservatives to stop him from breaking in and killing us. That was the message, for all intents and purposes.
Even at a time when we are trying to calm people down and show them the actual statistics that the streets are safer than ever before, even in an area that experiences a great deal of property crime, et cetera, no one is at particular threat of being murdered in the night by this junky with a knife.
There is a dishonesty, a disingenuous aspect to this. The Conservatives are like a duck on a June bug when it comes to any issue associated with criminal justice issues and their reaction is far disproportionate to the actual cause, need and demand.
In the context of Bill C-26, our party supports it with concerns that have been expressed by many of my colleagues.