Mr. Speaker, for the purpose of our analysis of the bill currently before us, I would like to begin by discussing a certain angle that appears to form the basis of the Conservative media platform.
I must candidly admit that I tend to do a little cherry picking—that is, I pick and choose the files I wish to take on, depending on their legal flavour, because, I must admit, I sometimes miss practising law and arguing cases.
This file allows me to revisit my first love. It is important to understand that I am first and foremost a criminal lawyer, although I do not have a great deal of legal experience. I worked for a few years—two years—and a little more than two years for legal aid. During those years, I was called upon to handle several hundred cases, perhaps even a thousand in total. I would like to point out the elements that need to be brought to the attention of the general public, including the limited impact this kind of legislative initiative can have. I encountered this kind of situation only a couple of times in the context of my legal practice. Indeed, many Innu and Naskapi people—about 15,000—in my riding received compensation for the time they spent in residential schools. That is why these people had been detained and why they received that money. That is the only instance.
I mentioned the media platform. My experience in this House for a little over a year now has allowed me to form my own personal opinions, which tend to be reinforced every day. Often, the legislative and real-world initiatives proposed by the Conservatives are intended primarily to garner media attention. They want to win votes. These initiatives are usually designed to please a specific group of Canadians.
In this case, the Conservatives are trying to side with the victims—in a very obvious way, in my opinion—by trying to demonize the other side. They simply say that the New Democratic Party is siding with the criminals and the people who commit offences.
This is somewhat of a trend and we are seeing it again today. I would say that the legislation, as it stands right now, is rather ill-advised both factually and legally, since my argument—I will bring up some points during this speech—will show that this would contravene some well-established legal norms and principles that one learns in the early years of law school, for example, the non-seizability of money received in compensation for physical harm. That is some of what I will be discussing.
My argument will introduce the fact that this bill, which technically aims to increase the accountability of offenders—which is a valid point with a valid purpose—has little basis when it comes to Canadian reality.
I spoke about the uniqueness of my own riding. Chances are that not all ridings have a large aboriginal population. As a result, I do not think that this kind of case, the payment of money to a detainee as part of compensation for former students, is standard across the country.
A quick glance at the opinions held by a number of leading correctional experts highlights the uncertainty over the number of offenders who receive settlement funds as a result of a court ruling.
As I was saying, it is a special case. In my practice, I have handled hundreds of cases. I could perhaps recall three or four cases of clients who were detainees, including some who were serving federal sentences. They were incarcerated and only some clients received the money. That is rather marginal. I am not trying to say that the Conservatives are only focused on the recipients of this monetary amount, but I wanted to share this. I have not seen this type of situation a lot across the country, where an incarcerated individual is awarded money as a result of a ruling, regardless of where it is from—perhaps even compensation for victims of crime. This opinion is shared by a number of experts.
These are likely special cases that are few and far between. I read reports and opinions of experts in this regard. The Conservatives should have invested more time in seeking the opinions of experts in the field. Laudable goals have been mentioned by my colleagues; however, they were poorly advised in fact and in law.
Under the Civil Code or Quebec law, the type of restitution that is made to an individual is based on compensation for physical harm. I did not do comparative law, but I think that the same type of rules apply in the other provinces. Such amounts are also exempt from seizure in the other provinces. This is a principle that law students learn in the first years of their studies, and I remembered it when I was examining this bill.
To date, I have not heard any of my colleagues talk about this. Mr. Speaker, in your capacity as a lawyer, you no doubt know that it is very likely that there will be court challenges. The way I see it, there is a very strong chance that these provisions will be struck down in Quebec. In the end, this will clog up the justice system.
The lifestyle of offenders is another factor that must be taken into account. These people are often marginalized. The same is true of people who are incarcerated. They have a lot of free time. They will likely object to these types of measures and will file grievances. There are some self-styled lawyers in prison and they will give advice to their fellow inmates. It is therefore very likely that these provisions will be challenged.
Although this legislative measure may have noble goals, using this rationale, I must point out that such an initiative will very likely have its share of court challenges. The Conservatives are trying to please part of the population and improve their media image across the country. Over the past year, they have done the same thing with other bills. They had certain objectives that were not necessarily the best. Even though the objective of this bill is technically noble, this is a not a direct way of achieving it. Given the number of members who sit on the opposite side of the House, each of these opportunities can be used by the party's strategist to try to improve the party's media image.
I submit this respectfully, and I hope that my comments were relevant.