Mr. Speaker, I am happy to stand this morning to speak to Bill C-37.
As our justice critic, the member for Gatineau, has made clear in her speech on this matter, we will be supporting this bill in order to send it on to committee. I am happy to move the bill out of this place for a couple of reasons.
First, it appears to trivialize an issue of real concern and significant cost, which is victim compensation. A 2003 study put the cost of crime in the vicinity of $70 billion. Seventy per cent of that cost is borne by the victims of crime, it concludes. Another study from 2004 assessed the pain and suffering of victims at $36 billion.
Now I come to these numbers somewhat skeptically. I am not quite sure of the methodology quantification for placing a price tag, in effect, on the kinds of losses, heartbreak, trauma and mental or physical anguish that victims of crime experience. Nevertheless, I would not dare suggest that they overstate the case.
Therefore, it is in that context and through that lens that I come to Bill C-37. What I see is a bill that purports to support victims by way of pennies on the dollar.
For example, where no fine is imposed, the bill would increase the surcharge from $50 to $100 for summary convictions and from $100 to $200 for indictable offences. If the goal is to provide real and meaningful compensation for victims, the bill on its face is a woeful and token effort. For all the world, it looks to me like a political marketing exercise, one that makes a mockery of victim rights and victim compensation.
However, let us let the committee look into this issue and answer some obvious and important questions: How much of this surcharge makes it to victims? How much of it goes to support bureaucracy, a special victim surcharge collection agency, if I may? What are the costs to the court system of administering fine option programs where they exist? These programs, on the face of it, would require significant administrative effort to operate.
I have another issue for the committee to study. How many of those who are found guilty of a crime can actually pay a victim surcharge? Interestingly, Conservative senator, Hugh Segal, had an oped published last year entitled “Tough on poverty, tough on crime”. He begins his oped by stating:
Debates about whether approaches to crime and corrections in Canada are too soft or too tough are ongoing and endemic.
While the partisan debate continues unabated, the real issue is why prisons disproportionately house our most vulnerable citizens.
While all those Canadians who live beneath the poverty line are by no means associated with criminal activity, almost all those in Canada’s prisons come from beneath the poverty line. Less than 10 per cent of Canadians live beneath the poverty line but almost 100 per cent of our prison inmates come from that 10 per cent.
Senator Segal's comments raise another question. Bill C-37 seeks to remove judicial discretion to waive the discharge. So, is the judiciary's predilection for waiving the surcharge an acknowledgement of the social fact noted by Senator Segal? Do judge's understand from their seat on the bench, confronted daily with courtroom reality, something that my colleagues, from their seats in the House exercising their ideological reflexes, fail to grasp? Do judge's perhaps recognize, as this legislation fails to do, that very often those subject to a victim surcharge have dependants, children, for example, whose circumstances are not at all advanced by the imposition of fines on those upon whom they depend?
We should put this question to the committee. Will crime victims meaningfully benefit from Bill C-37 or is this tokenism, cynical political marketing and/or just another ideological spasm? Or, is there a better way to deal with our collective responsibility to those who are victims of crime?
This leads me to the second reason I would like to see the bill move on to committee. It is so we can get on in the House with the crucial task of ensuring that we do all we can to prevent crime and limit the number of victims of crime.
On this side of the House, we recognize that we, in a meaningful way, must ensure that we treat victims of crime with compassion and generosity. That means being tough on crime by protecting the communities in which we live with a balanced, effective approach that includes prevention, policing and, more important, border security.
One of the issues that we need to address is gun violence. Toronto is not a dangerous place in which to live but this past summer gun violence in my city created many new victims, those who lost their lives, those who lost loved ones and those who will never again be able to feel safe in their own community.
We know that smuggled guns account for about half of all guns recovered in large Canadian cities. According to Toronto's police chief, Bill Blair, 70% of the guns seized by Toronto police are smuggled in from the United States and yet the Conservative government is recklessly cutting back on front line border security officers. Of the 325 jobs on the front line of border crossings across the country that will be cut, 60 are in the GTA and 72 in southern Ontario.
In 2011, CBSA officers in the southern Ontario region seized 128 firearms, including 106 handguns, as well as 191 prohibited weapons. In addition to the front line border cuts, every intelligence officer in Canada got an “affected” letter. These are the people who gather and develop information on how and where guns, drugs and other contraband are being smuggled into Canada and by whom. Dog handlers at marinas and airports are also being cut, further limiting CBSA's ability to interdict contraband. A huge percentage of the drugs smuggled through southern Ontario borders every year end up on the streets of Toronto, my city, fueling more gun crimes.
Another issue that needs to be dealt with is gang activity. There are an estimated 11,000 street gang members and associates in Canada today. Most of them are young, under the age of 30. The youth gang prevention fund was meant to support initiatives that target youth and gangs who are at risk of joining gangs in communities where youth gangs are an existing or emerging threat. This fund was set to expire in 2011 but we, the NDP, pushed successfully for its extension. That funding supported case management, parent support, community education and employment outreach for youth age 13 to 24 through the PIT program in Toronto. Funding, however, expired in 2012.
The youth gang prevention fund continues to fund the MY Region Park project, a project that works with community organizations, families and individuals to assess and understand issues related to gang activity and to design and implement appropriate interventions. The MY Region Park project is targeted at kids age 12 to 17. However, funding for this project is set to expire in 2013.
We should move Bill C-37 to committee so some critically important questions can be asked and answered there. We should also take the opportunity to prevent crime and prevent the creation of more victims of crime. We should reverse the cuts to the CBSA and ensure that we stem the smuggling of handguns onto the streets of our cities. We need to work with the provinces and municipalities to ensure that all jurisdictions are working hand in glove to develop and implement a comprehensive anti-gun smuggling strategy. We also need to take the opportunity to ensure that kids themselves do not become victims by way of getting recruited into gang activities before they even have a chance to contemplate a different and better future for themselves. We need to partner with municipalities to ensure that we establish successful programs that will steer kids to education and employment, not crime and violence. This is what it means to be tough on crime.