Mr. Speaker, today I am very happy to speak to Bill S-221, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (assaults against public transit operators). I would like to begin by saying that I will be pleased to support this bill at second reading.
This bill contains two important elements that I would like to focus on today. First, it amends the Criminal Code to consider as an aggravating circumstance the fact that the victim was, at the time of the commission of the offence, a public transit operator engaged in the performance of his or her duty.
I am hardly a Canadian Criminal Code expert, unlike many of my colleagues on both sides of the House who can claim to be. I had no idea what an aggravating circumstance was, so I decided to do a little research to learn more about this.
Here is what Jean-Paul Doucet wrote in Dictionnaire de droit criminal:
An aggravating circumstance is a circumstance attending the commission of a crime or a characteristic of the offender or the victim of the crime. Aggravating circumstances make the crime more dangerous to society and therefore deserving of stronger sanctions.
Section 718.2 of the Criminal Code of Canada addresses sentencing and aggravating circumstances as follows:
A court that imposes a sentence shall also take into consideration the following principles:
(a) a sentence should be increased or reduced to account for any relevant aggravating or mitigating circumstances relating to the offence or the offender...
In this example, the various legislators ordinarily distinguish between the aggravating circumstances associated with the offence and those unique to each offender.
There is a lot of good news in these definitions of aggravating circumstances. First of all, this addition to the Criminal Code ensures that the court dealing with the offences committed against public transit operators will take into account the fact that the victim was performing his or her duties at the time of the offence. This is a major win for the workers covered by this bill.
To illustrate the extreme importance of this aspect, I will provide an example directly related to taxi drivers.
In its 2009 report entitled “Homicide in Canada”, Statistics Canada shows that those most at risk of being killed on the job are police officers and taxi drivers. I will read an excerpt:
On average, 13 victims have been killed each year since 1999 while "on the-job", including 11 in 2009. A recent report concludes that taxi drivers and police officers have the highest rates of homicide per 100,000 persons in their occupation. In 2009, there were three taxi drivers and one police officer killed as a direct result of their profession.
In Canada, 23 taxi drivers were murdered between 1997 and 2011. In Montreal, 68% of nighttime taxi drivers feel that their job is not very safe or not at all safe. That is not even to mention other public transit operators, who are also the target of violence during their shifts.
Next, what I like about the definition of “aggravating circumstances” is that the court must take this new factor into consideration when ruling on an offence, but judges also have the freedom to decide how harsh a sentence to impose. As mentioned in the legislation, every case is different. It is up to our judges to rule on each case.
It is very refreshing to see that people still have confidence in our justice system and that this addition to the Criminal Code does not involve a minimum sentence, which is something the Conservatives unfortunately often include.
I would like to point out another aspect of Bill S-221, which is the scope of the definition of “public transit operator”. I would like to quote clause 2 of the bill:
The following definitions apply in this section.
“public transit operator” means an individual who operates a vehicle used in the provision of passenger transportation services to the public, and includes an individual who operates a school bus.
“vehicle” includes a bus, paratransit vehicle, licensed taxi cab, train, subway, tram and ferry.
The bill covers several different types of jobs that all involve workers who deal directly with the public and who, in some circumstances, can become victims of crime during their work day.
The New Democratic Party has always made it a priority to protect public transit operators. We support the demands made by the associations and unions that represent these operators. For years, they have been calling for better protection for their members.
Unfortunately, several times a year we hear stories about assaults on public transit operators in the media. For example, in April 2013, a thirtysomething bus driver with the Société de transport de Montréal was savagely beaten by three men on his bus while he was driving down Saint-Laurent Boulevard. In November of that same year, we heard of the sad story of Ziad Bouzid, a 45-year-old taxi driver and father of three from Montreal.
Mr. Bouzid, who had driven a taxi for more than a dozen years, was savagely shot to death in the middle of the night, during his shift. These assaults on these workers must stop. As parliamentarians, it is our duty to do everything we possibly can to help them and ensure that these kinds of things do not happen again. That is why the NDP already introduced a number of private members' bills that were similar to the bill we are studying today.
However, I am disappointed to see how the Conservative government goes about addressing an issue as important as workers' safety.
In 2010, the justice minister at the time, now the Minister of National Defence, said that the Criminal Code already adequately protected transit operators from all forms of assault. However, the Amalgamated Transit Union had long been calling for a bill similar to the one before us today.
The Conservatives have not done anything to resolve the problem since they came to power in 2006. Instead of helping workers, they have introduced bills that deny workers the rights they fought so hard to win.
This government has attacked the Labour Code many times. For example, I am thinking about how the definition of the word “danger” is going to be changed because of the Conservatives. This will have a negative impact on many workers, particularly those who have jobs on the front line, such as our correctional officers. It is shameful that the government is seeking to make women and men in uniform more vulnerable.
Like the current government, the former Liberal government did not propose any measures to help public transit operators. It is time for that to change.
This is an issue that is very important to me. For my generation, a job with a public transit company, such as the one in Laval or Montreal, is a promising career opportunity. I am thinking, for example, of my friend Nicolas, who started working for the Société de transport de Montréal a few years ago. He loves his job. He is a happy guy who loves working with people. He has a good, well-paid job with good working conditions. However, his safety can sometimes be compromised by individuals with bad intentions. Nicolas is a young father, and we would be very remiss if we, as parliamentarians, did not do everything we can to protect him better as he carries out his duties at the STM.
The taxi industry is flourishing in cities like Laval and Montreal, and making the work of taxi drivers safer is also very important to my constituents, especially those who live in Saint-François in Laval.
Members may be surprised to learn that many taxi drivers work in Montreal but live in Saint-François, which is in my riding. Saint-François is a lively neighbourhood where more than forty cultural communities live in great harmony.
If you pass by Marcel-Villeneuve Avenue in the morning, you will see taxis leaving Saint-François to take the Pie IX Bridge or Highway 25 to go to Montreal. The drivers will only return late at night after a long day. These men and women work very hard to give their children the best possible future.
I also think of all the school bus drivers in Laval and across Canada. I am sure that they have to deal with all sorts of things over the year. They do an excellent job. I would like to thank them for safely driving our children every day.
It is time for us to take action and I sincerely hope that this bill is passed as quickly as possible.