Mr. Speaker, I will follow in my colleagues' footsteps because we have just gone through some unusual events on Parliament Hill, events that affect not only politicians but all Canadians.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of those whose priority is our safety and that of our assistants and the people who work in this magnificent parliamentary precinct, which includes the Centre Block and the Confederation Building, where my offices are located. These have been difficult times.
The labour relations lawyer in me feels compelled to ask everyone to take good care of themselves. People who experience a traumatic event can experience different after-effects, and of course my thoughts are with our Sergeant-at-Arms. I hope that he is taking care of himself and that others are taking care of him too. Everyone has gone through a very trying time.
That said, this is an interesting time to rise in the House to discuss Bill C-35 as the official opposition's justice critic.
I would like to begin by thanking my colleague from La Pointe-de-l'Île, who took care of this file so that I could carry out a thorough review of other bills. She has done an extraordinary job of helping our caucus colleagues understand the issues with this bill.
I listened to my colleagues earlier, particularly my colleague from Parkdale—High Park, who is an animal lover, and, I would think, not the only one in this House.
It is ironic that I have to rise in this House to speak to this bill, because those who know me will know, on the one hand, just how much I love animals, and on the other hand, how I would not want anyone at all to be hurt in any way.
These harmless, defenceless creatures deserve the same protection that we afford to children and people with mental or physical disabilities. We have to make sure we protect those most vulnerable in our society and those who cannot protect themselves.
It is ironic, because this bill has come about in much the same way as many Conservative bills seem to come about, namely, as a reaction to specific situations, which always raises many questions in my mind.
When I was a law student at the University of Ottawa a few decades ago, I had an affinity for criminal law. I found it extremely interesting, as most law students do when they enter the faculty of law. They often think they will become the greatest criminal lawyers the world has ever known.
I became a labour lawyer, which shows that what may seem extraordinarily exciting when we are at school is in fact different in reality. Criminal law is not an easy domain and I commend all crown prosecutors, police officers, defence lawyers, probation officers and judges who work in this area and who are called to determine the right thing to do in each case.
I realize that the crime rate is going down and that the nature of crimes is changing. We can always get statistics to say what we want them to say. On our side, we might say that we do not need to be too harsh or build prisons since the crime rate is going down. However, our Conservative friends, who do not seem to have anything to say today, will probably say that the crime rate is going down because they are extremely tough. Again, we can get statistics to say what we want.
However, when I was studying law, the basic principles of sentencing stuck with me. In that regard, I am deeply concerned about all these bills. It is not my socialist heart that is bleeding, but that of a person to whom it is important that the Criminal Code, the country's law governing acceptable and unacceptable behaviour, explain the decisions taken by our society on punishing these acts—criminal acts in this case.
We have always been told by our criminal law and sentencing experts that there are basic principles that we cannot circumvent.
I am not going to lecture you because that is not my style. However, we sometimes forget. When we forget, we have a tendency of repeating past mistakes or making other mistakes that could be avoided if we were to examine the simple facts. There are parts of the Criminal Code that we do not often hear about in the House. I am thinking of the entire part that starts with section 716, for example. It covers sentencing and explains the basic principles that apply to sentencing.
In the short time available to me, I would like to highlight a few of the very fundamental sections that a court must consider when it is preparing either to hand down a sentence or to make a decision about an accused. I would point out that one of the very few changes being made to section 718 is the addition of aggravating factors to the section on sentencing.
718. The fundamental purpose of sentencing is to contribute, along with crime prevention initiatives, to respect for the law and the maintenance of a just, peaceful and safe society by imposing just sanctions that have one or more of the following objectives:
(a) to denounce unlawful conduct;
(b) to deter the offender and other persons from committing offences;
(c) to separate offenders from society, where necessary;
(d) to assist in rehabilitating offenders;
This principle is often forgotten by our friends opposite.
(e) to provide reparations for harm done to victims or to the community; and
(f) to promote a sense of responsibility in offenders, and acknowledgement of the harm done to victims and to the community.
With respect to this last point, all types of restorative justice come into play.
Section 718.01 concerns crimes against youth under the age of eighteen years.
Section 718.1 is extremely important. This section is often the kicker. It is at the heart of our beliefs as the official opposition in this House. Section 718.1 of the Criminal Code states:
718.1 A sentence must be proportionate to the gravity of the offence and the degree of responsibility of the offender.
Notice that it says “the offender” and not “the offenders”. That is where jurisprudence comes in, with respect to the principle that each case is unique.
Section 718.2 states:
718.2 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, and, without limiting the generality of the foregoing...
What follows is a list that has grown over the years under the Conservatives and in response to some realities in society. The section continues:
(b) a sentence should be similar to sentences imposed on similar offenders for similar offences committed in similar circumstances;
Once again, there is the principle that every case is unique. Proportionality must be taken into account. Criminal justice must be applied in the same way for each person who commits the same crime, under the same circumstances. During sentencing arguments, the parties will point out aggravating factors or factors in favour of the accused. The section continues:
(c) where consecutive sentences are imposed, the combined sentence should not be unduly long or harsh;
My colleagues have already said this so I will not repeat. Second reading should not be used to repeat the same principle, but to make specific points. This stage is extremely important. As I was telling one of my colleagues earlier, as justice critic, and since we support this bill, I will have the benefit of having heard my colleagues' thoughts when we examine the bill in committee with experts and witnesses. I would have liked to have heard more from the other side, since everyone is capable of presenting persuasive arguments now and then. However, you cannot win anyone over with silence.
The Criminal Code states:
(d) an offender should not be deprived of liberty, if less restrictive sanctions may be appropriate in the circumstances;
We know this. There is an enormous amount of literature and many analyses have been conducted on the usefulness of minimum sentences and the legality of consecutive sentences.
Furthermore, some decisions in similar cases have gone as far as the Supreme Court. I urge my colleagues to be cautious—and that is what we will do in committee—and to ensure that this bill complies with all of the relevant principles of law.
I would also suggest that all members of the House read section 716 and subsequent sections of the Criminal Code on sentencing. They will see that our Criminal Code already has a strong foundation of principles that apply.