Mr. Speaker, I am tempted to begin my speech in the House on Bill C-26 by pointing out the latest attempt by the member for Langley to demonize the official opposition and the second opposition party.
Any time we examine a justice bill, whether it is Bill C-26 or any other justice bill, I look carefully at what the bill says. This bill is An Act to amend the Criminal Code, the Canada Evidence Act and the Sex Offender Information Registration Act, to enact the High Risk Child Sex Offender Database Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts.
I also receive a letter from the Minister of Justice explaining a little about the context of his bill—something I do not always appreciate, but often I do.
In the case of Bill C-26, the main objective is to deter criminals and denounce sexual offences against children. The next step is to examine the bill and see whether that is what the bill actually does.
When I hear the Conservatives say over and over again that we care more about offenders and criminals than we do about victims, I find that rather biased and I take offence to such comments, which add absolutely nothing to the debate.
Obviously we are talking about criminals when we are studying a bill like this. They are the main focus of the bill. Talking about them does not mean that we like them, or support them, or that we are behind them saying, “good job, do it again”, like a bunch of cheerleaders. Not at all.
However, if the government tells me that it is denouncing sexual offences against children in order to deter criminals, then I will look at the bill to see whether that is indeed what the government is doing.
It is rather sad that closure was invoked at second reading stage of such an extremely important and complex file, because we can see from the title of the bill alone that it affects a number of statutes at the same time. It introduces a specific database for offenders who are at risk of reoffending and committing more serious offences than the ones described in the current database.
As I was saying to the Minister of Finance, who was well informed but was perhaps not the person who worked directly on this file, the House has passed many laws regarding sexual offences against children.
In fact, we have to question why, by the Minister of Justice's own admission, there has been a 6% increase in offences in the past two years alone. That still bothers me somewhat because if one of the main objectives of the law is to deter criminals from committing crimes and to report sexual offences against children, there may well be some flaws. I do not want members to tell me that this did not exist before. Minimum sentences did exist.
Bill C-26 does not include any new minimum sentence or any new maximum sentence. All that happened was that the length of the sentences was increased. Both minimum and maximum sentences were increased. Perhaps these types of sentences did not work. In short, we could have done the analysis, but first there was closure in the House, then we went to committee.
I must confess that I was a bit wary in the beginning. We were under the impression that the members sitting on the government benches wanted to work very quickly and take shortcuts. Nevertheless, I admit that we were finally able to call the witnesses that we wanted to hear.
I am not quite so positive when it comes to the amendments. Only the government's amendments were accepted, which is always the case. I think that is unfortunate because one of our amendments was based on the very solid evidence given by a criminology expert.
She told us that the information the government wants to put in the new registry—or high risk sex offender database—that it wants to create and that is mentioned in clause 29 of Bill C-26 might be used to identify some victims. This government claims to be on the victims' side and tells us that we are the mean ones who always side with the criminals.
I presented a very simple amendment but the government decided it was too complicated and unnecessary because the notion was implied. When I studied law at the University of Ottawa I was taught that if it is clear, you spell it out. You write it and that is that. Leaving things open to interpretation is another story. All we were asking was that, “under no circumstances must the information referred to in subsection (1) be used to identify the victims”. The amendment was rejected.
This government likes to introduce all kinds of bills. Sometimes it seems as though it is lacking a plan or a person to make sure that the different bills do not contradict each other or that a bill, like Bill C-13 on cyberbullying, which amended a lot of other laws, is not affected in any way by Bill C-26. Sometimes I wonder whether the government is losing control and losing its way.
We presented a perfectly reasonable amendment, requesting that the minister of justice be required to prepare a report specifying the number of persons whose name has been added to the database and the information specified in paragraphs 5(f) and (g), which have to do with the type of offence. This information could have been interesting to look at with respect to each of these individuals. The amendment stipulated that the minister of justice would have to table the report to each house of Parliament within the first 15 sitting days after the report has been prepared.
Once again, this seems to me like a reasonable amendment. The Conservatives will probably give me the same answer. The answer that was given by the Department of Justice and the Conservatives is that it is a public registry—as if I did not know that. The word itself says it all. Since it is a public registry, it is up to me to find the information I need. Every year, I will have to go and check the registry to find the information. If the government was interested in promoting these things and ensuring that its bills work well, this is the type of work that would normally be done. They want to complicate our lives. That is fine. That is good. We will put that in our pipe and smoke it.
However, that being said, it would have been much simpler to do this the way we are proposing. It could also have been useful for the government, since it could have found some missing information right in this report. The government may well say that the 6% increase could be due to the fact that the minimum sentences were not yet harsh enough. On this side of the House, we think that the increase is more likely related to the fact that the government does not spend much and, even worse, it is making cuts to programs that are working really well and that have been successful. That is also what experts told us in committee.
As I said before on the radio and here in the House at second reading, it is all well and good to have a registry. We already have one. The person responsible for the registry at the RCMP came and told us in committee that the RCMP is already doing this. When a dangerous person moves into a community, the RCMP informs the people living there. The RCMP does not need the government to keep the public safe. The government created this registry saying that it would formalize what the RCMP is already doing.
I will digress for a moment. When we had the minister's press conference after the Prime Minister's presentation, everyone who talked about Bill C-26 made it sound as though it was the ultimate goal and that it would solve all of the world's problems. Finally, the Deputy Commissioner of the RCMP answered one of my questions and said that it would affect perhaps a dozen cases a year.
That brings us back to reality. The National Sex Offender Registry already exists for such offenders. The additional “high risk” aspect pertains to about a dozen people. One thing is clear, and I am surprised that the Conservative government has not paid more attention to it. In fact, instead of talking in glowing terms about this type of measure, it should instead be worried about the fact that these high risk offenders are in our communities. That worries me a lot. I sometimes feel that this government works a lot harder on paper, with words, because that goes hand in hand with its rhetoric that makes it appear to be tough and to be doing something. However, in reality, when we look at the resources available to the RCMP and police forces to conduct investigations, that is not the case. I shudder when I hear police services say that some types of crime will have to be ignored because combatting terrorism is now the priority. Perhaps the minister was right to specify the criteria for a sentence. Yes, there is rehabilitation, deterrence and all that, but one of the government's main purposes is to protect its citizens. Putting more eggs in one basket than in another is not necessarily good management.
There is nothing real there. As for minimum sentences—that is what the member opposite was talking about—I am of the same mind as a former Supreme Court justice who appeared before us and said, in the context of another justice-related file, that all minimum sentences are not necessarily unconstitutional. It is simply not a tool that should be overused. First of all, and this is very important, even the witnesses who appeared in committee, whether they were victims or people who work with organizations that support victims, told us that minimum sentences were not the issue. If, for the kind of offence and the seriousness of the crime committed, we were to impose the minimum sentences that the Conservatives proposed in Bill C-26, there is a problem somewhere. However, there could be a case that has absolutely nothing to do with the kind of stereotype we have of that kind of offence. Therein lies the problem. We heard it directly from legal experts. To say that we are against minimum sentences for this kind of offence does not mean we are defending criminals.
The fact is that, ultimately, the minimum sentence may not even be imposed by the court, because the court, as a general rule, will give more than that, and that is what we want. Look at the bill dealing with child kidnapping—it was clear from the case law that was brought before the committee that the average sentence exceeded the minimum sentence that the Conservatives wanted to impose.
Basically, this is mostly just smoke and mirrors; however, in some cases, it can lead to some strange outcomes. This is why there are constitutional challenges. With a constitutional challenge, all you need is one case that is flawed, that does not fit the minimum sentence formula, for the provision to be struck down; it will then be sent back here for us to do over again. That is one of the problems.
Obviously, the NDP supported Bill C-26 at second reading. We took our work seriously and sought the extra information we needed, even though the bill is far from perfect and is not necessarily the type of bill we would introduce. I think our analysis would be more thorough. Indeed, offenders need to be punished, but we must also ensure that the people who leave prison are not a danger to the public. Earlier, the Liberal member mentioned the circles of change program. In committee we learned that the program had a 70% to 80% success rate. Who would scoff at that? None other than the Conservative government, because it does not want to talk about that type of thing.
The government just wants to talk about things that create the impression that it is dealing with criminals. Of course, we are all against criminals.
When I return to my riding at the end of the day and talk to the people of Gatineau, because I like to connect with my community, I tell them I am proud of the work we did that week. In this case, we passed a victims bill of rights and we worked on a bill to deal with sexual predators. I would just like to add, for once in my life, that I am sure that this will be useful.
In any case, I can tell them I tried very hard in committee to have the government listen to reason, not to defend criminals, but to ensure that the bill will withstand the constitutional challenges that will test it in the coming years, that it is consistent with other bills, and that it achieves its objectives.
The government claims to be helping victims with the victims bill of rights, but they need real rights, as I said in my speech. The right to lodge a complaint cannot be hypothetical. The government brings in minimum penalties but it is cutting resources for police officers—the ones who catch criminals and bring them to justice. The justice system is crying for help, and we are in need of judges and crown prosecutors. How does this make any sense?
I weep for victims because they will never get the services they need. That will not change, even in one, two or three years. What is even sadder is that they will have been promised the world. It is even more disappointing when they are told that something will be fixed.
As for the registry, people from the RCMP have told us that they already have a hard time keeping criminal cases and criminal records up to date. The member for Langley presented a petition earlier regarding impaired driving. I agree that we still have a long way to go. When we hear in the papers that someone was convicted for the sixth time, we have to wonder how that can be possible. However, these situations happen because nothing is written in the records of these repeat offenders, even though everyone knows that they have been to court six times and that this is not their first conviction.
Civil and criminal justice need to be consistent. There needs to be some follow-up. The bill gives the governor in council the power to make regulations by establishing the criteria for determining whether a person who is found guilty of a sexual offence against a child poses a high risk of committing a crime of a sexual nature; and, in subclause (b), by prescribing anything that is to be prescribed by this act. This means that this legislation retains some harmful legal grey areas.
This is moving too fast even for the people at the Department of Justice. I asked them what impact Bill S-2 would have. People like me who follow justice issues know that this was the bill concerning statutory instruments and how to enact regulations. We all know that a law is one thing, but that three-quarters of the obligations are set out in the regulations.
When the government tells us that the Governor in Council, namely cabinet, will be establishing the criteria, that tells us who is going to be making the decisions and that we will not know exactly when and how those decisions will be made. I asked them whether Bill S-2 would apply since we are talking about delegation and regulation by reference. That means that we would not even have a separate list of criteria. The answer that I got from the expert at the Department of Justice was that he did not know and that he would check.
That means that the government is not making connections between its various bills. I got an answer today, just a few hours before I rose in the House for the debate, and I was told that, yes, Bill S-2 would apply.
There are ramifications, and I get the impression that we will be forced to revisit many of these bills. However, as it now stands, Bill C-26 is unfortunately a lot of talk, just like the Canadian victims bill of rights. As one of the victims, Mr. Gilhooly, so aptly stated, even if the bill were passed as it stands, it would not change what he experienced in any way.
Once again, the government is misleading victims by giving them the impression that it is tough on crime and imposing law and order, but in the end, the law will not be enforced.