Mr. Speaker, I think this will really be my last speech in the 41st Parliament. I thought my speech this morning would be the last one but, finally, this one will be.
Like everyone else, I would like to take the opportunity to thank all the employees of the House. I am referring to the clerks, the pages, the security staff, the lobby service, the bus drivers, who enable us to be at the right place at the right time, and the cafeteria staff who allow us to eat so we do not wilt here in the House.
In my case, as I am starting to be known for what I call intelligent improvisation in my speeches, I have enormous respect for the interpreters, who have the thankless task of interpreting my words, even though they have absolutely no text in front of them. I congratulate them, because I also know that I am not someone who always speaks slowly. I have the greatest respect for them, and I thank them for what they do.
I would also like to thank the people at Hansard. Immediately after I have finished speaking, I receive the texts from them, and sometimes I find that they can convey my ideas even better than I express them myself. When I read over my speeches, I find that I have been really eloquent, but I know that I did not use those exact words. I thank them for improving the quality of my speeches. I appreciate it, and all the French speakers in Canada appreciate it, too.
I would like to thank my team, which does an extraordinary job: Roxane, Shirley, Aline, Alex, Yan and Elise. This year things have been really wild on the team for the member for Gatineau and official opposition justice critic, considering the number of bills we have had to handle and recommend, as the parliamentary secretary said. I received help from the member for La Pointe-de-l'Île, whom I would also like to thank.
This brings me to thank my leader, the leader of the official opposition and member for Outremont, who gave me his confidence to do this job, which has not been an easy ride.
Most of all, I thank my constituents in Gatineau. In 2011, they elected me with a real, strong and stable majority, the largest in Quebec. I am pleased to say that, because people who know me know that I have been in other elections with much closer results. Thus, to finish first in Quebec with 63% of the votes is what I call a strong and stable majority. We will try to do the same in 2015, in the next phase. I thank the people of Gatineau from the bottom of my heart; they have stood beside me in all I have done for the past four years, being active and sharing their comments with me.
When I was voting and some people asked me what that meant, I told them I was voting with my heart. I have never voted except out of a sense of conviction, listening to my heart and thinking of the people of Gatineau. That is why I have watched them. They are the people I think about every time. I may have missed one vote on an evening when we voted all night, but 99% of the time, I voted, thinking only of the people of Gatineau.
Now let me turn to Bill C-53.
The Ottawa criminal lawyer, Leo Russomano, said:
Let’s just call it what it is, it’s just an election year bill that makes no effort whatsoever to actually respond to a problem. This is a solution in search of a problem...
The fact of the matter is they are life sentences. Whether a person is released on parole or not, they are under sentence for the rest of their lives. It’s sowing the seeds of mistrust with the administration of justice.
Other people told us that the parliamentary secretary also talked to them about Clifford Olson.
—the worst murderers--serial killers like Clifford Olsen--already die behind bars. She predicts others who face no chance to serve the rest of their “life sentence” under strict conditions with supervision in the community will become angry and desperate, a danger to themselves or others.
I will have more to say on that point.
Bill C-53 targets tougher sentences for those guilty of high treason.
The parliamentary secretary did say that.
The last offender convicted in Canada was Louis Riel.
Eventually, people have to stop laughing at other people. The offences listed in the bill are horrible crimes. No one in the House, wherever they sit, will applaud them or feel any compassion at all. Our sympathy is definitively with the victims.
The things I have deplored about the Conservatives since they took office in 2006 are things I am passionate about. I have been a lawyer for a long time. Justice, particularly social justice, but really all justice with a capital J, is what stirs me and commands my interest. That is one reason I decided to get into politics. The Conservatives speak about the number of bills they have introduced, but quantity is never the same as quality. It is all very well to have 150 bills, but if those 150 bills—some of them now acts—are meaningless or will one day be tested in court and overthrown, there is a problem somewhere. That is not really the issue because sometimes we have differences of opinion. In those cases, I can respect the issue being debated.
Nevertheless, it is extremely arrogant, at the end of a mandate, to make surprise substitutions of bills, as the government did last night, in order to put this one on the order paper, to at least give the impression it is being discussed, even though the Conservatives have promised it and given press conferences about it for a long time. Not everyone may have seen it, but one national English-language media outlet said that, despite all the emphasis by the Conservatives on Bill C-53, there had not been even one hour of debate about it. What a surprise; after that article appeared, here is the hour of debate. I hope everyone who is watching knows, as you and I know Mr. Speaker, that what we are doing here and now is just saying some words. Those words signify absolutely nothing.
The parliamentary secretary talked about it; in committee we examined Bill C-587, which proposed possible parole, to be determined by the Parole Board of Canada, of up to 40 years for the same kind of crime as seen in Bill C-53. I asked questions during the committee's study of the bill. Even the Conservative member who introduced the bill asked to suspend our consideration for some time because there appeared to be a serious conflict with the more showy introduction of Bill C-53. I have often said one thing to the Conservatives and I am going to repeat it, although it is sad that these will be my last words in this Parliament: I think the Conservatives have unfortunately exploited victims to express outrageous principles, concepts or phrases at huge media events that really, in the end, are destined to disappoint. They will disappoint the victims because, as I said when we were debating the victims bill of rights, they are nothing but beautiful intentions and hollow promises. The official opposition, on the other hand, has suggested amendments to these rights and has insisted that the right to information is essential, but these amendments were defeated by the Conservatives.
I am not bitter, because I am a positive kind of girl. I fit right in to the NDP where we are optimistic and positive. Thus, I still have hope that this is not over and that one day we will be able to repair much of the damage that this government has done to the justice system.
That brings me to my main point about what I have lived through in the past two years, very personally, as the official opposition justice critic. That is the fact that, in all its bills, the government, with its outrageous short titles, is harming the concept of justice and giving the impression that the system acts poorly for most ordinary people in Canada, the ones who are watching us and who are interested in the issue. The government is giving people the impression that the system is broken because the Parole Board of Canada is not doing its job, because judges are too soft, because the opposition is pro-terrorist, and so on and so forth.
We are talking about justice, and we fundamentally believe in justice. We can mention the Olson case. He never got out of prison and he died there, or we can mention Bernardo, another case relevant to this discussion, someone who will never get out of prison. We can talk about the fact that families are forced to periodically go before the Parole Board of Canada. Bills have been introduced to ensure that hearings are not held before a certain period of time has passed so that families are not forced to attend them so often. There are even simpler solutions. When simple solutions are presented for an existing problem that everyone recognizes, it is not as exciting as holding a big press conference in front of a bunch of flags and saying shocking things that should never come out of the mouths of people who are supposed to be leaders in our society.
When we considered Bill C-587 introduced by the Conservative member, I said that the Parole Board of Canada was already using other approaches in a number of cases. It is not true that people are constantly being called to come before the board. Why? Because the authorities already tend not to let the individual out. People are not bothered, but rather informed. It probably makes some people relive certain things. As I said to one of the victims who appeared one time before the committee, even if someone is put away for 60 years, this is something that will never be erased from one’s heart.
My younger sister died during this Parliament. Does anyone think I will forget her in 5, 10 or 15 years? Her death was not even the result of a crime. These are things we never forget.
We could make it easier for families and tell them these people are dangerous criminals who will never get out of jail. There are all kinds of tools that exist. In introducing Bill C-53, the government is trying to make people believe that it is solving a huge problem. As I said earlier, we can forget about the crime of high treason. There are not many cases like that of Louis Riel in Canada. We can move on to something else. In terms of the other crimes mentioned, like those of Bernardo and Olson, the government is unable to give the names of people who might be wandering the streets and who have committed crimes like those mentioned in Bill C-53. It does not have any names, because this does not happen. However, if the government says it and repeats it often enough, it will make people believe that this happens. It is frightening people.
I remember an interview that I did with a wonderful Quebec City radio station, which could not wait for me to arrive, because the interview was about the dangerous sex offender registry. They were waiting for me, saying they were going to be interviewing some softies from the NDP. Before putting me on the air, they recounted the case of a guy who was walking around as free as a bird in Quebec City. They were anxious to have the registry set up. I stopped them after half a second, saying I was surprised that they were talking about a registry to solve the problem of the person who was in their city, when the real question was why he was out on the street.
We need to stop mixing everything up and creating situations that make people believe things that do not exist.
In this Parliament, in this democratic institution, it is the duty of everyone, both on the government side and on the opposition side, not to mislead the House, to work to support our pillars of democracy and not to impede the executive, legislative and judicial pillars.
Unfortunately, this government has done nothing but cast doubt on the quality and transparency of our Supreme Court justices, including the chief justice. When a decision is handed down, they say the court is like this and like that, and so on. If we do not say the same things the government representatives do, we are pro-criminals and pro-terrorists. It is very sad.
We may not have the same agendas, but I think that all the members of the House want as few crimes as possible to be committed, to protect the safety of our fellow Canadians. Let us do so properly.
The Conservatives have no statistics. They have never been able to present the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights with any statistics of any kind in support of the bills they put forward.
The minister introduced his bill on sexual predators, and yet he boasted that there have never been as many laws as the Conservative government has passed to make sentences even tougher. He presented us with an admission of failure by showing us that these offences had risen in the last two years, in spite of the tougher laws. There is a problem somewhere.
The real bottom line when it comes to crime and the justice system is that the Conservatives’ statements are not borne out by the statistics. The statistics show us that the number of crimes committed is going down. It is very possible that the numbers of certain types of crimes have risen, but let us focus on those problems instead of playing petty politics just to make a show for the media by parading victims about for their own purposes.
However, in numerous conversations I had with victims at various times during this Parliament, I was pleased to find that their eyes were increasingly open and they were starting to realize that they were puppets being manipulated by the government, and that makes me extremely sad.
I would like to talk about the provision that allows the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness to act. Because it will not be the current minister, I will not even talk about the kind of expertise he has. Even if the most qualified person held the position of Minister of Public Safety, it would still be indecent. It is indecent to politicize the issue in a free and democratic society that is subject to a constitution, laws and a charter of rights. This is not how we do things.
Once again, this is a negative statement about the Parole Board of Canada, whose members are appointed by the government. There is a problem somewhere. Either they are good enough to do their job or they are not, and if not, then let us change things without delay.
However, let us not start giving this kind of power to a person who holds high political office and is going to wait to see what the person on the street has to say first. We know that we are all the same when a terrible crime is committed: we all have a tendency to want to do the worst. That is why an independent body that is capable of analyzing and examining the case is necessary.
Let us stop mixing apples and oranges and stop doing damage to the justice system as a whole. Let us repair it and fix the problems, but let us not throw out the baby with the bathwater, as if it were any old system at all.
The legal system, overall, serves Canadians well. Crown counsel, defence counsel, judges and all the other participants in the system are people who do what they have to do in circumstances that are not always easy, given government cutbacks.
This being the case, let us stop attacking the system from all sides and introducing bills that will not last beyond the end of the day or that may live to see another hour tomorrow.
It is absolutely insulting and indecent to introduce something that is as important as this, knowing full well that it will last no longer than the speeches that people are going to hear now.