Madam Speaker, I rise this evening to speak to the report of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights with respect to Bill C-242, introduced by the hon. member for London North Centre. Bill C-242 seeks to establish a Criminal Code offence for torture in the non-state realm. Presently, the only Criminal Code offence for torture lies in section 269.1 of the Criminal Code, which deals with state torture.
At this time I would like to thank the hon. member for London North Centre for his hard work and his efforts to bring awareness to the important issue of non-state torture and for trying to do something about it by bringing forward Bill C-242.
At second reading debate, I spoke in favour of Bill C-242. I did so notwithstanding the fact that the evidence was clear from a review of the law that there is no clear gap in prosecuting and convicting individuals involved in torture offences. Those offences that cover torture include, among other things, aggravated assault, aggravated sexual assault, forcible confinement, kidnapping, and so on. Nonetheless, I supported Bill C-242 because I believed it was well-intentioned and because I take seriously the issue of torture.
In that regard, I believed it certainly merited moving to the next stage in the legislative process, namely to committee for further study and review. That study and review did take place by the justice committee, of which I am a member. Upon participating in that review, I now concur with the report of the justice committee, which is to not recommend that Bill C-242 move forward. It is not because the bill is not well-intentioned. I certainly acknowledge the fact that there is symbolic value to calling a torturer what a torturer is, and that is a “torturer”, but good intentions and symbolism do not always make good law.
In this case, I respectfully believe that Bill C-242 would not make good law. While my time is limited and I do not have sufficient time to go through all of the issues with the bill, I would like to highlight a couple of issues with the bill.
One of the issues with Bill C-242 is that it could complicate the prosecution of cases involving torture and could lead to inconsistent sentences for similar crimes. Take aggravated assault, for example. Under the Criminal Code, aggravated assault is defined as an offence involving wounding, maiming, disfiguring, or endangering the life of another human being.
There are all sorts of circumstances involving acts of torture that could easily fit into one or more of the categories of wounding, maiming, disfiguring, or endangering the life of another human being. Under the Criminal Code, the maximum penalty for aggravated assault is 14 years. Under Bill C-242, the maximum penalty for the proposed torture offence would be life imprisonment. Therefore, if Bill C-242 were passed, it could mean that someone who, for example, severely maimed an individual could be convicted of aggravated assault and sentenced to 14 years behind bars, whereas someone who committed a similar offence could be convicted under the torture offence and receive a sentence of life in prison.
That is just one example of an instance where it could be more difficult for the prosecutor to prosecute a case and where the outcome of similar cases could result in different sentences.
Additionally, there is inconsistency between the life sentence under Bill C-242 and the maximum 14-year sentence under section 269.1 of the Criminal Code, which deals with state torture. It therefore raises the possibility that if, for example, a police officer or member of the Canadian Armed Forces engaged in a crime involving torture, the prosecutor would be faced with the position of electing to proceed under the new offence under Bill C-242 or the existing offence under section 269.1 of the Criminal Code. If the prosecutor wanted to have the maximum sentence, he or she would likely proceed under the new section of Bill C-242.
The difficulty with that, if the prosecutor proceeded under the new offence rather than section 269.1 of the Criminal Code, is that it could then be argued that Canada would not be fulfilling its international obligations under the United Nations Convention Against Torture, which calls upon Canada to hold state officials accountable under international law codified by section 269.1 of the Criminal Code, and not the new section under Bill C-242.
The member for London North Centre had suggested at committee that perhaps the sentence be reduced from life down to 14 years. While that would marginally address issues of inconsistencies in sentencing for similar cases and similar crimes, it would not take away the complexities in prosecuting cases involving torture that would be created as a result of Bill C-242.
If one looks, for example, at aggravated assault, it is necessary when trying to establish intent that the crown prove that the accused intended to commit an assault. Under Bill C-242, it would not only be necessary to establish intent with respect to the torturous act, but it would also be necessary to establish intent in terms of the infliction of pain on the victim. Not only would it be necessary to establish that intent to inflict pain, and necessary to establish there was an intent to intimidate or coerce an individual, it would also be necessary to establish that the individual who had pain inflicted upon them suffered severe and prolonged pain.
On top of that, it would be necessary to establish not only that a torturous act was committed against an individual, but that the torturous act was committed repeatedly. Unfortunately, “repeatedly” is not defined under Bill C-242, and therefore would be subject to judicial interpretation, thereby creating uncertainty.
In closing, I will simply say that, while Bill C-242 was well-intentioned, it would create uncertainty in the Criminal Code. It would create further complexity in the prosecution of cases involving torture. It would raise legal and interpretative problems for the courts, and it arguably could undercut Canada's international obligations under the United Nations Convention Against Torture.
It is for these reasons that I regretfully must stand in opposition to Bill C-242.