Madam Speaker, it is my honour to rise in the House to speak to Bill S-217, an act to amend the Criminal Code (detention in custody). The bill would make it mandatory for prosecutors to provide all of the facts concerning previous criminal convictions, current charges, and failures to appear in court. Under existing legislation, prosecutors are not compelled to divulge such evidence.
Members heard the story of my colleague about the concerns that arose when 42-year-old RCMP Constable David Wynn was murdered by a career criminal in St. Albert, Alberta, in January 2015. Constable Wynn struggled to survive for four days before succumbing to death in an Edmonton hospital, leaving behind his wife and three sons to try and make sense of the senseless.
The criminal's career history spanned two decades, with over 100 offences dating back to 1994. It should be noted that the criminal had failed to appear in court after three separate warrants were issued for his arrest in 2014. How is it that a man who has been convicted of everything from breaking and entering, theft, evading police, dangerous arrest, assault, escape from custody to holding a homeowner at gun point while forcing him to empty out his bank account is not in custody?
The bill would serve to prevent high-risk offenders from committing further criminal acts while awaiting trial. It would require prosecutors to show that the accused had been previously convicted of a criminal offence or had already been charged and was awaiting trial for another criminal offence.
In addition, the Crown would also be required to provide evidence that an accused had failed on one or more occasions to appear in court when required to do so, as well as show the circumstances of the alleged offence or offences. This would fall under a statutory requirement to advance the evidence, obligating the Crown to do so. The principle of detention pre-trial would already be established so a habeas corpus concern would be unlikely. The bill would focus on detaining high-risk offenders while pending trial.
The Conservatives have always put Canadians and their safety first, while upholding the rights of victims and their families. Bill S-217 would ensure the safeguarding of those rights.
In 2014, the former Conservative government made history and enacted the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights, which for the first time ever saw the rights of victims established into law at the federal level. This bill is a complement to the Canadians Victims Bill of Rights.
I would like to touch on a case that shook the community of Fort Erie in my riding of Niagara Falls, Niagara-on-the-Lake and Fort Erie. It is the story of an 81-year old retired businessman and friend of mine, Blake Nicholls, who was murdered by a career criminal with 50 prior convictions, including arson, armed robbery and theft. In fact, this individual was wanted in another jurisdiction for allegedly attacking his then girlfriend with a hammer.
The man attacked my friend Mr. Nicholls with a hammer out of misdirected revenge. He became enraged after he discovered that Blake Nicholls had warned a neighbour woman to steer clear of him. He then attacked Nicholls with a hammer, striking him 16 times. The criminal then ransacked the home of Mr. Nicholls as he lay dead on the living room floor. He showed no remorse. Nor did he demonstrate even a modicum of repentance. Blake Nicholls had merely attempted to be a good and caring neighbour, as he had been during his entire life. His three children and six grandchildren are left not only mourning his loss but must also live with the lifelong trauma in knowing that their loved one's life was cut short in such a brutal and inhumane way.
Had this bill been law, perhaps Constable Wynn and Blake Nicholls would still be with us today. As parliamentarians, we have a solemn duty to make and enact laws that will protect Canadians. The justification for detention in custody was evident in both these cases, yet these career criminals, who shared 150 convictions between them, were not incarcerated but were free to continue their respective business of criminality.
If previous convictions are disclosed at bail hearings, it would give judges and justices of the peace the tools they need to help keep our streets and neighbourhoods safe. It should also be noted that the legislation would not make huge changes to the Criminal Code. It would assist the judiciary in our country to make sound decisions based on complete evidence and would in no way infringe upon judicial discretion to grant bail.
The legislation puts victims first. The Conservative Party has always put victims first and has the full support of Constable Wynn's widow, Shelley Wynn. In fact, it was Mrs. Wynn who helped initiate the legislation. The bill is consistent with the previous government's passing of the Canadian Bill of Rights.
Canadians expect that we will fulfill our duty as legislators to ensure the laws of our country fully protect citizens. The Wynn family and the Nicholls family are counting on it. It is the obligation of the House to support this legislation.