Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise to speak to Bill S-217, which was introduced by a senator and is now being debated here in the House, as we continue our study and consider passing this bill to amend the Criminal Code. We became quite accustomed to changes to the Criminal Code under the previous government. I want to thank my NDP colleagues who worked so hard examining this issue.
First of all, I want to offer my condolences, as most members have done, to Mr. Wynn's family. Constable Wynn was regrettably killed by someone who had been released on bail while awaiting trial. It is in this context that we are debating Bill S-217; we are trying to correct the flaw that made it possible for the accused in question, who had committed very serious crimes, to be released pending trial, at which point he sadly committed the acts we are all well aware of now. I therefore want to offer my condolences to the family.
I would also like to say that the NDP will be supporting Bill S-217 at second reading so that it is studied in committee. It is our role as legislators to thoroughly study issues, not just in the House when we give our speeches, but mainly in committees, where we study proposed legislation in depth.
In this case, we will focus mainly on the effects of this bill on our judicial system. It is important that this be studied by a committee; as such, we will support this bill at second reading so we can consider the wealth of evidence related to the issue.
Many people are concerned about the proposed legislation. Naturally, police forces are very concerned and expressed their concerns when the bill was before the Senate. The legal community is also very concerned by this issue because the bill would add a step prior to the release of an accused person awaiting trial.
Many people are concerned about this, which is why it is important to have an in-depth study in committee to determine the repercussions of this proposal. For example, some experts say that this could slow down the process. We certainly do not want that, especially when the justice system is already so slow when it comes to hearing crown prosecutors and defendants. There is already a backlog in processing court cases across Canada. It is important to address this issue because it could affect the length of proceedings.
This could have repercussions on the work of police, who are extremely important people in our communities. Crown attorneys could also be affected. I am therefore in favour of Bill S-217 and I think we will have the opportunity to look at its impact.
There are other issues that I wanted to raise and that could help inform the committee members. It will be important to ask the experts to address the issue of presumption of innocence, which is the foundation of our current system.
That is why accused persons are released in many cases. Of course, they will appear before a judge at some point, and that is when the crown and the defendant will present their arguments. In the end, it is up to the judge to determine whether the person is guilty or not.
It is important to consider the fact that, in our system, everyone is presumed innocent until a judge determines otherwise. This issue must be discussed because there is no need to keep people in custody until they have been found guilty of a crime. Since there are hundreds of crimes set out in the Criminal Code, it would not make any sense to keep everyone who has been accused of a crime in custody awaiting trial.
There are mechanisms in place to allow accused persons to go free because not all of them are a danger to the public. As I said, there are hundreds of crimes. There are economic crimes, fraud. The judge analyzes each situation and makes a decision on a case-by-case basis. Allowing accused persons to go free while they await trial does not always present a danger to the public.
We need to look closely at this situation, so as not to put too much of a burden on our justice system and our prisons. Keeping more accused persons in custody for longer periods will not be without consequences. In this debate, it is important to keep in mind that every accused person is presumed innocent until proven guilty. However, we need to give judges the discretion to decide whether the accused constitutes a danger to the public and the community.
In the case before us, the situation is profoundly sad, because the individual released had been charged with several serious crimes and then went on to reoffend by committing an even more serious crime.
Mechanisms exist that give judges the discretion to say that an accused person constitutes a danger to society and must remain in custody awaiting trial. Judges should have that discretion.
If our policies and our laws are too restrictive, we will be removing the judges' discretion to make that decision. Judges are in the best position, because they are the ones who speak directly to the accused and take all the facts presented to them into account.
There certainly is a need for an ideal mechanism, as laid out in Bill S-217, to take into account the accused's criminal record, including previous convictions and failures to appear in court. That can help the judge determine whether the accused is at risk of failing to appear again. If the accused does not appear in court when required to do so, an arrest warrant must be issued. There are consequences for that.
As we debate this bill, it is extremely important to keep in mind that judges must have as much discretion as possible to make informed decisions based on the facts of a given case. They are the judges. There is a reason we call them judges. They are the ones who judge whether accused individuals should be detained in custody or whether they can be released while awaiting trial.
In this debate, I want all of us to think about giving judges as much discretion as possible because they, not we in the House of Commons, are in the best position to evaluate each case based on the facts before them and to decide whether to release the accused or detain them in custody.
My time is up, but I hope to see the next installment of this debate in committee very soon.