Madam Speaker, I am very happy to be participating in today's debate on Bill C-51. I find it unfortunate, however, that the government has again had to resort to time allocation on a justice bill. The bill passed the House of Commons. I was certainly one of the members who voted in favour of it. However, I find myself in the awkward position of actually agreeing with what the Senate has done to the bill, because it very much mirrors the attempt I made at the justice committee last year to codify the nature of consent and provide a bit more definition in the Criminal Code.
Before I get to the Senate amendments more specifically, I want to talk more generally about the government's record on justice bills. While I do have a great deal of respect for the Minister of Justice and I very much agreed at the start of the government's mandate with what she was attempting to do, the pace of legislative change from the Minister of Justice has been anything but satisfactory. We started off with Bill C-14. It received a lot of attention and debate in Canada, as it should have, but we have to remember that the only reason the government moved ahead with Bill C-14 and we passed it in 2016 was that the government was operating under a Supreme Court imposed deadline. There was really no choice in the matter. Furthermore, when Bill C-14 was passed, we very nearly had a standoff with the Senate because of the provision in the bill about reasonable death occurring in a predetermined amount of time. We knew that that particular section would be challenged in the court system.
The other substantive piece of legislation the government has passed is Bill C-46, which was designed to move in conjunction with Bill C-45. Of course, Bill C-46 was problematic because the government has now removed the need for reasonable suspicion for police officers to administer a Breathalyzer test. They can basically do it whenever a person is legally stopped, whether it be for a broken tail light or for not stopping completely at a stop sign. If an officer has a Breathalyzer test on their person, they can demand a breath sample right then and there, without the need for reasonable suspicion. I have seen mandatory alcohol screening operate in other countries, notably Australia.
In my attempt to amend that bill, I stated that if we were going to apply such a draconian measure, it should be applied equally, because if we start giving police officers the ability to decide when or where to test someone, we know from the statistics, notably from the City of Toronto, that people of a certain skin colour are more apt to be stopped by the police than others. If such a provision were to be implemented, it should be applied equally at all times.
Moving on, there is Bill C-28, which deals with the victim surcharge, but is still languishing in purgatory at first reading.
The government then moved forward with a number of cleanups of the Criminal Code, the so-called zombie or inoperative provisions and the many redundant sections of the Criminal Code. That is the thing about the Criminal Code: It is littered with out-of-date provisions that are inoperable because of Supreme Court or appellate court rulings, but they are still faithfully reprinted every single year because Parliament has not done its work to clean up the Criminal Code. As my college the member for St. Albert—Edmonton has noted, it has led to some very bad consequences, notably in the Travis Vader case, where the judge used an inoperative section of the Criminal Code to convict someone. That conviction was then overturned. So these section do have very real consequences.
My contention has always been with section 159, which was brought forward in Bill C-32. Bill C-32 was then swallowed up by Bill C-39. Then Bill C-39 was swallowed up by Bill C-75, which has only just passed the House and now has to clear the Senate. We have no idea how much longer that is going to take. The House is about to rise for the Christmas break. We will be back functioning at the end of January, but Bill C-75 is a gigantic omnibus bill and full of provisions that make it a very contentious bill.
My argument has always been that for such an ambitious legislative agenda, especially if we are going to clean up the Criminal Code as Bill C-51 proposes to do, I contend that the Minister of Justice, had she had a good strategy in dealing with the parliamentary timetable and calendar and how this place actually works, would have bundled up the non-contentious issues in Bill C-39 and Bill C-32, which was morphed into Bill C-75, together with the non-contentious issues of Bill C-51 and made it a stand-alone bill, and we could have done that work.
These are issues that we cannot really argue against because it is a moot point; the Supreme Court has already ruled, so keeping them in the Criminal Code just leads to further confusion. Here we are, three years into the government's mandate, and the Criminal Code has still not been cleaned up to this day. For an ambitious legislative agenda, that leaves a lot to be desired. I heard Michael Spratt, who regularly appears as a witness before the justice committee, describe Bill C-51 as dealing with the lowest of the low-hanging fruit. Therefore, if we had been serious, we could have made some very reasonable progress on that. Be that as it may, we have Bill C-51 before us and we have to go over it.
Before I get into the specific amendments brought forward by the Senate, I think it is worth going over some of the things we are talking about. Among the things Bill C-51 would repeal is the offence of challenging someone to a duel. It used to be illegal to provoke someone to fight a duel or to accept the challenge. We will get rid of that section because it obviously reflects an earlier time in Canada's history. It is the reason why in this place we are two sword lengths apart. Members of parliament in the U.K. used to go into that place with swords on their hips. The bill would also get rid of section 143 dealing with advertizing a reward for the return of stolen property. It would get rid of section 163, dealing with the possession of crime comics, a legacy of a 1948 bill by a member who thought that crime comics negatively influenced kids by encouraging them to commit crimes, and that they were not a part of a good upbringing. The section on blasphemous libel would be dropped. Fraudulently pretending to practise witchcraft is probably one of my favourite ones.
While Bill C-51 is making some much needed changes to sections of the Criminal Code, as I said earlier, we would not be arguing these cases in the House three years into the mandate of the current government if the bills had been bundled up into a single bill, which I am sure could have had royal assent by now.
We did have a very interesting discussion at the justice committee on section 176. When I first read Bill C-51 and it mentioned that this section would be repealed, I read right over it. However, when hearing witnesses at committee, it became quite apparent that section 176 had a lot of very deep meaning to select religious groups. After hearing all of that testimony about the importance of having section 176 remain in the code, I am glad to see that the committee members were able to work together to polish the language to ensure that it would now be applicable to all religious faiths, and not just single out the Christian faith. Now, if someone were to interrupt the religious proceedings of any faith, that would be dealt with appropriately under section 176.
The heart of the matter before us is the Senate amendments to Bill C-51. As I mentioned, it is kind of awkward for a New Democrat to be recognizing the work of the Senate. I value the people who sit as senators. I know there are some very determined people who certainly try to do their best there. My problem has always been with a 21st century democracy like Canada having an unelected and unaccountable upper house. I have to face the electorate for the decisions I make and the words I say in this place, and for what the Senate as a whole does.
I am going to be rejecting the government's motion on Bill C-51, because I agree with the substance of what the Senate was attempting to do in Bill C-51. It very much reflects some of the testimony that I heard at committee, and I have also reviewed some of the Senate Hansard transcripts of the debates it had on Bill C-51. While it is true that the amendments were not passed at the legal and constitutional affairs committee of the Senate, they were passed at the third reading stage. When we see the transcripts, we can see that the hon. senators in the other place were trying to codify what they saw as some missing aspects of the bill.
If we look at the heart of the matter, it comes down to the Supreme Court decision in R. v. J.A. The Supreme Court ruling reads:
When the complainant loses consciousness, she loses the ability to either oppose or consent to the sexual activity that occurs. Finding that such a person is consenting would effectively negate the right of the complainant to change her mind at any point in the sexual encounter.
In some situations, the concept of consent Parliament has adopted may seem unrealistic. However, it would be inappropriate for this Court to carve out exceptions to the concept of consent when doing so would undermine Parliament’s choice. This concept of consent produces just results in the vast majority of cases and has proved to be of great value in combating stereotypes that have historically existed. In the absence of a constitutional challenge, the appropriate body to alter the law on consent in relation to sexual assault is Parliament, should it deem this necessary.
The court in a sense is recognizing the very important part that Parliament plays in this. One thing I have learned during my time as our party's justice critic is that, in looking at the Criminal Code, ultimately, we in this place are responsible for drafting and implementing the law and it comes down to the courts to interpret it. There is this kind of back and forth. When the justice aspect of the government and the parliamentary part of it work in tandem like that, we hopefully arrive at a place where the law is reflective of today's society.
However, it is not only the J.A. decision that we should be looking at. On October 30, which coincidentally was the very same day that the Senate sent the bill back to the House, there was a decision in the Alberta Court of Appeal, R. v. W.L.S. In that particular case, an acquittal on sexual assault charges was overturned by the Court of Appeal. The Court of Appeal acknowledged in its decision that the complainant was incapable of consenting.
Senator Kim Pate provided us with a message. She said:
In regard to our discussions concerning Bill C-51, I write to draw your attention to the recent case of the Alberta Court of Appeal, concerning the law of incapacity to consent to sexual activity. Please find a copy of this case attached.
The Alberta Court of Appeal heard this case on October 30, the same day the Senate passed the amendments to Bill C-51. The court overturned the trial decision on the grounds that the trial judge had wrongly held that nothing short of unconsciousness was sufficient to establish incapacity. While this erroneous understanding of the law was rectified on appeal in this case, as we know, the vast majority of cases are never appealed. The trial judge's decision demonstrates the very error, fed by harmful stereotypes about victims of sexual assault, that many of us are concerned the original words of Bill C-51 risks encouraging.
Senator Kim Pate is basically acknowledging that there is a role for Parliament to play in providing a more explicit definition of consent, what it means and when consent is not given. While I am certainly one of those people who trusts in the power and ability of judges to make decisions, the judicial discretion, I align that thinking more with the decisions that they make and not in the interpretation of the Criminal Code. There is room in some parts of the Criminal Code to be very specific so that there is no judicial discretion, and that we are very clear on what consent means and what it does not mean.
Turning to the actual Senate amendments, they would be adding specificity in both clause 10 and clause 19. Basically, those particular aspects want to ensure:
(b) the complainant is incapable of consenting to the activity in question for any reason, including, but not limited to, the fact that they are
(i) unable to understand the nature, circumstances, risks and consequences of the sexual activity in question,
(ii) unable to understand that they have the choice to engage in the sexual activity in question or not, or
(iii) unable to affirmatively express agreement to the sexual activity in question by words or by active conduct;
Adding this kind of specificity to the Criminal Code is very much a good thing. In paragraph (b), it says “including, but not limited to”. I think adding that kind of specificity will help with certain cases. From the very interesting Senate deliberations on this subject at third reading, we can see that senators were not very happy with how Bill C-51 left a bit of a hole.
We have made much of the witness testimony at the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. Professor Janine Benedet did look at this particular aspect of the Criminal Code. As I said in my exchange with the member for Mount Royal, one thing she stated was:
Any clarification we can give will be beneficial. It doesn't have to be an exhaustive list, but there has to be the idea that consent has to be informed, that you have to have the ability to understand that you can refuse—because some individuals with intellectual disabilities do not know they can say no to sexual activity—and that it has to be your actual agreement. Those are all things that can be read into the code as it's currently written, but sometimes are not fully realized in the cases we see.
Adding that specific part would be very much in line with what Professor Benedet was saying at the committee. That is why I will be rejecting the government's motion and voting in favour of the Senate amendments.
Turning to the Senate deliberations on this bill, in some of that debate it was said that R. v. J.A. outlines the requirement for active consent. However, the Senate very much found that without the specific amendment by Senator Pate to Bill C-51, we would have failed to capture the scope of consent laid out for us by the Supreme Court, supported by experts in the law of sexual assault in Canada.
Feminist experts in sexual assault law have advised that the inclusion of the word “unconscious” risks creating a false threshold for the capacity to consent. There were also deliberations that the current wording in Bill C-51 poses a serious risk that women who are intoxicated would be blamed if they are sexually assaulted. They would not be protected by this bill.
Further, some have noted that the weakness is in the definition of what constitutes non-consent. According to a legal expert who provides sexual consent training to judges, there is not enough precedent or awareness among judges to believe that the proposed wording in clause 10 and clause 19 of the bill is clear enough.
I see my time is running out, but I will end with some of the really scary statistics we face as a country. Statistics Canada estimates that some 636,000 self-reported sexual assaults took place in Canada in 2014. Shockingly, it also estimates that as few as one in 20 were actually reported to police. Those are statistics which should give us great pause and lead us to ask ourselves what more we could be doing. The Senate amendments are very much in faith with trying to keep that.
I would also note that this is probably one of the last opportunities I will have to rise in this particular chamber to give a speech. I want to acknowledge the history of this place and what an honour it has been for me, in my short three years here, to have served in this House of Commons chamber. I know we will be going forward to West Block, and an admirable job has been done there.
I finish by wishing all my colleagues a merry Christmas. I hope they have a fantastic holiday season with friends and family, and that we come back in 2019 refreshed and ready to do our work on behalf of Canadians.