House of Commons Hansard #300 of the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was chair.


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5:10 p.m.


Michael Cooper Conservative St. Albert—Edmonton, AB

Madam Speaker, we are going to use every tool in the book as the official opposition to defeat this terrible piece of legislation. That is what we are going to do. I do not want to speak for the NDP, but the member's characterization of the NDP shows that he must not have listened to the speech by the hon. member for Victoria, who was very critical of major components of this bill. Perhaps the member should listen to the speeches before he gets up and speaks.

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5:10 p.m.


Martin Shields Conservative Bow River, AB

Madam Speaker, I have listened to my hon. colleague from St. Albert—Edmonton, who really understands this issue so much better than most of us here.

They say they are not really changing the sentencing, but if we are talking about going down to two-year sentences, that would result in a significant download onto the provincial jail system. Would the member like to respond to that?

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5:10 p.m.


Michael Cooper Conservative St. Albert—Edmonton, AB

Madam Speaker, it is downloading onto the provinces, both the provincial courts and provincial jails. Of course, the maximum for a summary conviction offence is two years less a day. Many of these offences could be punishable by way of a mere fine. About an hour ago, the Minister of Justice stood in her place and claimed that watering down these sentences had nothing to do with changing sentencing for these serious offences. I could not believe my ears when the minister said that. It is 10 years under the current Criminal Code for indictable offences, and two years less a day in their watered down proposals. If that does not have to do with sentencing, I do not know what does.

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5:15 p.m.


Marco Mendicino Liberal Eglinton—Lawrence, ON

Madam Speaker, there we have it laid bare for all Canadians to see, that the Conservatives are not interested in debate. They are not interested in having a dialogue about how we can improve the criminal justice system. They are interested in blocking and obstructing the passage of a bill that would bring to justice those offenders who have committed serious crimes, a bill that would reduce barriers and encourage victims to come forward. In the last 15 minutes, we have seen two amendments and subamendments put forward. That is the type of trickery that Canadians have come to see and expect from the Conservative Party of Canada. They have learned no lessons in the last two years. We are going to continue to debate Bill C-75 because we know it is good, evidence-based legislation.

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5:15 p.m.


Michael Cooper Conservative St. Albert—Edmonton, AB

I have to say, Madam Speaker, that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice has some nerve. He stood in his place talking about impaired driving and how the government is so committed to cracking down on impaired driving. I brought forward an amendment at the justice committee to increase sentences for impaired drivers, and Liberals voted against it.

Now, instead of strengthening penalties and holding impaired drivers accountable, the Liberals want to water down sentencing for impaired driving causing bodily harm to a summary conviction. What an insult to victims.

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5:15 p.m.


The Assistant Deputy Speaker NDP Carol Hughes

I know this is a passionate issue. I also know that the member for St. Albert—Edmonton is able to answer questions very well and does not really need any assistance prior to responding to questions, so I would ask members not to heckle while somebody else has the floor.

Resuming debate, the hon. member for Red Deer—Lacombe.

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5:15 p.m.


Blaine Calkins Conservative Red Deer—Lacombe, AB

Madam Speaker, I certainly am pleased to stand on behalf of the constituents of Red Deer—Lacombe. If many of them actually knew what the Liberal government was proposing through Bill C-75, they would be up in arms about it. This is why.

Much like my colleagues from St. Albert—Edmonton and Bow River said, Alberta right now is going through some tough times. We are not just going through tough times economically as a result of low oil prices and abysmal policies federally and provincially when it comes to our energy sector, but also as a result of crime, especially in the central Alberta region right now.

The City of Red Deer and the central Alberta area are among the most dangerous areas and communities in Canada to live. Rural crime in Alberta has been an ongoing issue of great magnitude for the past several years. In fact, my colleagues and I who have rural components in our ridings in Alberta have worked with our provincial colleagues to have a rural crime task force over the last six months. We have consulted widely with stakeholders. We have consulted with Albertans. I had three town halls in January. I had influenza and pneumonia at the time, but I still made it to those meetings, where hundreds of people filled halls in our community. I know this would be the same for my colleagues.

I met with the RCMP, law enforcement officers, and virtually every stakeholder impacted by this, including victim services organizations, rural crime watch organizations, and citizens on patrol. All of these organizations gave us clear direction of where they wanted their government to go. If they read and knew about the contents of Bill C-75, they would realize that on virtually everything they advised us to do, the bill does the exact opposite. This is the problem.

Here are some of the things I heard loud and clear from the constituents I represent, and from police officers as well. I met with every detachment, including Rimbey, Sylvan Lake, Blackfalds. I met with city police in Lacombe and the Red Deer city police, who are RCMP as well. I met with Ponoka. I met with everyone I possibly could on this issue.

The problem they face is what happens after police catch criminals. Here I am talking about the current laws we have today, not the watered down version that Canadians are going to get. This is about the current legislation today.

A police officer can arrest someone who is in possession of stolen property from at least 10 different break and enters for theft. They hold these people in cells and take them to their hearings, where they will get bail. Part of the bail provisions these people get is an instruction that they not associate with any of the people who have also been charged with these crimes, and that they not participate in any more illegal activity. They are given a slap on the wrist and off they go.

Five days later, the RCMP or police will pick up these same individuals in the same area. They will find them in possession of stolen property from other illegal break and enters. The value of that property is in the thousands of dollars, and usually motor vehicles are involved either as a tool or to get to a crime scene, or to be stolen. These individuals will be held in cells and will go back before the judge again. Now they are there facing charges from the previous break and enters, now breach of bail conditions, and now more theft and break and enter charges. What does the judge do again? It is a slap on the wrist and away the criminal goes.

I spent a lot of time as a fisheries technician, an angler, and a fishing guide. I understand the value of catch-and-release, but when it comes to crime, catch-and-release is bad policy. This is not working for the people I represent, and it is only going to get worse. It is called the revolving door on crime. The police and the people in the communities know this. It is the same people doing the same things over and over again without consequence. This is a critical problem.

I have a private member's slot coming up and I was going to present a bill to the House that would have created an escalating clause for theft over $5,000 because of the magnitude, cost, and impact that is having on the communities I represent. There seem to be no ongoing consequences for this, but if there were an escalator on a second, third, or subsequent charges of theft over $5,000, or for stealing motor vehicles, there would be consequences for the more crimes someone commits. It should cost them more.

Here is the problem. In Alberta, the current federal government has been negligent in appointing judges. The government cannot say that there are not good, qualified candidates in Alberta. It might have trouble finding good, qualified Liberal candidates to fill some of these vacancies, because there are not a whole lot of Liberals left in Alberta. There is no shortage of qualified people in Alberta to fill these vacancies.

As a result of the Jordan decision, a number of these crimes are pleaded down to bare minimums to advance the court docket.

We hear words from the minister like “efficiency”. Efficiency simply means that they are going to get these people before the judge, slap them on the wrist more quickly, and send them through that revolving door faster. The only thing this bill is going to do for thieves in central Alberta is make them dizzy from how fast the revolving door is going to go around as they go in and out of the justice system. This would be an absolute abomination for the law-abiding property owners in my constituency, should this bill come to pass. To me, it is absolutely mind-boggling.

I will get back to the rural crime task force. They want more provisions to be able to look after themselves to protect themselves and their property in rural areas. They want more serious consequences. They want more police on the roads able to do the work that needs to be done.

There are people who live 45 minutes to an hour away from the police. In fact, I have heard of instances when the police did not show up for three or four days after the actual crime to just catalogue and log what was actually stolen. This is how serious and how far behind the system actually is.

Rather than providing resources, more resources for police, more resources for our prosecutorial services, more resources for the bench, and more resources for our penal system, the government has its own agenda and is spending a lot of money on other things. This is money that is actually taken out Canadian taxpayers' pockets.

The primary ordinance of any government ought to be the safety and security of its law-abiding citizens. That does not appear to be the case with this piece of legislation. The people I represent would be very frustrated to know this.

I will get to a couple of the details. I think most of my constituents would be deeply offended to find out the direction the government is going on some of these things.

First is theft over $5,000. Right now there are basically two different categories of theft in the Criminal Code. If someone steals something with a net value or a deemed value or an instrumental value of over $5,000, that is currently an indictable offence. What that means is that the crown must go ahead and pursue that as a criminal matter, as an indictable offence, before the court, with a mandatory prison sentence of some sort involved, with a maximum penalty of up to 10 years.

Should Bill C-75 pass in its current form, that provision will now basically have the same type of penalties that theft under $5,000 has. Theft under $5,000 right now actually proceeds by way of summary conviction, or potentially as an indictable offence, or as a hybrid offence.

Basically, what the Liberal government is proposing is to treat theft over $5,000 the same as theft under $5,000. In fact, after the changes go through, there is going to be little to distinguish theft over $5,000 from theft under $5,000, which means that a judge could hand out the same penalty to someone who stole a car as to someone who shoplifted a pack of Hubba Bubba. That is where this is going. It is really unfortunate.

We want to give our judges a little discretion. I understand that, but why would we water down the legislation so much, to the point where they actually would not even have that discretion anymore. I would argue that instead of doing this kind of work, we should have provisions in the bill for theft over $20,000, if someone is going to start stealing expensive motor vehicles, or theft over $100,000, if someone has run a string of thefts and has stolen a welding truck, an RV, and a trailer, and so on. Why these things are not being taken any more seriously than shoplifting a package of gum is beyond me. We are heading absolutely in the wrong direction.

I did take a bit of offence. I know that not everyone who ends up in the criminal system has had an easy life, but the justice minister categorized the changes in the Criminal Code to take into consideration a lot of factors, and one of those factors is the result of previous victimization. Let us take a look at what these charges are.

First is participation in the activity of a terrorist group. This does not sound like someone who does not know what he or she is doing and is underprivileged or is having trouble on the street. Second is a prison breach. That does not sound like someone who is underprivileged. Third is municipal corruption or influencing municipal officials. I do not see the homeless people in my riding having a lot of influence on the mayor or the reeve or anyone to that effect. Fourth is influencing or negotiating appointments or dealings in offices. That does not sound like a crime of the underprivileged or of those who were previously victimized.

I could go through most of these: extortion by libel, advocating genocide, possession of property obtained by crime, prohibited insider trading. Yes, these are the crimes of the poor and unfortunate the Liberal justice minister characterized when she made her speech. These are well-organized crimes that are perpetrated by people who know darn well what they are doing, and they are doing it on purpose. This brings me to my point on organized crime.

Right now the current government has two bills in the House: Bill C-71, which proposes to crack down on law-abiding firearms owners and make their lives intensely more miserable; and Bill C-75, which would actually make life far easier for criminals. The hypocrisy and juxtaposition of these two pieces of legislation is absolutely astonishing.

For example, the Liberal public safety minister said that the government is using Bill C-71 to crack down on guns and gangs, yet the justice minister is proposing a bill that says that we are going to hybridize offences in the Criminal Code for participation in the activities of a criminal organization. If we are not living in freaking upside-down land, I do not know what is going on.

The Liberal government is going to penalize law-abiding firearms owners with Bill C-71. Meanwhile, it is going to change the Criminal Code and say that if members of a gang are using guns, we are going to proceed by way of hybridization, potentially a summary conviction offence and a mere fine, for being involved in that criminal organization. This makes absolutely no sense. It makes no sense to the law-abiding firearms community in my riding. It makes no sense to the law-abiding community in my riding.

The criminals and thieves who are operating in my riding are looking at today's legislative agenda and saying to themselves, “My goodness, the smorgasbord just got bigger and better. We are now going to have shopping lists for firearms, because the government is requiring business owners to keep those shopping lists available for us. We are going to be able to go to all the homes we want to and get the property we want.” They will get a slap on the wrist and a trip through the revolving door. Bada bing bada boom. They will thank the Liberals. We know who supports the Liberals. It is the criminals in this country. It is not the law-abiding citizens.

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5:30 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

The hon. member for Red Deer—Lacombe will have seven minutes remaining in his time for his remarks on the bill, and of course, the usual 10 minutes for questions and comments.

It being 5:30 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's Order Paper.

The House resumed from March 28 consideration of the motion, and of the amendment.

Rural CrimePrivate Members' Business

5:30 p.m.


Georgina Jolibois NDP Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River, SK

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member for Lakeland for presenting this bill to the House today, and I am glad to be able to contribute the voices of those in my riding of Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River. My riding is one of the largest rural ridings in Canada, and I know first-hand how important it is back home to have strong, enforceable laws that protect the potential victims of crime and the people who are vulnerable to the failings of the justice system.

Before I begin, I will address one concern I have with the language of the motion. When we use phrases like “rural crime”, it is important to be aware that the words we are saying have a history and a meaning behind them, even though we may not intend them that way. As a Dene woman who grew up with and lives with first nations and Métis people, I know that for many across Canada, the phrase “rural crime” does not mean crime in rural Canada. Rather, to many it means crime by indigenous people committed against non-indigenous people. Therefore, motions and debates like this one can be quite scary and isolating to indigenous people, and I would ask that when members of this House consider this bill and talk about it in caucus and with their constituents, they keep in mind the history and meaning of terms like “rural crime”. Even though my colleagues may not intend the language to be perceived in this way, Canada does have a history of injustice toward first nations, Métis, and Inuit people. The language and practice of colonialism is still a reality for far too many people, and we have an obligation to recognize that fact.

That being said, I want to speak about this bill, because I know just how important it is to make improvements to the justice system in rural Canada. My experience as the mayor of La Loche taught me that working with the RCMP, elders, band councils, northern municipalities, and youth is crucial to improving the lives of people in rural Canada, and my experience as an MP has taught me that not all decisions about justice and community development can be decided in the big cities by people who do not know the first thing about the lives and ways of those in small communities. Therefore, today I would like to share some of the experiences I have had, in the hope that they will shed light on this issue for members of the House.

Last week my staff and I had the opportunity to travel to Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, to attend the New North Northern Justice Symposium. New North represents the 34 municipalities in Saskatchewan's north. This event included elders, youth, RCMP, representatives from the Department of Justice in Saskatchewan, and band councils from across the province. It was an honour to listen to and learn about the programs and initiatives that elders, youth, municipalities, and bands have started to make their communities and reserves peaceful and prosperous.

We had the chance to hear from Angie Merasty and Shawna Bear about their northeast youth violence reduction partnership. Donna Partridge told us about Big Island's soup and bannock initiatives. We also heard from several constables and sergeants in the RCMP about bootlegging, crime reduction, gangs, and other programs, like Crime Stoppers. Each of them shared their knowledge, and I am thankful that they all shared their time with us.

The most important thing I took away from the symposium was how important the relationships between people are. The communities in my riding are small, so small that neighbours become your family, and a lot of the time they already are. Despite how small we feel, our hearts and spirit are big. We look out for one another. We look out for each other when we are in crisis. We celebrate our milestones and successes and mourn our tragedies together, because we know that our communities are stronger when we are all looking out for one another.

This is especially true when it comes to our relationship with local police and the RCMP. It is crucial for local governments and community members to trust their police, but that trust can only be established if the police have enough resources to respond to the needs of the community. That means making sure that the police have the equipment and training to de-escalate situations and respond to emergencies. That means making sure that law enforcement has the time to listen and engage with their communities in meaningfully positive ways.

When police are short on time and compassion, and when they do not understand the generational trauma that people face, it creates a recipe for overly aggressive arrests, and a fear of police and law enforcement. We know that the RCMP are there to look out for us. However, when all we see is violence, or the police's absence, there can be no positive relationship. I know that the RCMP are there to look out for us, and will be there, regardless of how they are perceived.

When I was the mayor of La Loche and made the decision to evacuate our town of 3,000 people, the RCMP volunteered to stay behind to make sure folks got to safety. They could have easily left to look out for their own families. There was no professional obligation to stay. They were some of the last people in La Loche that day, just as they are the last people to give up on us in any crisis. Therefore, I think it is important to keep in mind that it is not due to a lack of will that we discuss crime in rural Canada; rather, we are talking about it because of a lack of support on our side of things, and we should be discussing what steps we can take to live up to our responsibilities in this relationship.

I also do not mean to suggest there is a lack of ideas on what we can do to support our communities, because while the police have their role in responding to crime, our communities also have a responsibility to prevent crime. As I mentioned earlier, just last week I heard many ideas from community organizers and concerned citizens on how we can strengthen our social networks and supports so that crimes do not happen in the first place. Some of the most powerful moments of the week came from the intensely personal stories that were shared. There were stories of trauma, stories of resilience, and stories of survival. There were stories of what could have been, stories of what was lost, and stories of moving on.

Many of my fellow MPs have participated in what is called a “blanket exercise”, which serves as a visual reminder of the systemic oppression and attempted elimination of indigenous people. Stories like these remind us of how indigenous people and northern communities experience and relate to the justice system. These are the stories that we as leaders, the police, and the RCMP must know to better understand rural communities. I am encouraged to see the progress being made in northern Saskatchewan. However, I am alarmed at how much more needs to be done to strengthen the powerful community dynamics that are already in place.

Therefore, when we hear the statistics that are being discussed about crime in rural Canada, they seem to paint an inaccurate picture of imagined chaos and lawlessness in our small towns. That sentiment empowers vigilance in the name of self-defence. These statistics highlight isolation under the guise of abandonment, and they create division when there is so much effort for the sake of unity.

We should not take these feelings for granted and dismiss them as inaccurate, for that is, after all, the lived experience of many people in rural Canada. Our response needs to reconcile that feeling of abandonment with the reality of progress that is being made by our communities. It is our duty to do what we can to bridge that gap between the feelings of our constituents and the efforts of our municipalities, band councils, the police, and the RCMP.

I believe that we can make progress on building that bridge not only by listening to the lived experiences of those who are victimized by crime, but also by giving our time to the forces of justice and to the leaders of our communities who are doing the work on the ground to reduce crime and sustain healthy, peaceful communities. When we as parliamentarians know the issues and understand what life is like in our rural constituencies, only then can we truly advocate on their behalf and know what resources we can provide to help in building these communities.

Rural CrimePrivate Members' Business

5:40 p.m.


Kelly Block Conservative Carlton Trail—Eagle Creek, SK

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak in support of Motion No. 167, the motion on rural crime that was introduced by my colleague from Lakeland, a motion that I and many others had the privilege of seconding.

Before I begin, I would like to recognize and thank my colleague for her tireless work on behalf of her constituents and for bringing forward this motion, which, as members will come to understand, addresses a growing issue in both my riding and the province of Saskatchewan.

Motion No. 167 instructs the Standing Committee on Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness to undertake a detailed review of rural crime throughout Canada and to make recommendations to address the problems on a national level. This review, and the report that will follow, are not only welcome and required, but I believe long overdue. They will help us identify the scope of the problems, as well as the difficulties, facing the RCMP regarding staffing, officer health, and allocation of resources.

Earlier this year, I had the pleasure of visiting with constituents during my annual winter and spring riding tours. At nearly 30,000 square kilometres, Carlton Trail—Eagle Creek is a large, mostly rural, riding. It is half the size of the province of Nova Scotia, with approximately 60 hamlets, villages, towns, and three small cities, numerous Hutterite colonies, and two first nation communities, and a whole lot of geography in-between, with rural municipalities, which are home to our farmers, ranchers, and acreage owners. While it is difficult to get to all of those communities, I believe it is important to make every effort to hear the concerns of my constituents directly. At the top of mind for many is rural crime.

At the same time, local RCMP detachments held community meetings throughout the province where this same issue was raised over and over again. Without fail, I heard constituents voice a deep commitment to finding solutions to ensure that the tragedy that took place in 2016 on the Stanley farm, located in my riding, never happens again. They are calling on all orders of government to pass and enforce laws that ensure the protection of all.

Every Canadian should feel safe in their home, in their community, and in their daily life. That is why I chose to second this motion. It is vital that we provide levels of policing in our rural communities comparable to those that Canadians enjoy in our cities.

An effective, responsive, and empowered police force is capable of heading off crime and confrontation simply by being present and accessible. The most effective means of ensuring that unfortunate situations do not escalate to tragedies is to prevent those situations from happening at all.

On the Prairies, and especially in my riding, many family farms are isolated, kilometres away from other farms or communities, and often more than an hour away from the nearest RCMP detachment. This is far from a modern concern.

Throughout Canada's history, vast distances have always proven to be a challenge for the enforcement of federal laws. The North-West Mounted Police was founded in 1873 for this very reason, to bring order to the frontier. One hundred and forty-five years later, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police continues to provide protection to communities and individuals in those same isolated areas of our country. I believe it is time to review how the government and the RCMP, as well as provincial and local police forces, provide those services.

According to the RCMP, rural crime in Canada is on the rise. For example, after dropping from 2012 to 2014, property crimes rose in 2015 and 2016. This is cause for concern, especially in Saskatchewan.

Unfortunately, my province currently leads the country in per capita rural crime, with 13,080 criminal convictions per 100,000 rural residents. This is nearly double the national average of 6,609 per 100,000. Thankfully, the Government of Saskatchewan is taking action on this file. It created a caucus committee to study the issue, and has since invested over $5 million and created the protection and response team program aimed at empowering officers to reduce rural crime through, for instance, faster response times.

However, this is only a first step. The province is working with a limited data set and without the support of a national program. The Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities, also known as SARM, understands the gargantuan task the RCMP faces. For that reason it has endorsed Motion No. 167, which reads: “Rural crime and policing have long been a concern for Saskatchewan's rural municipalities. SARM very much supports the creation of a strategy to improve rural crime prevention and address emerging crime rates.”

I would like to be clear, however, that this is not merely a Saskatchewan issue. The RCMP serves as the primary rural police force in every province and territory, except Ontario and Quebec. While those provinces have their own provincial police forces, the OPP and the SQ respectively, those forces are faced with the same daunting task of providing effective enforcement over vast rural areas. That task would be made simpler by the additional information that a national review would provide as far as raw data is concerned, but also by any policy and procedure recommendations that would arise.

The little data we do have paints a picture that is growing more concerning. I mentioned Saskatchewan's rural crime numbers earlier, and how they increased in both 2015 and 2016. The same is true in Manitoba, British Columbia, Alberta, and Ontario. Rural property crimes, including thefts of property and motor vehicles, mischief, break and enter, and arson, increased over the last two years as well. These increases must be addressed quickly and effectively. If passed, Motion No. 167 and the information and recommendations resulting from the review could provide invaluable support not only for Saskatchewan but also for the entirety of Canada.

I would also like to take a moment to highlight and commend the excellent work of the members of the RCMP. Faced with immensely difficult tasks, officers work professionally and with great dedication to ensure the safety of their fellow Canadians. Unfortunately, the resources that our officers need are often unavailable or lacking. In many cases, divisions are severely understaffed due to retirements and recruiting difficulties. Often this leads to operational gaps that stretch current members thin, resulting in health issues, both physical and mental, arising.

Undertaking this review will help shed light on the full extent of these realities. Identifying the RCMP's full resources, including personnel, and their policies in relation to population density, geographic area, and the handling of staff shortages would allow the government to reassess current programs and reallocate resources as needed.

Last week, I held round tables in my riding, together with my colleague from Lakeland, to hear from community leaders, the RCMP, and those organizations like Rural Crime Watch to hear their thoughts on this motion. While there is frustration and apprehension, our protective services are committed to doing the best with what they have, and community leaders and those working in partnership with them are committed to ensuring that their communities are safe.

A national review is not only a necessary next step to combat rural crime but, as I noted earlier, past due. Motion No. 167 would help clarify problems and identify solutions.

So far, we have heard two members of the governing party speak to this motion, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Services and the Parliamentary Secretary to the Government House Leader. Canadians living in rural and remote areas of our country need to know that the Liberal government is taking their concerns, as well as this motion, seriously. Skating around the issue and paying it lip service is not enough. Rural Canadians need to know that the Liberal members in this place support the motion.

Rural CrimePrivate Members' Business

May 24th, 2018 / 5:50 p.m.

Labrador Newfoundland & Labrador


Yvonne Jones LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise to speak this evening to Motion No. 167, which is focused on the study of rural crime in Canada. I certainly want to commend the member for Lakeland for the motion and for bringing it forward to the House of Commons.

The issue of rural crime is certainly worthy of a committee study, and we support that. It is important that it be brought to our attention in the House, but also to the attention all Canadians.

While rural crime has declined overall since 2014 in most regions of Canada, there are exceptions in some provinces where there has been a notable increase in property crime. We know that as much as 30% of violent gun crimes in Canada happen outside of a major city. Overall, the territories and Saskatchewan have the highest rates of firearm-related violent crime within the country. I say all of this with the caveat that data comparing urban and rural crime statistics tends to be outdated in the country. That alone is one reason why a detailed study of the issue by the committee would be most welcome.

During the first hour of debate, we heard that one of the fundamental challenges facing rural areas was the lack of current data. Rising rates of property crime, home invasions, and thefts are problems often compounded by isolation, distance from police, and unreliable cellular service. Motion No. 167 stipulates that the committee should consider these factors and trends, and should look at policing resources and policies in developing recommendations to curb rural crime.

The government has indicated its support, and I am here to reconfirm our support for the motion. Should the committee undertake this study, it is my hope that it does so in a way that complements Bill C-71, an act to amend certain acts and regulations in relation to firearms, which is currently being studied within the Commons.

That legislation proposes practical and sensible measures to address growing rates of firearm-related crimes, keeping guns out of the wrong hands, and ensuring the safety of all Canadian communities, from coast to coast to coast.

It is truly all about protecting Canadians. Whether in urban or rural Canada, I know that during a study members will have the chance to hear important testimony that will reflect the needs and challenges facing rural communities specifically.

Canadians expect the government to be smart on crime, and that is exactly what we are doing.

The government announced major new federal funding in 2017, committing up to $327 million over five years, and $100 million annually thereafter, to help support a variety of initiatives to reduce gun crime and gang activities. Close to $43 million was committed to projects to support the national crime prevention strategy, a strategy that we all know has been working well in so many communities across the country.

That funding allows the government to support the development of cost-effective ways to prevent and reduce crime among at-risk populations and vulnerable communities, rural and urban, by intervening to mitigate the underlying factors that put them at risk. It provides support to programs that reach out to young people to help steer them away from problem behaviours, like drugs and gangs, with additional funding programs supporting crime prevention in northern and indigenous communities, as well as other communities across Canada. It is a plan that is working.

In fact, Public Safety Canada's aboriginal community safety planning initiative continues to support indigenous communities in developing community-specific plans that address their unique vulnerabilities and circumstances.

As has been the case on so many important issues, the government continues to reach out to Canadians to get information and to get their opinions on the way forward when it comes to important issues like this that impact our lives.

In March, the Minister of Public Safety hosted a Summit on gun and gang violence, with the goal of hearing from and engaging both urban and rural representatives on a range of issues and best practices to combat guns and gangs. The government heard from over 180 experts at this summit, from law enforcement to indigenous to youth and community organizations to mayors from large municipalities and representatives from most provinces and territories. Rural crime was an important topic of discussion at that summit.

The government confirmed that funding would support communities, law enforcement, and border operation efforts to crack down on crime. The views heard at the summit will help target that funding to best reflect local realities.

The funding includes initiatives addressing prevention, enforcement, and the disruption of crime. It is on top of investments we have already made over the next five years for policing on first nations and in Inuit communities. This investment, which is nearly $292 million over that period of time, will be under the first nations policing program to ensure that both first nations and Inuit communities have the policing services they require.

There are up to $144 million to support priorities including salaries, policing equipment, and addressing officer safety. There is an additional nearly $45 million, starting in 2019, for up to 110 additional officers in existing agreements with these particular groups and governments. That means continued support for professional, dedicated, and culturally responsive policing in over 450 first nations and Inuit communities across Canada.

These are policing investments in indigenous communities both on reserve and off in Inuit and first nations regions, which we are very proud of as a government. We are very proud of the fact that it will help us in addressing the issues around guns and gangs, but also in increasing the human resources and additional resources for policing in many of these areas.

Some areas are looking at reduced crime in a proactive way, for example, through the crime reduction strategy in Alberta, the rural crime watch, the community safety officers, and the community constable program. The RCMP has developed strong relationships with communities and rural associations. There are now 55 communities in Saskatchewan participating in that program, and 80 more have shown an interest in joining.

These are the reasons our government welcomes the motion from the member today. We know much more needs to be done, and we are determined to do it. For example, in 2018-19, the RCMP plans to increase its enrolment in the cadet program by nearly 1,300 cadets, depending on operational needs and the ability to support the efforts we are outlining today to combat rural crime.

At this time, I want to acknowledge the work of the RCMP and the critical role its members play in protecting and providing for the safety of all Canadians. We need to ensure they have the resources and the staffing to do their jobs and to do them properly.

I talked to RCMP officers in Saskatchewan just recently. They are dealing with a lot of gun and gang violence in the regions they serve. They are very happy to know that our government is investing money to increase policing on reserve, to provide them with additional resources in those regions, and to ensure we allow them to do their jobs and do it properly, providing for their own safety and protection as well.

I want to thank all of those officers out there who go above and beyond to serve and protect us as Canadians. We want to do what is necessary to ensure they are safe in their jobs in keeping Canadians safe.

Rural CrimePrivate Members' Business

6 p.m.


Cathay Wagantall Conservative Yorkton—Melville, SK

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my friend and colleague from Lakeland for introducing this private member's motion, Motion No. 167, calling on the committee for public safety and national security to conduct an assessment on the pressing issue of rural crime in Canada.

According to Statistics Canada, in 2015, Canada's crime index rose for the first time in 12 years, with the highest increase in western Canada. In 2015, the gain in the national non-violent crime severity index was partly the result of an increase in property crime.

In 2016, the index increased for a second year in a row, with approximately 27,700 more police-reported incidents. In 2016, the CSI increased 2% over 2015, nationally.

The rise in rural crime is an issue across Canada, and today I want to focus my comments on the challenges facing my home province of Saskatchewan.

Saskatchewan is a vast province, with a size of 651,900 square kilometres and a population of 1,100,000 people. Our communities are spread out and our police officers are spread thin. Since 2011, the province has had a 4.2% increase in reported property crime violations.

To ensure my presentation in support of the need for rural crime Motion No. 167 was accurate and timely, I invited the member for Lakeland to participate in a round table discussion in my riding of Yorkton—Melville. I had heard a great deal about this when travelling around my riding, but I knew I was about to be broadly informed on this issue from every perspective on the basis of the overwhelming response to the invitation to participate.

Representatives from 10 villages, from rural municipalities, and from towns shared the real current levels of property crime, property theft, and vehicle theft taking place in our riding.

Farm families that have lived for many years with minimal threats and a sense of safety and security have become more and more anxious in the last few years about the safety of their children playing in the yard in broad daylight, or being woken in the dead of night by an intruder in the yard or in their home or business. The stress of constantly losing equipment and supplies cost them to such an extent that many are seriously considering that carrying on the rural lifestyle they toil through and love is becoming more of an impossibility.

Beyond personal safety, our rural communities are concerned about business retention, as many businesses have been victims of multiple crimes. Loss of businesses and employment in communities will only further escalate rural crime issues. Concerns over rural security are increasing as they are seeing repeat offences becoming more frequent and brazen.

Rural businesses and families are not reporting crimes because they have given up hope on anything being done. This causes the problem to compound. Crime is going unreported, so statistics on rural crime are unreliable. This is alarming because the number of RCMP officers who are deployed to an area is based on crime statistics.

Statistics are needed that accurately reflect the severity of this issue. We need to look into what resources the RCMP has in order to protect our communities effectively and to ensure it has the manpower it needs so officers can respond to calls faster, investigate these crimes, and not have to work such dangerously long and stressful hours to make up for shortages.

Citizens in my riding are concerned about the safety of our RCMP men and women, and the safety of the communities in which they work. Nationally, more than one in 10 RCMP positions are currently vacant. Of those vacancies, 6.6% are not filled, 3.9% are reported to be on long-term sick leave, and 1.6% are reported to be maternity/ paternity leave.

In Saskatchewan, the RCMP has approximately 925 members working out of 87 rural detachments under community policing agreements. Another 250 officers are based at larger municipal RCMP detachments, and 33 officers are involved in community tripartite policing arrangements with Saskatchewan first nations.

At our Yorkton—Melville round table, the RCMP was well represented by F Division Commanding Officer Curtis Zablocki; Staff Sergeant Devin Pugh, RCMP South District; and Sergeant Travis Adams of the RCMP Yorkton Rural Detachment. It was such an honour to have them participate, as they listened intently and contributed significantly to the discussion.

Rural crime in Canada has dominated Facebook forums, online chat rooms, and local media across the country. I was fortunate to have the creator of Farmers Against Rural Crime participate in our rural crime round tables as well. The closed Facebook group site has garnered over 17,000 members from across Canada in very short order. The site is well monitored by its creator Nick, a young farmer in Saskatchewan with a young family, who sees the issue of rural crime as very serious and wants to provide a place for those impacted to tell their stories and to have sensible, honest conversations about how to work with government, RCMP, communities, and individuals to better combat and eradicate rural crime in Canada. Nick shared a stack of emails with me, which was only a portion of those from the site, describing current rural crimes that have caused undue hardship physically, financially, and emotionally in the lives of rural Canadians and their families. I look forward to Nick and Farmers Against Rural Crime being called as witnesses when this motion is passed and the committee work begins.

Motion No. 167 is a multi-faceted tool that would serve the federal government well to respond to rural citizens, communities, and RCMP and community constables, whose experiences and recommendations are critical to ending this rural crime crisis.

At this point, I believe it is important to mention that as I travel extensively throughout my riding, there is a deep appreciation for our police force and the first responders who serve the citizens of rural Canada. Those who populate our cities and leave the city to travel, visit family and friends, or vacation in the pristine natural environment of Canada’s rural countryside need to comprehend the need and lobby for government investment in rural infrastructure. They, too, need to highly value our rural police force and first-line responders, such as STARS, which is expensive but was so crucial in dealing with the horrific crash that claimed so many lives in the tragedy of the Humboldt Broncos.

Again, there is a deep concern for our RCMP officers as they simply do not have the capacity and resources necessary to find criminals and bring them to justice in rural Canada. They are understaffed and overworked. There is significant concern for their safety, their mental and physical welfare, as well as their families.

This shortage of policing support is well known to the criminal element, as well, and is playing a role in increased violence attached to rural crime. The rise in rural crime has coincided with the escalating opiate crisis in Canada. Since the first major bust, in April 2013, police across Canada have shut down 20 fentanyl labs, mostly operated by organized crime groups. The biggest raids were in B.C., Alberta, and Saskatchewan.

Multiple first nations communities have declared a state of emergency in response to the uptick in opioid overdoses, during which crime rates began to soar. The member of Parliament for Lakeland and I heard from multiple participants that limited front-line law enforcement resources and long response times have made rural communities and properties ideal targets for theft and vandalism, gang activity, and organized crime operations and expansion. First nation reserves also face reduced safety and protection and increased crime due to reduced policing services in rural and indigenous communities.

I heard an encouraging report of co-operation between two neighbouring communities, one a rural town and the other a first nation reserve, which want to see healing circles used when children as young as 11 years old are committing crimes being led by 13- and 14-year-olds, who know there are no real consequences for them. They would have to stand before their elders to answer for their actions, as well as hear from the business or property owners they have robbed to learn about the cascading harm and negative impact on victims of rural crime.

The Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities, SARM, also contributed greatly to the round table discussion on rural crime and is very engaged in assisting our police forces.

Motion No. 167 is precisely what our communities need, and I believe that the government needs to engage in combatting rural crime. There needs to be a study that looks at the real numbers to get accurate statistics so we can base our recommendations on the reality that our communities are up against.

I am pleased to hear that this is a non-partisan issue. We can all agree that the escalation needs to end. We need to bring our communities together. We need to find comprehensive solutions, from determining exactly how bad this problem is to determining what the RCMP needs, and also the critical underlying causes of rural crime.

That is exactly what Motion No. 167 would do, and that is why I stand in support of it today on behalf of my rural riding and all rural Canadians.

Rural CrimePrivate Members' Business

6:10 p.m.


Martin Shields Conservative Bow River, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege to stand tonight and talk about the issue of rural crime. I appreciate my colleague from Lakeland bringing forward Motion No. 167. This is an important issue, and we have already heard several of my colleagues speak to it tonight.

Rural MPs from Alberta started talking about this issue in the last couple of years as they heard about it from their constituents. We held many town hall meetings in our ridings over the last year. We visited with staff sergeants and their detachments. We visited with RCMP commanding officers for the province. We talked to a lot of people. It was not hard to get people to come to town halls to talk about rural crime.

My riding, Bow River, is about the size of New Brunswick. It has 60 large and small rural communities. These are not city people who expect the RCMP or the metropolitan police to show up quickly. These people do not expect to see the RCMP very quickly because of the distance. It is very hard to get to them.

There are two groups I am very concerned about: the rural residents and the fear they are living with, and the RCMP members and the professional job they do. RCMP officers know that it is hard to get to reported crimes because of the distance. They want to get there, but there are some issues that are really creating problems.

We are glad that RCMP members have sick leave, maternity leave, and paternity leave. These are rights they should have. However, there is a strong shortage of staff, and they cannot backfill these positions. One detachment has seven members, but it really has only four because the positions cannot be filled, so the detachment is left short. If a detachment that supposedly has seven members but really has only four provides 24-7 coverage and has many miles to cover, that leaves the officers very much at risk. It is not only the stress of the job and the long hours, but the risk they may face being out in places far removed from any backup or support. The RCMP is caught in a vicious cycle.

The province did respond, in a sense, to this growing concern by saying that it would hire 59 more RCMP officers for rural detachments, but the soonest it can possibly get those is in two years, if it gets them at all.

We really have a problem with our professional police service, a service we really appreciate. The RCMP has a long-standing history of service to our country, but barriers are being put up in front of them and the work they need to do to respond to crimes. Upholding the law in our constituencies has become very difficult for them.

Then we get to the justice system. When the RCMP officers go out to investigate crimes, the people are often long gone before the officers can get there. When they do catch them, they appear in court, receive bail hearings, and are gone. The joke among RCMP officers is that they need to watch their vehicles when individuals are released on bail because they will probably steal one to go home. They know it is a slap on the wrist. The RCMP officers are very frustrated when doing their jobs because they will probably catch the repeat offenders another time doing the same crime. It is very hard for the RCMP.

They coach people at town hall meetings to get the citizens on patrol, on active crime watch. They are asking people to go out and help them in the middle of the night. We are talking about seniors on their properties in rural communities. They want them to go out and try to secure their property in the evening, and that is a challenging task.

This leads me to the second thing I am going to talk about, the fear among the citizens. I heard from a mother with a three-year-old child. At three o'clock in the morning, she heard people in her yard, and before long they were banging on her door. She locked herself in a room and phoned the RCMP. There was no chance the RCMP would get there.

In a community, two nights ago, two people attempted to steal a truck, and the resident came out. He is now in critical condition in the hospital, as he was severely beaten by them. They were long gone before somebody discovered this person, who was severely beaten, and called the police. The distances make it very tough.

Living in fear is a severe problem for our people in rural areas. The RCMP cannot get there. As other people have mentioned, reporting crimes is really important, yet people are giving up on reporting crimes because the RCMP cannot get there. Sometimes it has been days later when the RCMP can get there to try to investigate what is occurring. The dissatisfaction that is growing among residents toward their police force makes no sense. The frustration that is occurring among the residents in rural areas because of fear is wrong. We need to be able to provide better service in our rural communities.

We need to fundamentally restructure how we look at the RCMP and its service. Because of the way it is structured, there need to be more officers. They need more support. They should not fear going out at two in the morning on a call 30 miles out from where they live or where their detachment is, because they will be out there on their own with no backup from the unit behind them. They should not fear for their jobs to be able to do that. There needs to be backup. We need to look at how the RCMP works in rural areas. There is a serious shortage, and it is cyclical in what it causes them.

Someone mentioned Bill C-75. This could make it worse, in the sense that it is a revolving door with lesser penalties and fines for stealing things over $5,000. These are crimes of opportunity. These people know that the police are not going to get there. The vehicles found in rural communities are often very expensive. These are farming communities. They have expensive four-wheel drive trucks. These are $50,000 or $60,000 vehicles, and people are out there stealing them. If they know that under the new legislation they would get a slap on the wrist and maybe a fine, that would really exacerbate the situation in rural areas. Bill C-75 may cause this to become a more severe problem. The RCMP will be more frustrated and less likely to solve crimes if people are only fined for this.

Rural crime is a severe issue. In town halls, I see the fear on people's faces, their anger and frustration about the country they live in and should be safe in. This is not right. They have beautiful homes and great properties.

I am glad that this bill is here. We can collect data and information so that Canadians can feel safe in their homes, no matter where they live. This is a really important piece to do.

Rural CrimePrivate Members' Business

6:15 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

Before we resume debate, I will just let the hon. member for Peace River—Westlock know that, allowing time for the right of reply, we will have roughly five to six minutes for his remarks before we have to cut that off and finish up with the end of the hour.

Resuming debate, the hon. member for Peace River—Westlock.

Rural CrimePrivate Members' Business

6:15 p.m.


Arnold Viersen Conservative Peace River—Westlock, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege to speak to this issue. Highway robbery is something we use as a pejorative a lot of the time. However, yesterday I saw on Facebook that some folks were, in fact, stopped on the highway. Someone thought that people were in distress, and it turned out that they actually wanted to rob equipment out of his trailer, right on the highway near Clyde, Alberta, in the southern part of my riding. We think of highway robbery as something that is unreal, yet it is happening in rural Canada right now.

I have gone throughout my riding and have held round tables. I have met with multiple municipalities on the rural crime issue. It only seems to be getting worse lately. Therefore, this study my fellow member for Lakeland is calling for could not be more timely at this point, and I commend her for that.

One of the things that was brought up by a number of people I met with that I thought was interesting is that this is not an RCMP issue, per se. We need to give them all the tools they need to solve these crimes. We need to make sure that they are properly resourced. We need to make sure that all of this happens. However, at the end of the day, this is not an RCMP issue; this is a societal issue that we have to deal with at all levels. Canada is our country. Every one of us who lives here makes up Canada. We have to decide how we want this to work out.

One of the guys I met with asked what we are doing at an educational level to reduce crime. We are not going to fix this problem overnight, but we ought to be thinking about the carrots and the sticks in our system. Are the sticks big enough? Are the carrots in the right place? It was interesting to have that discussion with a lot of people. A lot of people are feeling that the carrots are definitely in the wrong place when it comes to incentives in our system, and they really feel that there is no stick whatsoever in our system.

We watch folks drive through our communities or come through our communities with reckless abandon, in some cases. For example, I recently heard of a gentleman who moved into the old folks home in town and came back to his farm a couple of weeks later. If it were not for the fact that the dishwasher would not fit through the door, it would have been gone. Everything else was gone. The fridge and the freezer were gone. His furniture was gone. His firearms collection was gone. Everything was gone. The house was clear, as if someone had moved out. This is the kind of impunity with which rural crime is happening.

Beyond that, vehicles going missing is a daily occurrence. In some cases, particular families will have their entire fleet of vehicles stolen. One gentleman who came to visit me told me that within six weeks, he had three vehicles stolen, two out of his yard and one right out of his own garage. One was at the mechanic's shop and was stolen right out of the yard there.

This particular study could not have come at a more timely time. I hope we not only look at what the police response is going to be but also at what the whole societal response will be, because Canada is our country, and we do not want to turn it over to criminals.

Rural CrimePrivate Members' Business

6:20 p.m.


Shannon Stubbs Conservative Lakeland, AB

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank and acknowledge the Liberals stating their intention to support Motion No. 167. This may be a rare moment when we are all working together to do the right thing on behalf of the people we represent in every corner of the country, despite our passionate, or otherwise, regular disagreements.

I want to thank the NDP for proposing amendments that improved the motion overall and brought focus to additional important issues. I also thank all Conservative colleagues for their encouragement and steadfast advocacy to put the rights of law-abiding Canadians first. I thank the members for Carlton Trail—Eagle Creek and Yorkton—Melville for their work and support for Motion No. 167.

At round tables in Saskatchewan last week, rural Canadians and RCMP members shared their experiences with us. I heard concerns similar to those of my constituents: that they feel like sitting ducks; that being robbed is inevitable; and that they feel vulnerable because of long response times and the lack of a visible law enforcement presence, due to unique rural policing challenges and understaffed detachments.

The reality is that rural crime is escalating and must be combatted in joint efforts by all governments. That is why my motion directs the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security to immediately undertake a comprehensive current assessment of crime rates and trends; RCMP, policing, and staff resources; provincial and municipal partnerships in rural, remote, and indigenous communities; measures to increase the tactical and operational effectiveness of indigenous police forces; strategies and resources for rural judicial and rehabilitation systems; and improved support for rural crime victims across Canada.

It is a first step, at least, toward concrete recommendations within six months, because it is urgent. Federal, provincial, and municipal governments and policing agencies have made various announcements in recent months, which does not negate the need for this analysis but demands it by enabling the timely measurement of outcomes and impacts. The appropriate committee will take responsibility and prioritize combatting rural crime, which, frankly, has not yet been done, since police-reported crime in Canada increased in 2015 for the first time in 12 years.

Here is why it matters.

From Lakeland, Caroline says, “I had a neighbour who was at home with her five children. There were people in the yard, and all she could do was let them snoop. They had a vehicle waiting on the other side of the tree line. How unnerving! This sort of thing has been and (in my opinion) will continue to escalate so long as 1) the perpetrators know the average person is defenceless, 2) the perpetrators know the RCMP will not pursue them over 130 km/hr, and 3) the slap-on-the wrist sentencing doesn't leave a memorable mark. What is our government's first job it should perform if not to protect its citizens?”

Michele says, “I have called the police to my farm before and do not expect them to arrive any sooner than 25 minutes. A lot of bad things can happen... I believe that the message thieves and thugs have received is that they are welcome to thieve, injure, and destroy with impunity and without fear, because property owners have been told to give them what they want. They are bolder and more dangerous than ever before.”

From Fort McMurray—Cold Lake, Jess says, “My husband is a pilot in the Canadian military, and in a one-year span, we have had our truck stolen twice out of our driveway, once while he was deployed. Please help in any way you can. We are upstanding citizens who do what we can for the community, but the crime here is making us want to release from the military just so we can live somewhere safer.”

Bob, who has had many break-ins over the last year, says,“Our community had to start a WhatsApp group in our area, where members alert members of suspicious vehicles and events so that we can respond to help each other, since there is effectively no RCMP response.

As a rural MP, I suggest that no urban resident would or should accept this situation. Rural Canadians deserve the same safety and security. Rural RCMP and police members must be able to protect their communities with sufficient resources, like their urban counterparts.

Nick Cornea, who set up Farmers Against Rural Crime, with more than 17,000 members, points out the need for bolstering rural law enforcement, because, of course, “locks only keep honest people out.”

Motion No. 167 has 101 endorsements from local crime watch groups, provincial MLAs, municipalities, and major municipal associations in seven provinces, including Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba, and hundreds more Canadians have contacted me in support. I want to thank them for all of their work and advocacy in asking members of this House to take responsibility to pass this motion so we can start this urgent work to combat rural crime in Canada.

From B.C. to P.E.I. and the north, rural crime is a major challenge, with many factors, including gangs and the opioid crisis, harming families, businesses, and communities. Given all the government expenditures and initiatives, and sometimes waste, taking action against rural crime is clearly a core responsibility and a top priority.

I thank all members of the House for coming together to help rural Canadians feel safe in their homes again.

Rural CrimePrivate Members' Business

6:25 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

The question is on the amendment. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the amendment?

Rural CrimePrivate Members' Business

6:25 p.m.

Some hon. members



Rural CrimePrivate Members' Business

6:25 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

All those in favour of the amendment will please say yea.

Rural CrimePrivate Members' Business

6:25 p.m.

Some hon. members


Rural CrimePrivate Members' Business

6:25 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

All those opposed will please say nay.

Rural CrimePrivate Members' Business

6:25 p.m.

Some hon. members


Rural CrimePrivate Members' Business

6:25 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

In my opinion the yeas have it.

And five or more members having risen:

Pursuant to Standing Order 93, the recorded division stands deferred until Wednesday, May 30, 2018, immediately before the time provided for private members' business.

A motion to adjourn the House under Standing Order 38 deemed to have been moved.