Madam Speaker, I am here to speak to Bill C-238, which introduces an amendment to section 96 of the Criminal Code to impose a mandatory minimum sentence of three years for possession of a firearm known to be illegally imported into Canada and five years for a second offence. Second, it would increase the maximum sentence from 10 to 14 years and then impose a reverse onus for bail conditions for those who are charged.
We are very concerned about gun violence in our streets. We have heard descriptions of it from the member for Markham—Unionville. We know about the terrible situation in Toronto in particular. We have talked about it a lot with the member for Spadina—Fort York and the member for Markham—Unionville. We hear about it all the time.
We want stronger laws to keep guns off our streets. There should be much stronger laws and enforcement to prevent smuggling. We are very concerned about this but nothing is being done about it.
We also believe that it is the job of parliamentarians to pass legislation that is consistent with the Constitution of our country. People have talked about misgivings around mandatory minimums. The problems we have with the bill are not simply matters of misgivings. We know there are certainly problems with them with respect to the application of the laws to different individuals. It is also the obvious and well-known idea that racial discrimination occurs with mandatory minimums. It is one of the reasons why there are more Black and indigenous people in our prisons. That has been spoken about many times.
However, the real reason is that it is unconstitutional. The legislation to increase the length of the sentence from 10 to 14 years shows the courts and the judges that these are to be taken seriously and will result in higher sentences. When we talk about section 96 of the Criminal Code, section 95 of the Criminal Code on guns and possession of guns obtained by crime has similar mandatory minimums: three years for possession of a gun obtained by crime, or prohibited weapons that were armed or loaded or had ammunition readily available. Those mandatory minimums were struck down by the Supreme Court of Canada.
Therefore, they are unconstitutional. They have no force and effect. They will not be given effect. We as parliamentarians ought not to be passing legislation that is clearly unconstitutional.
What is interesting about the case, R. v. Nur, is that the individuals who went to the Supreme Court of Canada had been sentenced to six and seven years in jail. The defence argued that the law was unconstitutional and the court agreed. It threw out the mandatory minimums in that case, but it upheld the sentences for the individuals because they were deemed appropriate. The court also threw it out because there were cases where that sentence would not be appropriate. Therefore, that law was not constitutional.
We have to make laws that are effective but that are also in keeping with our Constitution. In this case, increasing the sentence shows the seriousness of the crime. In fact, by increasing the sentence in Bill C-238, the maximum sentence one could get is up to 14 years. That sentence is higher than the sentence for the smuggling.
The law is a bit odd for that reason. It is unusual to see a law for possession of a smuggled gun to carry a higher sentence than for smuggling itself. However, that is the way the legislation is written. Perhaps that could be dealt with in the committee. The signal it sends with respect to the seriousness of the crime is very important.
To get back to the issue, we want to pass laws that are effective. We want to find ways of stopping gun violence in our cities. We know, of course, that most of the handguns we are talking about come from smuggling, so how do we get them away from the cities? They are not smuggled in Toronto. They are smuggled at the border.
We have seen a few things happen in the last number of years. One is that the number of border guards was drastically reduced by the Conservative government. Over 1,000 border guards were laid off, which was a reduction in the number of members of the CBSA whose job it is to look out for smuggling, and we have not seen any significant programs to tackle that. If we are going to tackle the crime, and if the crime is smuggling, we need to be tackling that crime at the border where the smuggling takes place.
We have not seen any action on that. We need an effective law to actually stop the smuggling, and we need enforcement by officials, police forces and the CBSA to actually do that. We try to stop drugs from coming over the border, and we should be putting an equal effort into ensuring that guns are stopped at the border as well.
In the case of sentencing, of course, it must fit the crime. This is a significant and serious crime, and it is up to the courts to do that. However, if the law we are passing is going to be deemed to have no force or effect, and there is very little doubt that this is an unconstitutional law, then we should not be passing it because it is not going to do any good.
There is little evidence that these mandatory minimums actually act as a deterrence. In fact, we heard the member for Spadina—Fort York talk about the cycle of people coming out of prison every five years and committing crimes again. Obviously, it is not doing any particular good if being in jail for several years is not doing anything other than turning people back out to the streets to commit crimes again.
We have to deal with the root causes of these problems, and they have to be rooted out with the kind of programs that we have been talking about. We also need the efforts by the police to ensure we have less smuggling going on and treat organized crime in a much more serious way.
Another thing that happened in the last five years was that several hundred serious investigations into organized crime by the national police force were laid to one side after the tragic shooting in Ottawa in 2014 of Nathan Cirillo and the subsequent attack on Parliament Hill. Resources from the RCMP were diverted to look out for similar activities across the country, and they were diverted away from the organized crime files they were working on.
In fact, instead of putting more resources in place to do that, they were actually taken away from organized crime files. The result was, and this has been demonstrated, over the next several years gang activity, mafia-style activity and organized crime activity actually increased. There was more access to guns and cash, and that increased as a result of a lack of enforcement.
We have to deal with enforcement. We have to deal with the root causes of gun violence, and we have to make sure we have laws that are actually constitutional. We are members of the Parliament of Canada. We must have respect for the constitution of our country and pass laws that are actually effective and that deal with the problem. Let us do that.
It has been suggested, for example, by the member for Markham—Unionville, that it is effective to have people in jail for a few days after being arrested for these things. Well, that is a very easy thing to fix, is it not? We do not have to put in laws that are unconstitutional to do that. If it is demonstrated that there ought to be a cooling-off period, that could be put into law as well.
Let us find the tools to do the job. Let us try to ensure we have laws that are not only effective, but also constitutional. Let us do the job right, and see if we can work together to make that happen.