Madam Speaker, it is with pleasure that I speak to Bill C-5, an act to amend the Criminal Code and the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. The bill proposes sentencing and other amendments that would provide greater flexibility to the criminal justice system and support appropriate and proportionate responses to crime. In doing so, the proposed changes would help to reduce the overrepresentation of indigenous people, Black Canadians and members of marginalized communities in the criminal justice system, including by repealing sentencing laws that have been shown to disproportionately impact these groups.
I applaud the government for showing leadership on important issues like this. Recent events remind us that systemic racism and discrimination are real problems in the criminal justice system, and the consequences of leaving these problems unaddressed are significant. We know that many systemic factors contribute to the seriousness of this problem. These systemic factors can be addressed only through deliberate and sustained action by all those responsible for aspects of the justice system and other social systems that interact with it. That said, our criminal laws and the responses they dictate significantly impact what can and cannot be done by those in the criminal justice system. These laws affect those who engage with the criminal justice system as accused, as offenders, as witnesses or as victims.
Conservatives' sentencing reforms have resulted in the increased use of mandatory minimum penalties of imprisonment, or MMPs, and additional restrictions on the availability of conditional sentence orders, or CSOs. These changes have limited judges' ability to impose proportionate sentences. They also affect judges' ability to meaningfully consider the background or systemic factors that impact indigenous people, Black Canadians and marginalized people, and they play a part in bringing them into contact with the criminal justice system.
Unsurprisingly, we have seen significant increases in incarceration rates for members of these communities in the last two decades. For example, in 1999, indigenous people represented about 2% of the Canadian adult population but accounted for about 17% of admissions to provincial, territorial and federal custody. As of 2020, indigenous adults accounted for 5% of the Canadian adult population but represented 30% of federally incarcerated individuals, with indigenous women accounting for 42% of all federally incarcerated women.
Similarly, in 2018, Black individuals represented 7.2% of the federally incarcerated population but only 3% of the Canadian population. We know that Black people are also more likely to be admitted to federal custody for an offence punishable by an MMP than are other Canadians. Data from the Correctional Service of Canada from 2007-17 reveal that 39% of Black people and 20% of indigenous people who were federally incarcerated between those years were there for offences carrying an MMP. That is why repealing those MMPs is expected to reduce the overall rates of incarceration of indigenous people and Black Canadians.
Bill C-5's proposed reforms are informed by extensive consultations with a broad range of justice system and other partners across Canada, including Crown prosecutors, defence lawyers, indigenous leaders and communities, academics, victim advocates, restorative justice proponents, representatives of frontline community support systems, and representatives from such areas as health and mental health, housing and other support programs in the social system.
The bill also responds to calls for reform from various commissions of inquiry, such as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, and the Commission on Systemic Racism in the Ontario criminal justice system.
Parliamentarians have also noted the detrimental effects of MMPs. For instance, the August 2016 interim report of the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs, entitled “Delaying Justice is Denying Justice”, found that MMPs have negatively impacted indigenous persons and members of marginalized communities, including those with mental health challenges. Similarly, the Parliamentary Black Caucus in its June 2020 statement called for the review and repeal of MMPs and the removal of limitations on CSOs.
The common theme in all of these calls for reform is the recognition that the broad and indiscriminate use of MMPs and the Criminal Code's current restrictions on the use of CSOs have had numerous negative impacts, and that those impacts have been disproportionately felt by indigenous people, Black Canadians and members of marginalized communities.
They have also made our criminal justice system less effective and less efficient. I believe this bill would help to restore the public's confidence in the criminal justice system by providing much-needed discretion to sentencing judges, who are aware of all the facts of a case. It would allow them to impose sentences that respond to the particular circumstances of the offence and of the individual before the court.
The bill would achieve this important goal by repealing 20 MMPs, including MMPs for all drug-related offences and for some, not all, firearm-related offences. The bill would also lift many of the restrictions on the availability of CSOs in cases where offenders do not pose a risk to public safety, allowing them to serve their sentences in the community under strict conditions, such as house arrest or curfew, while still being able to benefit from employment, educational opportunities, family, community and health-related support systems.
Most Canadians would agree that conditional sentences are an appropriate sentencing tool and should be available for judges for appropriate cases. I would expect that they would be used in less serious cases, and I am confident that judges could make the appropriate assessments as to their use.
Lastly, this bill would require police and prosecutors to consider alternatives to criminal charges for the simple possession of drugs, such as issuing a warning or diversion to addiction treatment programs. These measures are consistent with the government's approach to treating substance use and the opioid epidemic in Canada as a health issue rather than a criminal justice one.
I would like to conclude by noting that I am aware that Bill C-5 has already been met with widespread support by communities and those responsible for the justice system in Canada. Some have gone so far as noting that it is among the most progressive criminal law reform bills introduced in many years. Like many others, I believe the government is on the right track with this bill, and I urge Parliament to support its swift passage. I look forward to hearing the views of other members.