Madam Speaker, I welcome this opportunity to speak today on Bill C-5, a seriously flawed and dangerous piece of proposed legislation. My commentary and opinion on this are shaped by my experience as a lawyer for almost 30 years, the last 18 years as a Crown attorney for the Province of Ontario.
A week ago today, members in the House stood in solidarity to honour and remember the victims of the Montreal massacre. Fourteen women were murdered, and 10 women and four men were injured. That day was an opportunity for the House, and especially the Prime Minister and his government, to stand strong against all forms of gun violence and to inform Canadians in very clear terms that they would take immediate steps to curb the ever-increasing tide of this criminal behaviour. What is most disturbing is that, less than 24 hours removed from this commemoration, the justice minister introduced Bill C-5, which was a tone-deaf and ill-timed response from this government.
The Prime Minister in the last election promised peace, order and good government. He said that Canada needs leadership that would not back down in the face of rising extremism and that he would take action to put an end to gun violence in our communities. Bill C-5 is the complete opposite of this pledge and proves to be another example of virtue signalling to all Canadians.
Bill C-5 is identical to Bill C-22, which was first introduced in the last Parliament. That bill never made it past the second reading before the unnecessary federal election was called. The bill would eliminate mandatory minimum penalties for 14 of the 67 offences in the code, 13 for firearm offences and one for a tobacco offence. Notwithstanding what we have heard over the last week by the justice minister and his government, this dangerous bill is not targeted at less serious gun crime.
As an example, let us take a look at section 244(1) of the code, which reads:
Every person commits an offence who discharges a firearm at a person with intent to wound, maim or disfigure, to endanger the life of or to prevent the arrest or detention of any person
I would ask any member of the House to somehow convince me that that would constitute a less serious gun offence.
The bill would also eliminate all six mandatory minimums for offences under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. These include the very serious offences of trafficking, importing and exporting, and the production of controlled substances. I invite members to think about that for a moment. This soft-on-crime, ideologically driven Liberal government believes that those who traffic and produce fentanyl, the most deadly and lethal form of street drug, which is being sold to millions of addicts, is causing an opioid crisis, and results in daily overdoses and deaths, should not expect to receive a minimum period of incarceration. It is utterly shameful and dangerous.
As a rookie member and political aficionado in Ottawa, I have repeatedly heard a false narrative from the Prime Minister and his government that Prime Minister Harper is to blame for everything that has gone wrong in this country. Perhaps it is about time for this government to engage in some self-reflection.
Contrary to the justice minister's talking points about the government “turning the page on a failed Conservative criminal justice policy”, the fact remains that it is keeping the other 53 mandatory minimums in the code intact and keeping most of the ones introduced by the Conservative Party. The justice minister needs to be reminded that it was former prime minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau in 1977 and prime minister Jean Chrétien in 1995 who introduced several mandatory minimums for firearm offences.
These penalties have been rooted in our criminal justice system since the early 1890s. Legislators, over the decades that followed, have relied upon mandatory sentencing tools to mitigate inconsistencies in the exercise of judicial discretion. A key feature of our system of government is that Parliament constantly reviews all legislation and passes new legislation to ensure its laws, including sentencing laws, properly align with the demands of justice. Those demands of justice speak very clearly that there is a tremendous increase in gun violence across this country.
Conservatives believe that serious violent offences committed with firearms deserve mandatory prison time. If government members will not take our word on this subject, then perhaps they will listen and reflect on what eloquent jurists have said about gun violence in our communities.
Firearm use and possession is not a momentary lapse in judgment. Heavy regulation of firearms and ammunition mean that those who possess them had to make a concerted effort to do so. A person does not stumble upon an illegal handgun. There is a process of purchasing from a trafficker and secreting the handgun to avoid detection and prosecution. There is a high degree of deliberation and contemplation. Loaded firearms, especially in public, add a dimension of heightened risk.
Hear the words of Justice D. E. Harris:
A person with a gun in their hands has a god-like power over life and death. Virtually all that is necessary is to point at another person and to apply a few pounds of pressure on the trigger in order to end a human life.... The ease of killing with a gun...is an exigent danger to us all.
He said, “Such immense power with so little reason must be opposed with everything at our disposal.”
Listen to these chilling words from Justice Molloy in the decision of Ferrigon:
A person who loads a handgun with bullets and then carries that handgun, concealed on his person, into a public place is by definition a dangerous person. Handguns are used to shoot people. A person who carries a loaded handgun in public has demonstrated his willingness to shoot another human being with it. Otherwise there would be no need to have loaded it. That person is dangerous. He is dangerous to those with whom he associates; he is dangerous to the police and other law enforcement personnel; he is dangerous to the members of his community; he is dangerous to innocent bystanders, including children, who may be killed or maimed by stray bullets.
According to Public Safety Canada, violent crime involving firearms is a growing threat to public safety in our communities. Gun violence is on the rise: an 81% increase in violent offences involving guns since 2009; one in three homicides in Canada are firearm related; and 47% of Canadians feel gun violence is a threat to their community. Gun violence impacts people and communities across Canada. It happens in urban, suburban and rural communities across every province and territory, in all age and socio-economic groups and, last, among those who own guns and those who do not.
This is a moment in time to strengthen our gun laws to emphasize the principles of denunciation and deterrence. This is not the time to advance a soft-on-crime bill that puts communities and victims at risk.
Mandatory minimum sentences are an important tool for ensuring, not inhibiting, justice in sentencing. Rather than eliminating a judge's ability to assess a proportionate sentence, mandatory minimums set a stable sentencing range for an offence, permitting citizens to understand in advance the severity of the consequences that attend the commission of that offence.
The justice minister stressed that Bill C-5 was not aimed at hardened criminals but at first-time low-risk offenders. He was quoted on December 8, stating:
Think about your own kids. Perhaps they got into trouble at some point with the law. I bet you would want to give them the benefit of the doubt or a second chance if they messed up. Well, it is a lot harder to get a second chance the way things are now...
That is such a disturbing message from the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada. I cannot think of any other example of being tone deaf to the obvious. We are indeed focusing on serious violent offenders and not misguided, mischievous youthful first offenders.
The Liberal government claims the bill is to address racism in Canada's criminal justice system. As noted by the Alberta minister for justice, Kaycee Madu:
While Ottawa’s new justice bill...contains some reasonable measures, I am deeply concerned about the decision to gut tough sentencing provisions for gun crimes....Removing tough, mandatory penalties for actual gun crimes undermines the very minority communities that are so often victimized by brazen gun violence. I also find it disingenuous for Ottawa to exploit a genuine issue like systemic racism to push through their soft-on-crime bills.
As a former Crown attorney, I am very much aware and wholeheartedly accept that there is a disproportionally higher rate of incarcerated indigenous and Black Canadians. We as parliamentarians have the tools necessary to put into place measures to address this problem. We already have principles that mandate jurists to consider the background of indigenous offenders.
The Liberal government last year committed $6.6 million to produce better informed sentencing decisions based on an understanding of the adversities and systemic inequalities that Black Canadians and members of other racialized groups faced.
Furthermore, Parliament has an opportunity to put into place a safety valve known as a constitutional exemption that would allow judges to exempt outliers for whom the mandatory minimum would constitute cruel and unusual punishment.
This flawed and dangerous bill would also substantially alter the conditional sentence regime, which would now allow such a sentence to be imposed for sex assaults, criminal harassment, kidnapping, human trafficking, arson and abduction.
What I found most ironic is that yesterday we heard from the justice minister that this legislation would reduce a significant amount of charter challenges and speed up the disposition of criminal cases. What he failed to address was how the changes to the conditional sentence regime would result in a plethora of increased litigation as the proposed amendments were lawfully unavailable.
A condition precedent to the availability of the conditional sentence is that a justice must be satisfied that serving a sentence at home would not endanger the safety of the community. Offenders convicted of sexual assault, criminal harassment, kidnapping and abduction are indeed dangerous.
Furthermore, section 752 defines the above offences as a serious personal injury offence, which the provincial appellate courts have consistently excluded from conditional sentence consideration.
The number one priority for the federal government is to keep Canadians safe. The Liberal government has been derelict in its responsibility. This soft-on-crime, ideologically driven bill needs to be defeated.