moved that Bill C-22, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Madam Speaker, I am pleased today to speak to Bill C-22, which proposes much needed reforms to the Criminal Code and the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, or CDSA.
These proposed reforms are first and foremost about addressing the systemic discrimination and unfairness in our criminal justice system, which includes the overrepresentation of indigenous peoples, Black Canadians and members of marginalized communities in Canada's prisons.
The policies that we are targeting in this legislation have not accomplished their goal of deterring crime or keeping our communities safe. What they have done, rather, is disproportionately criminalize and imprison communities that are already discriminated against, especially indigenous peoples and Black Canadians.
We need a policy that is truly effective, that protects all Canadians and that ensures that our justice system is fair. We need a justice policy that is, well, just. In particular, the Speech from the Throne committed to address systemic inequities in all phases of the criminal justice system, including from diversion to sentencing.
These are the primary areas of focus of my proposed legislative reforms.
There are three components to the changes we are proposing in Bill C-22. First, it would eliminate mandatory minimum penalties in all drug offences, a tobacco offence and some firearms offences. Second, it would reverse the previous Conservative government's severe restrictions on the availability of conditional sentence orders, or CSOs. Third, it would require police and prosecutors to consider other measures for simple possession of drugs, such as diversion to addiction treatment programs rather than laying charges or prosecuting individuals for simple possession of an illegal drug.
Before describing the proposed changes in detail, it is important to understand the impact our existing sentencing laws have had on the over-incarceration of indigenous persons, Black Canadians and members of marginalized communities. In 2020, indigenous adults accounted for 30% of federally incarcerated inmates, despite accounting for approximately 5% of the general Canadian adult population. Indigenous women account for 42% of all federally incarcerated women. Similarly, Black adults represent 3% of the overall Canadian population, but they now represent 7.2% of the federal offender population.
These figures are staggering, and the trends have continued to grow year after year. We must do something to turn the tide.
One of the main contributors to these negative trends has been failed sentencing policies. This includes the former government's increase to and indiscriminate use of mandatory minimum penalties of imprisonment, also known as MMPs. This one-size-fits-all approach to crime mandates that anyone who commits an offence, regardless of the circumstance or the individual's degree of responsibility for that crime, must be imprisoned for at least the amount of time prescribed in that MMP.
I ask members to consider the following scenario: A single mother struggling with substance use has begun selling drugs in order to support her addiction and have a bit of money left over to put food on the table. She is charged and convicted of drug trafficking. Even though the judge recognizes prison time would not be appropriate in her circumstance, they have no choice but to order the mandated prison time. As a result, she is separated from her children, her job and her life.
Now, I ask members to contrast this situation with the individual who runs a network and specifically targeted her and other vulnerable individuals like her to get them hooked on drugs and eventually trafficking to fuel their addiction. Because of the mandatory minimum sentence, the judge cannot choose to send only one of these two individuals to prison. They must both be punished in the same way.
I ask my colleagues what that serves. Bill C-22 proposes to eliminate all mandatory minimum penalties for drugs, which were brought in by the previous Conservative government in 2012. It would also eliminate MMPs for some firearm offences, which we know have a disproportionate impact on indigenous and Black communities.
Between 2007 and 2017, 39% of Black and 20% of indigenous offenders were placed in federal correction facilities for an offence that carries a mandatory minimum sentence.
During that time, the proportion of Black Canadians admitted to federal corrections for importing or exporting drugs increased from 33% to 43% in 2017. Even worse, the proportion of indigenous offenders admitted for firearms-related offences punishable by a MMP more than doubled.
In a similar vein, Bill C-22 would reverse the previous Conservative government's severe restrictions on the availability of conditional sentencing orders, which give judges the option to order that a sentence be served within one's community under strict conditions, if the individual does not pose a risk to public safety, and if the penalty given would have been less than two years of incarceration.
Previous Conservative governments would have us believe our communities are safest when we put all criminals behind bars and throw away the key. That is simply not supported by the evidence. When it comes to lower-risk and first-time offenders, prison is actually associated with elevated risks of recidivism and worse outcomes in both the short term and the long term.
On the other hand, alternatives such as conditional sentencing, or CSOs, are an effective and proven way to enable more effective rehabilitation and reintegration by enabling individuals to maintain their employment, or continue caring for children or family members in need. The data is clear. We just have to listen to it.
The removal of restrictions on CSOs is crucial to reducing the failed trend of Conservative justice policies that have made it difficult, if not impossible, for judges to sentence individuals appropriately. This individual tailoring of sentences is supposed to be a fundamental principle of our criminal justice system, yet it has been altered by these policies.
Our sentencing laws have also prevented sentencing courts from giving full effect to the Gladue principle enshrined in paragraph 718.2(e) of the Criminal Code, which is based on restraint and requires courts to consider all available sanctions other than imprisonment for all offenders, with particular attention to the circumstances of indigenous offenders.
With respect to indigenous women offenders, these targeted measures will have real and measurable impacts. Take, for example, the changes to CSOs. Prior to the previous Conservative government's restrictions, many indigenous women received conditional sentences with positive outcomes. After the restrictions, indigenous women in the same circumstances were instead sent to prison. By restoring the availability of CSOs, more indigenous women can heal within their own communities, continue caring for their children and family members, and have access to culturally appropriate support services. This is effective criminal justice policy in action.
These failed so-called “tough on crime” sentencing policies have made the criminal justice system less efficient. For instance, in cases involving offences with MMPs, the evidence demonstrates that trials take longer to complete, accused persons are less likely to plead guilty and a stark increase in successful charter challenges before Canadian courts. In short, MMPs also clog up our criminal justice system.
Let me provide an overview of the bill. Bill C-22 will repeal MMPs for all drug offences that were enacted by the previous Conservative government in 2012. It will also repeal MMPs for certain offences involving—