House of Commons Hansard #75 of the 43rd Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was offences.

Topics

Motions for PapersRoutine Proceedings

5:05 p.m.

Winnipeg North Manitoba

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the President of the Queen’s Privy Council for Canada and Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs and to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Madam Speaker, I would ask that all notices of motions for the production of papers be allowed to stand at this time.

Motions for PapersRoutine Proceedings

5:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Assistant Deputy Speaker (Mrs. Alexandra Mendès) Liberal Alexandra Mendes

Is that agreed?

Motions for PapersRoutine Proceedings

5:05 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Criminal CodeGovernment Orders

March 24th, 2021 / 5:05 p.m.

LaSalle—Émard—Verdun Québec

Liberal

David Lametti LiberalMinister of Justice

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—

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5:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Assistant Deputy Speaker (Mrs. Alexandra Mendès) Liberal Alexandra Mendes

The hon. member for Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan is rising on a point of order.

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5:15 p.m.

Conservative

Garnett Genuis Conservative Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan, AB

Madam Speaker, I rise on a point of order.

I appreciate listening to the minister's speech, but the connection is fuzzy and is cutting in and out. It appears he is in his Parliament Hill office, so I wonder if it would be possible for him to deliver the speech in the chamber. We would then not have a connection problem, and we could hear him. Given that he seems to be in the building anyway, it would make sense.

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5:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Assistant Deputy Speaker (Mrs. Alexandra Mendès) Liberal Alexandra Mendes

There is a problem with the connection cutting in and out. I do not think it is the sound, but rather the Internet, because we also see the image failing for a few seconds.

The hon. parliamentary secretary to the government House leader is rising on the same point of order.

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5:15 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Madam Speaker, I rise on a point of order.

On the same point of order, I have been listening and have had no issues with hearing both the English and the translation of the minister. I do not know if some might be a little more challenged to hear it, but what I object to is the member standing up to highlight something that is personal. I should not be penalized for not standing inside the chamber, but should be respected for being able to appear inside or outside the chamber, and my motivation should not be challenged on why I might be in one place versus the other. I do not think that is appropriate.

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5:15 p.m.

Conservative

Karen Vecchio Conservative Elgin—Middlesex—London, ON

Madam Speaker, I rise on a point of order.

I too am sitting in my parliamentary office, and although I am in a different building, I too have had some connection problems. This is a very important speech that I have been trying to listen to. For many of us, it is a very personal speech, and I would really like to hear it, but the sound has been coming in and out, I am afraid.

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5:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Assistant Deputy Speaker (Mrs. Alexandra Mendès) Liberal Alexandra Mendes

We will ask the minister to resume, because the interpreters have not complained yet, so we have been able to get the interpretation done.

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5:15 p.m.

An hon. member

It is not the interpretation.

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5:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Assistant Deputy Speaker (Mrs. Alexandra Mendès) Liberal Alexandra Mendes

That is usually the problem with connections, that we do not get the interpretation, but the interpretation is working in this case, so I will let the minister resume. I would remind members that we do not usually refer to where the members are, particularly now.

The minister will please proceed.

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5:20 p.m.

Liberal

David Lametti Liberal LaSalle—Émard—Verdun, QC

Madam Speaker, I remind the House that I have taken all decisions based on the health and safety of my employees, following regulations and meeting the needs of my constituents, as well as Canadians across the country in my portfolio.

I will provide an overview of the Bill C-22. The bill would repeal MMPs for all drug offences, which were enacted by the previous Conservative government in 2012. It would also repeal MMPs for certain offences involving the use or possession of firearms and a tobacco-related offence. We know that MMPs do not deter these crimes or keep people and communities safe. In eliminating these MMPs, Bill C-22 would restore judicial discretion, reduce the time and money spent on needless litigation, and address systemic barriers to equality.

We have always held that serious criminals should be treated seriously. As such MMPs will remain for the most serious offences including murder, child sexual offences and firearm offences linked to organized crime.

These changes go hand in hand with the proposed measures in Bill C-21, an act to amend certain acts and to make certain consequential amendments with regard to firearms, to increase maximum penalties for certain firearms offences related to gun smuggling and trafficking.

This would allow judges to issue stricter sentences for the most serious gun crimes, including gang-related violence, while enabling a broader range of options for lower-risk and first-time offenders, including alternatives that could help prevent them from becoming hardened criminals behind bars. This is critical to helping keep our communities safe.

With Bill C-22 serious crimes would be sentenced seriously and proportionate to the gravity of the offence and degree of responsibility of the offender.

The second area of proposed reforms I would like to discuss focuses on realigning the conditional sentence regime with the purpose for which these sentences were originally intended, namely, to address the overreliance on incarceration for less serious non-violent crimes. A CSO is a sentence of incarceration of less than two years that may be served in the community under strict conditions. It is only available if a judge is satisfied that doing so would pose no risks to public safety.

Bill C-22 would repeal a number of restrictions brought in by the former Conservative government on the availability of CSOs. The additional restrictions have limited judges from imposing CSOs in appropriate cases. The current restrictions have resulted in more people being sent to jail and more charter challenges and have contributed to the over-incarceration of indigenous persons, in particular.

In July 2020, in the case of the Queen v. Sharma, the Ontario Court of Appeal struck down the provisions in the Criminal Code limiting the availability of CSOs for offences punishable by a maximum term of imprisonment of 14 years or life, or 10 years if drugs were involved. The court noted that these limits on the availability of CSOs undermined the remedial purpose of the Gladue principle in the Criminal Code by limiting a judge's ability to impose fit sentences to take into account the circumstances of indigenous offenders, including the well-documented impacts of colonialism and residential schools.

Bill C-22 seeks to reform the CSO regime in a way that would allow courts to order sentences other than incarceration in appropriate cases that focus on restorative justice principles. We have heard a strong and positive response from the legal community to these proposed changes. These changes would have real, measurable results. Again, CSOs would only be available for those facing sentences of less than two years and where the judge is satisfied that there is no risk to public safety. They would not be available for more serious offences, including murder or attempted murder, torture, advocating genocide, and criminal organization and terrorism offences punishable by a maximum term of imprisonment of 10 years or more.

I would now like to turn my attention to describing the third set of important legislative reforms proposed by Bill C-22, which support our commitment to public health-centred approaches to drugs and substance use.

Bill C-22 aligns with amendments proposed by Private Member's Bill C-236, an act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, in terms of evidence-based diversion measures, with certain technical amendments. I would like to thank the member for Beaches—East York for his private member's bill and his leadership in this area. We agree that these changes to treat addiction as a health issue would improve the state of the criminal justice system in Canada, particularly as we examine better approaches to dealing with the opioid crisis, and believe that changes like these may very well help save lives.

Substance use is first and foremost a health issue. Bill C-22 would enact an evidence-based diversion framework in the CDSA with a set of guiding principles informed by Canada's drugs and substances strategy, as well as principles adopted by the United Nations and the World Health Organization. The Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, on February 19, released a statement in support of C-22's treatment of drug possession offences. It is clear that we must move toward more effective ways to address public safety concerns relating to substance use.

These reforms are also inspired by the successful approach used in the Youth Criminal Justice Act. They would require peace officers and Crown attorneys to consider alternatives to charging and prosecuting. That includes diverting individuals to a public health agency before proceeding with a charge, or before proceeding with a charge, once laid. It is worth noting that prosecutors and law enforcement work together in determining which charges to lay in a specific situation and, as such, extending this requirement to both would help ensure that appropriate discretion is exercised.

The reforms proposed would encourage the diversion of simple drug possession cases away from the criminal justice system and focus on the needs of the individual.

Another important benefit of these reforms is that individuals would not have the stigma and the legal costs associated with being charged with a criminal offence. Moreover, these reforms are consistent with the director of public prosecutions' August 2020 guideline that requires prosecutors to pursue diversion for simple drug possession cases.

These proposed amendments will support my 2021 supplementary mandate letter commitment to divert first-time, non-violent individuals charged with simple drug possession at an early stage.

These proposed legislative reforms will generate several long-term benefits to the criminal justice system, including overall cost reductions, and will lead to more effective responses leading to less recidivism. I am confident that Bill C-22 strikes the right balance. Indeed, it has been applauded as much-needed legislation. It responds to long-standing calls for reforms by the Quebec Bar and the Canadian Bar Association.

Our changes reflect several calls to action made by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, calls for justice by the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, and recent calls by the Parliamentary Black Caucus.

Moving forward, we will do more. We have committed to support the application of Gladue principles and Gladue report-writing in the criminal justice system. We have also committed to supporting community justice centre pilot projects across Canada, which will provide more culturally appropriate services to address root causes of crime. Finally, we have noted our support for the implementation of the impact of race and culture assessments, which will better inform sentencing decisions, as they will be based on an understanding of the systemic inequalities faced by racialized groups such as Black Canadians.

In advancing these reforms, I am conscious that some stakeholders and parliamentarians may believe that Bill C-22 does not go far enough or, for others, it goes too far.

Bill C-22 is an important step that advances evidence-based reforms, which will alleviate some of the negative trends plaguing our criminal justice system. It will ensure that sentencing judges are better able to consider the entire context, circumstances, and seriousness of an offence when they impose a sentence.

The time has come to break with the past, the so-called tough-on-crime policies of the previous government, whose only benefit has been to make politicians look tough. We can do a better job and we will.

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5:30 p.m.

Liberal

The Assistant Deputy Speaker (Mrs. Alexandra Mendès) Liberal Alexandra Mendes

Questions and comments, the hon. member for Red Deer—Mountain View.

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5:30 p.m.

Conservative

Earl Dreeshen Conservative Red Deer—Mountain View, AB

Madam Speaker, I just want to refer the minister to a BC Civil Liberties Association report, which states:

Today, there are approximately 50 offences carrying a mandatory minimum sentence of imprisonment in the Criminal Code, the vast majority of which came into force in 1995.

Mandatory minimums were the hallmark of former Liberal governments. What political party was governing Canada in 1995?

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5:30 p.m.

Liberal

David Lametti Liberal LaSalle—Émard—Verdun, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank the hon. member for his apparent change to being critical of mandatory minimum penalties, which I can glean from the question.

Mandatory minimum penalties simply have not worked. We have focused in this bill on mandatory minimums that result in the over-incarceration of Black and indigenous Canadians, in particular, and that have served to clog up the criminal justice system. They are not helping anybody. They were simply fuelling the ideological tough-on-crime narrative, which has not proven to be true empirically, has not served our communities, has not made us safer and not helped victims.

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5:30 p.m.

NDP

Randall Garrison NDP Esquimalt—Saanich—Sooke, BC

Madam Speaker, the minister knows that my question is going to about why he has not gone a bit further. Why are we still talking about criminal penalties for the personal possession of small amounts of drugs when all health authorities recognize that we should treat addiction and drug use as a health problem, and not as a criminal problem? Why be so timid? Why do we not just move to eliminate those criminal penalties altogether?

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5:30 p.m.

Liberal

David Lametti Liberal LaSalle—Émard—Verdun, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank the hon. member for his dedication to this issue. Like him, I feel that there is a serious question that needs to be studied here, particularly in light of the very serious opioid crisis in various parts of the country. I also understand and agree with the idea that we ought to treat health problems as health problems, and not as criminal problems.

What I was doing here, and I hope the hon. member will understand this, was attacking one part of that, the part that revolves around criminal sentencing, so I stayed within those parameters. This is not to preclude larger debates from happening in other areas, which I would welcome.

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5:30 p.m.

Liberal

Judy Sgro Liberal Humber River—Black Creek, ON

Madam Speaker, let me congratulate the Minister of Justice for bringing forward this bill. I know he has put a tremendous amount of work into it.

It is extremely important that we look for more diversion programs, more opportunities to decrease the number of people throughout our cities who are in jail for miscellaneous things and who have criminal records that will prevent them from getting viable work later on.

When we talk about diversion programs, I would be interested to hear from the minister some examples of where he thinks the diversion program could be better played out in the justice system.

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5:30 p.m.

Liberal

David Lametti Liberal LaSalle—Émard—Verdun, QC

Madam Speaker, during the 2019 election, I met with leaders of the Black community in Toronto, at a meeting in Scarborough.

They were univocal in asking us to support the kinds of programming they did. Around the table, there were ministers, in the religious sense, other community workers and ex-convicts who were working in their communities. They were developing programs that worked with kids, after-school programs that kept kids out of gangs.

They said that they wanted me to get these kinds of programs supported so that we would not send kids to jail, because when we send them to jail, they just end up becoming hardened criminals.

In the fall economic statement, we have supported community justice pilot projects in cities like Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal, precisely to target these cultural communities and to give police officers and prosecutors alternatives to divert people from the criminal justice system.

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5:35 p.m.

Bloc

Andréanne Larouche Bloc Shefford, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank the hon. minister for introducing Bill C-22.

I used to work for a community organization focused on alternative justice. We worked on preventing crime among young people who sometimes had drug problems. We obviously quickly learned that criminalization was not a solution in some cases. What these people needed was more support. Public health plays a very important role in this issue.

However, would the minister agree that the federal government should be sending money to the provinces so that they can ensure that these struggling young people and young adults, who will not have a criminal record, will get the support they need from public health?

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5:35 p.m.

Liberal

David Lametti Liberal LaSalle—Émard—Verdun, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for her question.

I am working with my counterparts across Canada. The principles in this bill could obviously apply to other bills. I am prepared to work with my counterparts in Quebec and across Canada to find the best and fairest solutions.

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5:35 p.m.

Conservative

Rob Moore Conservative Fundy Royal, NB

Madam Speaker, some of these so-called minor offences to which the minister refers are: robbery with a firearm; extortion with a firearm; weapons trafficking; importing or exporting, knowing it is an unauthorized firearm; and using a firearm in the commission of an offence. What these offences all have in common is that each and every one of them had a mandatory prison sentence, as it should, assigned to them before the Conservatives took government.

I appreciate that the hon. minister and I will not agree on a soft-on-crime approach, but I wish he would be upfront with the fact that these mandatory minimums are Liberal mandatory minimums. Would the minister at least admit that?

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5:35 p.m.

Liberal

David Lametti Liberal LaSalle—Émard—Verdun, QC

Madam Speaker, reading between the lines, I am happy with the member's criticisms of mandatory minimums. That is quite a great deal of progress from someone who was an integral part of the justice hierarchy in the previous Conservative government.

I want to correct the record. We are not touching mandatory minimums where there is gang-related offences involved, where there is arms trafficking involved or where there are prohibited weapons involved.

The mandatory minimum with respect to robbery, for example, only applies to long guns. It is one particular subset of that offence. It is, again, something that is disproportionately touching Black and indigenous communities across Canada.

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5:35 p.m.

Conservative

Garnett Genuis Conservative Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan, AB

Madam Speaker, the minister has presented lowering sentences and increasing judicial discretion as a solution to systemic racism in the justice system. We acknowledge there are problems of systemic racism in many institutions, including in the justice system.

It is not obvious to me, though, how lowering sentences across the board addresses those problems. It does not seem to me that increasing discretion or lowering sentences across the board actually tackle the specific problem of systemic racism, unconscious bias and judges making decisions that reflect certain presumptions that may have been influenced by racist ideas, intentionally or not.

What does the minister have in mind that actually addresses directly the problem of systemic racism?