Mr. Speaker, it is an honour and pleasure to speak in this House on behalf of the citizens of Saskatoon West. Of course, I am rising today to speak to the bill before us, Bill C-9, which makes changes to the way federally appointed judges can be removed for misconduct.
My approach today will be a bit different. I am not a lawyer, so I am not well versed in how law works and all the details and technicalities of it. The best example of that was from yesterday when I was privileged to attend the justice committee. I was listening to witnesses on the subject of Bill C-28, the extreme intoxication law. It is unbelievable that in this country, a person who gets so drunk that they commit a crime that results in great harm to a person can get off for it and there are no consequences. That is exactly what happened. That is why the government brought in Bill C-28 earlier. It was supposedly to fix this.
As a layperson at the committee yesterday, I was listening to all my learned colleagues ask very intelligent questions that were going over my head. I was listening to professors explain the legal technicalities of everything. However, one thing that did come out clear was that it is absolutely wrong that if a person commits a crime, they do not face consequences simply because they were too drunk. Clearly, that needs to be fixed.
The more troubling thing that came across to me was that the government attempted to fix this law in a very hurried way earlier this year. Essentially, it rammed through legislation to supposedly close a loophole. What I heard yesterday was that what the Liberals rammed through in a hurry, without proper consultation and without actually talking to people, has not solved the problem. In fact, it may have made it worse. We need to be very careful in the House when we propose solutions and ram them through the House without proper due diligence, because we can actually make things worse. That was the main thing I took away from yesterday.
I also want to note another piece of legislation going through the House right now. It is Bill S-4. It amends the process for peace officers to apply for and obtain a warrant using telecommunications rather than appearing in person. It expands the abilities for accused and offenders to appear remotely by audio conference and video conference. It also allows prospective jurors in a jury selection process to appear by video conference.
This is a bill that came about because of COVID. There were some changes needed in our system to accommodate more remote appearances, as members can see. What I find interesting is that these changes were due to the COVID epidemic we have, which started two years ago. It has taken two years for the Liberal government to get this to second reading in this House.
I find it odd that on one hand, some legislation gets rammed through almost instantaneously, like Bill C-28, while in the case of Bill S-4, it lollygags along for a while. Maybe COVID will be in the rear-view mirror when it finally gets passed. I find it quite rich when the government talks about those on the Conservative side obstructing things, when we are trying to do the proper due diligence and trying to make sure that we do not get bad laws.
This brings me to Bill C-9. This bill was originally introduced as a Senate bill, Bill S-5, in 2021. The bill modifies the existing judicial review process by establishing a process for complaints serious enough to warrant removal from office and another for offences that would warrant other sanctions, such as counselling, continuing education and reprimands. Currently, if the misconduct is less serious, one Canadian Judicial Council member who conducts the initial review may negotiate with the judge for an appropriate remedy.
The bill states that the reasons a judge could be removed from office include:
(c) failure in the due execution of judicial office;
(d) the judge is in a position that a reasonable, fair-minded and informed observer would consider to be incompatible with the due execution of judicial office.
Also, a screening officer can dismiss complaints rather than referring them to the review panel should they seem frivolous or improper.
Federal judges are appointed for life, and it is absolutely critical that they are free of political inference. It is important that we have mechanisms in place to deal with them and remove them from office if that extreme point is necessary. Parliament sets laws, though, and judges need to respect the will of Parliament. A good example is the mandatory minimum sentences that the previous Conservative government brought in.
Any violent criminal, regardless of race, gender and sexual orientation, should be treated as equal. The offender should face a jury of their peers and if convicted should get the appropriate punishment. Prison time will keep that person off the streets so they cannot engage in further criminal activity.
Mental health issues, as well as drug and alcohol abuse, need to be addressed and monitored by trained personnel. Therapy and 12-step programs that are offered in prisons must be made mandatory for prisoners. Under house arrest, there is no way to ensure that these offenders get the help they need.
We also need to consider victim safety when we are sentencing offenders. A sad but real truth is that violent crime is often committed within a family. It can be spousal abuse, sexual exploitation of a child, custodial kidnapping or robbery for the purposes of illicit substances. The people in closest proximity are always the most accessible victims. If a judge is required to sentence a spousal abuser to live at home rather than go to prison, what happens to the abused spouse and children? Do they flee to a crisis centre, or will they will get revictimized?
I want to talk a bit about Saskatoon and my riding of Saskatoon West. It is an awesome and beautiful place to live and work. My wife and I call it home. For years before I became a member of Parliament, I was a home builder. I built new homes for families moving into the riding.
First as a candidate and now as an MP, I can say that I have knocked on almost every door in Saskatoon West. As I have walked through those neighbourhoods, I have seen some of the areas of highest crime. In the past year, there have been 389 cases of reported sexual violations in Saskatoon, 2,303 reported cases of assault, 65 reported cases of kidnapping and abduction and 759 cases of violation under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.
Saskatoon is well above the national crime severity index of 73.4 in Canada's largest cities and has a crime severity index of 118, and it was ranked fourth behind Lethbridge, Winnipeg and Kelowna in 2020. Much of this crime is in the areas right around my constituency office. My constituency office is on the convergence of these neighbourhoods, and according to the Saskatoon Police Service, it is in the highest crime area of Saskatoon. As a result, we have to be very diligent in our office. We have gotten to know many of the people who live in the neighbourhood. They frequent our office and frequent the area by our office, and we have developed relationships with them.
My staff have a security door and a buzzer system in place to screen people before they come into the office. Still, my office has been broken into and I have had my House of Commons computer stolen. An employee of mine had the window on his car broken just because somebody wanted a few quarters that were sitting in there. A lot of this is because of addicts. We have a lot of addiction issues that drive many of the crime problems we have.
This is something that I agree with the government on. The approach on how to fix it, though, is where we differ. I believe in the miracles of alcohol and drug treatment through 12-step programs and abstention. The NDP-Liberals believe in what is called harm reduction.
What I think needs to happen is that addicts need to be treated with love and compassion, which is offered through 12-step programs. These programs offer alcoholics and addicts a way to get clean and help others get clean at no cost to the individual or taxpayer. Unfortunately, there are two things that the government does not like. First, these are programs of spirituality. They require the addict to “turn their will and lives over to the care of God”. Second, as I explained, this does not require big government intervention. These programs deliver miracles; I know that for a fact. I know people who have been through them and care about them.
As I wrap up, I just want to say that there are so many areas that we need to be working on in this House to improve our criminal justice system. Bill C-9 is a good step forward. We need to make sure that our judges are independent and that they are worthy of the positions they hold.