Madam Speaker, I rise in this House today to speak to Bill C-5, an act to amend the Criminal Code and the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.
I have listened to voices on all sides of this House, from members whom I have known and worked with, and I hear a conflicting difference in the connection between crime and sentencing, crime and punishment as Fyodor Dostoevsky would say.
I hear from some friends and colleagues in this House that there is no connection between longer, mandated prison sentences and the rate of recidivism in society and the rate of crime increasing in Canada. I hear the other side that clearly illustrates the connection between the length of time mandated for a specific crime and the reduction in criminal offences of that nature.
Further, I have listened to the government speakers on the legislation and I hear a familiar refrain from those on the government bench, as in all things, that this bill will let society have its cake and eat it too at the same time, as in there are no real choices to make here. But there are real choices.
Somewhere in this sea of data and information, there is obvious narrative, all of which cannot be completely factual. That is that all these facts cannot live in the same narrative.
I will deviate a little here because I have seen this much from the Attorney General of Canada playing fast and loose with the facts and trying to make the facts fit his narrative when examination clearly shows the insincerity of his statements.
With this cacophony of facts, statements, theories and postulations, and yes, misstatements, I took the liberty of examining my own pre-established beliefs in the connection between crime and punishment.
Life is a good teacher. I remember a time in our history when society was less safe. Murders were more common. Criminal activity was growing. There were parts of our cities across North America where people ventured at their own peril.
Some brave politicians in the United States started implementing a program knows as “broken windows” at the time. In short, if we prosecute small crimes to the utmost, the perpetrators understand the consequences of crime and do not drift into more serious crimes. The effect over the years was a reduction of crime in the cities. Places became safe again. People moved back downtown in large cities. Social problems abated. People knew where they stood in the eyes of the law again.
We are far from that in our current society. In fact, we are moving quickly in the opposite direction. I walk to work and it is obvious over the past two and a half years that there is more crime on the streets of Ottawa and on the streets of Calgary.
We can go over the statistics, but at this point, they are redundant. The connection between the proliferation of severe drug abuse and street crime is clear, as is the increase in mental health problems among those at-risk people.
However, the government wants the criminals who have preyed on these poor people in our society, pushing more of them onto the street and outside of the care they require, pushing them further toward the final outcome that the proliferation of drugs, like fentanyl, lead to, which is untimely death, to receive lighter sentences.
I try and resolve these clear inconsistencies being offered by various narrative constructors on all sides. I think it is healthy to overcome what might be confirmation bias, which is something I used to deal with in my previous profession, and that is the propensity to accept data that confirms one's own preconceived opinions on any given matter.
The source of data I found to be instructive was from Public Safety Canada and the report entitled “2019 Corrections and Conditional Release Statistical Overview”. I used the government's own source to determine which information was fact, as we know it, and which is narrative fiction.
The report clearly shows that Canada's federal incarceration rate declined from 2009 to 2019 from 117 people per 100,000 Canadians in 2009, down to 107 people per 100,000 Canadians in 2019. That is a 9% reduction over a decade. There are many other touchpoints and I know that correlation and causation are not necessarily the same thing, but something clearly was going right during the period where mandatory minimums were enforced.
I like to believe I am a rational thinker and the notion of what drives people to the choice of criminal activity as a means to earn a living is, like all things, a measure of pros and cons. I will reference the common phrase of do not do the crime if one cannot do the time.
When the assessment of return, with the proliferation of a misery that is a trait of the trade in hard drugs, is greater than the assessed cost of being caught in that trade, the logical choice, outside of absolute shame, is to make that calculation. They make millions of dollars illegally and visit absolute misery upon society's most vulnerable with an assessed chance of imprisonment of, say, 20%. That is one in five perpetrators of this death and destruction will get caught and serve time for committing that crime.
That punishment had better suit that crime. The calculation of risk versus return needs to be very punitive. In contradiction to my colleagues who have spoken in favour of lowering sentences, the cost needs to include the shame of being removed from loved ones and communities. These crimes impact our society significantly. There should be no free pass for the consequences, particularly when those consequences are so unequally shared by our Canadian society. We cannot normalize crime.
What are these costs? They are addiction, rehabilitation, property crime, violent crime and death, and the dismantling of the social contract that binds us as a society to take care of each other. Removing these consequences for tearing down society will accelerate dire outcomes.
Now, let us address the inequities the government hangs its virtue hat on in every speech it gives about this bill, which is that Canadians of certain ethnicities are over-represented in our prisons. That fact is true, sadly, and it bears out in the statistics. It is not getting better. Let us revisit my previous comments on what drives rational people to attempt to profit from criminal activity, which is an assessment that the return is higher than the risk. Crime is a big business. Where do criminal organizations, those making millions moving fentanyl and other destructive drugs through our cities, get their foot soldiers?
I looked at a study, an American study, that examined factors correlating with recidivism. The clear correlation with lower recidivism was education level. This legislation will tilt the scales back towards forcing Canadians in marginalized communities to make choices early in life that would remove their future opportunities. It is doing exactly the opposite of what the government seems to pretend it is intended to do.
I also want to draw upon clear data, and that is that crime committed by Canadians in minority communities is inordinately committed against Canadians in their own communities. Sadly, crime is a local activity. Thus, the legislation reduces the legitimacy of the victims in those minority Canadian communities in the eyes of the law. If we were tilting the law to avoid incarceration from certain minorities, we are penalizing those same minority Canadians who no longer have the same legal protection as other Canadians. It is discrimination, and it will lead to more unequal outcomes in society. Surely we could do better.
Lastly, I will comment on the ability of judges to interpret what minimum sentences should be delivered. Judges are human beings who bring their own outlooks and emotions to their job. They are not perfect. They are not social workers. Having appeared in court and having heard judges at committee here in Parliament, I am certain the outcomes they decide are also imperfect. We have an imperfect judicial system, but perhaps it is less imperfect than other judicial systems. Let us not make the perfect the enemy of the good, as we say.
That being said, we need to recognize the limits of what we expect judges to do. As much as they believe they could decide all matters, it is our job as parliamentarians to clearly decide for society what are the consequences of certain crimes. We will hear examples where mandatory sentences are absurd. All rules have exceptions. There is already much leeway in sentencing for crimes before our judiciary. Let us not put them in a position where they are responsible for the societal outcomes for which we, as parliamentarians, are responsible.
This is an attempt by some of my colleagues to delegate their responsibilities to appointed judges. I would ask them why. Society, which is made up of our constituents, has elected us to decide these issues, and as the pendulum of issues swings, we will see again that Canadians will demand their cities and communities to be safe. They will demand it from their elected representatives, who are responsible. We cannot delegate this responsibility.
I know where my constituents stand on this issue. I know the clarity I have heard in meetings I have had with citizens in communities as they have seen the significant rise in crime. Mandatory minimum determination is our job. Let us not dumb down Parliament by delegating this important function to others. We are responsible.