Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise today to speak to Bill C-27.
The bill will amend the dangerous offender and long term offender provisions of the Criminal Code to require the prosecutor to advise the court whether the prosecutor intends to proceed with an application for an assessment under those provisions when the prosecutor is of the opinion that the offence with which the offender is convicted is a serious personal injury offence that is a designated offence and that the offender was convicted previously at least twice of a designated offence, and was sentenced to at least two years or more of imprisonment for each of these convictions.
The bill also removes the court's discretion to refuse to order an assessment when it is of the opinion that there are reasonable grounds to believe that the offender might be found to be a dangerous offender or a long term offender.
Further, to provide that if the court is satisfied in a hearing for a dangerous offender designation, that the offence for which the offender has been convicted is a primary designated offence for which it would be appropriate to impose a sentence of imprisonment of two years or more where the offender was convicted previously at least twice of a primary designated offence and was sentenced to at least two years of imprisonment for each of those convictions.
The provisions to make the designation are presumed to have been met unless the contrary is proved on a balance of probabilities.
Also, to clarify, that even when the conditions to make a dangerous offender designation have been met, a court must consider whether a lesser sentence, including a long term offender designation, would adequately protect the public and that neither the prosecutor nor the offender has the onus of proof in this matter.
The bill will also amend sections 810.1 and 810.2 of the Criminal Code to allow the duration of a recognizance to be for a period of up to two years if the court is satisfied that the defendant was convicted previously of an offence of a sexual nature against a child or a serious personal injury offence. Also, to clarify, the scope of conditions available for a recognizance is broad and those conditions may include electronic monitoring, treatment and a requirement to report to a designated authority.
I strongly support efforts to protect Canadians and punish repeat offenders who present a threat to our communities. That is why Canada already has some of the toughest dangerous offender laws. I suggest the Liberal Party is definitely committed to passing justice legislation that will protect Canadian communities.
While we support Bill C-27 at second reading, our concerns about the effectiveness of the bill are serious enough that we will definitely introduce amendments in committee.
I want to assure the House that our amendments are not designed to weaken the bill, but to in fact make it stronger and more effective by getting dangerous offenders off our streets.
The government has indicated that the purpose of the bill is to make it easier for Crown attorneys to obtain dangerous offender designations. In fact, I suggest the contrary may be true.
What will happen if the bill passes? First, the Crown attorney will have to give notice presumably after two convictions. Right now two convictions are not needed. It could be done after one conviction if it can be established the individual will be a threat to society. In fact, an indeterminate sentence can be obtained based simply on one conviction. The Crown attorney is still forced to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that these elements of that individual's behaviour threaten society at large.
Will the proposed law make our society safer because of a need for multiple convictions? I suggest not.
Under the current legislation, a Crown attorney can trigger an application for a dangerous offender hearing when the offender is convicted of a predicate serious personal injury offence. This is defined as being a specific sexual assault offence or an offence that was violent or potentially violent, and which carries a maximum sentence of at least 10 years or more.
Under the proposed bill, offenders who already have three previous designated offences which are listed in the bill and are facing a dangerous offender hearing will be presumed to be dangerous offenders unless they can prove, on the balance of probabilities, that they are not. This reverse onus is highly controversial and many legal experts have already indicated that they feel it is unconstitutional. Officials from the Department of Justice have indicated that they anticipate that these new provisions will face a constitutional challenge.
The existing dangerous offender sections have already been found to be constitutionally valid. By grafting on sections that raise constitutional questions, the Conservative government is putting the entire regime in jeopardy.
While it is likely that a court would simply strike down the offending sections and leave the rest of the regime in place, it could choose to strike down the entire regime. By introducing sections that they know to be unconstitutional, the Conservatives are wasting the time of the police, the Crown attorneys and our already overworked courts.
I suggest that the implications have not been well thought out. If the entire section was struck down, would this lead to current dangerous offenders being given an open door to challenge the grounds of the indefinite incarceration sentences they are already serving? Could we see the likes of Paul Bernardo and Clifford Olson back on the street? Are the Conservatives willing to take that risk? I urge and implore the Conservatives to consider a reference to the Supreme Court on the constitutionality of these proposed changes. We do not need a flood of monsters back on our streets.
The new legislation could also lead to a series of unintended consequences. Due to the reverse onus which comes into play on a third conviction, both defence lawyers and Crown attorneys will approach earlier convictions in a different manner. Defence lawyers in particular would be less likely to seek a plea bargain for their clients if it starts them down the road toward three convictions.
Fewer plea bargains mean more trials and more trials lead to more backlog in our already overworked provincial courts. The bill does not provide for any additional resources for the provinces that are primary administrators of the justice system in our country.
Many of these flaws, I suggest, could have been avoided had the government held specific and widespread consultations with the provinces and key stakeholders in advance of introducing this bill, as is the common practice. The Liberal Party would not oppose legislation that makes the dangerous offender sections of the Criminal Code stronger, provided it was done in a constitutional manner and that provinces receive the assistance they require to effectively handle the new provisions. This has not happened.
I strongly support legislative efforts to protect Canadians and to punish offenders who represent threats to the safety of our communities across Canada. When changes are made to the current working system, they should be done in a manner that would not jeopardize the system that works now. Changes proposed must respect the constitutional standards and not risk successful constitutional challenges which could undermine the protections we already have in this country.
I would like to turn briefly to a consideration of the long term offender designation. The former Liberal government in 1997 created a long term offender designation, which was targeted at sexual and violent offenders in response to concerns that many sexual and violent offenders required specific attention, even if not meeting the criteria of a dangerous offender. A change was needed as now we have over 300 offenders under the long term offender designation in Canada.
This long term offender designation allows individuals convicted of a serious personal injury offence, who on the evidence are likely to reoffend but who can likely be managed through a regular sentence with a specific term of federal supervision in the community, to be given a long term offender supervision order of up to 10 years after their release from serving their original court imposed sentence. Once released, the offenders are subject to any number of supervisory conditions ordered by the National Parole Board.
There has been developing case law in the areas of both dangerous offenders and the long term offender designation. In September 2003 the Supreme Court of Canada held that a sentencing judge must consider fully the prospects of controlling an offender under a long term offender designation before a dangerous offender designation can be made. This is part of Regina v. Johnson. If the court had a reasonable belief the risk that the offender poses to the general public can be controlled under a long term offender designation, then the offender must be given the lesser sentence, even if he or she otherwise meets all criteria for a dangerous offender designation.
It is important to codify the Supreme Court of Canada's decision in Regina v. Johnson. Reforms must ensure that offenders who should be designated as dangerous or long term offenders do not slip through the cracks of the judicial system, while at the same time the reforms must in no way violate the rights of fundamental justice ensured to all Canadians. To do so would have the unfortunate effect of being more messaging to a law and an order imperative of the current minority Conservative government rather than governing responsibly for all Canadians. Victims themselves will not be happy when they discover a flawed law, not a strong one.