Mr. Speaker, Bill C-41 is a major step toward safer homes and safer streets. I am pleased to speak in support of it.
This bill responds to many of the concerns about our justice system that I heard during the last election and that I continue to hear on the streets of Edmonton. It presents positive measures and practical common sense solutions, not rhetoric and sensationalism. Bill C-41 is effective action, not simplistic slogans, and that is what the people of Edmonton East voted for.
Edmonton has established a strong record in crime prevention, reducing the crime rate by 25 per cent in the last five years while rates in other cities have increased. It has achieved that goal through community co-operation and community policing. Based on its experience Edmonton has been calling for changes in legislation to support local action.
Today I would like to highlight a few of the specific measures of Bill C-41 that will be welcomed by the people in my city and other communities across the country.
First there is a clear statement of principles as the basis for sentencing. People in Edmonton East get angry about what seem to be arbitrary sentences handed down by judges without explanation.
How can one explain it when someone abuses a child, takes away the very foundation of her life and is back on the streets in a year or two with no change in behaviour? Edmonton East welcomes the provision requiring judges to take into consideration the misuse of a position of trust and authority as an aggravating circumstance.
How can one explain it when a repeated offence by a john destroying the safety of a neighbourhood gets a mere $100 slap on the wrist, less than a traffic ticket these days? Communities in my riding will welcome the explicit requirement that judges take into account other aggravating circumstances.
When a break-in leaves an elderly couple bleeding and dying and their house in shambles, the community understands the seriousness of the offence but the courts do not. We have been trying to make judges aware of the true costs of damage done by johns soliciting next to a neighbourhood school, an aggravating circumstance.
When charges are laid against drug traffickers who use drug houses and destroy neighbourhoods, judges should be able to consider the considerable damage to the community. Hopefully the police will not need to go back time and time again and that will also save money spent on expensive policing efforts.
The second is a greater voice for victims in the justice system. This bill responds to the public demand that victims have a greater role in several ways.
First, victims and their families will be able to make representations to the court in early parole hearings. This is a welcome change. People who receive threatening letters from convicts and fear their release on parole will now have a voice in that decision-making process and decision makers will have more complete information on which to base their decisions.
Second, restitution will now be a real option. Justice is not done when an elderly couple in our community loses most of their possessions in a vicious attack and at the end of the whole process they get nothing back. People are the victims of crime, not the state.
Greater use of restitution was one of the recommendations of the Edmonton safer cities report. I am happy to see that its recommendation has been followed here.
Experience with pilot projects has shown that offenders who understand the true impact of what they have done on another person are less likely to reoffend. For the first time Bill C-41 puts some teeth into that basic truth by making restitution an integral part of sentencing.
Third, Edmonton will welcome stronger rules for probation. Offences by people out on probation have eroded the public confidence in the justice system in my riding. Yet probation is an important vehicle for the rehabilitation of young offenders. The provisions in this bill will go a long way to restore credibility of the probation system and by extension, the public confidence in the justice system.
Community groups that have tried to provide opportunities for people on probation report that they need more support to make these programs successful. Better supervision will encourage communities to participate in programs designed to help offenders change their ways and find their place in the community again.
Fourth, greater use of conditional sentences with clear penalties will be more effective than overcrowded jails. Canada has the second highest incarceration rate in the world next to the United States. One look south of the border is proof enough that high incarceration rates do not equal safe streets.
My riding contains a number of correctional facilities, enough for people to know that jails do not change many people. In fact we see the evidence that jails are often schools for crime. Doing time can turn a minor offender into a professional criminal.
For minor offences a conditional sentence with a severe penalty for breaking the conditions is a much better alternative. It will also allow us to spend our limited protection dollars on people who really need to be put away from society. The correctional service says it costs about $47,000 a year to keep someone in prison with little to show for it at the end.
Finally, expansion of the alternative measures program will be welcome. Edmonton has a successful program for young people who are going to court for the first time, often for shoplifting. One of the recommendations of the safer cities report endorsed by city council is the expanded use of this program. Young people who have already had a brush with the law, perhaps in another place or on a reserve, would also benefit from a program that forces them to deal directly with the victim and understand the consequences of what they did. Bill C-41 will allow that.
I am happy that the federal government is responding to suggestions made by people who are close to the problem and who have put a lot of effort into identifying practical ways to deal with crime in our communities.
In conclusion, Bill C-41 will have three positive results: better outcomes from our justice system; safer homes and streets; and better value for money spent on courts and corrections. That is what the people of Canada want for every community.