Madam Speaker, I am sharing my time with my colleague from Charlottetown, and I am pleased to do so.
I am pleased, once again, to speak in support of Bill S-9, but I have to admit it is somewhat in frustration that Parliament is yet again debating this important legislation.
We have heard from others here today that Bill S-9 is identical to Bill C-26 from the last session of Parliament, which was killed when Parliament was prorogued last year. I am struck by the fact that it was May 5, 2009, when I spoke in favour of Bill C-26, which was, as of yesterday, 17 months to the day since that bill had been introduced.
We on this side have consistently supported legislation to effectively reduce crime and to enhance community safety, including motor vehicle theft. We have heard from the previous speaker that this is an issue of particular concern to those who live in Winnipeg and Manitoba. It is a very serious issue.
Some may recall that in September 2007 a delegation from Manitoba came to Ottawa, met with members of the government and the opposition party. It was a very significant delegation, made up of the mayor of the city of Winnipeg, the mayor of Brandon, members of the aboriginal community, members of the police force, leaders of the opposition parties in Manitoba and several victims of crime. They asked for motor theft to be made an indictable offence.
As a result of that, I introduced my private member's bill on motor vehicle theft in March 2008, which was originally known as Bill C-526, and in the last Parliament I reintroduced it as Bill C-237. While I support the bill, I am somewhat saddened that it has taken so long for the government to act and to move forward on what is a very pressing issue for Manitobans.
After the delegation was in Ottawa, I made a point of doing a broad-based consultation within my riding and within my community on the issue of property crime and, most specifically, auto theft. I had several meetings with the police in district 6 in Winnipeg. I met with young people, some of whom were in the process of rehabilitation. I also met with victims of crimes, with business owners and with a broad-based representation in the community to understand what had been done. I heard of some of the initiatives that the provincial government had undertaken to reduce the number of auto thefts. We heard earlier about the immobilizer prevention programming, the intervention programming, suppression programming and the consequences for young people, which often includes a lifetime suspension of a driver's licence for repeat offenders.
I also heard very clearly that there was a role for the federal government to act, and that is why I introduced Bill C-526. Unfortunately my name was further down on the list and we did not have the opportunity to debate it in the House. The bill proposed that a person who committed a motor vehicle theft for a second or subsequent offence would be guilty of an indictable offence and liable to a prison term not exceeding 10 years and would require a mandatory minimum sentence of a year.
I am not, for the most part, someone who endorses mandatory minimums. I think prevention in all its various manifestations is equally important. However, there has to be consequences for the offence. There also has to be prevention programming. The provincial government does it, but it is also incumbent upon this federal government to undertake more support and resources both for the provinces and what they do and for the community groups directly in the work that they do.
I am struck by the irony of the government putting forward tough on crime legislation while at the same time not providing the supports to communities that deal with young people in distress, or reducing the supports, or narrowing the criteria of the support so that the violence is not curtailed.
This bill is not perfect, but it is indeed an important start in taking this issue seriously by updating the Criminal Code. Significant reductions in crime will indeed occur if we also invest significant resources in evidence-based prevention programs, and I underline evidence-based prevention programs. We need to see what works and build upon it, not decide on an ideological basis that we want to do x or y and then make the program fit the criteria.
If the government were truly serious about tackling auto theft and property crime, the Prime Minister would not have killed Bill C-53 when he broke his own fixed election date in 2008, and he would not have prorogued Parliament last winter, killing Bill C-26. Seventeen months later, I am speaking to the same issue.
This is the third time the government has introduced the bill. It took the government five months to reintroduce it in the exact form after the Prime Minister prorogued Parliament. We tried to expedite it in the past and we on this side will continue to do so again.
We are glad that this bill is more robust than Bill C-53 and that the government chose to make auto theft a unique offence in the Criminal Code. The separate offence did not exist in Bill C-53.
We know that according to Statistics Canada the rate of motor vehicle theft has declined almost every year since 1996. Data for 2006 confirms that motor vehicle theft has fallen by 20% since 1996, but motor vehicle theft has a major effect on vehicle owners, third party victims, indeed law enforcement agencies and certainly the insurance industry. According to the Insurance Bureau of Canada, it costs insurers and the public close to $1 billion a year.
Statistics Canada numbers show that Manitoba has the highest rate of auto theft, which is nearly three times the Canadian average. We also know that Montreal has the most stolen vehicles and the fewest recovered in any city.
When I speak to this issue, while I support and want to see this bill implemented, this time in a timely fashion, I also want to underline once again the importance of prevention programs.
When I met with a group of eight young people in Winnipeg who had been in trouble with the law, they expressed to me the absolute importance of having prevention programs available. That week, while we were meeting, community clubs in the city of Winnipeg were being closed down for lack of resources, lack of infrastructure.
We cannot give with one hand and take away with the other hand. It is important that there be a coordinated policy of prevention that will reduce overall the auto theft in the city of Winnipeg, provide opportunity for young people and provide opportunity for the residents of the city.
Having said that, it is important that this bill be implemented and moved through this House and through the Senate in a timely fashion. I would ask all colleagues to co-operate in doing so.