Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Glengarry—Prescott—Russell.
I am pleased to have this opportunity to express my strong support for Bill C-14. The bill proposes amendments to fortify the Criminal Code's responses to organized crime. Most notably, it takes direct aim at the increasing use of violence committed by organized crime.
This violence has eroded public confidence. This violence is disrupting people's lives and causing them to fear for their safety and, in the most extreme cases, this violence is costing innocent Canadians their lives.
With these amendments, we are sending the right message to Canadians and demonstrating our commitment to improving the safety and security of communities across Canada. As hon. members are now aware, this bill is focused on four separate areas.
I am pleased to hear that members of the opposition have already indicated that they intend to support this legislation. This demonstrates that they are finally appreciating the seriousness of the issue. I am extremely pleased that partisan politics has been put aside to advance this legislation quickly and in the interests of all Canadians.
The murder of another person is the most serious offence in our Criminal Code. Anyone who is found guilty of murder is sentenced to a mandatory penalty of life imprisonment. Those convicted of first degree murder are ineligible for parole for 25 years, while those convicted of second degree murder are ineligible for parole for a minimum of 10 years and up to a maximum of 25 years.
Section 231 of the Criminal Code classifies murder as either first degree or second degree. Some examples of where murder is currently classified as first degree include: murders that are planned and deliberate, such as contract killings; murders that involve specific victims, for example police officers; murders committed during offences of domination, such as sexual assault; and murders committed during the commission of explosive offences for a criminal organization.
Bill C-14 proposes to amend the classification provision pertaining to organized crime by broadening it to make all murders that can be linked to organized crime automatically first degree. The amendments focus on the link to organized crime specifically and the inherent danger that organized crime activity poses to the public. It would do this in two ways.
First, if it can be established that the murder itself was committed for the benefit of, at the direction of, or in association with a criminal organization, then it will be classified as first degree murder even in the absence of planning and deliberation.
Second, if it can be established that the murder occurred while the person was committing or attempting to commit another indictable offence for the benefit of, at the direction of, or in the association of a criminal organization, then it would be classified as first degree even in the absence of planning and deliberation.
These amendments send the right message. Canada is experiencing increasing high levels of gang violence. The rate of gang homicides in Canada has been consistently increasing over the last number of years, unlike the homicide rate, more generally, that has been decreasing.
Innocent people are losing their lives and public safety is suffering. This activity should be strongly condemned and deterred. I believe the proposed changes achieve this in no uncertain terms.
The second proposed area of reform targets another particularly serious and dangerous phenomenon. Drive-by and other similarly reckless shootings have the potential to harm, not only those who are the target of attacks but the public more broadly. These incidents are often indiscriminate and occur in the heat of the moment. They are easy to commit and difficult to prove.
Bill C-14 proposes a new offence to assist police officers investigating this conduct. This offence is aimed at those who would intentionally discharge their firearm with a reckless attitude toward the life or safety of another person. In other words, it does not focus on any specifically intended consequences but rather targets the deliberate disregard for another person's safety.
There is something particularly disturbing to me about a situation in which someone specifically turns their mind to the fact that the shooting of a firearm would put the lives of others at risk, but in spite of this fact goes ahead and shoots anyway. This activity cries out for a strong response, and Bill C-14 delivers it.
This offence would be punishable by a mandatory minimum penalty of four years of imprisonment and a maximum penalty of 14 years of imprisonment.
The minimum penalty goes up to five years of imprisonment if the offence was committed for the benefit of, at the direction of, or in association with a criminal organization. In addition, repeat offenders who have used a prohibited or restricted firearm or committed the offence for organized crime would be subject to a mandatory minimum penalty of seven years of imprisonment.
I strongly support this new legislation and I believe the public supports this kind of approach as well.
The bill also responds to assaults committed against peace and public officers. Two new offences are being proposed, one of assault against peace officers causing bodily harm or involving the use of a weapon, and the other of aggravated assault against peace officers. These offences are punishable on indictment by maximum periods of imprisonment of 10 and 14 years respectively. Both “peace officer” and “public officer” are defined in the Criminal Code, and include persons such as prison guards, wardens, border guards, customs officers and, of course, police officers.
Some might ask why these separate offences are created, when existing provisions address aggravated assault or assault causing bodily harm. The answer is relatively straightforward. Assaults committed against those who are responsible for the maintenance of public peace are an affront to Canada's justice system and the rule of law, and must be specifically denounced.
That is why, in addition to creating stand-alone offences, the bill would require a court to give primary consideration to the principles of denunciation and deterrence when sentencing an offender for any of the offences involving assault against police officers, as well as in cases involving the intimidation of justice system participants, such as judges, prosecutors or jurors.
Finally, the bill is focused on strengthening the use of the gang recognizance provision, or what is commonly referred to as a peace bond. A peace bond is a crime prevention tool that is aimed at preventing future offences from occurring. These amendments would clarify that when issuing a peace bond, a judge can impose any condition that he or she feels is necessary to secure the good conduct of the defendant.
The amendments will also extend the length of the order to up to 24 months if the defendant has been previously convicted of a criminal organization offence.
These amendments would also help us address the behaviour of those suspected of engaging in organized crime behaviour and hopefully prevent this activity from occurring in the first place.
I started my speech by noting that I was happy to see that the bill enjoyed wide support. I hope the support will enable us to move the bill through Parliament and into law as quickly as possible. Canadians deserve nothing less.