Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak to this motion today.
First, I want to thank the member for London North Centre for his work on Bill C-242. He chose a very serious and important area of the Criminal Code for his private member's bill, and I want to thank him for giving our justice committee and the House an opportunity to debate what he proposed.
Bill C-242 would have created a new offence in the Criminal Code to apply the term “torture” to heinous acts of violence that are currently prosecuted under a range of sections, from aggravated assault, to forcible confinement, to uttering threats, and so on.
The member suggested, and some witnesses agreed, that it is important for victims, as they are processing their trauma and moving forward, that society accurately label what has occurred; in other words, that we call it “torture” and not “assault”.
Although the committee did not receive any evidence on this particular point, I personally think it is important and—as I will explain in a moment—it should not be lost from this discussion. The voices of victims should be included in conversations about the criminal justice system.
At the justice committee, a number of practical concerns were raised about the bill.
First, it was the clear recommendation of the Department of Justice that if a new and more severe assault offence were to be created, it should not be called “torture” alone. To be clear, its advice was not that such acts do not constitute torture, as we commonly understand it; nor was it opposed to labels such as “torturous assault”, which members from the NDP proposed as solutions. Rather, its concern was with using only the word “torture” and, thus, creating two offences called “torture”.
It was suggested that to do this could undermine international agreements and norms against state torture, because it may encourage states with poor human rights records to create new or weaker variations of their laws to prevent officials from carrying out torture.
As I said, we considered this advice from the department and proposed that the new offence be called “torturous assault” so as to avoid the risks it identified, while still capturing the severity and brutality of the conduct.
Second, the committee heard from a number of legal experts who argued that the bill could not criminalize any conduct that is not already criminal in Canada. In other words, the acts that would give rise to prosecution under the new offence would already give rise to prosecution under a number of existing offences: assault, sexual assault, kidnapping, forcible confinement, uttering threats, and others.
Again, to be clear. The bill would have changed the term that is applied and could, in some cases, also have increased the maximum punishment possible, but it would not make illegal any activity that is somehow currently legal.
It was because of these concerns—the practical risks raised by the Department of Justice and the question of necessity raised by legal experts—that the committee decided to not proceed with consideration of the bill at that time.
However, at that time, we raised some concerns about some language that was used in the discussion of the motion. I think it is very important to repeat here what we raised then. It was suggested by some members that Bill C-242 was wholly redundant. We, in the NPD, disagree with that characterization. The concerns that expert witnesses raised at committee were heard. They supported the decision to not proceed with the bill. However, they did not support the claim that Bill C-242 is redundant.
Let me explain.
First, existing assault provisions do not require that the offender intend to cause pain and suffering. They only require that the assault is intentional and that the offender was reckless as to its consequences.
Therefore, creating a new and more severe offence that captures the deliberate infliction of pain and suffering would be a meaningful change to the Criminal Code. It would be harder to prove, of course, but it would also more accurately capture the brutal acts that occur in these cases.
Second, the argument about the importance of naming acts that was made by the member for London North Centre, and by some witnesses at this committee, should not be rejected. That is why we tried to salvage the bill by proposing “torturous assault” as a compromise.
Unfortunately, the justice committee did not hear the evidence on what effect the name of an offence has on the recovery of the victim.
However, we can certainly see how victims and their families struggle to understand how a bar fight and days of sadistic abuse both fall under the label of assault.
Therefore, I urge the government to consider these two points in its review of the Criminal Code. First is whether a new and more serious assault offence should be created to capture the deliberate infliction of pain and suffering. Second is whether such an offence could be given a name such as “torturous assault” that would more accurately capture the brutality of the crime. When the government conducts that study, I would urge it to hear directly from victims and their families, as well as experts.
We worked hard with all parties to resolve the concerns about the bill. I know that all parties supported the intention of the bill. Again, I thank the member for London—North Centre for his work.
While those concerns could not be resolved this time, I think it would be a grave mistake to abandon the bill permanently or declare it redundant. It contains some new and important ideas that should and must be considered by the government during its promised review of the Criminal Code.