Mr. Speaker, I was reflecting on the fact that I have been in the House nine years and that this is the first time that my speech has been split like this. In considering where I would pick up from in my speaking notes, it came to mind that I should repeat part of my remarks for the people who perhaps did not hear the first five minutes.
I was speaking just before the break about the fact that in 1996 I chaired the largest civil demonstration to that point in Canada, in Hamilton, where there were 105,000 protesters. It is not important for me to go into why the protest took place, but my point was that this protest was well organized. There were 500 marshalls, and 1,267 busloads of protesters who came to town, along with 30,000 to 40,000 Hamiltonians who took part. The really significant part was that there were no arrests or injuries. In fact, the buses even left on time.
There are sometimes situations where crowds may get out of control, such as at the G20 summit in Toronto, where there were a lot of confrontations between police and the public, and a lot of controversy around what happened there. For those of us who have been involved with protests or picket lines—in my case, for some 28 years in the Canadian labour movement—there have been occasions when police services have brought K-9 units to the demonstrations. In the Toronto area, in particular, there are horses. If the public thinks about the equipment that is placed on the horses, it includes eye guards. One of the very distasteful things that has happened in the past is that some people have taken it upon themselves to spike the horses with screwdrivers.
I raise that because there is some justification, in the NDP's opinion, for this particular bill before us, although many aspects of the bill are already contained in law. In particular, we have a situation where this bill is proposing mandatory minimums.
Members will know that the NDP has very grave concerns about the government mandating how our judiciary should respond to any given case. We in the NDP believe that judges have been put in place, who, over the years, are aware of the evolution of the law they have studied and worked with and the jurisprudence that is set from case to case. This has to be taken into account whenever judges are deciding what kind of sentence should be imposed on someone who has been found guilty of an offence. To our way of thinking, that kind of skill level and well-informed opinion is essential to the process.
Yet time and again we hear in this place government members or ministers who believe they are the experts. In other words, the government says there have to be mandatory minimum sentences because it sees the considerations and reasoning that judges make in our courts of law regarding aspects of particular cases, In one instance, a judge may be more forceful in sentencing while in another he or she may taken into account a lot of things that have occurred in a case, believing that an individual might adjust his or her activity with a lesser sentence, who may respond well to the court showing leniency, returning then to the community and becoming a better citizen because of that.
The NDP supports this bill going to committee. It is important because we are prepared to sit down to see if we can make this bill better. We will certainly bring forward our concerns about the mandatory minimum sentencing.