The House resumed from April 30 consideration of Bill , as reported (with amendment) from the committee, and of the motions in Group No. 1.
Mr. Speaker, it is with great pleasure that I rise today in this place to express my support for Bill , and my desire and hope that all members will see fit to support this bill as well.
Bill is one of a suite of government initiatives that we have introduced in this House in an attempt to get tough on crime. We have seen several other initiatives pass before this House in debate, but unfortunately, I must say at the outset my concern is that members of the opposition, particularly the official opposition, seem to have tried, almost on a continuous basis, to obstruct debate on these bills.
I speak of Bill now because we have seen many times before when debate has been engaged that members of the official opposition have moved concurrence motions to interrupt that debate.
Again I must say that despite the fact that we have given our best efforts to try to introduce legislation that not only would get tough on crime, but in doing so would protect Canadian citizens and Canadian communities, we have seen a concerted effort by members of the opposition to water down bills in committee. When that has not worked, they have tried to obstruct introduction and debate of these bills in this place.
I can only say that I find that to be unconscionable, quite frankly, because I think that these bills, even though there may be genuine differences of opinion by members of the opposition, at least deserve the opportunity to be debated fully in this place. Any attempts that we have seen by members of the opposition to interrupt such debate is, as I mentioned before, unconscionable. I am very pleased today to see that at least this day we have an opportunity to continue debate on this very important bill.
It is important that members of this House and other Canadians who may be watching this debate understand fully the implications behind Bill and its intent. Quite frankly, Bill is an attempt to increase and impose mandatory minimum sentences on those individuals convicted of crimes, either gang related or firearm related crimes.
Mandatory minimum sentences are initiatives to which all opposition parties in the last federal election committed in their own campaign platforms. We had been very clear in our commitment that if elected, we would introduce legislation that would deal with mandatory minimum sentences for a number of offences, use and non-use offences that have dealt with firearms.
If I recall, the Liberal Party during the last election campaign also supported those initiatives. In fact the Liberals said that if they were elected, they would ask that mandatory minimum sentences be doubled if they formed government. In fact just the opposite was true. When Bill was introduced at committee, we saw a combined opposition, primarily led by the Liberal Party of Canada, that seemed to gut Bill .
I found it to be somewhat hypocritical that on one hand, during the campaign when Canadian voters were examining which political party they wished to vote for, on the issues of law and order and crime in general, the Liberals said at that time that should they be elected to government, they would be introducing legislation that would double the mandatory minimums for gun related and gang related offences. Yet what happened in reality away from the spotlight of an election campaign, in committee we saw that the Liberals wanted to gut the bill and in fact remove all but two of the clauses of that bill.
On one hand, the Liberals spoke to the Canadian electorate about one thing, but the reality is that when they got behind the closed doors of the committee chambers, they did quite another. I find that to be quite reprehensible.
I believe that Canadians deserve to be treated with respect, and we saw anything but that with respect to the Liberals with Bill .
Luckily, however, we have seen that the member for , the hon. member representing the NDP, has found it in his heart and in his party's heart to restore some of the initiatives contained in Bill and support us in getting this bill passed through this place and to eventually make it into law. I applaud the member for Windsor—Tecumseh for his initiative and support in this matter.
What the bill states, quite frankly, quite clearly and quite simply, is that if someone is convicted of a first offence, gang, gun or firearm related, there would be a five year minimum sentence imposed by the judiciary. For any second or subsequent offence, it would be a seven year minimum sentence.
This is a reasonable approach. In fact, when the original was introduced, we wanted even tougher legislation. We wanted five years for the first offence or conviction, seven years for the second, and then 10 years for the third and subsequent offences. However, again the opposition decided to gut that provision and without the support of the member for , we would see Bill C-10 in a state nowhere near the original bill that it was intended to be.
However, I think we have struck a reasonable compromise with the support of our colleagues from the NDP in restoring at least some of the provisions of the original , so that now we see that we will be getting support to impose five year minimum sentences on the first offence and seven years for second and subsequent offences.
Not only do I think that is reasonable, but it reflects the will of the majority of the Canadian public. For too long Canadians have seen a justice system, and some would call it a revolving justice system, where individuals convicted of serious gun related crimes would far too often be back out on the street before the end of their sentences. In fact, time and time again people in my riding have said to me, “Why do you not do something, if you are finally elected and become the government of this land, about protecting Canadian citizens?”
I am a big believer in deterrents. I believe that if individuals who are considering the commission of a crime knew that if caught, sentenced and convicted, the sentence at the end of the day would be severe enough, that would act as an effective deterrent to the commission of that crime. In all cases, certainly not; in some cases, yes, I believe it would happen.
My point is that if we can do anything that would prevent or reduce the level of incidence of serious crimes, that is an initiative in which we as parliamentarians should be engaging. We should support those initiatives.
I have heard time and time again from members of the opposition that statistics tell a different story, that statistics say that deterrents such as mandatory minimums do not work. With all due respect, I disagree vehemently with the approach taken by the Liberals. I believe that deterrents do work and we should do everything in our power to set a course of action in our justice system in Canada to ensure that serious offences are dealt with severely.
I agree with members of the opposition when they say that greater effort should be put into trying to find ways to prevent crime from occurring originally. I agree with that. The Conservative Party of Canada agrees with that. The only difference I see between our party and opposition members is that when all exhaustive efforts to prevent crime from occurring fail and serious offences occur, the perpetrators should actually be punished and punished severely.
This is the essence behind Bill , to impose mandatory minimums on individuals who commit gang related or firearm related offences. It will act as a deterrent. It is a bill that I ask all members of this place to support.
Mr. Speaker, it gives me great pleasure to speak to Bill today. Essentially, the purpose of this bill is to significantly increase minimum sentences for firearms related offences.
In his speech, my colleague who spoke just now accused the opposition of being small-minded and hypocritical, among other things, about Bill in the parliamentary committee and in the House of Commons. I feel I must explain that the Bloc has disagreed throughout the Bill process not because of surface issues but because of substantive issues. The approach the government is seeking to initiate with this bill is damaging and dangerous, and we do not think it will bring about concrete results.
The Conservative government's approach, as expressed in Bill , is contrary to the approach Quebeckers have always wanted, an approach that often produces real results. We have always focused on prevention and rehabilitation. I remember the debates on young offenders here in the House of Commons, debates that were led by the then member for Berthier—Montcalm, who was our party's justice critic.
We proved that Quebec's approach to the issue produced results and that the prevention and rehabilitation approach justified supporting a point of view that, while diametrically opposed to the one proposed by the federal government, nevertheless maintained the social equilibrium we needed. Members of the Bloc Québécois are against this bill because it is damaging and ineffective and will not make our citizens safer.
We are among those in this House who believe that to reduce violence in our society, we must work on prevention. We believe that we must implement measures such as gun control. We believe that we must, for example, reduce the amount of violence on television. This is the purpose of my bill to amend the Canadian Broadcasting Act. We belive that we must take preventive measures to reduce violence on television, which is the complete opposite of the government's approach in Bill .
Also, we believe that minimum sentences unnecessarily tie the hands of judges, who remain in the best position to determine what sentence is the most appropriate in light of all the facts of the case. The Robert Latimer case, where a man who wanted to end the suffering of his 12-year-old daughter, took her life out of compassion, shows that although this man was sentenced to 25 years in prison, the judges' assessment was quite different. The problem with these minimum sentences is that some sentences are not really commensurate with the person's actions. The sentence should be personalized, instead of having a mandatory minimum penalty that often does not fit the crime committed.
Third, experts indicate that the use of minimum sentences does not lower crime rates or recidivism rates. I would remind the House about a study conducted in 1997 for the Department of Justice Canada by University of Ottawa criminologist Julian Roberts. Mr. Roberts concluded that: “mandatory sentences of imprisonment have been introduced in a number of western nations. ... The studies that have examined the impact of these laws reported variable effects on prison populations, and no discernible effect on crime rates.”
Clearly, the impact of minimum sentences has not been conclusive. When we look at the statistics, even though the government tries to ignore them and says that the opposition is manipulating the figures, the fact remains that homicide rates—including first and second degree murder, and manslaughter—have dropped by 36% in recent years.
During that time, crime rates did not increase. The homicide rate did not increase. On the contrary, it fell. In 1975, there were three victims for every 100,000 inhabitants. In 2004, by contrast, there were only 1.95 for every 100,000 inhabitants. Thus, in recent years, we have not seen an increase in the homicide rate. On the contrary, it went down.
The problem with the approach the government would like to take is that it tries to copy an American model, a model initiated south of the border. But our statistics are different from those of the United States.
In the United States, in 2003, there were five victims for every 100,000 inhabitants. In Canada, we had 1.73 victims for every 100,000 inhabitants and in Quebec there were 1.34 for every 100,000 inhabitants. They would like the public to believe that the homicide rate has increased; but that is completely false as it has decreased by 36%. The government wants policies from south of the border to be adopted here in Canada. That is completely wrong. Better results will not be achieved by handing down longer or more prison terms. On the contrary. If you believe in prevention and rehabilitation and look at Quebec's example, you will realize that the results are a good deal better than those south of the Canadian border. That is why we are opposed to Bill .
In the two minutes I have left, I will say that rather than increasing minimum sentences, the government should be reviewing the parole process. My colleague from probably gave the best example in question period yesterday when she asked the the following question:
||—a halfway house in my riding, located very close to an elementary school, houses Clermont Bégin, a sexual predator whom the National Parole Board still considers very dangerous. My constituents are worried.
|| Setting aside the fine work being done by the staff at this halfway house, does the Minister of Public Safety think it is right that a facility like this, located fewer than 300 metres from an elementary school, is housing sexual predators?
Consequently, rather than looking at increasing minimum sentences, the government should carry out a review of the parole board process.
In closing, I will say that we are opposed to this bill. Our reasons for opposing it are not superficial. There are fundamental issues and cosmetic amendments will not satisfy the approach proposed by the Bloc Québécois. We believe in prevention and in rehabilitation. For these reasons we are opposed to Bill .
Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from Newton—North Delta. As you know a member of Parliament's life is somewhat frantic at times and this is one of those days. I want to thank him for his generosity and I appreciate the opportunity to speak in this debate.
It is a bit of a bizarre bill. It is quite obvious this is the government's attempt to switch from a pretty bad week it had. Conservatives want to get back to their so-called law and order agenda, which is little more than a cheap ploy to take people's attention away from their hapless handling of Afghanistan, the environment, income trusts, interest deductibility and a whole variety of other economic issues.
It is beyond me why the government considers increasing minimum mandatory penalties to be a matter of such urgent national importance that it has marginalized far more other important issues such as income trusts, interest deductibility and fighting climate change and making excuses and firing incompetent ministers of defence and for that matter, for finance. The emphasis on this matter is even more perplexing when it is taken into account that, contrary to myth propagated by the government, crime rates have in fact generally been declining since the early nineties. Of course facts never get in the way of legislation for the government.
A number of reasonable suggestions were made by Liberal members at the committee with respect to trying to put the bill into some sort of a reasonable context, but they were rejected and the government quite clearly indicated that it was not interested. Conservatives were rather soft on the causes of crime. There is absolutely no interest in dealing with those root causes.
In fact, the government's lax attitude toward gun control makes it easier to obtain guns. It has been starving the gun registry and now there are more guns on the streets of Toronto and other cities. To no great surprise, there is more violence and there is more violence that is associated with guns. So much for a law and order party. The Conservatives want everyone else obey the laws, but when it suits them, they do not want to obey the gun control laws and they want to ensure they fade into oblivion.
It is more than just a little perverse to contribute to the guns on the street and then come along and save the problem it just created. More guns are on the street in part because of that party. More guns and more violence means more criminality. More criminality means more court time and more taxpayer money, more prisoners and a backlogged justice system, all because of the government's fear of alienating the very powerful gun lobby.
Once again we see a vicious cycle caused by misplaced priorities and identification of the problem of a party that is soft on the causes of crime. The Conservatives would rather throw money at the problem after they created it in the first place because of this self-perpetuating counter-productive process.
I suggest that the cynical government's true intent in Bill is to create the illusion that it is taking effective measures with respect to making Canadian communities safer. In fact, this piecemeal, incoherent, punishment based obsession to crime is all about optics and nothing but optics.
Simply put, the approach of Conservatives to crime is more concerned with appearance rather than substance, which would explain why they ignore the best advice of experts in the area who have long argued for a balanced and comprehensive approach to crime, which consists in equal parts of prevention, deterrence and rehabilitation.
The government is not fond of listening to anyone. In fact, it does not even listen to its bureaucrats. There was an article in the Ottawa Citizen entitled “Tories warned early automatic prison terms won't work”. At various points in the article, it says:
||—within days of taking office, was warned by senior federal bureaucrats a central election pledge to impose new automatic prison terms won't deter crime nor protect the public.
The Conservatives, apparently, ignored the advice from the justice department lawyers. Their briefing book said that minimum mandatory sentences had no discernible benefits and that they prompt more people to plea bargain their way out of jail.
It is not just their own lawyers the Conservatives ignore. They also ignore criminologists, the people who make their living in this field, who have actually studied the phenomenon and who give advice that is universally consistent. Many criminologists are actually very dismissive of minimum mandatory sentences because all they do is clog prisons and there is scant evidence they in fact deter crime.
Having ignored their experts and their own department, the Conservatives also chose to ignore international experience where many jurisdictions are backing away from minimum mandatory sentences because they do not work. A number of U.S. states have abandoned this particular approach. The department is ignored, the committee is ignored, the experts are ignored, international experience is ignored and, of course, the community is ignored.
The other reason we oppose Bill is because of its serious unintended consequence. When discretion is taken away from judges, it impedes their efforts to tailor sentencing in accordance with the particular circumstances of each offender and each offence. Each offence is unique and it is very difficult to achieve a cookie cutter approach to justice. I do not believe the government is actually interested in justice. It is interested in the conviction process. As long as there are convictions, it is fine, and justice is kind of an incidental byproduct.
The fact remains that there is anything but a widespread consensus that mandatory minimum penalties have much value as deterrents to crime, which helps explain why many other jurisdictions and stakeholder groups remain doubtful of their effectiveness.
However, the evidence puts a lie to such a distorted image of the crime situation in this country because crime has actually been going down over the past 15 years, in some categories of crime quite dramatically and in the category of violent crime not as dramatically.
This past weekend I attended a few events in my riding and met with about 100 people over the course of the weekend. I can honestly say that not one person mentioned Bill to me and not one person wanted to talk to me about minimum mandatory sentences. In fact, I do not even recollect any conversation about criminal issues whatsoever. However, among people's chief concerns were the environment and Afghanistan and one or two talked about income trusts.
Last year the United Way identified a number of postal codes in the GTA which are particularly impoverished areas. One of those postal codes is in my riding. The United Way, the TD Bank and other interested community leaders got together and asked the community what they could do. The community and community leaders worked together. In a short period of time an alliance was formed among the community leadership and they addressed the real causes of crime.
I can say that in the two years that the United Way has been working in that postal code, real crime in real terms has actually been reduced. The police love this initiative, the community is thrilled and the leadership is quietly quite satisfied. Some people are moving back to the area after having put their houses up for sale.
Accompanying this initiative is a commitment on the part of the government to spend something in the order of about $250 million. I put a challenge out to the minister. If he could pro-rate that among 308 ridings, I would appreciate my riding receiving its share and forgetting about this bill. I can tell him and the House that if that pro-rated share came to my riding, it would do more to reduce the causes of crime than all of these minimum mandatory so-called justice and tough on crime bills put together.
I appreciate the opportunity to speak and thank my colleague from for sharing his time.
Mr. Speaker, we need to recognize from the outset that all of us here want the same thing. We want less crime and especially less violent crime. We are looking for the best solution, and we do not agree on what the best solution is.
I would first like to talk about my own experience. I began practising criminal law in 1966 by chance. I was one of the first four young lawyers to leave university and join the crown prosecutors' office in Montreal. I then joined the federal crown prosecutors' office. A large firm recruited me, and I eventually opened my own office before entering politics. I served first as public safety minister—the position I held the longest within the Government of Quebec—then as justice minister and finally as transport minister for a short time. My experience has therefore always been in criminal law.
From the start, I asked myself why people committed crimes and what we could do to reduce crime. The answer does not lie just in the practice of law. I quickly realized that criminology might hold the answer, so I joined the Société de criminologie, where I learned things that ran contrary to what I would naturally have thought. For example, fear of punishment has little effect on crime. Fear of being caught is more likely to have an impact. The severity of the punishment has little effect.
Why am I against minimum sentences despite all my experience? Because minimum sentences are meaningless. First of all, criminals do not know what the minimum sentences are. Not only do they not know them, but I am certain that not one member of this House could pass a test on the number and length of minimum sentences in Canada. Just ask any of the members who will be speaking on this bill what the difference is between the minimum sentences for first-degree and second-degree murder. If we do not know them, imagine the criminals.
Furthermore, criminals are not thinking about minimum sentences while they are committing offences. If they think they are going to be caught, they do not go ahead with it. They are not thinking about their sentencing. We must also consider the state one must be in while committing a crime. It is difficult for us to imagine, because we are honest people and we probably all also practice intellectual honesty. Crime, however, is usually committed with extreme impulsiveness. Indeed, engaging in criminal behaviour is not a rational process.
Experience also shows that minimum sentences do not work. The best example of this comes from within our borders. Among the minimum sentences proposed to us here is a seven year minimum sentence. Seven years. That reminds me of a well-known minimum sentence. That was the minimum sentence for importing marijuana. Marijuana began entering Canada in the late 1960s. People began using it and it became quite popular. The marijuana grown in Canada had no hallucinogenic effect. Thus, all the marijuana consumed in Canada during the 1970s and even the 1980s came from outside Canada. The minimum sentence for importing marijuana was seven years of imprisonment. This did nothing to deter people from importing it, any way they could. Most of the time, those who were caught did not know they risked facing a minimum of seven years in prison. I saw this myself in my practice. When that minimum sentence was declared unconstitutional, there was no increase in that particular crime.
We saw the same thing with the death penalty. It seems to me that the death penalty should have had the most deterrent effect on those who commit crimes. Yet, since the death penalty was abolished in Canada, the homicide rate has gone down.
On the other hand, we managed to lower crime in an area where minimum sentences did not apply. Some minimum sentences are small and were around then. We upheld them. I am talking about impaired driving, drinking and driving. There are far fewer impaired driving offences today. We did not achieve these results by increasing sentences; this was achieved through a wide range of public awareness and education campaigns.
South of the border, we see the U.S. experience. The Americans incarcerate six times as many people as we do and, yet, the homicide rate in the U.S. is three times ours. Is this really an example we want to follow? I often see that the Conservatives are truly geared toward the U.S. model, when they are looking for models to support the legislation they want to introduce.
Let us look at a number of countries. The U.S. incarceration rate is six times greater than Canada's and their homicide rate is three times greater than ours. Their incarceration rate is five times greater than England's and their homicide rate is five times greater than England's. Their incarceration rate is four times greater than Australia's and their homicide rate is six times greater than Australia's. Their incarceration rate is six times greater than Germany's and their homicide rate is seven times greater than Germany's. Their incarceration rate is three and a half times greater than France's and their homicide rate is eight times greater than France's. As far as Finland, Switzerland and Denmark are concerned, the U.S. incarceration rate is 10 to 11 times greater than in those countries and the U.S. homicide rate is three times greater than Finland's, six times greater than Switzerland's and five times greater than Denmark's.
Experience everywhere shows that incarceration does not influence homicide rates.
What is funny is that every time I talk to educated Americans and mention the differences in homicide rates, they all tell me that the main reason the homicide rate is higher in the United States is because people are free to obtain guns and because of the number of guns in the country.
The Conservatives, who—as I have noticed—often follow the example of American Republicans, are perpetuating this same contradiction: wanting to imprison more people, but leaving more guns in circulation. They should take the time to look at the American statistics. It is as if they do not want to. If they looked at them, they would see that their solution is not a good one.
I have also noticed something else: when we set minimum penalties, we always look at the worst cases. What is unfortunate is that these minimum penalties must also be applied in less serious cases. I am thinking specifically about cases of being an accessory, where a wife does not like that her husband has a gun, or does not like something, but allows the gun to be kept in their house and even goes as far as hiding it in a certain place. It does not make sense to punish the wife the same way as her husband, who uses guns to commit crimes. But, with the minimum penalties the Conservatives are creating, they would have the same sentence.
The real way to reduce crime is through the important role that judges play by individualizing sentences.
I have also noticed that when the Conservatives give examples of too much leniency in the courts, they give extreme examples. I have never heard them cite an appeal court case. It should be understood that, in this country, probably tens of thousands of sentences are handed down every day by hundreds, if not thousands, of judges. It is public knowledge that the media do not report the less interesting cases; the media report extraordinary cases, and so those are the only ones we hear about.
When a sentence is unwarranted, changing the law is not the solution; an appeal must be filed first. In my opinion, if we examine the decisions of the court of appeal, we see that they are perfectly adequate. I heard a Conservative speaker talking about revolving doors and the fact that people see that sentences are not stiff. An analysis of the statistics shows us that our rate of incarceration is comparable to that of most western countries except for one. There is one country that is quite different from all other western countries.
There is one, I am not quite sure—
Mr. Speaker, crime prevention and personal safety hit at the very core of daily life for citizens across this country.
When I sit down with concerned citizens from my own riding of in their living rooms, in the coffee shops, or when I visit our high schools, I hear the same concerns I have as a father and as a local businessman.
This has never been a partisan debate. One can try to make it one, as this government has tried time and time again.
It claims that being tough on crime is some Conservative policy. Unfortunately, as with so much of this government's record, this is more fiction than fact. It is fiction to claim that the Conservatives will put 2,500 more police officers in our cities. We know this is a promise that is all talk, no action.
Where are those new officers? Not one in my riding. Not one in any riding across this country. We can look in the budget for new funding to provide for RCMP officers, but we will not find it. Again, it is more fiction than fact.
We can talk to the mayor of Vancouver who has put more officers on his streets than this government has put across our country. He cannot depend on this government to do more than talk about crime. No mayor can and no citizen can.
Talk is cheap. But just talking about crime is not enough for my constituents. It never was and it never will be. If people are in a community like mine and they care about crime, what do they do?
The city of Surrey RCMP and the Delta police have moved forward with the community on their own crime prevention strategy. This was officially launched in Surrey on February 26, an event which I had the honour of addressing. We have worked together, with no help from this Conservative government, and the results speak for themselves. Auto theft in Surrey is down 22% and business break-and-enters in the Whalley area of Surrey are down by an impressive 45%.
This kind of approach has my full support as the elected member of Parliament for the people of . This kind of approach has the full support of my leader for Canadians. In fact, it is with examples like my community in mind that the Liberal Party has put forward its own comprehensive crime prevention plan.
The most effective way to protect our homes and our rights is to catch and convict more criminals. It is the government's duty to ensure that criminals know they will be caught and convicted. I believe there is no question that sentences are an important part of the solution. Serious crimes should carry serious penalties.
I can say that when I speak to my constituents, when I speak to my family, and when I speak to other members of Parliament, there is no question that all Canadians are looking for these tougher measures to help stop crime before it happens.
However, we now that fighting crime with longer sentences alone is not the only solution. Canada has to make sure that we have a balance between effective sentencing and strong social strategies.
Surrey and Delta know this. I wonder why this government does not. Action on the municipal level means that we must be just as ready to invest at the federal level.
The Liberal Party has committed to providing funds to hire more police officers. In our platform, we have committed an extra $200 million for more RCMP officers as part of a new rapid response team. We will provide immediate help to local police departments to combat guns and gang activity, as well as organized crime and drug trafficking.
Canadians are tired of waiting for action. They want us to act now. Canadians realize that the Conservative government is not willing to take concrete action toward providing effective policing in our communities.
Over the past years, the Liberal Party has offered to help pass six major pieces of criminal justice legislation. We have offered to help the Conservatives pass legislation that raises the age of consent, improves the DNA data bank and modernizes the criminal justice procedures.
The Conservatives have thus far refused these offers of support and actively worked to delay passing their own legislation.
I've got a question for you Sukh.
Mr. Sukh Dhaliwal: The hon. member can ask the question when I am given the opportunity to answer him.
This is one question I want to ask the on behalf of my constituents. When will he stop the empty electioneering and get serious about moving forward on protecting our children, our seniors and our communities?
You're blocking us in committee. When are you going to get serious about it?
Mr. Sukh Dhaliwal: The Liberals are very serious about dealing with the situation. That is why I am standing in the House today, and it is my time.
I hope, Mr. Speaker, you will acknowledge that it is my time to address the House. When the time comes to ask questions, I will be glad to have hon. members ask me questions and I will answer them.
Victims of crime do not care about politics or headlines that the members on the other side raise. They just want to know that criminals will be stopped, caught and punished. It is time for this government to follow the city of Surrey's lead and take the necessary steps to get the job done. We need action now, not just talk.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in today's debate on the government's motion concerning Bill , an act to amend the Criminal Code (offences involving firearms).
This is not the first time I have commented on this bill. Initially, Bill sought to amend the Criminal Code to increase minimum prison sentences to five, seven or 10 years, depending on whether the crime was a repeat offence, for eight serious offences involving the use of a firearm.
The bill set out prison terms according to several factors, including whether the firearm in question was a restricted weapon or a prohibited weapon, or if the offence was committed in connection with a criminal organization.
The bill also set out minimum prison sentences from one to five years according to the number, if any, of previous convictions for other firearm-related offences. It also created two new offences: breaking and entering to steal a firearm, and robbery to steal a firearm.
My colleagues and I have read and analyzed every detail of this bill very carefully. The Bloc Québécois has always been a staunch supporter of fighting crime via rehabilitation. We believe that the best way to eliminate the scourge of violence is to deal with the causes of violence. The Bloc supports a justice model based on a personalized process that recognizes that each case is unique. Long-term solutions to deterring crime are based on rehabilitation. We also think that judges are in the best position to determine the most appropriate sentence in light of the facts presented to them.
That is why, in the Standing Committee on Justice, we brought this concept of justice to the forefront along with our concerns about the government's vision of law and order. The validity of this approach was corroborated by most of the witnesses who appeared before the committee. Bill is damaging and ineffective because there is no convincing evidence that it will make citizens safer.
The experts who testified before the committee said that minimum sentences did not reduce the crime rate or the recidivism rate. In addition, the clerk of the Standing Committee on Justice provided us with some 30 American and Canadian studies showing that there is no correlation between mandatory minimum sentences, deterrence and the crime rate.
After it was studied in committee, Bill was gutted, an indication that the government's desire for tougher legislation is at odds with the other parties' vision. Only clause 9 survived, concerning theft of a firearm.
The majority spoke. But now, the government is back with new motions designed to restore the old version of Bill .
Aside from a dozen clauses that were in the original bill, the government's motions essentially restore the clauses in the original bill, including those pertaining to sentences for crimes committed with a firearm.
Motion 10, for example, concerns an individual who discharges a firearm at a person with intent to wound, maim or disfigure, to endanger the life of or to prevent the arrest or detention of any person—whether or not that person is the one at whom the firearm is discharged. This motion reintroduces heavier minimum sentences: five years for a first offence, seven years for a second and 10 for each subsequent offence.
This government is persisting and still does not understand. There is no evidence that heavier minimum sentences for offences involving weapons or other serious offences will deter criminals. I firmly believe that the Criminal Code, as it now stands, has proven effective in imposing minimum sentences and protecting public safety.
The code already contains mandatory minimum sentences. The judge can use his or her discretion to impose a sentence that is heavier than the minimum. In other words, the government needs to understand that the minimum sentence is a starting point, not a cap.
Might I remind the government that these offences already fall in various categories, such as use of a firearm in an indictable offence, use of a firearm in ten listed violent offences, and possession, trafficking et cetera of various prohibited firearms.
The ten listed offences include mandatory minimums if a firearm is used in connection with the offences of criminal negligence causing death, manslaughter, attempted murder, causing bodily harm with intent to harm, sexual assault with a weapon, aggravated sexual assault, kidnapping, robbery, extortion and hostage taking
I should add that mandatory minimum sentences are also provided in the Criminal Code for use of a firearm to commit or with the intention to commit an indictable offence, and for possession of firearm knowing it is unauthorized.
Mandatory minimum sentences are also found in the Criminal Code for possession of restricted or prohibited firearms with ammunition, possession of a weapon obtained by crime, weapons trafficking or possession for the purpose of trafficking, making an automatic firearm, and importing or exporting of a firearm knowing that it is unauthorized.
Still, as I said a moment ago, mandatory minimum sentences affect the sitting judge's discretion in cases tried before the courts. There is no exception, no escape clause, no discretion. Without mandatory minimums or with the lower mandatory minimums as they exist today in our Criminal Code, the courts do have the discretion to fashion a sentence more proportionate to the gravity of the offence and the conduct of the offender, and to consider both aggravating and mitigating circumstances in each case. In my opinion and that of my colleagues, it is essential that the latitude of the judiciary be preserved. The Bloc Québécois did support the idea of mandatory minimum sentences once, but that was for one specific type of offence, namely child pornography.
I cannot conclude without saying that these motions hide an unwanted reality that would affect our citizens' quality of life. When we combine all the plans that the government has regarding this issue, we see a significant increase in the cost of the prison system, and some of that cost will certainly be downloaded to the provinces.
I want to stress the fact that this shift to incarceration will move funds from enforcement and prevention programs. Also, with more people in jail, the issue of crime will not be solved: it will merely be moved into another area.
In a way, incarceration does offer some level of protection to society, but the rehabilitation side, the rebuilding of social relationships is also more difficult when incarceration is used, not to mention the fact that prisons have often been called schools for crime and a great networking opportunity for criminals.
I think that all these concerns raise questions about the emphasis put by the government on increasing incarceration rates in Canada. I wonder if the government has taken into consideration the fact that these motions would have a disproportionate impact on some communities, including aboriginal people.
For all these reasons, I have no choice but to oppose these motions, which resuscitate the original Bill C-10. Let us be clear: my party wants a safer society for everyone. However, better protection for citizens is primarily accomplished by attacking the root of the problem, by targeting the causes of crime and violence. Poverty, inequality and feeling excluded will always be the breeding grounds of crime.
That is why the real solutions to crime prevention are further sharing of wealth, working on better social integration and relying on rehabilitation. Unfortunately, the motions ignore these avenues, and the government thinks that it will improve safety by building more jails and filling them up. This is a sad move on the part of a government that wants people to think it is taking action, even though it is essentially creating a false sense of security.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in the debate on Bill .
Regrettably, my riding of Etobicoke North has experienced much gun crime related to gangs and drugs. Certain pockets within Etobicoke North have had particularly bad experiences. We have been compared in Toronto to an area in Scarborough called Malvern as two of the highest gun crime centres in Canada. It is not a very proud statistic to claim.
Fortunately, in the last year or so the violent crime rate in my riding has diminished somewhat as a result of a number of factors. One factor was the very large swoop in Rexdale in May 2006 with 106 gang members being arrested and charged. They were generally involved in drugs and gangs. It was the anti-gang legislation that our government introduced many years ago that helped the police conduct that raid.
We have also seen a lot of changes in the way the police operate in the riding, more visible policing, and a lot of work has been done in the area of community building crime prevention programs. I will give a couple of examples. We have a program in my riding called breaking the cycle, which is funded by the human resources development department. It helps young people exit gangs and get back into normal family life, find jobs or go back to school. The program is working.
In Etobicoke North, we have taken advantage of much of the program funding that is available through the national crime prevention program, another federal program administered by Public Safety Canada.
Another program is Hoops Unlimited, a basketball program that provides young people with an alternative after school, instead of going to malls and getting involved with gangs and drugs.
The North Albion Collegiate Institute had a program where students were involved in a theatre production. We have had many such programs, which are all helping to keep young people engaged in a constructive way rather than a destructive way.
It was part of our government's response to gun crime in the last couple of years of its mandate that we saw it as needing a holistic response. We needed tougher sanctions, good gun controls and more community programming, and that was how our government approached it. In fact, it was our government that tabled tougher sanctions for gun crimes because the evidence was somewhat clear that while mandatory minimum sentences were not very effective, they could be effective in targeted ways for gun related crimes.
That is why our government proposed changes to the mandatory minimums for certain gun related crimes and why our party has tabled certain amendments to increase mandatory minimums for certain gun related crimes from one to two years and for other gun related crimes from four to five years, which are measured responses.
We need to understand that when young people go to jail, they are exposed to hardened criminals. They will get out at some point and we need to think about how we will rehabilitate them and turn them into productive members of society.
The evidence would suggest that in the U.S. many states are moving away from mandatory minimums for a wide variety of crimes because their jails are filling up but the crime rates are not diminishing and, in fact, they could be increasing.
We need a very holistic response. We can do better with our witness protection programs. While clearly right now there is an issue with the RCMP in one of the witness protection programs, the police in the city where I come from tell me that it is necessary to have the kinds of programs whereby people's identities are changed and they are sent off to live in another location.
However, we can bring witnesses forward in a much more constructive way through changes in the judicial process. That is why the Standing Committee Public Safety and National Security will be inviting various stakeholders, including the city of Toronto Police Service, to testify about what we need to do with our witness protection program.
In Etobicoke North and indeed across Canada, what the police are finding is that for violent gun crimes and drug related crimes people are not coming forward. That is hampering the investigations and the conviction of some of these criminals.
I believe also in the reverse onus provisions for bail. Too often we have people, not only young people but mostly young people, certainly in my area, who have been charged with gun crimes but are released on bail and reoffend. Therefore, our caucus is supporting measures that will bring in the reverse onus. In other words, a person who has been convicted would have to show a judge that he or she should be released on bail rather than the other way around. I think that is a good step.
In 2006 during the election campaign, the then prime minister, the member for , came to my riding of Etobicoke North and announced the ban on handguns. It was criticized at the time, with people saying that it would not do anything. Of course on its own it would not have, but it was part of a whole set of solutions or prescriptions.
Certainly in my riding of Etobicoke North a ban on handguns went down very favourably. It did not go down so well in other parts of Canada, I would have to admit, but we need to have gun control measures. We need to have the kind of gun control and gun registry that is prevalent in Canada.
If we look south of the border, we can see that it is so easy to get a handgun, and we can see what happens as a result. Incidents of handgun crimes in the United States are in much higher numbers than they are in Canada. In fact, if we look at homicides generally, in the year 2000 there were 542 homicides resulting in a national rate of 1.8 homicides per 100,000 population in Canada, whereas in the United States the rate was three times higher at 5.5. We know that relates also to gun crimes. Guns per capita in Canada: .25. In the United States: .82 At rates per 100,000, firearms deaths in 1998 in Canada were at 4.3 and in the United States at 11.4.
We need good gun control. Certainly we know there is a black market in handguns, so that if someone is shot with a handgun in Etobicoke North, there is probably a 50% chance that the handgun came from the United States or a good chance that it was obtained on the black market. That does not mean we should not control handguns. That is a fallacious argument.
As for the licensing, I know the government is still committed to licensing and I say alleluia for that. However, we still need to control and register long guns because the reality is that long guns are responsible for as many gun related crimes as handguns.
We know, as I have said, that in the United States the mandatory minimums, the three strikes and they're out concept in California, is not proving to be effective. I will support measures that increase the sanctions against gun related crime in Canada and will have an impact in Canada. That is why I like our party's proposals. I will certainly be supporting them.
We know, as I said earlier, that to deal with this problem we have to deal with it in a very holistic way. I have argued, for example, that we should look at having an integrated border enforcement team in the city of Toronto.
Our government brought in integrated border enforcement teams, with I think 13 or 14 teams across Canada. They tend to be located in the major crossings like Detroit-Windsor and the Peace Bridge, but we do know that a lot of guns are coming into Toronto via these border locations. Integrated border enforcement allows law enforcement agencies to work together to solve and prevent these crimes.
Let us get tough on crime, but let us do it in a way that has results.
Mr. Speaker, I feel it is very important to rise today to speak to Bill , which I have had the opportunity to study. Indeed, for some time, I was a member of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. When this bill arrived before us, we had the opportunity to carefully examine it and to see what the government had in mind.
I would first like to invite all hon. members of this House to watch a criminal lawyer at work for a day in a court house. For those who are unfamiliar, I would like to explain how it works.
Unless they are very well-known, people who practice criminal law, generally speaking, do not have only one client. We usually have several. We do not represent only people involved in organized crime, the mafia or other criminal groups. Quite often, we represent people who are appearing before a court for the first time and who, in a moment of weakness—and God knows, we have all had them—decided to rob a convenient store in order to make ends meet. This is a classic example.
Under this bill, if individuals already have a similar offence on their record, or other offences in reference to this bill, they would receive a seven year sentence. This is what will happen. The individual will go to court. He will ask to be tried by a jury with a preliminary hearing, all in an attempt to drag out the process as long as possible. Since there are hundreds of thousands of cases in Canada every year, there will be a considerable backlog in the court houses. Since the administration of justice comes under provincial jurisdiction, the federal government will have to give provinces considerable amounts money to appoint new judges, new crown prosecutors, hire new police officers and, especially, to build new prisons.
In the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights we obtained some figures. It seems that between $20 million and $22 million in additional funds will be needed annually to implement Bill .
I want to appeal to my colleagues opposite and explain to them that they are going down the wrong path by thinking that implementing automatic processes in sentencing will reduce crime. That is not so. This premise is wrong and sends the wrong message directly to the public. Crime rates in the U.S. were not lowered by imposing minimum sentences. In fact, the crime rate went up.
I can understand the position of the Conservative Party, but I do not understand the NDP's position. I do not understand the New Democrats, unless they have a strictly political agenda, but I dare not say. I think they are going down the wrong path by supporting such a bill.
When the time comes to sentence an individual, one of the primary criteria, the essential criterion that the Supreme Court determined in a number of cases—that I will not name here—is that the sentence has to be individualized. I will explain what that means for my colleagues opposite. We have to sentence the individual before us based on the crime he committed and his chance for rehabilitation, in order to send a clear message that this type of crime should not be committed.
Rehabilitation starts when an individual accepts his sentence. When I was a criminal lawyer, before sitting in this House, I had the obligation to explain to my client that the court would impose a sentence of three to five years. We can prepare our client to accept this kind of sentence for very serious crimes. As soon as the individual accepts this sentence, the rehabilitation process can start.
Because of what the NDP is preparing to do, along with the Conservative Party, individuals will dig in their heels. I promise you that court backlogs will increase considerably. We are aiming at the wrong target.
Judges receive direction and information. Unfortunately, contrary to my colleagues opposite, whether from the Conservative Party or the NDP, supreme court judges, appeal court judges, superior court judges and Quebec court judges—in the case of Quebec—read court decisions. They are able to understand that their sentence was not severe enough and that the appeal court has overturned it. I do not need to give examples. As I have several times been in appeal court, I know that the learned judges were asking us whether we did not think that our client should have received a sentence that was more severe, given the seriousness of the crime. We knew right away that they would overturn the sentence that had been handed down in the court of first instance.
I have said it before and I will say it again, and I hope that some of the members opposite will understand this time. The problem is not with sentencing, but with carrying out the sentence, with when they get out. Perhaps we should take a closer look at parole. Perhaps convicts get out too quickly. Perhaps, but that is not what I am talking about.
Individualized sentencing is essential if we want our legal system to work. It is the foundation of our legal system. Individuals appearing before a judge need to know that the judge will be talking specifically to them and sentencing them, and that they will be the ones serving the time. If we bring in automatic sentencing, people will play that game and commit armed robberies with knives instead of guns. The Conservative and NDP position in terms of Bill will not solve anything.
About 30 studies were submitted to the committee. I can assure you that I read them all, and I tried to prove that my colleagues opposite were right, but none of those studies indicated that minimum prison sentences lowered the crime rate. Not one of them.
The homicide rate in the United States is three times higher than in Canada and four times higher than in Quebec. Will minimum prison sentences expedite cases? Absolutely not. They will be dragged out, they will take a long time, and nothing will be resolved. Bill will not help the Conservatives and the NDP achieve their goal. Down the road, they will come back here and say that maybe they made a mistake. By then, the Supreme Court will probably have decided that the sentences are too harsh and that we MPs will have to rethink this.
In closing, I would like to suggest that every member spend a day with a criminal lawyer at a court in Montreal, Toronto or Vancouver. If they do, they will realize that the Bill solution proposed by the Conservatives and the NDP is not a good one.