Mr. Speaker, we are now getting down to the later stages of the bill, the report stage, after having had a rather short time in committee to deal with it. It could have been shorter, but as we have seen with the list of amendments here at the report stage, it is pretty clear that nobody and no party was satisfied with the bill, either at second reading at committee or here at report stage. In fact, the government itself moved a series of amendments at report stage, clearly indicating that sufficient consideration had not been given to the bill either in its preparation for second reading or in committee.
We had one meeting devoted to one aspect of this nine-bill omnibus bill, the justice for victims of terrorism act. None of the amendments that the member for moved were accepted at the committee, yet we had five or six or seven amendments from the government at report stage in an attempt to fix what could have been fixed in committee.
Now this omnibus bill is being rushed through. My amendment, Motion No. 1, is to remove the short title. The short title is “safe streets and communities act”. We want to remove that title because, aside from the provisions having to do with sexual assault and offences against children, which we supported, every single expert who came before our committee essentially said that overall, the provisions of the bill were going to lead to greater crime in this country and to streets being less safe. These experts included anybody who had done any study and anybody who had any credentials based upon their work or their training, whether professors of law, professors of criminology, people who had studied this, or representatives from the Canadian Bar Association, who are experts in this field and represent both prosecutors and defence counsel. The Barreau du Québec was another group that came before us with criticisms of the bill.
We had strong representations from the Attorney General of Quebec, who spoke passionately about the experience in Quebec over the last 40 years in dealing with young offenders and about the principles Quebec operated on, principles that are being changed by this legislation. He said quite strongly that the changes being proposed here were so contrary to the experience and prospects of young people in the youth justice system in Quebec that he wanted them changed. He wanted the provinces to be able to make exemptions in the publication of young people's names, for example. He complained about the use of adult sentences. He complained about changing the principles of sentencing for the Youth Criminal Justice Act to add individual deterrence and denunciation as principles of sentencing, as opposed to rehabilitation. He talked about how successful they had been in Quebec in keeping young people out of jail, to the point that they have a greater success record than the rest of the country.
When we heard expert after expert telling us that the results of the sentencing changes, particularly the mandatory minimums and particularly the lack of flexibility in allowing judges to fashion sentences in extreme cases, we were overwhelmed, frankly, by the received wisdom of those experts saying that there was something wrong with the bill. We opposed it at second reading and tried to make substantive changes to the bill in committee, given the limited time that we had, but we were unsuccessful.
Not a single amendment proposed by any opposition party was accepted in the clause-by-clause study of the bill, yet some of the amendments proposed by the member for are mirrored in the amendments proposed by the government, but ruled out of order by the Speaker, at report stage.
We have a very difficult situation here. I realize it is symbolic to change the name of the bill. The government calls this piece of legislation the “safe streets and communities act”, yet it wants to limit debate to depicting itself as being tough on crime and the opposition as being sympathetic to criminals and wanting things to be a lot easier for them. That is the nature of the debate that the government has tried to foist upon Canadians, but the response from Canadians has been overwhelmingly critical of the government's approach to changing the fundamental aspects of our criminal justice system.
There are some exceptions. Not everything in the bill is negative or bad, and we supported many aspects of it, but to say that this piece of legislation is going to provide safer streets and communities is laughable. There are people who believe that criminals do not get heavy enough sentences for what they do; there may be selective ways of doing that, but the way the bill tackles this issue has resulted in the most consistent level of opposition that I have ever seen from those concerned about the nature of our criminal justice system.
Even those who support the bill have reservations. The Association of Chiefs of Police says it supports it in principle. Some victims of crime came forward to say they were concerned about not having tougher sentences, while others said they were more concerned about prevention and rehabilitation. There are those who think there should be stronger sentences, and our judges are listening to that. Parts of the bill deal with that issue, and we support that aspect.
As I mentioned, the government has called the bill the “safe streets and communities act”, yet expert evidence has indicated that the overall effects of the bill are more likely to lead to more crime, more recidivism or repeat offenses, more victims of crime and less safety for our streets.
Our Motion No. 1 is directed at doing just that.
Motions Nos. 2, 5 and 8 in this grouping relate to what is called acts of terrorism against Canada and Canadians, but the bill really would establish a new tort to allow victims of acts of terrorism to bring civil suits against foreign countries or foreign agencies.
We have some problems with that bill. We do not have a problem with the approach, and there are a number of amendments try to fix the bill. The government has recognized at this stage, a little too late, that it should have been fixed, but that is an indication of how it has rushed this legislation and failed to give the proper amount of time to consider it.
It also underscores that for clearly political and ideological reasons, the bill is being lumped together with eight other bills to support the government's notion that it is tough on crime and the opposition is not. We are trying to improve the bill, make the criminal justice system fairer and more reasonable, and raise the point that changes have to be made to the bill but are not being made.
Even the United States, which probably has the highest rate of incarceration in the world, has safety valves for mandatory minimum sentences; this legislation has none.
There would have been an opportunity in committee to fix the bill if there had been more time. Many changes could have been made in committee. The Speaker ruled that the government's amendments are all out of order because they could have been presented in committee, so clearly the bill could have been fixed if we had had more time to do a proper job, and we argued for more time in the face of time allocation.
Madam Speaker, it is with great pride that I rise today. The amendments put forward by me on behalf of the Green Party and by other members on the other opposition benches, the official opposition and the Liberal Party, speak to a desire of the majority of Canadians to see the bill fixed. I am particularly speaking to an amendment put forward under part I, the justice for victims of terrorism act.
I want to begin my brief remarks by paying tribute to one extraordinarily brave Canadian woman, Maureen Basnicki, whose great courage and perseverance in the face of losing her husband, Ken, in the disaster of 9/11 inspires us all.
I had a chance to talk to Maureen in the justice committee hearings. This was during the time we were transfixed by a government motion to end debate and push the whole bill through that day. She was disheartened, as an individual Canadian, that so much in the bill was caught up in an omnibus bill. As much as I support the efforts to allow Canadians, such as Maureen, who ever experienced the tragedy of personal loss to an act of terrorism overseas, and as much as it is quite right and appropriate, Canadians should be able to seek civil remedies overseas.
There is much in the bill that changes the characteristics of Canada and the values of Canadians in ways that do not reflect the kind of country we are. In fact, one of the trite things said after 9/11 was that if we abandoned civil liberties, if we changed what we were as a country, we had let the terrorists win.
To throw people in jail on mandatory minimums without the discretion of a judge who sees the person before him or her, without the opportunity of the criminal justice system to work toward restorative justice, without the opportunities that a compassionate justice system has to figure out if the person deserves jail time, or needs mental health facility where he or she can get the help needed, or is a victim of systemic racism or is someone for whom only criminal justice will work, needs revision. Putting forward my first amendment, which relates to the victims of terrorism act, is an important improvement in Canadian law and I support it. The amendment I have added today, should it be passed, will only expand the ambit of those Canadians who have been damaged by acts that fall well below the rule of law.
My amendment would add to the definition of terrorism that we would also recognize an act of torture to be something for which Canadians could seek redress overseas. It would apply to the case of someone like Mahar Arar. He was taken, in violation of all that is decent and in violation of all rule of law, not in recognition of his Canadian citizenship at all, and subjected to torture. He too would have redress to these civil remedies.
Since I have the opportunity to speak to the bill, as the hon. member from the official opposition has done, let me also speak to the broader problem. In the view of every criminologist, expert, academic who appeared before the justice committee and who commented on this through the media and in learned articles and so on, no one who has an experience of mandatory minimums believes they work. They do not believe they will reduce crime. They believe they will drive up the cost of our system and impose on the provinces. As has been so well pointed out by the provincial justice minister for the province of Quebec, there could be untold billions of dollars in the cost of new prisons.
We already have overcrowded prisons. To crowd them further will impose other problems. The state of California needed a court order to release prisoners because the overcrowding constituted cruel and unusual punishment in violation of its bill of rights. We do not want that situation in Canada.
I want to raise a very specific point that did not come up in committee. I believe it is very important for all Canadians to recognize that every member of the House of Commons favours law-abiding citizens. Every member of the House of Commons wants to do better than the bill does in supporting victims of crime.
However, the legislation will not deliver safer streets. I cannot say that forcefully enough. One of the aspects of this, which I do not think has received adequate attention, comes from the experience in the United States, when the Americans removed judicial discretion with mandatory minimums and gave power in the hands of prosecutors to exact plea bargains.
Plea bargains have become far and away more common than criminal trials, which means that presumption of innocence goes out the window. There is generally a sense that if one insists on one's innocence and goes to trial, one will be punished down the road with a mandatory minimum. That is how prosecutors exact plea bargains. They say that if people go to trial, they will increase the offence. If they are found guilty, they will go to jail for 20 years instead of 2 years.
I will quote an article from the New York Times, on September 25, 2011, titled “Sentencing Shift Gives New Leverage to Prosecutors”, and a legal scholar, who was a former conservative federal judge and prosecutor and now law professor. I want to emphasize this and I hope members of Parliament will reconsider it and give weight to this last moment we have at report stage to fix this bill and get rid of mandatory minimums.
This is what former judge Paul Cassell said:
|| Judges have lost discretion, and that discretion has accumulated in the hands of prosecutors, who now have the ultimate ability to shape the outcome. With mandatory minimums and other sentencing enhancements out there, prosecutors can often dictate the sentence that will be imposed.
The story goes on to say:
|| Without question, plea bargains benefit many defendants who have committed crimes and receive lighter sentences than they might after trial.
In other words, taking discretion away from judges does not guarantee, as those on the government benches so desire to see, that people who are guilty of crimes will be put behind bars. They may get the perverse result that I am sure they do not want, that mandatory minimums drive us to a completely new system in which prosecutors have the ability to plea bargain. In that process, people who would have been found guilty before a judge and jury, and be subjected to a harsher sentence, would get a lighter sentence.
Yes, we will overcrowd our jails. Without the safety valve provisions in the amendments that we will be reviewing today, without an ability to say “mandatory minimums should not apply here”, without that, we will be crowding our jails.
We know as of now we are not putting sufficient resources into programs for mental health or to help people with addictions. We know that so many of the problems that occur in crimes on the streets have to do with systemic problems of poverty, lack of access to mental health resources, treatment and care and addiction. If we are not dealing with those, we are merely throwing people from the streets, where there are problems, into jails. Jails are not a solution to mental health problems. Jails are no solution to the absence of affordable housing.
This is not legislation that will work for Canadians. It will not make safer streets; it will make meaner streets. This is not a bill that deals with Canadian values. This speaks to some other country that I do not know. I do not want to live in a country that thinks it is better to impose stark mandatory minimums rather than have a criminal justice system rooted in the rule of law that recognizes the primacy of the value that goes back to the times of common law, before the existence of our great country of Canada. We recognize the presumption of innocence. We must not lose that.
We must not live in a country where a member of a governing cabinet can look across the floor of the House and accuse an opposition member, as if it were a crime, to have worked as a lawyer for the defence. The defence of people accused of crime is essential in a criminal justice system. As we know from Donald Marshall Jr. and the Milgaard case, innocent people get accused of crimes. Those people who defend them in court are an essential part of the fabric of a civilized society that understands the rule of law.
I do not think I have ever been so deeply shocked by anything I have heard in the House of Commons as an accusation that the hon. member, who now stands as the official opposition House leader, was somehow a bad person because before entering politics, while practising law, he defended people accused of crimes. We should remember that when someone is accused of a crime we do not say a person is “defending criminals”. The presumption of innocence is an essential part of the fabric of a civilized society. I fear we are losing that.
Madam Speaker, at this stage in the proceedings, the motions that I will be referring to relate to those in Group No. 1, Motions No. 2, 5 and 8 in particular.
In effect, what I will be doing is speaking to a set of motions that relate to one particular part of the bill at this stage in the proceedings, which is among those being addressed. That is the part with respect to justice for victims of terror and amending the State Immunity Act.
I also want to add my voice to the words of my colleague, the member for , in paying tribute to Maureen Basnicki. As a victim of terror, she has been advocating for this type of legislation for years, as has the Canadian Coalition Against Terror. I want to acknowledge their advocacy all these years, and pay tribute to them.
If we look at this piece of legislation, we will see, although it may not appear as such, that this is really transformative legislation. This legislation is historic, which is not a word I use lightly.
If one looks at our laws, particularly in the matter of giving civil remedies to victims of terror against the terrorist perpetrators, which do not exist, the reason they do not exist is that we have a State Immunity Act that immunizes the perpetrators of terror from any civil suit. This is the first time that we will be amending the State Immunity Act to give victims of terror a civil remedy against their terrorist perpetrators. That is why I supported this legislation. I support it in principle. That is why I am moving the amendments. They are not in opposition to the legislation. They are intended to help improve the legislation, to give victims a more effective voice against their terrorist perpetrators, and in fact, to hold the terrorists more expressly accountable for their terrorist acts.
That is the first point as to why this legislation is so transformative. For the first time, we will be amending the State Immunity Act to give victims a voice to hold terrorists accountable.
Second, we will be correcting a historical anomaly in our legislation. As it now stands, there is a commercial exception in the State Immunity Act. By a commercial exception I mean that if a Canadian victim has suffered damages by reason of a breach of contract, he or she will have a civil remedy, but if he or she is a victim of terror, he or she will not have a civil remedy.
We have a situation where our legislation gives an implied preference with respect to actions taken for breaches of contract as against actions taken by victims of terror.
This brings me to the third particular transformative dimension. This is the first time that we will be preferring victims of terror against their terrorist perpetrators, who up to now have been immunized by our law for their acts of terror against Canadians.
I have been framing this as a transformative piece of legislation for the reasons mentioned, and also the reasons I moved the amendments in this regard.
One of the things I find ironic and disconcerting is that such a piece of transformative legislation was bundled together with eight other pieces of legislation. I would have thought that the government would have wished to highlight such a transformative piece of legislation. I would have thought that a government that purports to always be wishing to give a voice to victims, and in this instance to victims of terror, would have wished to frame this as a centrepiece of its criminal justice approach, rather than bundle it together with eight other bills.
I would have thought that the government would have wished to have us consider this both in the House when the legislation was first tabled, and then in committee with all the attention, deliberation and discussion that it warranted for being such a transformative and historical piece of legislation. Accordingly, I supported this legislation. I even had a private member's bill which sought to give victims of terror a civil remedy. Therefore, I was pleased when the government introduced its legislation to do exactly that.
I found it ironic that my purported amendments would have been summarily rejected, since they were put forward for the purpose of improving the legislation that the government had introduced to give victims a voice. The representations made by the government when I put forward those amendments were that it was a filibuster. We had already had an abbreviated debate in the House on the tabling of all nine bills, and then we had an abbreviated debate at committee. I moved those amendments as quickly as possible in the abbreviated time that was provided, only to be told that we were filibustering and to be asked why we were considering this legislation again in this House.
It needs to be stated for the record that this is the first time this legislation is being considered in this House. It was never considered in this House. The government attempted to abbreviate discussion on this legislation, on the grounds that it had been discussed here before, which is not the case. Therefore, it warrants the fullest possible discussion.
I will limit myself now to the specific amendments that I put forward in order to improve the legislation.
The first was to give effective civil remedies to victims of terror against the perpetrators of terror. As this legislation now stands, it still would immunize state perpetrators of terror from any acts, injury or damages caused by their acts of terror, let alone the wrongful deaths that ensued. I find it surprising, and it is another anomaly, that this legislation would give victims a civil remedy against the agents or proxies of the state engaged in state terrorism, but not against the state itself. The situation of Libya and the Lockerbie bombing would have been okay under this legislation, if we could have found an agent or proxy of Libya that carried out the act, some terrorist organization acting on Libya's behalf. However, the victims could not have directly sued Libya because Libya would be immunized under this legislation. Similarly, we could not take an action now against Iran for any state act of terror but only against any of its agents or proxies, such as Hamas and Hezbollah, as listed as terrorist entities under Canadian law. I put forward this motion again in order to give victims an effective voice against a terrorist state.
The second is that it would not allow for an action to be taken against a non-listed terrorist entity in our law which is functionally associated with a listed entity. We should allow for that because terrorists can change names and we would not be able to sue.
The third is to give an effective remedy for purposes of execution of judgments by the plaintiff victims. We do not have the kind of effective remedies in that regard that we need.
Finally, giving the government the power to list the governments that seem to be terrorist states in this regard would be an arbitrary exercise of discretion that we should not give to states. Even the government's own witnesses said, “Don't go there. Don't give that arbitrary power of listing terrorists to the government”.
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to participate in the report stage debate on Bill , the safe streets and communities act.
This important crime bill continues to attract a lot of debate, both within and outside this chamber. Often, the debate focuses on misconceptions and falsehoods that have been spread through the fear-mongering of the opposition parties.
I welcome the opportunity to add my voice to the debate because I want to direct my remarks to clarify what is in the bill, what it would do and what other initiatives the government is taking to address the issues discussed in Bill .
First, Bill does exactly what was promised both during the last federal election and during the Speech from the Throne in June 2011. It combines nine bills that were introduced during the last Parliament, but died on the order paper with the dissolution of Parliament for the general election.
Second, its objectives, as reflected in the short title, the safe streets and communities act, are clear and, in my view, should be easy for all to understand and support.
Part one of the bill seeks to support victims of terrorism by giving them new tools to hold those who commit acts of terrorism and those who support them, including listed foreign states, accountable.
Part two proposes changes that will ensure that consistent and appropriate penalties are imposed for serious crimes and that the penalties imposed reflect the serious nature of the crime. More specifically, the bill will ensure that those penalities are imposed for all sexual offences committed against children and not just for certain offences. It will ensure that anyone who commits violent acts or offences against property serves their sentence in prison and not in the comfort of their own home under a conditional sentence of imprisonment.
It will also ensure that the most serious drug-related offences, such as trafficking of cocaine or heroin, which generally involve organized crime or the use of violence and weapons and have a serious impact on the health and safety of communities, are punishable by consistent and appropriate penalties including a prison sentence.
Part 3 proposes numerous post-sentencing reforms to better support victims and to increase offender accountability and management. These reforms would include clarifying that the protection of society is of paramount consideration for the federal corrections process, the Parole Board of Canada and provincial parole boards, as well as give victims the right to make a statement at parole hearings and to receive certain information about the offender. They would also rename pardons as record suspensions, which better describes their real nature, and it would extend periods of ineligibility to apply for them as well as make certain offences ineligible to receive them.
Part 4 proposes to amend the Youth Criminal Justice Act to better deal with violent and repeat offenders. These reforms include ensuring that the protection of the public is always considered as a principle in dealing with young offenders and strengthening the pre-trial detention provisions to enable the detention of youth who are spiralling out of control and who would pose a risk to the public safety by committing serious offences if released while awaiting trial. Importantly, these reforms would also enable a court, in appropriate cases, to sentence a youth to custody for violent offences that involve a substantial likelihood of causing bodily harm to life or safety of others, and not just whether youth attempted to cause or threaten to cause bodily harm, as is currently the case.
Last, part 5 proposes immigration related reforms that would seek to protect vulnerable foreign workers against being exploited by unscrupulous Canadian employers.
Many witnesses appeared before the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights to express their opinions about Bill . Most, if not all, of these witnesses supported the fundamental principles of Bill C-10. For example, everyone agreed that sexual exploitation of children is a serious crime and that child sex offenders must be treated seriously by the criminal justice system.
Everyone agreed that trafficking of heroin and cocaine, especially by organized crime, must be treated seriously. I believe that most, if not all, of the witnesses agreed to including a provision whereby a mandatory minimum sentence would not be served if an offender successfully completed a drug treatment court program. And I believe that everyone agrees that vulnerable foreign workers must be protected from exploitation by unscrupulous Canadian employers.
It seems to me that the only individuals who appear to be completely against the fundamentals of Bill are sitting on the other side of the House. Members from the opposition have continuously demonstrated that they are completely out of touch with what Canadians want.
During our study in committee and during the report stage of debate, the opposition members tabled amendments to the bill that would repeal the two year mandatory sentence for the importation of the hardest drugs in Canada. They table amendments that would mean that those who bring date rape drugs into Canada would be subject to lighter sentences. They table amendments that would allow an arsonist, who burned someone's house down, to serve their sentence in the comfort of their own home. They table amendments that would delete new offences that are essential to prevent child sex offences and protect children. And the list goes on.
Canadians are worried about crime. That is one reason why they gave our government a clear mandate to make our streets and our communities safer. Bill , will also help deal with pedophiles and drug traffickers who import hard drugs, such as cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine into Canada.
These legislative reforms are desirable and necessary and are a crucial part of the solution to crime in this country.
It is important to remind members on the other side of the chamber that although the legislative changes contained in Bill are an essential part of the solution and do achieve exactly the goals I have described, they are not the government's only response to preventing some of these crimes.
The government is also tackling crime through non-legislative measures, including, for example, the national anti-drug strategy launched in 2010, which has invested $588.8 million in three areas: prevention, treatment and enforcement, the last of which includes the reforms now proposed in part 2 of Bill .
Second, the national crime prevention strategy is currently providing $45 million per year through the crime prevention action fund, the northern aboriginal crime prevention fund, the youth gang prevention fund and the security infrastructure program.
Third, the national strategy to protect children from sexual exploitation on the Internet is currently providing $71 million over five years, that includes supporting the RCMP's National Child Exploitation Coordination Centre and providing law enforcement with better tools and resources to address Internet-based child sexual exploitation. It also supports the operation of cybertip.ca, the national 24/7 tip line for reporting online child sexual exploitation. That is being funded by the Centre for Child Protection that houses cybertip.ca and that carries out public education and awareness on these three issues.
I think we can all agree that the issues covered by Bill are serious issues. Bill C-10 provides a commensurate but tailored response to these issues that builds on existing legislative and non-legislative responses.
It is time for the opposition to listen to the needs of Canadians from coast to coast, to stop their fear-mongering, read the bill and understand what it really would do. It is time to act together to support Bill and to make Canada's streets safer.
Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to speak today about Bill to highlight that this bill is a reflection of our commitment to tackling crime, increasing public safety, and restoring the confidence of Canadians in the justice system.
The people of Canada know they can count on us to deliver on our commitments. Bill includes nine bills from the previous Parliament. Many critics of the bill argued that the bill was too big and too difficult to understand. I would note that the bill has had a thorough review in the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. There has been no difficulty at all in understanding what these reforms seek to do. While not all members share the government's approach, I think all members of the committee would agree that their voices have been heard and we have had a respectful exchange of views.
As has been noted many times, all of these reforms have been previously introduced in Parliament. Many were previously studied and some even passed by at least one chamber. These bills were at various stages in Parliament in the last session, have been debated and studied in this session, and the public and stakeholders as well as members of Parliament are by now very familiar with these proposals.
Despite this familiarity, it is worth noting the elements and the origins of Bill , in other words, the nine bills that were introduced in the last session of Parliament. As the indicated at second reading debate, some changes have been made to this bill due primarily to the need to co-ordinate the merger of several bills into one and make consequential amendments to effect these changes. In some cases, other modifications were made, all of which are consistent with the objectives of the bill as originally introduced.
The former bills now included in Bill are the following.
Bill , which proposed to amend the Youth Criminal Justice Act to ensure that violent and repeat young offenders are held accountable through sentences that are proportionate to the severity of their crimes and that the protection of society is given due consideration in applying the act.
Bill , which proposed to enhance public safety by modifying the circumstances that would permit an international transfer of an offender.
Bill , which proposed Criminal Code amendments to prevent the use of conditional sentences, or house arrest for serious and violent offences.
Bill , which proposed to amend the Criminal Records Act to expand the period of ineligibility to apply for a record suspension, currently referred to as a pardon, and to make record suspensions unavailable for certain offences and for persons who have been convicted of more than three offences prosecuted by indictment.
Bill , which proposed amendments to the Corrections and Conditional Release Act, to support victims of crime and address inmate accountability and responsibility and the management of offenders.
Bill , which proposed Criminal Code amendments to better protect children against sexual abuse, including by increasing the penalties for these offences and creating two new offences aimed at certain conduct that could facilitate or enable the commission of a sexual offence against a child.
Bill , which proposed to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act to authorize immigration officers to refuse work permits where it would protect vulnerable foreign nationals against exploitation, including sexual exploitation.
Bill , which proposed reforms to allow victims of terrorism to sue terrorists and supporters of terrorism, including listed foreign states.
Bill , which proposed amendments to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act to provide mandatory minimum penalties for serious drug offences, including when offences are carried out for organized crime purposes, or if they involve targeting youth.
The maximum penalty for the production of some drugs would also be increased. These amendments also proposed to allow a sentencing court to delay sentencing while the offender completed an approved treatment program.
Bill was studied by the justice committee over several weeks and over 90 motions to amend the bill were considered. While very few were passed and many were completely inconsistent with the principles underlying the bill, each motion was given due consideration.
I would also note that over 80 motions have been proposed at report stage. Many of these motions seek to completely undo or gut the proposed amendments.
As I noted at the outset of my remarks, Bill reflects our government's commitment to restoring public confidence in our justice system. Clearly, the motions proposed at report stage demonstrate that this commitment is not shared by other members of the House.
There has been a great deal of discussion about the elements of the bill that provide for mandatory minimum penalties and that restrict conditional sentences. The reality is that these reforms are carefully tailored and targeted to offenders who commit the most serious offences.
Should offenders convicted of arson receive a conditional sentence allowing them to serve out their sentence at home under certain conditions? Should an offender convicted of an offence with a maximum sentence of 14 years ever be permitted to serve that sentence in the comfort of the offender's home?
Even under the strictest of conditions I think all Canadians would agree that no matter what the conditions of house arrest may be, it is simply not appropriate for serious offences. Bill reforms will make that crystal clear.
I would note that motions to amend the proposed reforms to the conditional sentencing provisions were made at committee and again at report stage. Without going into detail, those motions sought to permit conditional sentences to be imposed without regard to any criteria to limit their imposition as long as certain other exceptional circumstances existed about the offender. Such sentences are not appropriate for some offences regardless of the offender's particular circumstances.
Conditional sentences were never intended to be used for the most serious or violent offences. Our reforms will clarify this once and for all and will provide the clear parameters for use of conditional sentences or house arrest.
As I noted, part 2 of the safe streets and communities act includes former Bill . These reforms have been introduced in three previous Parliaments and have been passed by both chambers but never by both in the same session.
Despite our repeated debates and committee study of these reforms, there still remains much misunderstanding about the mandatory minimums for serious drug offences. As noted by other speakers, the minimum mandatory penalties are tailored to serious drug offences where aggravating factors are present.
Importantly, the amendments include an exception that allows courts not to impose the mandatory minimum sentence if an offender successfully completes a drug treatment program or DTC, as it is referred to. The program works with individuals who have been charged with drug-related offences who meet certain eligibility criteria to overcome their drug addictions and avoid future conflict with the law. It involves a blend of judicial supervision, incentives for reduced drug use, social services support and sanctions for non-compliance.
There are currently six drug treatment courts in Canada. They are located in Ottawa, Toronto, Winnipeg, Regina, Edmonton and Vancouver. The same exception applies for other programs, so that a court could delay sentencing to allow the offender to attend another approved treatment program.
This last point seems to have been overlooked by some members and we all share the concern about the need for mental health resources. However, the Criminal Code already permits a court to delay sentencing to permit an offender to attend an approved treatment program. This could be a program for mental health issues, anger management or other similar issues. This already exists in the code.
I will conclude by saying that the government is committed to public safety and improvements to the justice system, and will continue to deliver on the promises that we have made to Canadians.
Mr. Speaker, you surely will not be surprised or amazed to hear that the NDP supports criminals, especially those that are dangerous to our children. Yes, the NDP supports criminals. You will not be surprised to hear that because it is an argument that the Conservatives have made repeatedly for some time now. It is an arrogant and inflammatory argument. I would say instead that it is precisely because we do care about the issue of crime that we are opposed to Bill as it stands.
If any member of the House truly believes today that I want to help criminals and encourage sex crimes against children, then he or she should rise, look into my eyes, and tell me that. Even the title of this bill is ridiculous: the safe streets and communities act. There is nothing that leads us to believe that mandatory minimum sentences or having no access to rehabilitation are really going to make our streets safer.
I want to speak about a report by the Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights entitled “The Sexual Exploitation of Children in Canada: the Need for National Action”. This report illustrates the grave danger children face when it comes to sexual crimes. It is asserted, among other things, that most children who are sexually abused are victims of people that they know well, that they trust, and that are close to their family.
The report proposes a number of potential solutions to combat sexual crimes against children. It is suggested that helping children blow the whistle on their aggressors might put an end to their nightmare. By arresting criminals more quickly, it may be possible to prevent further sex crimes against children. It might be surprising to learn that the report does not speak of mandatory minimum sentences, but rather of education. Education can promote children's self-esteem and give them tools to communicate.
There is also the question of access to adults who can be trusted, perhaps soccer coaches or teachers. There are plenty of people in the circle of a sexually abused child who can help open the door at the right time and listen to a child's confidences. It is also a matter of giving children the confidence that they need to report somebody by giving them the services they need before and after they blow the whistle. When children are trying to report someone, they must get support. The family members must also get support so that they can help the child rebuild self-confidence.
Those are but a couple of tools that could justifiably be associated with the title “safe streets and communities”.
There is no reference to mandatory minimum sentences in this report. The report is but one of many examples I can use to argue for my point of view: that supporting children can be a far more effective alternative to mandatory minimum sentences.
I can also speak about a strategy cited in a political statement by the Canadian Council on Social Development, which refers to crime prevention through social development. What does that mean? It is a tool, according to the CCSD, which would be a far more effective and less costly way of preventing crime. Early intervention prevents crime by helping those who otherwise may become criminals or victims.
It refers to risk factors, or what can lead a person to act in a certain way, to become a criminal or a victim. Once again, there is a surprise: it has nothing to do with mandatory minimum sentences. Criminals do not ask themselves if they are going to have to spend a certain number of years in jail. This does not necessarily influence their decision-making. This report talks about a number of risk factors such as poverty, inadequate parenting skills, addiction and alcoholism, dropping out of school, mistreatment, low self-esteem and negative peer involvement. These are problems that must be tackled in order to prevent crime and make streets and communities safe.
Bill C-10 is an omnibus bill that covers very different and diverse subjects and issues.
The bill would allow victims of terrorist acts to sue perpetrators of terrorist attacks or to sue states. The bill talks about mandatory minimum sentences, drugs and sexual crimes. It covers electronic surveillance of offenders and the codification of victims' rights. It talks about applying for a pardon, or rather a record suspension, which would be much more difficult to obtain. It talks about a criminal justice system for youth. It talks about work permits for foreign nationals who run the risk of being mistreated.
All these issues are very important and certainly deserve our attention, but they are all grouped together in one bill that must be discussed all at once. Thus, there are not many opportunities to debate these matters in the House. This is also the case for experts, for those who have dedicated their lives to justice and fighting crime, and who are not even given the time to provide their opinion and their expert advice to the government, which will make decisions without really listening to them.
Speaking of experts who testified before the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, the following are a few who appeared on October 18.
Mr. Gottardi, vice-chair of the national criminal justice section of the Canadian Bar Association said:
|| The bill takes a flawed approach to dealing with offenders at all stages of their interaction with the criminal justice system, from arrest, through to trial, to their placement in and treatment by correctional institutions, and to their inevitable reintegration back into society.
Another expert, Mr. Jackson, who is a member of the committee on imprisonment and release of the national criminal justice section of the Canadian Bar Association stated:
|| This road map ignores 150 years of correctional history. It pays no attention to previous recommendations or royal commissions. In its 200 pages there is not a single reference to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, or to decisions of the Supreme Court. It is legally illiterate, and yet it is the brainchild of the amendments that you have before you and upon which you are asked to hear.
Clearly, the witnesses who appeared before the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights are not all in favour of what has been presented.
Furthermore, Mr. Gottardi expressed his disappointment at being given only five minutes to speak before the committee. Imagine that. He has devoted his whole life to justice and the fight against crime and was given only five minutes before the committee to address such an important piece of legislation. I am sorry to say to Mr. Gottardi that, regardless of whether you were given five minutes or five hours, it would not have made a very big difference because the Conservatives likely would not have listened to what you had to say.
Today, 88 amendments are being presented, which is a significant number. What work was done in committee? Did the committee truly listen to the members and witnesses? I highly doubt it.
In closing, this government boasts that it listens to families, which is commendable. It is important to listen to Canadians and to react to what they have to say. They do not understand our justice system, so why not explain it to them better? They are frustrated and they are calling for justice because they think that criminals are not serving long enough sentences. It is a matter of vengeance and the families' pain and suffering. Perhaps, we could help them in some way other than to simply agree with them and introduce mandatory minimum penalties.
We could also listen to the experts who have a lot to say on this subject. For example, the West Island CALACS, which is known for its work to combat violence against women and domestic violence, has told us that it disagrees with the general thrust of this bill because it opens the door to additional repression. Repression does not give victims any real power.
So, let us listen to these experts and the people who deal with violence and the lack of safety on the streets every day. Let us listen to their suggestions and have a real discussion in order to create a bill that is far more respectful of the real needs of all Canadians.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to join in today's debate on Bill .
As members are aware, the bill has been criticized on a number of grounds. One of the most frequent criticisms aimed at the bill was the fact that there were several amendments proposing mandatory minimum penalties, MMPs, for serious drug offences under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. No doubt, in part as a result of these criticisms, this part of the bill was subject to the greatest number of motions to amend. As we can see, in the end, that part of the bill was amended only once in committee.
As parliamentarians we have engaged in an impassioned debate on the issue of mandatory minimum penalties. In fact, for many parts of the bill the justice committee has spent 67 days hearing from 363 witnesses over the course of the last four years. That does not include the marathon sessions we spent at clause-by-clause consideration. I believe all members of the committee should be congratulated for their hard work. They put in a lot of hours and they worked very hard on this particular bill.
As I have just indicated, the minimum penalties for serious drug offences were often criticized. Some of the criticism appeared in the media and some was stated by witnesses appearing before the committee. I would like to take a few moments to deal with some of these criticisms.
One of the recurring criticisms of the mandatory minimum penalty provisions is that a person in possession of marijuana would receive a minimum penalty. I have to say that I found this particular criticism the most surprising. This is the fourth time that the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, in relation to provisions of the bill, has been before Parliament.
These provisions have been exhaustively examined by the Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs and by the House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights and they are clear. The has appeared before these committees and he has repeatedly stated that these proposals do not apply to simple possession. He has frequently stated that the proposed mandatory minimum penalties would only apply to the most serious drug offences.
It is difficult to make it clear which offences do not fall under the ambit of these provisions, and yet this particular criticism continues to reappear. At this point I am forced to conclude that anyone who makes this criticism is of bad faith and that the criticism is only being made to suit other purposes.
Another criticism that is directed at the mandatory minimum provisions is the suggestion that someone who simply gives a joint of marijuana to a friend would be at risk of receiving the minimum penalty provided by the new provisions in the bill. The definition of trafficking in the CDSA includes giving a drug. Therefore, as a result, giving a joint would be necessarily caught by these new mandatory minimum provisions.
While it is true that giving a drug is included in the definition of trafficking, the provisions of the bill are clear. In order for the mandatory minimum provisions to apply to the offence of trafficking, there must exist one of the aggravating factors listed in the new provision dealing with trafficking. Here again the has been clear: The application of mandatory minimum penalties would occur only if one or more of the listed aggravating factors were present during the commission of the offence.
A variation of this criticism has been that if a young adult were to give a marijuana joint to a friend while at school, the person giving the joint would be liable to a minimum penalty of two years' imprisonment. The argument here is that one of the aggravating factors is present, that trafficking has occurred in a school, and therefore the minimum penalty must apply.
Here again, the criticism is misplaced. Clause 39 of the bill at the very outset states that paragraph 5(3)(a) is subject to paragraph (a.1). Paragraph (a.1) provides a penalty of anyone trafficking in cannabis in an amount that is equal to or less than three kilograms. That penalty is a maximum term of imprisonment of up to five years.
The net effect of paragraphs 5(3)(a) and (a.1) taken together is to remove the offence of trafficking in amounts of three kilograms or less from the ambit of the minimum penalties for the offence of trafficking found in paragraph 5(3)(a). Therefore, a young person who gives a joint to a person while at school, were he or she to be prosecuted, would be liable to the ordinary penalty found in paragraph 5(3)(a.1) and not the minimum penalty of two years.
I would also like to say a few words about one of the motions directed at clause 43. This clause proposes a new subsection 10(4) to the CDSA which will allow a court to delay the imposition of the sentence so as to enable the offender to participate in a drug treatment program approved by the Attorney General, or to attend a treatment program under subsection 720(2) of the Criminal Code.
A significant number of individuals applying for admission into drug treatment courts are individuals who have committed prior serious drug offences, most notably trafficking and possession for the purposes of trafficking. These offenders would receive minimum penalties if the proposed mandatory minimum penalty regime is implemented.
Clause 43 creates an exemption from the application of mandatory minimum penalties for offenders who participate in treatment programs. These provisions will enable a judge to delay the application of the penalty while the offender participates in a treatment program, and will allow a judge to impose a penalty other than the minimum penalty if the offender successfully completes the treatment program.
The motion that I wish to comment on proposes adding a paragraph to clause 43. The new paragraph would add that the judge could delay sentencing for the offender convicted of a drug offence so he or she could attend and receive treatment for mental health issues, or attend a mental health treatment program approved by the Attorney General.
While I believe that this motion was well intentioned, I would like to point out that the provision being proposed in clause 43 is not necessarily for the treatment of drug-specific problems at the exclusion of all other problems that a drug offender may have. Indeed in my view, the reference to a treatment program under subsection 720(2) would allow a judge to permit the offender to attend any approved treatment program, including a program for mental health issues, provided of course there are treatment programs available and approved.
Our government recognizes that serious drug crimes, including marijuana grow operations and clandestine methamphetamine labs, continue to pose a threat to the safety of our streets and communities. Bill contains significant elements forming part of our strategy to address this problem.
The bill proposes amendments to strengthen the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act provisions regarding penalties for serious drug offences by ensuring these types of offences are punished by an imposition of mandatory minimum terms of imprisonment.
With these amendments, we are demonstrating this government's commitment to improving the safety and security of communities across Canada. Canadians want a justice system that has clear and strong laws that denounce and deter serious crimes, including serious drug crimes. They want laws that impose penalties that adequately reflect the serious nature of these crimes.
Mr. Speaker, I am rising to speak to Bill . The New Democrats have put the safety of our communities as a top priority, but I feel that what gets lost in much of this discussion is that there are many roots to safety in our communities.
This bill has bundled together a number of previous pieces of legislation that were before the House and much has made about the fact that they were before the House, but it is important to remind members that roughly one-third of the members currently sitting in the House today did not have an opportunity to engage in debate and discussion when those bills were previously introduced. Part of our role as parliamentarians is to practise due diligence, as well as to scrutinize legislation that comes before us very thoroughly and ensure that Canadian interests are being broadly served.
I want to touch for a moment on the whole issue of safe streets and communities and refer to an article on November 14 in the Toronto Star. This was written by the Canadian Bar Association and it is entitled, “Ten reasons to oppose Bill C-10”. I will not go over all of the reasons because I think a number of members have ably outlined them. However, I will touch on a couple of points. It starts by saying:
|| Bill C-10 is titled The Safe Streets and Communities Act—an ironic name, considering that Canada already has some of the safest streets and communities in the world and a declining crime rate. This bill will do nothing to improve that state of affairs but, through its overreach and overreaction to imaginary problems, Bill C-10 could easily make it worse. It could eventually create the very problems it’s supposed to solve.
|| Bill C-10 will require new prisons; mandate incarceration for minor, non-violent offences; justify poor treatment of inmates and make their reintegration into society more difficult. Texas and California, among other jurisdictions, have already started down this road before changing course, realizing it cost too much and made their justice system worse. Canada is poised to repeat their mistake.
Earlier today, in response to a question I asked, I heard one of the members opposite ask why we would look south when we have our own justice system here, and so on. Of course, he is absolutely correct. We do have our own justice system here. However, I would argue that we should look at other countries that have tried similar strategies to see what the outcomes were. If the outcomes did not work in other countries, I cannot imagine why we would think they would work here.
The Canadian Bar Association went on to outline its 10 reasons and I will touch on a couple. It states:
|| 1. Ignoring reality. Decades of research and experience have shown what actually reduces crime: (a) addressing child poverty, (b) providing services for the mentally ill and those afflicted with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, (c) diverting young offenders from the adult justice system, and (d) rehabilitating prisoners, and helping them to reintegrate into society. Bill C-10 ignores these proven facts.
Number 4 on its list of 10 is as follows:
|| No proper inspection. Contrary to government claims, some parts of Bill C-10 have received no previous study by parliamentary committee. Other sections have been studied before and were changed—but, in Bill C-10, they’re back in their original form.
Number 9 on its list reads:
|| Victimizing the most vulnerable. With mandatory minimums replacing conditional sentences, people in remote, rural and northern communities will be shipped far from their families to serve time. Canada’s aboriginal people already represent up to 80% of inmates in institutions in the Prairies, a national embarrassment that Bill C-10 will make worse.
Number 10 reads:
|| How much money? With no reliable price tag for its recommendations, there is no way to responsibly decide the bill’s financial implications. What will Canadians sacrifice to pay for these initiatives? Will they be worth the cost?
In its conclusion, it said:
|| Canadians deserve accurate information about Bill C-10, its costs and its effects. This bill will change our country’s entire approach to crime at every stage of the justice system. It represents a huge step backwards; rather than prioritizing public safety, it emphasizes retribution above all else. It’s an approach that will make us less safe, less secure, and ultimately, less Canadian.
The Canadian Bar Association very ably outlined the concerns of many in the opposition and many people across this country.
A rally was held outside of my constituency office in Nanaimo last Thursday. I was in the House and was not able to speak to the people who were meeting but, contrary to what the Conservatives say, there are many Canadians who are absolutely concerned about the repercussions of this bill. This rally was about supporting people who are speaking out in opposition to Bill . I have received hundreds of emails. In some of the side conversations that go on in the House, I have heard Conservative members say that they have had virtually no opposition to this bill and yet I can tell people that I have received hundreds of emails in opposition to this bill.
I want to touch for a moment on crime prevention because that is also one element that is lacking in this bill, not only crime prevention but the funds for crime prevention. I heard a previous member rhyme off a number of programs but the reality of it is that there is a link between poverty and crime. However, I do not want to underestimate the fact that there are many people who are not poor who commit crimes. We have had some very high-profile Canadians, one in particular who has been doing time in a U.S. jail for white collar crime. I just want to point out that poverty does not necessarily mean that one will end up committing a crime.
There is an article that was put together about child and youth crime prevention through social development. This paper very strongly urges the Government of Canada, this Parliament, to invest in children and youth as a crime prevention strategy. This paper was developed through the CCSD, the Canadian Council on Social Development.
The council says:
|| Crime prevention reduces the risks for future crime and victimization. But many of the assumptions we make about what works to prevent crime are ill-founded.
|| A landmark report prepared for the U.S. Congress concluded that some of the most common efforts to stop crime--such as boot camps, police Neighbourhood Watch programs, and drug education classes for children--don't even come close to reaching their objectives.
|| However, interventions focused on changing the underlying social conditions of children and youth--such as nurse visits to “at risk” families with infants, parenting classes, availability of recreational programs, and a focus on social competency skills in school, to name just a few--were found to decrease crime. This kind of approach is called crime prevention through social development.
It is a very lengthy report and I will not have time to read all of it into the record. I just want to read some excerpts from it. It has another section titled, “When kids flourish, crime doesn't”. It reads:
|| Social conditions such as housing, family income, and education leave their deepest marks on children and youth. Improvements in the social conditions have been shown to open up new vistas for young people who might otherwise end up behind bars.
|| Evaluations done in Canada, the U.S., Europe and other countries demonstrate that certain social interventions work, they are cost effective and they provide social benefits. Researchers now conclude that social intervention can yield positive, measurable benefits within three years. with reductions in crime of 25% to 50% within 10 years.
I will say those numbers again because I think they are important. An investment in children and youth can result in crime reduction rates of 25% to 50% within 10 years. Rather than subjecting people to crime, victims of crime, and families to all of that chaos that results when a family member commits a crime, surely that investment would be worth it for the health, safety and overall well-being of our communities and our country.
One study found that it costs taxpayers seven times more to achieve a 10% reduction in crime through incarceration rather than through a social development approach. Again, the council goes on to list the fact that if we invest in housing, education, clean drinking water, all of those things which I think every member of this House would acknowledge that if people have safe, clean, affordable housing, if they have good employment, if they have access to education, if they have all of that kind of social capital that we talk about, their chances of getting into trouble are greatly reduced.
In my closing minute I will touch on the fact that one of the other places where we need to invest is early childhood education. The University of British Columbia has a study that says for every dollar we invest in early childhood learning and care, we save $7 in the long run. That $7 is saved in the criminal justice system, in education, in income assistance and in health.
It is unfortunate that we are having a conversation in this House about a tough on crime bill that purportedly will make our communities safer when all of the evidence flies in the face of that.
I would urge this House to reconsider this action and that we talk about these investments in our communities instead so that we can actually prevent crime from happening and that our communities do become safer, healthier, happier places in which to live.
Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to speak today in the debate on Bill . I am going to limit my remarks to the changes this bill makes to the Youth Criminal Justice Act. These changes were previously incorporated in Bill , or what was known as Sebastian's law. Those proposals are now in part 4 of Bill C-10, clauses 167 to 204.
The former bill, Bill , was first introduced on March 16, 2010, and was being reviewed by the House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights when the opposition caused Parliament to dissolve on March 26, 2011. Sixteen meetings had been held to study Bill C-4 and over 60 witnesses had already appeared before the committee.
The problems with our current youth criminal justice system were recently highlighted by the results of four months of observation by the Toronto Star of a typical Canadian youth court. I will briefly quote the conclusions reached, which state:
|| Changes to youth sentencing law in 2003 were supposed to fix an overreliance on custody. Instead, serious offenders are thumbing their noses at the courts because they know they will be treated lightly. Victims feel their voices are not heard. Kids who violently break the law, many from broken homes, are reoffending.
Our government invests significantly in crime prevention and rehabilitative measures and in restorative justice, but a balanced approach to criminal justice requires that we also pay due regard to protecting the public and victims of crime against violent youth offenders and repeat youth offenders. This is what Bill targets.
A number of amendments to the youth justice provisions of Bill were tabled by both NDP and Liberal members of the standing committee during clause-by-clause consideration and I will comment on some of the more significant of those.
One proposed amendment relates to protection of the public, specifically calling for the reinsertion of “long-term” ahead of the phrase “protection of the public” in the overarching principles of the Youth Criminal Justice Act. In highlighting protection of the public in the Youth Criminal Justice Act, the government has responded directly to recommendation 20 of the Nunn commission report.
The Nunn commission was a Nova Scotia public inquiry, which examined the circumstances surrounding the tragic death of Theresa McEvoy, who was struck and killed by a youth driving a stolen vehicle. Justice Nunn concluded that highlighting public safety as one of the primary goals of the act was necessary to deal with this small group of repeat offenders that was spinning out of control.
We agree with the conclusion drawn by Justice Nunn that the current provisions of the Youth Criminal Justice Act are not sufficient to deal with this small group of dangerous and repeat offenders. It is simply wrong to suggest that by removing the adjective “long-term” from ahead of the phrase “protection of the public”, we are forbidding consideration of long-term factors. No, by removing a restrictive adjective, we are merely restoring the phrase “protection of the public” to its true meaning. In doing so, we are allowing judges to consider all factors relating to public protection, including short-term and long-term considerations.
It is also very important to note that, just as it was before Bill , protection of the public will continue to be simply one principle of the act, alongside and equal to other principles, such as emphasis on rehabilitation in section 3(1)(b), fair and proportionate accountability in section 3(1)(c) and special consideration for young persons in section 3(1)(d) of the Youth Criminal Justice Act.
Another motion to amend called for the removal of specific deterrents and denunciation from the sentencing principles in the Youth Criminal Justice Act. That is proposed by clause 172 of Bill .
By allowing judges to consider specific deterrents and denunciation in sentencing, and I say only allowing, not requiring, we increase confidence in the youth justice system. We simply give judges the right to choose the tools they feel necessary to deal with the needs of the differing young persons who come before them.
In proposing this amendment, the government is not abandoning the current sentencing principles in the legislation. It is instead giving judges an additional tool to help deal with that small group of repeat and violent offenders where it is reasonable to consider specific deterrents, or even denunciation, for the benefit of the young person and in order to maintain the public's confidence in the administration of justice. Even this provision would be limited in its effect because the application of these provisions, specific deterrents and denunciation, would be subject to the principle that the sentence must be proportionate to the gravity of the offence and the degree of the responsibility of the offender.
Another of our proposals that was discussed quite extensively at the justice committee was the test for publication in clause 185 of Bill . The opposition proposed to amend this clause to basically make this test optional rather than mandatory.
The wider circumstances under which publication bans may be lifted, proposed by clause 185, fulfills our government's commitment to Canadians to ensure that young offenders will be named when the circumstances of their offence requires it. In our view, it would be inappropriate for this provision to be optional when the very purpose of the amendment is to protect the public, and that is not optional. The government is not calling for unlimited publication, but merely equipping judges with an additional tool for circumstances that require it.
In fact, it should be noted that this provision would only make it mandatory for judges to consider, to think about, publication. They are not be required to order publication in any particular case.
The threshold for this is also significant. The judge is required to consider the purpose and principles set out in sections 3 and 38 of the Youth Criminal Justice Act and the judge must decide that the young person poses a significant risk of committing not just any offence but a violent offence and that the lifting of the ban is necessary to protect the public against that risk. If there is no significant risk of violence or if any other solution makes publication unnecessary, then publication remains banned. Furthermore, the onus of convincing the court of these matters remains on the prosecutor.
Our government recognizes the importance of our youth criminal justice system and as such we propose changes in Bill to address the many concerns that Canadians have expressed about the shortcomings of the current system.
Our government responded to calls for change from several provinces asking for modifications to the former Bill . Manitoba, Alberta and Nova Scotia officials appeared before the commons committee in June 2010 and subsequently provided suggested amendments in relation to pretrial detention, adult sentencing and deferred custody and supervision orders.
Our government considered these submissions and made changes to the applicable provisions found in clause 169 and subclauses 174(2) and 183(1) of Bill . These changes have been well-received by the provinces that proposed them and would ultimately strengthen the youth justice system.
At clause-by-clause consideration, the government also proposed changing clause 168, by replacing the verb “encourager” with the verb “favoriser” in the French version of paragraph 3(1)(a)(ii) of the act. That is a change Minister Fournier from Quebec had requested.
This government is committed to the protection of our communities and to tackling crime committed by young persons. Our view is that this can be achieved without compromising the use of measures outside the judicial process, while still preserving non-custodial sentences for the vast majority of cases where such measures are appropriate.
Part 4 of Bill would provide judges and others working in the youth justice system with tools needed to deal appropriately with the differing needs of young people who come before them, including the needs of repeat and violent offenders who have not responded well under the current system. Such changes would restore public confidence to our youth criminal justice system.
I invite all the members opposite to join us in these efforts by supporting this bill. Let us join and together take arms against a sea of troubles and, by opposing, end them.
Mr. Speaker, I stand here to voice my opposition to the proposed omnibus bill in its current form. Just a few short years ago, these same measures were voted down, and in a moment of hubris and zeal, the Conservatives introduced this bill again, with the argument that Canadians gave them a strong majority—with 39% of the popular vote.
We have been hearing that everyone supports this bill for weeks now. I would like to take a few minutes of my time to read some comments that I have received from the people of Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine.
A few days ago, I received an email that was very perplexing.
|| I am an ex-convict, and I am close to receiving a pardon. But a bill like this one would lower my chances of starting over. I have not committed a crime in over 10 years. Do you think that I deserve to be labelled my whole life? I earn a living and have a family. These mistakes of the past are far behind me. We cannot pass regressive legislation. We are a progressive country and that is how we should remain.
I would like to thank my constituents for participating in democracy in our country by sending emails to me and to other members of Parliament to tell them exactly what they think about these bills. Here is another email that I received:
|| I think that we should use an approach based on evidence and on practices that have been proven by our justice system. We should be committed to preventing crimes. We should support restorative justice that meets victims' needs and that contributes to the well-being of the community.
It goes on:
|| I believe that we should use an evidence-based approach to justice. We should be committed to preventing crimes, and to restorative justice that meets the victim’s needs and helps the community to heal. We need to focus on the causes of crime, instead of paying endlessly for the consequences.
Like my colleagues, I have received hundreds of emails like these, telling us why we should oppose this bill in its current form. Neither my party nor I have anything against punishing wrongdoing. In fact, I have great respect for our justice system and the individual judges who do such great work every day. I have worked in a prison; I taught French and math there. I firmly believe that our current justice system meets our needs. We are elected as members of Parliament to make our systems work more efficiently. We are not here to destroy a functioning and coherent justice system.
No fair-minded Canadian wants an ideological law that is not supported by the facts. We are not elected to ignore facts and to do as we please. It is extremely crucial that this important debate is not carried out behind ideological lines. I firmly believe that, because I want our society to be just, equal, and safe. I also believe that we can make this happen by building the laws of our society on truth and fairness.
This omnibus crime bill is a step backwards for our country, or if you will, a step towards the failed penal system of the United States. It should be noted that the crime rate in our country is at the lowest it has been in 40 years. Does this not show that our justice system is working? Why is this not something that we should be building upon?
If our approach is working and our crime rate is the lowest it has been in 40 years, we need to find a way to strengthen the system instead of changing everything. I simply cannot vote in favour of the ideas proposed in this bill, since they have proven ineffective in the fight against crime.
In 2006, the justice department prepared reports on minimum sentences for the former justice minister. It indicated that minimum sentences did not have any special deterrence value, or even educational value, and that they were not any more effective than lesser sanctions. In fact, the justice department indicated that mandatory minimum sentences had no discernable advantage in terms of public safety. The former justice minister had previously stated that all the evidence clearly showed the effectiveness of mandatory minimum sentences even though that was false. A study conducted by the justice department showed that South Africa, Australia, England and the State of Michigan had all backed away from mandatory minimum sentences. Statistics for the Northern Territory of Australia show that its inmate population rose by 42% when mandatory minimum sentences were imposed and that the crime rate did not decline. This drain on the entire economy does not bode well for a society where too many people are in prison.
We are living in a very fragile economy, as our friends opposite keep repeating. Canada's performance is expected to deteriorate in the next few months. We are now losing jobs. We have to deal with these problems. We cannot rest on our laurels while people are being sent to jail, instead of looking at what is important for Canada's economy.
Does it really help the unemployed in our country to tell them not to worry because Canada is doing much better than the United States?
In recent weeks, the has accused us of wanting to increase taxes in order to spend extravagantly, whereas it is his party that is continuing to bring in bills such as the one before us, implement its Conservative agenda and cost Canadian taxpayers millions of dollars.
We know very well that a number of provinces have already refused to pay the bill. We are not paid by Canadians to create diversions that will hide major problems. This omnibus bill will be nothing but a drain on our economy. The proof is that case studies show that these measures will not even improve our safety.
The government is repeating history and not disclosing the cost of this excessively expensive program. In an interview with a journalist, the Minister of Justice did not want to disclose the costs associated with passing this bill. The only thing he said to the public was that the cost would be sustainable. If the cost is sustainable, then why is he afraid to tell Canadians where their tax dollars will be going?
Conservative Senator Boisvenu has estimated the cost to be $2.7 billion over five years. That is a major expense for something that will not create more jobs and will not stimulate our economy, but will instead put more people behind bars. I sincerely hope this is not the government's plan for lowering the unemployment rate. I do not understand why we are heading toward an American-style justice system.
Why should the United States be taken as a successful model of crime prevention? If we look at the statistics compiled by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, in 2011, the number of people incarcerated in the United States was astronomical compared to the number in Canada.
In the United States, 760 out of every 100,000 people are in prison, while in Canada we are lucky, at least for now, that only 116 out of every 100,000 people are incarcerated.
I do not want the government to waste piles of money on a system that will not even reduce the crime rate. That has been proven. This money will come out of the taxpayers' pockets. Do we really want to live in a society that is harsh for no reason, spends money unnecessarily and does nothing to prevent crime? We are debating this bill in order to make communities safer. Every member of the House agrees that we want to make our communities safer, but we will not do so by always putting people in prison. There is nothing in this bill to prevent and reduce crime.
In the House, we are finding it difficult to properly fund our public broadcaster, the CBC, because the government says it has to make budget cuts. However, this same government introduces a bill that will cost millions of dollars for prisons. That is hard to understand.
I would like to come back to the minimum sentences I referred to earlier. Mandatory minimum sentences can result in an overrepresentation of aboriginal people and other minorities in the prison population, as is the case in other areas of the world, such as the United States, where minorities account for a high percentage of the prison population. People should not be put in prison for the fun of it. We have to devote our resources to helping people get out of poverty, helping single-parent families, the poor, minorities and those who are mentally ill. I do not see anything in this bill to help prevent crime.
Before I finish my speech, I would like to give several reasons as to why I cannot in good faith support this bill. According to a study conducted by the Canadian Journal of Criminology and Criminal Justice, which many have read, the longer adolescents remain in prison, the higher the probability that they will reoffend. The expression is well known: prison is a school for crime.
There is a clause in this bill that stipulates that young offenders can be tried as adults. As I have already said, I worked in a prison for a long time and I can tell you that it is true. If someone is put in prison for a minor crime, he will come into contact with many people who have committed much more serious crimes and he may learn to commit those types of crimes.
We must take into account the amendments that were proposed by all the parties on this side of the House, focus more on prevention and help people in need before sending them to prison.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today to continue debate on Bill .
It was my pleasure to be a member of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights and extensively review this legislation in committee. I am pleased that it is now coming back to the House.
I want to point out that while the bill's provisions dealing with amendments to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act were amended only once in committee, there were a considerable number of motions by Liberal and NDP members that attempted to weaken sentences that we had targeted at organized crime.
I am pleased to say that members of our caucus in the committee worked very hard. I have to say that in the waning hours of the committee's discussions, government members treated us to some of the most cogent, informative and at times passionate debate that has been seen in our committee. In this regard, I want to congratulate all of my colleagues on the committee for their passionate debate.
The bill proposes a number of amendments to strengthen the provisions in the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act regarding penalties for serious drug offences by ensuring that these types of offences are punished by an imposition of mandatory minimum terms of imprisonment.
With these amendments we are demonstrating the government's commitment to improving the safety and security of our communities across Canada.
During the review of the bill, the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights heard from the Minister of Justice, the Minister of Public Safety, government officials and a range of stakeholders, including many representatives of law enforcement who repeated over and over again to the committee how long they have been calling for these types of measures.
As I have mentioned before, our government recognizes that not all drug offenders and drug trades pose the same risk and danger of violence. That is why Bill provides a focused and targeted approach. Accordingly, the new proposed penalties would not apply to possession offences, nor would they apply to offences involving all types of drugs. That is contrary to what we hear from the members opposite.
What the bill does is focus on the most serious drug offences involving the most serious drugs.
Overall, the proposals represent a tailored approach to the imposition of mandatory minimum penalties for serious drug offences such as trafficking, importation, exportation and production.
It would operate as follows: for Schedule I drugs, such as heroin, cocaine or methamphetamine, the bill proposes a one-year minimum sentence for the offence of trafficking or possession for the purpose of trafficking in the presence of certain aggravating factors.
These aggravating factors would include the following: if the offence was committed for the benefit of or at the direction of or in association with organized crime; if the offence involved violence or the threat of violence, or weapons or the threat of the use of weapons; if the offence was committed by someone who was convicted in the previous 10 years of a designated drug offence or if youth were present. If the offence occurred in a prison, the minimum sentence would be increased to two years; in the case of importing, exporting and possession for the purpose of exporting, the minimum penalty would be one year if these offences were committed for the purposes of trafficking; moreover, the penalty would be be raised to two years if these offences involved more than one kilogram of a Schedule I drug. A minimum of two years would be provided for a production offence involving a Schedule I drug.
Again, we are talking about drugs such as heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine.
The minimum sentence for the production of Schedule I drugs would increase to three years if aggravating factors relating to health and safety were present.
These factors would be as follows: if the person used real property that belonged to a third party to commit the offence; if the production constituted a potential security, health or safety hazard to children who were in the location where the offence was committed, or in the immediate area; if the production constituted a potential public safety hazard in a residential area; or if the person placed or set a trap.
For Schedule II drugs such as marijuana, cannabis resin, et cetera, the proposed mandatory minimum penalty for trafficking and possession for the purpose of trafficking would be one year if certain aggravating factors were present, such as violence, recidivism or organized crime.
If factors such as trafficking to youth were present, the minimum would be increased to two years.
For offences of importing or exporting and for possession for the purpose of exporting marijuana, the minimum penalty would be one year of imprisonment if the offence was committed for the purpose of trafficking.
For the offence of marijuana production, the bill proposes mandatory penalties based on the number of plants involved. Production of six to 200 plants, again if the plants were cultivated for the purpose of trafficking, would carry a penalty of six months. For the production of 201 to 500 plants, it would be one year. For the production of more than 500 plants, it would be two years. For the production of cannabis resin for the purpose of trafficking, the sentence would be one year.
I should mention that the government amended clause 41, which deals with a nine-month mandatory minimum penalty for the offence of producing one to 200 plants inclusively if the production was for the purpose of trafficking and certain aggravating factors were present. The adoption of this motion narrowed the offence such that the mandatory minimum penalty would now apply to instances in which more than five plants but fewer than 200 plants were produced, the production was for the purposes of trafficking, and certain aggravating factors were present. The minimum penalty would no longer apply to the production of five or fewer plants.
If there were aggravating factors relating to the health and safety of the production of schedule II drugs, the mandatory minimum sentences would increase by 50%. The maximum penalty for producing marijuana would be doubled from 7 to 14 years of imprisonment.
Amphetamines, as well as the date-rape drugs GHB and Rohypnol, would be transferred from schedule III to schedule I, thereby allowing the courts to impose higher maximum penalties for offences involving these drugs.
I am pleased that Bill has been thoroughly examined by the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights and that we are rapidly approaching our goal of seeing this legislation passed into law.
Our government's message is clear: drug lords should pay with jail time. Canadians can count on us to continue to stand up for law-abiding citizens.
Finally, there are provisions in the legislation for it to be reviewed. I know that members opposite have been voting against this bill consistently. I would invite them to reconsider that position, based on the fact that there are review provisions in the legislation. I hope we have their support when we vote on this later.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to add my voice to the rising opposition to Bill , which is perhaps best characterized as the Conservatives' most recent piece of dumb on crime legislation.
Our understanding of crime and the appropriate way to handle those who transgress the rules of our society has evolved over the past 400 years. We have moved from a time when criminality was commonly associated with witchcraft to a society that far better understands the root causes of crime and better ways to handle criminals.
I am truly dismayed to see the government completely ignore the work being done on these important topics. It seems to be taking us back to the middle ages. That is not just empty rhetoric. Why do I say that they are taking us back to the middle ages?
First, it is obvious that the government cares not a whit about policies to fight the ultimate cause of crime. Second, it does not care about deterrence. If it did, it would have paid attention to a recent study by its own Department of Justice that was released a week or so ago, which provided evidence that longer sentences are not an effective deterrent to crime. Indeed, the results from that study are consistent with international evidence on the topic.
If the government does not care about fighting the ultimate cause of crime, if it does not care about deterrence, what is left? The only thing the government cares about is the principle of retribution or vengeance, and that is why I make the statement that it is taking us back to the middle ages.
The notion of fighting the underlying causes of crime is not at all important to the Conservatives. At the same time, for the reasons I just explained, the principle of deterrence also appears irrelevant to the Conservatives. All that matters to them is the principle of retribution or revenge. In that sense, this bill takes us back to the Middle Ages.
Nobody in the House would deny that protecting the citizens of Canada from harm is the most important objective of government. In fact, the government is granted a monopoly on the use of force for just that purpose, but with that power comes the responsibility to act in an appropriate manner that benefits society.
Our country was founded on the principles of peace, order and good government, and good government means examining all the facts and opinions. It means talking to experts and making public policy decisions that are based on evidence, not knee-jerk ideological desires. Good government also means respecting Parliament's role in public policy debates.
My opposition to this bill stems from its ineffective and ideological nature, and from the government's inability or unwillingness to work with Parliament on this major issue of public policy. I can already hear that familiar refrain from the other side, soft on crime, soft on victims' rights.
Victims' rights and crime are very important and I find the constant use of victims as a shield for this ideologically-driven agenda to be offensive. I believe nobody in the House is opposed to supporting victims of crime. To suggest otherwise is simply insulting to the intelligence of Canadians.
Indeed, I might mention the case earlier today regarding my colleague, the member for , when he presented amendments that would strengthen the provisions in this bill to support victims of terrorism and add to the remedies against those who commit terrorist acts. It seems the government is not going to accept that amendment, but that is a concrete example of Liberals supporting remedies for those who are victims of crime or terrorism.
What does it mean to support victims of crime? It must certainly mean doing our best to ensure that crime does not happen in the first place or that those who break our laws should be treated in a way that will minimize recidivism. That is how we stand up for victims, by working to ensure that we reduce crime as much as possible and also through measures such as proposed by my colleague from .
I have spoken about the Conservatives' crime agenda in general, but I also want to spend some time on this bill in particular. My primary concern with this bill is that it is fundamentally ineffective. According to Statistics Canada, crime is going down both in volume and severity. This should be trumpeted as a success. Crime is going down. Is that not our objective? When the government should be saying the evidence is saying its policies work, it instead says it does not believe the statistics. It claims the numbers do not matter, but they do matter. For the benefit of my colleagues on the other side of this place, I will go over a few of the facts that they choose to ignore.
As I said before, crime is down. Locking people up for longer does not necessarily make them less likely to reoffend, as I said just a few minutes ago. That is confirmed by a very recent study by the Department of Justice that was acquired through access to information. When we are dealing with young offenders, the negative effects of prison are only multiplied.
What the government needs to understand is that this is not just Liberal nonsense or lefty soft on crime rhetoric. Look at our neighbours to the south. The U.S. incarceration rate is 700% higher than ours. It has very nearly reached a point where fully 1% of the U.S. population is in prison. What does that mean for the U.S.? It means it continues to have higher crime rates than we do. It continues to spend billions more on prisons that we do. Some states, such as California, actually spend more on prisons than they spend on schools. Prisons are not the perfect solution to crime. That is simply outdated 18th century thought and nothing more.
For many criminals, prisons have not proven the palaces of reform that the Conservatives promise they will be. For many, it is simply a school for crime. Our prison system is already at its limit. This plan to dump thousands of new offenders into the system will simply break it. Low level offenders will enter the system after convictions for petty crimes and will leave having made new criminal connections and having learned the skills of the trade. That should never be the outcome of our justice system.
Despite all of this tough talk, one of the things we will not hear the Conservatives talking about during this debate is the mental health of our prisoners. It is widely understood by those who study crime that mental health issues are one of the biggest driving factors of criminal behaviour. Taking care of the mentally ill among us has been a failure of all levels of government for decades now.
As of 2007, 12% of the federal male prison population had a diagnosed mental illness. That is a 71% increase over 1997 and those figures are even worse for female inmates. Our prisons are not supposed to be substitute mental hospitals. In fact, I struggle to find a worse place for a mentally ill person.
Currently, aboriginals are incarcerated at a rate nine times that of non-aboriginal people. I believe that is simply unacceptable. Like most prisoners, they are in prison for non-violent property or drug offences. Time and time again we have seen that the solution to this vicious cycle is not more prisons.
I have covered some of the negative social costs of this dumb on crime agenda, but it is also important to talk about the fiscal costs.
The opposition has been asking the government for detailed cost estimates for its crime agenda. We have received nothing from the government except empty rhetoric. This is unacceptable. Parliamentarians are both policy-makers and the ultimate keepers of the public purse. We have a right to know the costs of the legislation that we are asked to support.
There is another consideration, and I will borrow a term from American politics: unfunded mandate. Yes, there will be significant federal costs, but we cannot ignore the impact these changes will have on provincial governments. These legislative changes, taken in concert with previous changes, will lead to many new provincial inmates at costs borne solely by the provinces.
The government has shown little respect for Parliament and its role, and it is also showing very little respect for provincial governments and their budgets.
Mr. Speaker, thank you for the advance warning of my cutoff.
I have had an opportunity to practise criminal law in Canada for some period of time under the Criminal Code. In fact, I practised law for over 10 years in northern Alberta in a very busy criminal practice. Therefore, I speak to this matter first-hand. I want to let the previous member know that I saw the rotating door of the criminal justice system in Canada, especially in relation to youth offences, and I take exception to his statements relating to more crime. We heard some witnesses say that, but it is utterly ridiculous that if we send people to jail for more time there will be more crime. I do not think any normal Canadian would accept the premise of that member's comments.
However, I am very pleased today to talk about the important changes to the Youth Criminal Justice Act that are included in the safe streets and communities act. I think the title of this particular bill, the safe streets and communities act, is actually the purpose of the bill and exactly what the bill will accomplish once it becomes law. I am very proud to be part of that.
The proposed amendments to the Youth Criminal Justice Act are found in part 4 of Bill , with a few exceptions. The proposals that are in the bill very much mirror the changes that were proposed in the former Bill , Sebastian's law, which, of course, members are familiar with. This was introduced in the House of Commons on March 16, 2010. It was before the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights when Parliament was dissolved just prior to the May 2011 election.
The proposed changes to the Youth Criminal Justice Act reflect the concerns that I have heard clearly in committee and that I have heard for years from Canadians who have expressed concern about violent young offenders. When we think of our youth, we do not usually think of violence, but there is a certain minority of the population under the age of 18, youth, as our courts see them, who have no concern for society as a whole and who do commit very violent offences without thinking about the ramifications.
It also deals with youth who may be committing non-violent offences that, frankly, are spiralling out of control. I saw this time and time again. When we would look at a docket in Fort McMurray on a Wednesday, we would see the same names, not just for one week or two weeks but it would be a constant situation of young people who would be before the court on a continuous basis over the same issues. I do not think that is acceptable and I do not think Canadians find that acceptable because we continue to hear from them on that.
The package of Youth Criminal Justice Act amendments also respond to some other issues, particularly those issues that other Canadians and provincial Attorneys General raised with the in his cross-country consultations.
I want to take a moment to compliment the minister for going door to door throughout the country, city to city, and talking to Canadians first-hand to find out exactly what they were interested in so that we, as a government, could do exactly what we are supposed to do, which is to reflect the priorities of Canadians. This bill would do exactly that.
These amendments also take into account and are responsive to key decisions of the courts, and these are courts right across Canada, provincial courts, territorial courts, superior courts of the provinces, and the Supreme Court of Canada, because, of course, the courts would reflect that, too, but it is ultimately our job as legislators to do that.
These positions also reflect what witnesses have told us. Victims groups and victims came forward and applauded this government on the bill and on specific things that we would bring about in this bill.
The reforms reflect the widely held view that, while the Youth Criminal Justice Act is working well in dealing with the majority of youth who commit crimes, there are concerns about the small number of youth who commit crime. It is a small number but it does not mean it is any less serious, in fact, it is even more serious because if we have an opportunity to deter these people early on in life they can then go back into society as a whole and become good citizens and contribute to society. However, these are people who, as I mentioned before, are repeat offenders and commit serious violent offences.
The proposed changes to the Youth Criminal Justice Act would do several things. First, they would amend the act's general principles to highlight protection of the public. That is very important because the judges, when they look at the act themselves, they can see that one of the primary concerns, which would seem fairly trite, would be to protect the public.
Second, the amendments would clarify and simplify the provisions relating to pre-trial detention, which is very important as well but has become quite cumbersome and complicated in the past years.
The third is to revise the sentencing provisions to include specific denunciation and deterrence factors as sentencing principles. Sentencing principles means that the judge takes that into consideration in the totality of the evidence put before him or her. This would broaden the range of cases for which custody will be available as well. Again, we heard clearly from Canadians that that is what they want.
Fourth is to require judges to consider allowing publication in appropriate cases where young persons are found guilty of violent offences. If we were to read the specific statute regarding this, we would see that it is very difficult for a judge to make that decision, but it is available to the judge if he or she feels it is in the public policy to do so, with some other criteria set out in the act itself.
Fifth is to require police officers to keep records of any extrajudicial measures they use in response to alleged offences by young persons.
Sixth is to define “violent offence” as an offence in the commission of a crime in which a young person causes, attempts to cause or threatens to cause bodily harm and includes conduct that endangers life or safety. It is hard to believe that these particular factors as set out in the Criminal Code were not there before, but this adds that criteria to the sentencing provisions of the judge and the considerations for him or her.
Seventh is to respond to the Supreme Court of Canada's 2008 decision R. v. D.B. by removing the presumptive offence and other inoperative provisions from the Youth Criminal Justice Act and by clarifying the test and onus requirements related to adult sentences.
Finally, eighth is to require that no youth under 18 sentenced to custody will serve his or her sentence in an adult prison or penitentiary. That is very important.