Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
I'm pleased to meet with the members of the justice committee to discuss the main spending estimates of the Department of Justice. My deputy minister, John Sims, is joining me today.
The Department of Justice plays a vital role in Canadian society. It promotes Canada's rights, freedoms, and laws; it provides high-quality legal counsel to the Government of Canada; and it ensures that Canada's system of justice is accessible, efficient, and fair. The work we do at the justice department has a very real impact on the lives of individual Canadians. Through our work on policies and legislation, we strive to create safer and healthier communities that benefit us all.
As Canadians we have always taken pride in our democratic society, our traditionally low crime rates, and our safe communities. I'm sure that most of us remember a time when we left our homes unlocked and felt safe letting our kids play outside unattended. Over the generations, our society has changed. Today we lock our doors, and we are more watchful over our children. We recognize the dangers they face, dangers such as swarming, gangs, and drugs.
While Canada's justice system has evolved over the years, its evolution has not kept pace with Canadian society. It is now facing increased pressure to adapt to the needs of 21st century Canada. That is why Canadians voted for change. Canada's justice system needs new solutions to our modern challenges.
The new government has laid out its agenda for change through five key priorities: passing the Federal Accountability Act; cutting the GST; making our communities safer by cracking down on gang, gun, and drug crime; giving parents a choice in child care; and establishing a guarantee for patient wait times.
As Minister of Justice and Attorney General, I will be working closely with my colleague Stockwell Day, the Minister of Public Safety, to deliver on the new government's priority of making our streets and communities safer by tackling crime.
Today I'd like to discuss some of our new government's priorities for strengthening our justice system. I'm confident that the actions we take to achieve these priorities will result in reforms that will mean everyone, particularly the most vulnerable members of society, can feel safe and secure in their communities.
The first thing we need to change is the way we deal with serious offenders. It is time for Canada to get tough on violent crime. This is an issue that Canadians want addressed, and the new government is committed to ensuring serious consequences for serious crime. But tougher penalties for criminals are only part of the solution.
We also recognize that the most effective way to reduce crime and victimization is to prevent it from ever happening. That is why we are also committed to supporting crime prevention initiatives that will strike at the root causes of criminal behaviour. We will give young people the knowledge and tools to make good decisions so that they can avoid the factors that place them at risk of coming into contact with the criminal justice system.
Mr. Chairman, I am pleased to say that we have already begun to take action on our commitment to strengthen Canada's justice system. Earlier this month I tabled two bills in the House of Commons that will reform our laws so that serious crimes are met with significant consequences.
One bill deals with sentencing and will put an end to the use of conditional sentences, including house arrest, for serious and violent offences. The reforms in this bill will tighten up the law, removing the option for serious, violent, and sexual offenders to receive a conditional sentence. The reforms will ensure a cautious and more appropriate use of conditional sentences, reserving them for less serious offences that pose a lower risk to community safety.
The other bill we introduced will toughen sentences for crimes involving firearms by enhancing the mandatory minimum penalty provisions of the Criminal Code. Under the proposed legislation, serious offences involving firearms will be subject to very tough sentences. If an offence is gang-related or if a restricted or prohibited firearm such as a handgun is used, the minimum penalty will be five years on a first offence, seven years if the accused has one prior conviction for a firearm-related offence, and ten years if the accused has more than one prior conviction for firearm-related offences. Other firearm-related offences, such as firearm trafficking and smuggling or the new offence of robbery where a firearm is stolen, will also be subject to higher escalating minimum penalties.
With these two bills, the new government is meeting its commitment to protect Canadian families and communities by tackling gun, gang, and drug violence. We will be better equipped to fight organized crime and to keep dangerous offenders off our streets.
In addition to these sentencing reform bills, later this spring we will undertake the first step in our plan to protect children. We will table a bill that will raise the age of consent for sexual relations from 14 to 16 years of age and rename it as the “age of protection”. This change will bring us in line with most of the world. It is long overdue, and it is particularly important in the age of the Internet, when young people are targeted by cyber-predators.
These are bold first steps in reform of the law. In addition to this and other legislation, we are developing enhanced strategies for law enforcement, crime prevention, and correctional services as we address key justice issues that are of serious concern to Canadians.
One of these issues is drugs. The number of marijuana grow operations has increased dramatically in Canada, spreading into suburban and rural communities. The production and distribution of drugs such as crack cocaine, crystal meth, and ecstasy have increased as well.
The time has come to make more serious efforts to clean up our streets by tackling drug crime. We must work to ensure the safety and health of our young people by helping them make the right choices to stay away from illegal drugs. In this vein, we have made it clear that we have no intention of decriminalizing drugs, because we want to send the right message to young people about their dangers.
The sentencing reforms I mentioned earlier will play an important role in tackling major drug crime. In addition, we will look to make precursor chemicals of crystal meth, such as pseudoephedrine, harder to get; introduce a national drug strategy, with particular emphasis on youth, that will encompass all drugs in implementing a nationwide awareness campaign to dissuade young people from using drugs; expedite deportation of non-citizens convicted of drug trafficking, drug importation, or running grow ops; and restore the Canada ports police.
Another crime that we need to deal with is street racing. Our cities are not racetracks, and the time has come to get rid of the racers who pose a threat to the safety of our citizens. Through criminal justice reform, we will send a strong message that racing will no longer be tolerated on Canadian streets. Despite the prospect of serious bodily harm, or death, this dangerous phenomenon continues in Canada. It is clear that people who engage in street racing have no regard for their own safety or the safety of others. The stories are tragic. Over the past few years, there have been a number of highly publicized incidents where drivers, their passengers, and innocent victims have been killed. Since January alone, three men in Vancouver, one in Edmonton, and a Toronto taxicab driver have all allegedly been killed because of street racing.
The Government of Canada will work to keep these criminals off our streets. We are committed to combatting this dangerous activity by getting tough on those offenders who so recklessly endanger human life.
In addition to tackling these crime issues, we will also reform the law with respect to our parole and bail processes. Parole must be a privilege to be earned, not a right to be demanded. We will examine a number of options on this front, including creating a presumption of dangerous offender designation for anyone convicted and sentenced to federal custody for three violent or sexual offences; repealing section 745.6 of the Criminal Code, the so-called faint hope clause, that allows a criminal serving a life sentence to apply for early parole; replacing statutory release, the law entitling a prisoner to parole after serving two-thirds of his sentence, with earned parole; toughening parole provisions once you have been convicted of committing a crime while on parole, eliminating parole for life after the third such conviction; preventing courts from giving extra credit for pre-trial custody for persons denied bail because of their past criminal record or for violating bail; and creating a reverse onus for bail hearings for anyone charged with an indictable firearms offence.
For all of these initiatives, I look forward to working with Parliament, law enforcement, corrections, prosecutors, and my provincial counterparts to develop effective new policies.
One last key issue I wish to discuss is crime prevention. Our government, as I have discussed, is focused on tackling the pressing issues of gun crime, criminal gains, and drugs, but this government also recognizes that it is equally important to prevent criminal behaviour before it has taken root. We will address the root causes of crime by supporting communities and families with effective social programs and sound economic policies. Such efforts will include working with the provinces, municipalities, police, and community leaders in areas threatened by gun and gang violence to support programs that reach out to young people. We must help them recognize the dangers of violence in their schools and communities so that they reject gang and gun violence.
The efforts will include supporting results-oriented, community-based initiatives for addictions treatment, training, and rehabilitation of those in trouble with the law, and investing in community-based educational, sporting, cultural, and vocational opportunities for young people at risk. By working with the provinces, territories, and other partners, this government will support solutions that will help end the cycle of violence that can lead to broken communities and broken lives.
I am pleased to note, Mr. Chairman, that Budget 2006 reflects the Government of Canada's commitment to crack down on crime. Highlights from the budget include $161 million for 1,000 more RCMP officers and federal prosecutors to focus on such law enforcement priorities as drugs and border security, including gun smuggling; $37 million for the RCMP to expand its national training academy at Depot to accommodate these new officers and build the capacity to train more officers in the future; funds set aside to expand Canada's correctional facilities to house the expected increase in inmates as a result of changes in sentencing rules; $20 million for communities to prevent youth crime, with a focus on guns, gangs, and drugs; and $26 million to give victims a more effective voice in the federal corrections and justice system and to give victims greater access to services, such as travel to appear at parole hearings.
Budget 2006 presents a balanced approach to law and order spending. I believe these investments will help to strengthen our justice system so that it better meets the needs of our modern Canadian society.
In closing, Mr. Chairman, I wish to thank you and your committee members for the important work that you do. It's an honour for me to take part in this process as Canada's newest justice minister. As I mentioned at the onset, Canada's system of justice contributes to the well-being of Canadians in many ways, but it also faces many challenges. I believe these initiatives, which we will pursue over the coming months, will help to modernize Canada's justice system by getting tough on crime as well as addressing root causes of crime. We will make Canada a safer place to live.
I welcome your questions and look forward to your feedback.
Thank you very much.
Thank you very much. We welcome you to the committee.
It won't be the first time you'll be here. We'll go into the legislative agenda of this government at committee when the bills are before the committee, but these are the estimates and it's about spending.
What we need to understand, first of all, is that all parties are concerned with an effective criminal justice system, and we're all concerned with accessibility to that justice system. We know that many people, more and more people, don't have access to legal aid.
I'd like to point you to the transfer payments. I see there are items not required. The contributions in support of legal aid pilot projects seem to be ending, from $955,000. But what is most interesting to me is that we have criminal legal aid, and I know there is a concern about civil legal aid, Minister.
The contributions to provinces to assist in the operation of legal aid systems: first of all, our main estimates for 2005-06 were about $119,827,000. They seem to have gone down to $79,827,000. What you've put on the table is a legislative agenda that's going to potentially put more people into prisons, and what you've just talked about is your responsibility, as minister, to make sure the system is fair and just and accessible.
I'd like to understand where you are with your discussions with your provincial counterparts, both on the need for more legal aid, or potentially even more than we have currently--why this figure has gone down. Perhaps Mr. Sims can help you with the detail, because it is the detail that I'd like to....
Thank you, and I do want to respond to your earlier comments about the crime rates. I will file these statistics because these are all Canadian stats.
The proportion of violent crimes involving firearms has increased about 10% in the last few years. It is particularly critical for handgun crimes. Handgun homicides have increased about 25% since the late 1990s. Increases in the use of handguns are also reported by the police in robberies, extortion, and miscellaneous violent crimes. In 1993, victims of gang-related homicides as a portion of all victims of homicides made up 2.1%. They now account for 15.3%. These are just some of the statistics. So handgun violence and gang-related violence are clearly on the rise.
I can repeat the statistics that I gave earlier with respect to sexual assault, for example. Here are some interesting statistics. Sexual assault rates increased significantly after the legislative changes in 1983. From 1983 to 1993, sexual assault rates increased 158%, averaging an increase of 10% per year. In 2004, 98% of all sexual assaults were classified as minor sexual assaults. I don't understand what a minor sexual assault is. I would consider a sexual assault to be a sexual assault. For the whole 35-year period--that is 1970 to 2004--rates of sexual assault increased 45%. That's 1.1% per year. So, again, statistics have not shown that these crimes are going down. The numbers of violent and serious offences keep on rising.
I just want to put that on record, and I'm willing to dispute those bold assertions that somehow crime is dropping. Ask people in downtown Winnipeg, north end Winnipeg, what they think about crime 20 years ago, 10 years ago, and today. Ask people in downtown Toronto whether the crime situation with respect to violence is getting better. It's in fact getting worse.
I was very pleased to see the NDP come on board during the federal election with mandatory minimum gun sentences of four years, and to hear your own comments stating that sentences between five and seven years were constitutionally acceptable for violent gun crimes. So I'm very pleased that I could bring forward legislation that corresponds to some of your comments. Certainly, by the third time someone is convicted of a youth gun crime, 10 years is not an inappropriate sentence. Imagine a person being caught with a firearm in a violent crime three times in a row and 10 years not being a sufficient penalty. I'm pleased to see that you're supportive of that direction, if not the specifics of the legislation.
With respect to the two bills, Bill C-9 and Bill C-10, I'm very pleased that in my conversations with provincial attorneys general, while we haven't had a discussion regarding any particular impact of those bills, they have generally been supportive. In fact, the NDP attorney general in Manitoba has been calling for exactly these measures for years in order to deal with the gang problem that is spiralling out of control in areas like Winnipeg and Toronto and moving into other cities.
May I say to the minister, not only is it a pleasure to see you here, but I wish you well in your new appointment. I'm going to miss you sitting beside me, but I'm sure you won't miss me. You will be hearing from me. And you'll be glad to hear that I will be very gentle to the new minister in comparison to the past.
There are some things I would like to mention. I think it's great that you are looking at the stats going back to 1970 and that you're looking at the bigger picture of where we're at in this country in terms of serious crime. I really hope we can look at that avenue as being very effective.
I want to mention how pleased I am to see the age of consent being mentioned in your talk. I think you know what that means to me personally, and only this last week, with 14- and 15-year-olds being taken out of the sex trade in Calgary. It's just really good news. We have to start doing something about these children who get caught up in these kinds of messes.
And I'm pleased to hear your comments and views on section 745. I appreciate that.
I'll make this comment. I believe that Bills C-9 and C-10 are a step in a direction that could create a great deal of deterrence, and when you deter crime, then of course you're going to have less crime. I think that's the object of any government: what we can do to have less crime.
The two points I would like you to comment on before any others are two that have bugged the devil out of me for a long time. Number one, having worked with Paul Gillespie and other police forces across the country with regard to child pornography, I am so pleased with their efforts. And I'm extremely pleased to hear that Bill Gates and software companies are coming aboard and formulating international ideas to deal with this evil multi-billion-dollar industry.
I would like your comments on where we're going with child pornography. And may I suggest mandatory minimums should be considered for offenders using child pornography.
Second, one of the things that has bugged me the most is the amount of money we spend on courts. For example--and this is one example of many I've had--about seven our eight years ago, a fellow by the name of Christopher Goodstoney had a head-on collision that killed four young people from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. At his initial trial he pled guilty. He was driving drunk. That was the start of it. Five years and eighteen court cases later, they finally came to the sentencing of Christopher Goodstoney. For the life of me, I cannot understand what causes these lengthy court trials, particularly in these most obvious cases. Yet there are many of them. Could you address that?
I can try to answer some of those questions, Mr. Thompson. I certainly appreciate your unflagging support in the protection of children and the work you have done in that regard over the years. I appreciate that very much. I know that if we fail to address those issues to your satisfaction, I'll be the first one to know directly from you. So I certainly appreciate it. And I appreciate the work that Paul Gillespie and the squad there in Toronto have been doing so diligently over the last number of years. This unit is a shining example of what dedicated police officers can do on behalf of the children of Canada, and indeed of our society. To see him working in such a difficult area.... I can only imagine seeing that day in and day out. Some of us who have been involved in prosecutions and the like only see glimpses of what these individuals see on a daily basis. It truly is horrendous.
I also wanted simply to mention the issue of raising the age of protection to age 16. We believe this is very important. As you know, our goal is not to criminalize consensual sex between youth. We would be proposing some kind of close-in-age exemption. Some of the child protection groups have lobbied for a five-year close-in-age exemption so there wouldn't be prosecutions where the age difference between them was less than five years. We would retain, however, the two-year close-in-age exemption for those under age 14.
The problem with the existing exploitation of youth section in the Criminal Code is that it essentially puts the burden on the child on the stand to say that, yes, I'm a 14-year-old child and I think there was consensual sex with this 40- or 50- or 60-year-old individual. The children should not be placed in a situation where they are grilled as to whether there was consent at that age. It is reprehensible that it continues in our courts today. We need to change that. That is why we want to raise the age of consent and the age of protection to age 16, so that where these adult predators are taking advantage of our children, our children aren't put on trial. It's the predator who is put on trial. So we are committed to working with respect to those kinds of issues.
The other issue you mentioned is the one of delay in terms of courts. It is a significant problem, and I think we have to work in partnership with the courts in order to resolve those issues. But there are things the government can do. As a result, for example, of Supreme Court of Canada decisions on R. v. Stinchcombe, there is a requirement to deliver, essentially, every shred of paper to the defence in order that a full and proper defence can be mounted on behalf of someone charged with a crime.
We have to then look at the situation. If we are already providing this paper documentation, essentially by way of a preliminary hearing, why do we continue with the existing preliminary hearings? Why do we subject witnesses to two grillings by defence lawyers when in fact there should be one trial? There is no constitutional requirement for preliminary hearings. Indeed, in many serious crimes now, especially in those crimes where there are significant drug deals, or in gang-related situations where you don't want your witnesses intimidated in the interim, you can go by way of direct indictment and move the matter more quickly to trial--so there's a fully, constitutionally sanctioned trial on the merits--and have that one hearing.
Those are things that I think we should be looking at. You as a justice committee should be looking at ways of trying to improve it. So as the courts have moved our justice system along to ensure that constitutional rights are protected, other things that are not constitutionally required are now being essentially duplicated. And one has to wonder whether they are, in fact, otherwise required.
Minister, we need to be tough on crime, no question about that, but we also need to be smart about crime, and if we're going to propose new criminal justice measures they have to be evidence-based.
You're citing some Stats Canada stuff, but I'm looking at the Stats Canada report that says Canada's crime rate, based on data reported by police services, fell 1% last year. Violent crimes fell. Robberies with a firearm continue to decline. I don't want to get into a futile exchange of statistics, but let me just say that you can't come back to this committee with Bill C-9 and Bill C-10 unless you have an evidence-based case that justifies it. This side of the House is unconvinced by your numbers, with due respect. Also, we can't base public policy on the basis of perception. We have to have some evidence base to justify the measures you propose. The case, with respect, is simply not proven on the basis of the Statistics Canada stuff I've got.
The second issue I'd raise is that my constituents in Etobicoke--Lakeshore are as concerned about crime as your constituents in Winnipeg, but they want a balanced approach, Minister, and I'm questioning whether there is balance here. Is there enough real investment in crime prevention? Is there enough investment in youth justice programs that avoid incarceration wherever possible?
What I see in this basic strategy is an excessive emphasis on incarceration. So there are two questions. Number one, do you have, in discussion with the public safety minister, some clear numbers about what are the financial implications of the necessary expansion in correctional services that are going to be required? I don't think we've heard a clear answer to that question. What is this going to cost, Minister? Number two, can you assure that we've got balance here? You seem to be relying almost exclusively on incarceration.
If I could introduce one personal note, I spent three years in a maximum security prison every Tuesday night doing volunteer work. The conclusion I drew from being in a maximum security prison--and no one is less soft on crime than me--is that an exclusive reliance on incarceration makes almost everybody who goes through the system worse. You're going to have to convince the public that an exclusive reliance on increased incarceration is actually going to solve the problem you want to solve. And on the evidence that I've seen, the case is just not proven.
Well, in response, I can simply suggest to look at it in a generational context. Don't look at it simply in one year or two years. Quite frankly, a 100% increase in some areas of violent or dangerous crime is simply not acceptable, whether it's in a generation or 10 years.
What concerns us, and what specifically drives these bills, for example, is the percentage of handgun homicides that we are now seeing, the increase of about 25% since the late 1990s. And there are others.
I would invite you to ask the chiefs of police to come and talk about the gang activity that is going on in your city. I've received briefings about the sophistication of gangs and how gangs are now controlling the streets. And they're not simply isolated pockets of street gangs, but they work together now with the more mature gangs, if I can use that word, in order to advance criminal enterprises.
So what these bills do, and specifically the one on mandatory minimum penalties, is focus on gun crime and ensure that those gang- and gun-related issues are dealt with.
Mayor Giuliani has an impressive track record. He just recently spoke to an audience in Winnipeg, and I got reports back from that. Essentially, he would agree with you, I think, that you need to have all of these preventative programs in place. They're very important. But what he also made clear is that if you don't deal with the crime on the street, the money spent on social programs simply will not work. You need to deal in a very forceful way with crime on the streets. And his track record is one to be envied. The murder rate now in New York City is lower than it was in 1963. In the mid-1990s, 2,200 people a year were being murdered in New York City. Now the number is somewhere around 550. Now, 550 people is a lot of people, but when we look at the measures he took with respect to being firm with crime, 1,500 more people are living in a year than before.
To me, when you talk about a balanced approach, what could be more balanced than saving 1,500 lives? To me, that is important.
When I talk to an aboriginal man or woman in the north end of Winnipeg, where the streets are ravaged by gangs and owned by gangs.... What is balanced about being frightened to come out, not just at night but in the evenings and during the day? What's balanced about that? The gunmen and the drug dealers need to be off the streets. And I can tell you, the social programs, the economic programs, and the community programs will work in that case.
Those are very good questions, and I don't have all the answers to them.
Did I find the process with respect to the picking of the Supreme Court nominee and the eventual appointment of Justice Rothstein to be a good one? Absolutely. We worked very cooperatively with all parties, including your former colleague, Mr. Marceau, from the Bloc, who was on that committee. In fact, he chaired the committee looking at the issue of appointments to the lower courts, below the Supreme Court of Canada.
On the issue of the Supreme Court of Canada appointment and whether we should continue with that, certainly the Prime Minister has indicated that he is in favour of that. He would like to see that carried on. Certainly, at least at a minimum, what we did should be carried on. I can disclose to you that there has been a request that the committee reconvene in order to talk about the process, because we haven't had that opportunity yet to talk about what we learned from the process and perhaps what suggestions or recommendations we can give to the Prime Minister in terms of future hearings.
With respect to the lower courts--and I don't mean that in a derogatory way, but the courts that are all answerable to the Supreme Court of Canada, if I can say it that way--I'm not sure whether the same process is appropriate, given the numbers of judgeships that become vacant. We do have a process we examined, and the report did identify certain concerns about the way judges have been appointed.
There are a number of provincial bodies that consider provincial appointments, for example, and I think there's a lot to be learned from some of those provincial committees that recommend appointments to the provincial bench. Certainly I'm more familiar with the Manitoba situation, but I believe Ontario's situation is very similar to that.
The important point that I think we want to make in the appointment of judges, especially to the Supreme Court of Canada, is to introduce these individuals to the Canadian population. That's what I kept hearing after that hearing process, that people understood that these individuals--and particularly Justice Rothstein, who's the only one we've had that kind of process with--are flesh and blood. They are human beings, very much so. People really appreciated it. They felt that they had a significant understanding of who the individual was. I think knowing the judges in that way will also result in a better acceptance of their decisions. When you know the decision-maker, it is easier to accept the decision. So in terms of the credibility of the courts, it's an important step to take, but I'm willing to work with the committee on those kinds of recommendations.
I would like to thank the justice minister for this very insightful presentation today. I've heard from my constituency, and from people all across Canada in different places where I've been, how people now have an environment of hope that the streets will be safe.
I do have a question, but as background, I would like to say that I am the mother of a police officer in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. I was the justice critic for the province of Manitoba.
I would like to ask a question centred around the stats that we have discussed today. The minister has very rightfully brought up the fact that handgun homicides have increased by 25% and sexual assault by 158%. On the street, when the Youth Criminal Justice Act was brought in, it was touted as being soft on crime for youth. A lot of things happened following that. I know, from the perspective of working with police and being on the ground, that many of the stats are not available because young offenders are never charged. Whether they have handguns or whether they have anything else, often those crimes are not reflected in the stats simply because they're not incarcerated and they're not charged. So I think, looking at the stats from that point of view, and having talked to many police officers who have worked with these people, there are many things missing from Canadian stats.
Clearly, people do not feel safe, and since the announcements about being tough on crime, people have started to have renewed faith in the Canadian justice system. I give you credit for that, and I give members around this table who have worked on these initiatives credit for that, because in a democratic society, Canadians should have the privilege of being safe on their streets. We're talking about neighbourhoods that are traditionally safe.
Having said that, when we talk about incarceration and the fact that we have to be balanced, people out there are feeling that the justice system in the past has not been balanced because there have been no consequences for crimes perpetrated against them.
Another statistic that we don't have is the cost of crime. What does it cost when cars are smashed at random? What does it cost when people's homes are broken into? What does it cost to a family when someone has been sexually assaulted? The cost is so great that it will not be reflected in those kinds of stats, because there are so many other variables.
I would expect, Mr. Minister, that indeed we will have an increase in incarcerations. One point you made was that you have to deal with the crime first, get it cleaned up off the streets, and then put programs in that support and enhance youth so that they can be redirected. Often young people--and I've talked to many of them--have been forced into crime through having a family that is not supportive at home or through peer pressure. Swarming incidents are increasing in our schoolyards.
Could you please comment on the fact that incarceration is really not reflected in the stats to date because there are many people who have not been charged even though they've committed crimes?
Certainly we saw exactly that with the coming in of the Youth Criminal Justice Act. Many police officers no longer bother even taking reports or filing charges. So it wouldn't surprise me that in many respects crime stats are going down, but the incidence of crime continues to climb.
On one very recent example out of Vancouver, the new Mayor of Vancouver has just re-announced--I heard this about two months ago--that they are now actually going to send out police officers to investigate break and enters. If you were broken into before, you just phoned it in and that was the end of the investigation. Now these stats that were previously kept out will continue to be reflected. Because no one was following up, there were no official stats.
Just speaking on a common-sense basis, people know that the condition of our streets in terms of crime is nowhere near what it was 20 years ago. You're in northeast Winnipeg, an area where I grew up, and I know that changes have occurred there. There are robberies, break and enters, and auto thefts, where those were unheard of 25 or 30 years ago.
I note your hard work with community organizations in that respect and your support of the police. Your son is not only an RCMP officer who just joined the RCMP, but he was a Brandon city police officer for many years. With his very close connection to the aboriginal community in Manitoba, he has a very strong and good insight into what is actually happening on our streets and in our aboriginal communities, which are so plagued by rising crime rates.
We are concerned about support for crime prevention. My department, together with the Department of Health, is managing the drug treatment court funding program. Under this program we are providing contribution to six drug treatment courts: Toronto, Ottawa, Winnipeg, Edmonton, Regina, and Vancouver. There are other justice funding programs that will continue--the youth justice renewal fund. The justice partnership and innovation program is always willing to consider proposals that aim to prevent and reduce crime. We work in close collaboration in the Department of Justice with other departments, such as public safety, and there are strong programs on crime prevention.
At this time we haven't examined the Youth Criminal Justice Act. I know there were various commitments made by various parties in the last election in terms of reducing the age of criminal responsibility for certain types of offences. My department is presently examining aspects of the Youth Criminal Justice Act, and we have not yet developed any particular strategy in respect of that act. But I might say that Attorney General Scott of Nova Scotia came to see me, and he was very concerned about the issue of pre-trial release of young offenders. He felt that was an issue that needed to be addressed. The Mayor of Toronto, for example, talked about a reverse onus when it came to gun crimes.
I think we need to examine whether it's an adult or a youth when we talk about the conditions upon which release is provided, and that's something that needs to be done.
We will examine all of the platform commitments that my party made in the last election, as well as some of the commitments made, I believe, by the New Democratic Party in respect of those same issues.
I think there is room to move. In a minority Parliament, of course, you have to move where and when you can, and that's one of the reasons why, for example, we brought forward the mandatory minimum prison sentences on gun crime--something that was supported by the Liberal Party and the NDP during the last election. That was one of the reasons we moved as quickly as we did, and we will hold, and indeed the Canadian people will hold, parties accountable if they don't carry out the promises they made during the election.
I will just say this in closing about the point you made in terms of the cost, what is the cost to society. I was addressing the Surrey Chamber of Commerce some time ago, and they estimated at that time that the cost of a crack addict on the street is about $1,000 in stolen product every day--every day. That's 365 days a year; that's $365,000 a year. Not everybody pays for it, but the business people certainly pay for that. There is a tremendous cost in that $365,000 that one crack addict is stealing in the course of a year. That's a cost that often goes unnoticed. That's a financial cost.
But the cost to someone whose house is invaded.... For an old man, for example, whose house is invaded and who is beaten senseless by individuals who want to steal a few hundred dollars, what's the cost to that individual? Where's the balance? Where's the balance when we start talking about that kind of cost and those who would perpetrate those kinds of crimes against the most vulnerable people in our society?
Let me recount one incident that I think demonstrates and encapsulates many incidents, especially in respect of conditional sentencing or house arrest.
A sergeant in southern British Columbia, in the White Rock area, was telling me about a situation where they had arrested for the third time a person who was on conditional sentence. He already had two conditional sentences. He was still on conditional sentence. When he was brought back the third time in front of the court, the court said it was apparent that he was simply not listening to the conditions that had been imposed; therefore, it was removing all the conditions and sent the person back out on the street.
So here is an incident, perhaps a radical, extreme incident, of what one judicial reaction was, but the issue of multiple conditional sentences is not extreme. It happens continuously, and police can tell you exactly that. In fact, that contributes to the frustration of many of the police officers who apprehend especially youth involved in auto theft or breaking and entering...to simply release those individuals without even processing them. What we are doing when we release youth in that fashion is in fact creating better criminals. They understand that there is no accountability and their crimes increase. Unfortunately, what happens is that when they hit 18 years of age, eventually there is some accountability, but rather than having to throw them in jail or penitentiary at age 18, if we actually work with them in terms of taking their crime seriously, I believe we can reduce that revolving door.
Conditional sentences aren't doing anybody a favour. In simply apprehending youth and releasing them because of the frustration with the Youth Criminal Justice Act, we aren't doing the young people any favour. Ultimately it catches up with them. Whether it's the justice system that catches up with them, whether it's a serious addiction that catches up with them, or whether it's in terms of the misery that is caused in their families and their community, it catches up. So we need to address that.
This is one of the first steps in terms of saying in regard to conditional sentences, if you are subject to a penalty punishable by 10 years or more, conditional sentences simply should not apply. That was the original intent of the bill when it was brought in, but it was badly drafted, or perhaps deliberately drafted in that way, realizing that it would then extend to violent and serious crime. So we have manslaughter and sexual assaults all punishable now by house arrest.
Quite frankly, the idea that simply because you abolish conditional sentences for those kinds of crimes means you're sending people to jail is not correct. You still have the alternative of the suspended sentence with probation orders, which are much more effective, not as cumbersome, not as complex, and a much better mechanism for police to use in order to hold those individuals accountable. So you don't have to send them to prison, but you have to have a mechanism that holds people accountable when they breach those orders. I would suggest that in these kinds of situations, conditional sentences simply are not appropriate.
Minister, on November 10 we have to vote these estimates. Your plans and priorities come out in September, I believe. We also probably will have supplementary estimates, so we'll be able to get more detail from you as you have these conversations with your provincial colleagues, because they're important subjects.
I don't think we play politics with the Criminal Code of Canada. I think we do go from an evidence base. I think it's important to all of us. I would like to remind people that in the Criminal Code right now there are 20 mandatory minimum sentences in gun crimes alone. There are another number with respect to other offences, but the proportionality test of sentencing is clearly predominant; it's still there. You're not adjusting that. This is the area of discussion, and you are in a minority Parliament.
Some of us would like to deal with these issues very seriously. When we come to you and to your department, Minister, I would like your assurance that when we get briefings, we're going to get more than the bills and the material you put out as your press releases, that there will be a full and proper briefing so that we can understand the point of view you're trying to put forward--why you have and have not included certain sections of the code, certain offences, and the rationale, so this can be shared. You've said today that you're open to some amendments. I'm very much looking forward to working towards amending some of these provisions.
We have to work seriously in a concerted effort to do the best for Canadians. That's not something that's owned by any one party in this House. It is something that has worked out very well. Before we start any serious study on the pieces of legislation, I think this committee will have to get the relevant Statistics Canada Juristat people in here and start working from something we can all agree on as the baselines. It's not somebody picking a certain time and place, a certain period, or a certain venue, but we work from proper and accepted statistical data we can all agree on. That's not asking too much when we do serious studies of this bill, and we have done serious studies of bills in the past; I was on this committee when we put in some of those mandatory minimums.
Personally, I'm not particularly such a great fan of mandatory minimums, but just because I might have a personal preference doesn't mean there isn't a use. I'm open to that discussion. I think these discussions will be had with the appropriate impact of the testimony from people who maybe know better than you or I do personally, people who have made lifelong studies of these issues, and the stakeholders, whether there are police associations--you know, the police associations in this country tell us they use the gun registry as a tool, for example.
We have to look at all the stakeholders and all the information, and not just be selective. I think that's the most important thing we have to understand.