moved that Bill , be read the third time and passed.
He said: Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to lead off the third reading debate on Bill .
During the last federal election, the Conservative Party of Canada laid out clear plans to make our streets and communities safer for Canadians. We promised to target criminal enterprise and the gangs that profit from violence, drugs and fear and undermine people's sense of personal security and their confidence in the Canadian criminal justice system.
Canadians listened to our message of hope and responded by granting us the privilege of forming the government, so today I am very proud to stand in the House as to follow through on our promises to deliver on our core promises to tackle crime.
In order to make our communities safer, we introduced several criminal justice bills aimed at getting violent, dangerous criminals off our streets.
We introduced Bill , the age of protection bill, to protect 14 year olds and 15 year olds from adult sexual predators.
We introduced Bill to improve the process for keeping violent and repeat offenders in prison, and Bill , which aims to put an end to house arrest for serious and violent offenders and which, I am pleased to say, has passed this House.
These are just a few of our recent initiatives.
Bill , the bill that we have before us at third reading, is an important piece of legislation that specifically targets gun and gang violence.
I am very pleased that we have received the support of a majority of members of the House to restore the bill, and while the bill we debate today is amended somewhat from its original form, it still contains tough mandatory minimum penalties for serious offences involving firearms.
More specifically, Bill , as amended, proposes escalating penalties of five years' imprisonment on a first offence and seven years on a second or subsequent offence for eight specific serious offences involving the actual use of firearms. Those offences are: attempted murder, discharging a firearm with intent to injure a person or prevent arrest, sexual assault with a weapon, aggravated sexual assault, kidnapping, hostage taking, robbery, and extortion.
I should point out that these tough penalties will apply when the offence is committed in connection with a criminal gang or if a restricted or prohibited firearm is used.
Who can be against that? Who can be against those provisions? This is what we talked about with the Canadian public in the last election and I believe there is widespread support for a bill of this nature.
Bill defines what will constitute a prior conviction with respect to these use offences, that is, the use of firearms. This means that any prior conviction in the last 10 years, excluding the time spent in custody, for using a firearm in the commission of an offence will count as a prior conviction and will trigger the enhanced mandatory penalty for repeat offences.
Also, I should point out that Bill now proposes penalties of three years on a first offence and five years on a second or subsequent offence for four serious offences that do not involve the actual use of a firearm. Those offences are: illegal possession of a restricted or prohibited firearm with ammunition, firearm trafficking, possession for the purpose of firearm trafficking, and firearm smuggling.
For the non-use offences it is important to note that the prior convictions for both the use offences and the non-use offences will trigger the higher mandatory minimum penalties applicable in repeat offences.
The bill, as amended, also creates two new offences dealing specifically with the theft of firearms. Breaking and entering to steal a firearm and robbery to steal a firearm now are made indictable-only offences, subject to life imprisonment.
Therefore, as we can see, this bill targets serious gun crimes with a particular focus on when such crimes are committed by criminal organizations, which of course includes gangs.
It sends a very clear message to the public that this Conservative government is serious about dealing with this type of crime. I am very pleased and proud that we are introducing this piece of legislation and seeing it through to its conclusion.
I should point out the manner in which Bill was amended at report stage is an example of this government's willingness to make this minority Parliament work. Together with members of the New Democratic Party we dealt with a problem and we found a solution that responded to our respective concerns and priorities. I am pleased that we had their support and that of several other hon. members of this House.
I saw, I believe, about five members of the Liberal Party who broke ranks with their own party. I want to tell the House how much I welcomed that and certainly appreciated their support. I think they received the message on this. I am very pleased to have that support at third reading. I would welcome more support from other members of the opposition.
I should point out that Bill has the support of other important stakeholders as well. Police officers and prosecutors are supportive of this government's attempt to pass this tough on crime legislation. They have said that tougher mandatory penalties are needed to target the specific new trend that has emerged in many Canadian communities, and that is the possession and use of firearms, usually handguns, by street gangs and drug traffickers.
In that regard, I point out the support that this approach received from the attorney general of Ontario. He pointed out in a Globe and Mail article on March 6 that he liked this approach of getting tougher. He called on his federal colleagues in the Liberal Party to get behind legislation of this type because he believed this was the way to go.
Mr. Speaker, the safety and security of Canadians are not partisan matters. If we want to see progress in tackling gun crime, we will all have to do our part.
Police officers have to do their part in investigating and apprehending those who commit crimes. Crown attorneys have to do their part in ensuring that accused persons are effectively prosecuted, and of course, judges have their part to do in imposing sentences.
As parliamentarians we have a strong role to play as well. We set the laws. We signal to the courts what we consider to be appropriate penalties for specific crimes.
There are a number of opposition members who say they cannot support Bill , but many of these same members have already supported mandatory penalties in the past, and particularly for firearms offences. In fact, it was the Liberal government that introduced a number of mandatory penalties in the mid-nineties and proposed a very modest increase to some of the gun-related crimes in the last Parliament.
This government does not believe a one year increase is going to make enough of a difference. We want to send a clearer message. We need to ensure that the appropriate stiff penalties are imposed on gun traffickers and gang members who use guns in such serious offences as attempted murder, hostage taking, robbery and extortion.
We believe that the proposals in Bill , as amended, are both tough and reasonable. As I have already indicated, the proposals are restricted to the key areas that are a growing concern to people across this country.
There certainly is evidence to support the problems associated with the current level of gun crime. Crime statistics, police, and several other experts in this area, point to a growing problem with respect to guns and gangs. While the national trends show an overall decrease in some crime over the past few decades, it is not the case with violent crimes such as homicide, attempted murder, assault with weapons, and robbery, especially in larger urban areas across the country.
Statistics also show that while crimes committed with non-restricted guns are down, handguns and other restricted or prohibited firearms have become the weapon of choice for those who use firearms to commit crimes.
Toronto's rate of firearm homicides in recent years has frequently been reported by the press. Statistics Canada data shows that it is not just a problem unique to central Canada. The rate in Edmonton has also recently increased and Vancouver has consistently had higher rates over the last decade.
Gang-related homicides and the proportion of handguns used in violent crimes have become a major cause for concern and gun crime with restricted weapons or guns used by gang member is an increasing problem in urban communities.
Organized criminals are fuelling much of the crime problem and the government's justice agenda aims to curtail this problem by increasing the mandatory minimum penalties for crimes committed with guns, ending house arrest for those convicted of serious violent crimes and sexual offences, and other significant crime, such as major drug offences.
As I mentioned earlier, Bill includes a number of sentences for both use and non-use firearms offences with the stiffest penalties. The bill targets serious gun crimes committed by gangs or organized crime and the prohibitive weapons that they use.
In addition to this legislation, the federal government of course has a role to play in making funds available to help prevent crime before it happens. I am happy that the government has made investments in crime prevention and specifically to help at risk youth from becoming involved in criminal gangs, guns and drugs.
Funding is available to allow communities to examine issues surrounding gang involvement, create awareness of youth gang recruitment, prevention and intervention strategies, identify service gaps and best practices, and develop program responses.
Several activities have already started to fulfill the government's commitment to work with the provinces and territories to help communities provide hope and opportunity for our youth and end the cycle of violence that can lead to broken communities and broken lives.
I would like to speak for a moment on how the bill is consistent with the sentencing principles provided in the Criminal Code and charter rights. The Criminal Code provides that it is a fundamental principle of the Canadian sentencing regime that a sentence should be proportionate to the gravity of the offence and the degree of responsibility of the offender.
It also provides that the purpose of sentencing is to impose sanctions on offenders that are just, in order to contribute respect for the law and the maintenance of a just, peaceful and safe society.
Accordingly, the objectives in sentencing are to denounce unlawful contact, deter the offender and others from committing offences, and separate offenders from society where necessary, as well as assist them in rehabilitating and accepting responsibility for their actions while repairing the harm they have caused to victims and their community.
The manner in which the higher mandatory penalties will apply under Bill is intended to ensure that they do not result in disproportionate sentences contrary to the charter. The higher levels of seven years for using a firearm and five years for non-use offences are reserved for repeat firearms offenders.
If an offender has a relevant recent history of committing firearms offences, it is not unreasonable to ensure that the specific sentencing goals of deterrence, denunciation and separation of serious offenders from society are given priority by the sentencing court.
The government considers that the mandatory penalties proposed in Bill are not only just but are also appropriately targeted at the specific problem which they seek to address; that is the new trend that has developed with respect to guns and gangs.
At the beginning of my remarks I mentioned that the government is determined to make Canadian streets safer, communities safer and to stand up for victims. The good news on this front is that we are only just getting started.
Mr. Speaker, it is a great pleasure to address the House on Bill , an act to amend the Criminal Code or, more specifically, an act to implement minimum penalties for offences involving firearms.
I would like to say at the outset that this bill does not allow judges to impose stiffer penalties. The maximums are still the same. For serious offences, the same maximums can be imposed on criminals by judges and they will continue to impose maximums in serious cases.
I would like to remind people that we have a committee system. When a proposal comes to Parliament we have a committee meeting. A number of members from each party go to the meeting to hear expert witnesses in the field. We look at bill after bill day in and day out and obviously members of Parliament cannot be experts on all of them. Therefore, we bring people who have spent their careers in these fields before committee and, based on their knowledge, expertise and input, we wisely make our decisions.
I do not think, in this particular case, a single committee member would not admit that the overwhelming evidence from a vast majority of experts indicates that mandatory minimums do not work. I am sure it would be self-condemnation of the cognitive abilities of any member to actually suggest that was not the case from the expert witnesses that came before committee.
It is in true conscience, using the system as it is meant to be used, that one could take the expertise and overwhelming advice in this particular case. Quite often in committees there is a lot of conflicting advice from both sides but in this case there was some on the other side but very little.
I agree with the that this is a non-partisan issue and I will be doing that in my speech today. In order to be non-partisan, I will only refer to things that witnesses before committee have said. I will put their testimony on the record so that other members of Parliament can hear what some of the people who have devoted their lives to this type of work have said.
First, I will present some comments from the Canadian Bar Association, a national association that represents 37,000 jurists, including notaries, law teachers and students across Canada. The association's primary objectives include improvement of the law and the administration of justice. In fact, I believe the government's would have been a member of this association in his previous life.
The CBA consistently opposes the use of minimum penalties. It supports measures to deter the illegal use of firearms but stresses that such measures must be consistent with the fundamental sentencing principles in the Criminal Code with constitutional guarantees and following the well-established guidance offered by Canada's common law. This is the position of the CBA, representing 37,000 individuals. It is opposed to this legislation. Surely. it must have good reasons and information for making such an important decision.
The CBA's opposition can be summed up in four points. First, unlike what many people may think on the surface:
Mandatory minimum penalties do not advance the goal of deterrence. International social science research has made this clear. Canada's own government has stated that:
The evidence shows that long periods served in prison increase the chance that the offender will reoffend again...In the end, public security is diminished, rather than increased, if we “throw away the key”.
Basically, this law would make society more dangerous. I know that is not what appears to be what happens on the surface but, as the social science experts and the government's own report suggests, this would make society more dangerous.
The second reason the Bar Association brings forward is:
Mandatory minimum penalties do not target the most egregious or dangerous offenders, who will already be subject to very stiff sentences precisely because of the nature of the crimes they have committed. More often, the less culpable offenders are caught by mandatory sentences and subjected to extremely lengthy terms of imprisonment.
What happens is that these serious offenders are already given long sentences and the people who should not have long sentences because of the circumstances are the ones who are unfairly caught by these minimums once discretion is taken away from the judge.
The third reason the Bar Association provided is:
Mandatory minimum penalties have a disproportionate impact on those minority groups who already suffer from poverty and deprivation. In Canada, this will affect aboriginal communities, a population already grossly over represented in penitentiaries, most harshly.
The fourth reason the Canadian Bar Association provided is:
Mandatory minimum penalties subvert important aspects of Canada's sentencing regime, including the principles of proportionality and individualization, and reliance on judges to impose a just sentence after hearing all facts in the individual case.
Another important criticism from the CBA comes from its interpretation of section 718.1 of the Criminal Code. CBA states:
Section 718.1 of the Criminal Code states that the fundamental principle of sentence is proportionality, requiring that a “sentence must be proportionate to the gravity of the offence and the degree of responsibility of the offender”.
Bill would require the same mandatory minimum sentence to apply to all offenders, even though offences and the degrees of responsibility vary significantly. I think anyone would agree that that would not be fair.
Proportionality reflects the delicate balance that must be achieved in fashioning a sentence. Common sense and fairness require an individualized proportional sentence. The Canadian Bar Association believes this is why minimum sentences have been severely criticized in many important studies, including Canada's own sentencing commission report.
Further, the Criminal Code contains a statutory acknowledgment of the principle of restraint, stating that the purpose of sentencing is to separate offenders from society where necessary.
I will now quote the final words of the address from the Canadian Bar Association. It says:
The mandatory minimum sentences proposed by the Bill would focus on denunciation and deterrence to the exclusion of other legitimate sentencing principles, and too often lead to injustice. Ultimately, it is unlikely to enhance public safety, but likely to instead further erode the public's confidence in the fairness and the efficacy of the Canadian justice system.
I will now quote some other witnesses we had before the committee who also provided evidence and the expertise from years of experience in this field as to why this is flawed legislation, and by flawed I mean flawed in the view of the expert witnesses who came before committee.
One of the witnesses, Paul Chartrand, a professor of law at the University of Saskatchewan, told us that if we wish to “promote a just and tolerant Canada...then, with respect to Bill C-10, is minimum mandatory sentencing a legitimate means to address the problem? My answer is no.”
Professor Chartrand went on to ask, “Will mandatory sentencing work? Once again the answer is no.” In his opinion, the way to combat crime is to combat the root causes of crime: assist children through children's benefits; assist families through community services, recreation and so on.
Professor Chartrand also told us that the federal government could not do it alone. He said that it would need to work not only with the provinces and territories, but with municipal governments as well.
Another witness, Mr. Alan Borovoy, general counsel, Canadian Civil Liberties Association, told us about the flaw within Bill . This is taken from the minutes of our justice committee meeting on November 29, 2006. He said:
I have another case to illustrate the nature of the injustices this is capable of producing. In 1994 the Ontario Court of Appeal reduced the jail sentence of a prisoner who had been convicted of discharging a firearm with intent to cause harm. They reduced this sentence from 12 months to six months because in the opinion of the court he had an exemplary record previously and he was acting in a situation of high stress that required split-second decision-making. The prisoner, it turns out, was a police officer. The person at whom he unloaded his firearm was a burglar he was chasing. He grazed his arm.
If that man had come up for sentencing today under the provisions of Bill he would serve no less than four years, and I am certain that the Conservative Party is definitely in support of our police officers and would not let such an egregious offence against justice occur. There would be all sorts of other situations when the conditions would mandate a sentence that is different from a minimum sentence.
As I said, the maximum sentences are not changed here. Very stiff penalties are available in the justice system. They are not increased in the bill and are still there for the judge to use under this particular bill.
Thanks to the grace of Bill , this police officer, who was doing the best he could, might have had to serve five years. I find it inconceivable that even the most ardent proponents of mandatory minimum sentences would wish that kind of outcome on that police officer.
How does that happen? It is because simplistic solutions like mandatory sentences inevitably encounter a complex reality. We cannot always make them fit. That is why this bill is such an abomination.
Once again, those words were from testimony before the justice committee on Bill by Mr. Alan Borovoy, general counsel for the Canadian Civil Liberties Association.
Let us go on to another witness so that members do not think this is about just one or two people, although we have had the reference from an organization that represents 37,000 people in the legal community in Canada.
We will go on to Mr. Graham Stewart, the executive director of the John Howard Society of Canada. He left us with the following message to mull over:
Respect for the criminal justice system will never be achieved by measures that breed distrust of our judiciary. Measures that would eliminate the discretion of the court and replace it with one that is inherently arbitrary cannot generate public confidence in either the judicial or the political systems.
Mr. Stewart also outlined this grim reality, an offshoot of Bill :
Harsh penalties encourage greater recidivism. When the impact of Bill C-10 runs its course, the same number of gun offenders will be released each year from prison as is the case today. Having served longer sentences, those being released from our prisons will likely be much more difficult to reintegrate into society. We will have fewer resources to either prevent crime or rehabilitate offenders. They will be more likely to offend again.
There we are hearing the same message that we have heard before. When we put people in prison for longer sentences, especially when under the circumstances those sentences are not just, offenders actually tend to reoffend. Our criminal justice system has actually failed in that respect. Most of the crimes in society are not first offences, so the way to stop them, as the witnesses said, is to first of all deal with the root causes and, second, with the treatment in the jails, or alternative sentencing, which another bill tried to eliminate a lot of, but fortunately Parliament would not allow that to occur.
That is why I was somewhat apprehensive when the said in his speech that there is much more to come after these bills.
Another witness explained that when we put people in jail for a longer time, in that university of criminals, they come out worse. They come out more likely to reoffend and then society's recidivism problem is worse. Thus, we are going to increase crime in society because people are more likely to offend when they come out. Once we get caught up on the years, we are going to have the same number of people being released.
People have to remember that all these criminals get released. Everyone we are dealing with under the bill gets released. There are a few dangerous offenders, but there is another bill that keeps them in forever. Under this bill, everyone gets out.
If we want to do justice to the victims in our society, if we want to do justice to innocent people so they are not re-victimized or are not victimized for the first time, we want society to be safer. We want people who are coming out of prison to be less likely to reoffend because they are the ones who actually create most of the crimes.
How are they going to be less likely to offend? The statistics, the social scientists and the experts who came to committee showed that the actual facts are that they are less likely to reoffend if they have had shorter sentences and the appropriate treatment.
Mr. Stewart also asked this key question, which no one on the government side could respond to, when he said:
The introduction of new mandatory penalties will be increasingly difficult to control. If mandatory minimums work for one offence, why not all offences?
I would like to go on to yet another witness who came before the committee. I guess people listening at home and the many members of Parliament here are beginning to understand why the public perceptions on crime are different from what we might have thought. I think that is one of the reasons why the committee system serves Parliament well. People thought that in general crime was going up, but violent crime is going down.
In fact, I have to commend the Federation of Canadian Municipalities. In about two weeks, it will have a session specifically on crime, on the fact that violent crime is going down, and on what the role of the media is to ensure that people get the right perception.
Similarly, a number of people coming to committee would have thought that on the surface this type of bill is common sense. That is why I think the testimony from so many witnesses, who were called to the committee by all parties, changed the minds and the understanding of a number of people in regard to what is a very complex situation. It has to be complex or we would have solved it long ago and obviously we have not.
I will go to the second last witness I want to speak about and that is Ms. Debra Parkes, member of the board of directors of the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies, which of course has tremendous experience in this area. She said:
--we're seeing a moving away from this approach [of harsher sentences] by other jurisdictions that have taken this approach in a very concerted effort. A number of American states, as well as jurisdictions in Australia, are starting to move away from imposing mandatory minimum sentences, precisely because they come at great human and fiscal cost, as well as not delivering on the promise of deterrence.
Once again, although we would not think it, intuitively it turns that yet another witness has explained that this approach is not a deterrent.
Also, Kim Pate, executive director of the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies, summed up the association's position by saying:
--the public would be best served by the withdrawal of this bill and not proceeding any further with mandatory minimum sentences provisions of this nature.
As I mentioned at the start of my speech, these were the people who appeared before the justice committee hearings on Bill . The overwhelming majority of witnesses advised the government not to proceed with this legislation, reminding the government that the vast majority of information and their extensive experience indicate this policy will not succeed, and the government would best serve the interest of Canadians by directing its attention at other and more successful ways of deterring crime.
In conclusion, I think it is the objective of all members of the House of Commons to reduce crime. I think members of the House are very good listeners in their role. Hopefully they will listen very carefully to the evidence, to the facts and to the experts as they search their hearts in making their final decision on what is actually best and what will make Canada safer, and hopefully they will take into consideration the years of expert testimony that I have just presented for the members of the House of Commons.
Mr. Speaker, I have been listening to what has been said because this is not the first time we have talked about this bill. The more I listen, the more I realize this is nothing but smoke and mirrors and that the government wants to implement a bill to try to bolster its image and make people believe that minimum sentences are the only solution to making them safe at home, in their town, province and country.
If we look at everything going on around us, we see that truly tragic events occur, like the one at Dawson for example. I doubt that the prospect of a minimum sentence would have stopped this young man from committing that crime. I doubt that the prospect of a minimum sentence would have stopped Mr. Lépine from killing so many young women at the École polytechnique.
Most of the tragic events of this kind are unplanned crimes committed by a deranged individual, and minimum sentences would not change a thing.
A number of American states, unfortunately, still have the death penalty. But still a lot of crimes, murders and homicides, are committed in those states. This means that it does not work very well, despite the death penalty. We should wake up and look at who the people are in the U.S. prison system who have been sentenced to death. They are not white collar workers, or millionaires, or people who have had an easy life. There is always a small percentage of incorrigibles, of course, people who can never be helped to reintegrate into society or turn their lives around. Unfortunately, these people do exist. The devil exists. I know personally that he exists.
Earlier, one of my colleagues asked the hon. member in the Liberal Party whether he had ever been victimized by a criminal act. If so, he would know and understand what it is to be afraid of being victimized. Personally, I have been victimized. Several times I have found myself in dangerous situations where I was facing firearms and knew the end might be nigh.
I had a job in a restaurant and, very late one evening, a young man put a gun on his table because I did not want to serve him and so he tried to threaten me. I know, therefore, what it is to be threatened. However, the fact that crimes are committed does not mean that all the people who commit them are habitual criminals. That is not true. Many people can be reintegrated into society and can go on to make a great contribution. We see it every day and we know some of these people. I would not want to see these people’s lives permanently blighted because they made a mistake when they were young. But that is exactly what minimum sentences do.
Under the Canadian legislation, there are already 29 acts that can result in a minimum sentence. Does the system work better because we have all these provisions? Are there fewer people in prison?
As my colleague in the New Democratic Party just said, if we really want to combat crime, I think we should attack the root causes, which are poverty and a lack of human contact, human warmth and communications, as a result of which many of our young people find themselves isolated and without anyone to guide them.
I believe that if we paid more attention and ensured that people have real jobs and real salaries perhaps it is possible that we would have less crime. I am not talking about cheap labour, about seasonal jobs, or jobs where a woman who works 35 hours, 40 hours or 60 hours is compelled to remain on the employer’s premises and can not go out. It has been proven that imposing minimum sentences does not reduce crime. Many studies have been done on this subject.
I found a study conducted by Nicole Crutcher and Thomas Gabor. It is a study that was carried out over a period of 20 years. Twenty years is not insignificant. A study carried out over 20 years is a serious study.
This study showed that minimum sentences accomplish nothing and do not help in any way. It is simply a way of making people believe that because we put more people in prison and give them minimum sentences that there will be less crime. That is not true. That is not the way it works.
According to this study, only a small proportion of offenders committed to prison are of the calculating type who carefully weigh the pros and cons of committing a crime. They also said that many offenders prefer to go to prison rather than serve community-based sentences. They do not consider the difference between a sentence of three years, five years or ten years. They do not make that distinction. When they commit a crime, they do not think of the sentence they might receive. The only thing they think about is not getting caught. Publicizing the penalties will not make them think about them any more, believe me.
It would be better to reinstate the gun registry and ensure that we do not just give young people the tools to commit crimes.
Yesterday, on television, I heard that a grandfather had obtained a gun permit for his two-year-old grandson. Two years old. Is that what our colleagues of the Conservative party want to see? Is that what should happen? Do we need weapons to defend ourselves? That is what was claimed in the United States during the shooting some weeks ago. Is that what we want? Do we all need to have weapons so that the law can come after us every time we use them to commit a crime? There are no weapons in my house. Most people do not want them either. We will not prevent people from owning weapons through minimum sentences. Rather, let us arrest the real criminals and put them in prison.
Very often, young people who are members of a street gang commit small crimes. That is unfortunate. Let us deal with the problem of street gangs. We should not think that minimum sentences will stop young people from becoming members of a street gang. That is not the way things work.
When criminals commit crimes, they do not think, “I might get caught and be put in jail for three years, so I had better not use a weapon. Instead, I will just give the victim a little piece of paper that says I am about to commit a crime”. They do not think that. Once they have decided to commit a crime, they do it regardless of the minimum sentence associated with it.
For example, if a young man without a record gets caught doing the kind of thing teenagers do to impress their peers or if the only thing he knows how to do is to be the baddest of the bad, he could wind up in jail for a long time. He could be lost to our society. That would be very unfortunate.
Now, instead of getting rid of the methamphetamines, ecstasy and hard drugs that hurt our children, instead of conducting raids all over the place to wipe the drug problem out, the government wants to give people minimum sentences. That makes no sense. That is not how our society works.
I know that teenagers are often easily influenced. We have to keep an eye on them constantly. The most easily influenced teenagers are the ones who fall through the cracks. The rate of incarceration among young people from aboriginal and visible minority communities is high. Why? Because poverty is even more prevalent in those communities than elsewhere. Would it not be a better idea to provide social housing and affordable housing, to offer young people decent jobs and to build community centres? Would it not be better to give them the opportunity to work in the summer and in their communities rather than cut youth employment assistance programs? That is not what the government is doing.
Under the pretext of wanting to ensure public safety, the government has introduced legislation that will help very few people, and will fill up our jails with even more people. What will they do once our jails are full? They are already full. Will they build more jails? Perhaps they want Canada to become a military state. Do we want to live in the kind of country where the only thing the government does is make sure that nobody ever commits a crime? We have to get serious. The government does not govern for itself. It governs for the people it represents.
We were accused earlier of not consulting the people we represent. It is precisely because we consulted them that we refuse to adopt such a philosophy. It is precisely because we consulted them that we know that this is not what people want. On the contrary, people are asking us to restore the gun registry. Police forces are asking us, and so are abused women and other groups. That is what people want to ensure real security. That is what we need. We need tools. We do not need stringent legislation that will put more people behind bars without giving them the opportunity and the chance to otherwise rehabilitate themselves. That is not what we need. That is not what people want.
My colleagues from the Bloc Québécois, the NDP and the Liberal Party have also made their position very clear. We want humane measures, measures that allow people who have lost their way to get back on the right track, to start over and participate in society, instead of being sent to the dungeons for 10, 15 or 20 years, where they will certainly not learn anything.
When these people are released from prison, they certainly will not be out to do good, because they will have only one thing in mind, and that is what they learned on the inside to avoid being sent back. When a person is released after 10 or 15 years, a person who was young going in, what have they learned about society? What have they learned about living in society? What have they learned about involvement, sharing or integration? Nothing. They have learned only how to survive. Is that what we want, a population of survivors? That is not what I want.
I am convinced that many members in this House will agree with me. Survivors are like rats and will do anything to get by. That is frightening.
It is scary. But with progressive and humane laws that take into account all the factors, enabling judges to hand down informed sentences, we can move forward. As a society, with such laws we can be proud because our children will not fall through the cracks. I am sure of this, because all the studies say so and prove it. It is not Nicole Demers saying it. I am sorry, Mr. Speaker, but I am allowed to name myself. Hundreds of experts say so. The proof is that in the United States, in states where there are mandatory minimum sentences, there is more crime than in other states.
So what does the government need to see the light? What does it need to open its eyes? I do not know. Instead of using smoke and mirrors, the government should listen to real people and stop holding little focus groups that give the answers they want to hear, instead of real answers from real people who live in the real world. That is what it should do.
I hope that this bill will not be adopted. I really hope so because if that is the direction we are going, it will be a serious mistake that will affect our children, grandchildren and the society we live in. That is for sure.
Mr. Speaker, it gives me great pleasure to rise in this House today to speak to Bill .
This is a bill that would improve the safety of all Canadians by ensuring that violent criminals who use firearms to commit their offences will receive serious prison time consistent with the gravity of their offences.
This bill addresses two groups of offences. First of all, there is one group which involves offences in which a firearm is used in the commission of another crime. We call that the use offence, where it is actually being used in the commission of a crime. The second group involves the possession of illegal firearms, and we call those non-use offences.
Let me deal with the first group. Bill will impose mandatory minimum penalties where a gun is used in the commission of a serious Criminal Code offence. These offences would include such things as attempted murder, discharge of a firearm with intent, sexual and aggravated sexual assault, kidnapping, hostage-taking, robbery and extortion.
If a restricted or prohibited weapon is used in the commission of any of these offences or if such guns are used in relation to gang activity, which of course is a very real problem in Canada, a first time offender will receive an automatic five year prison sentence. Penalties escalate to seven years on a second and subsequent offence for the same or similar type of gun crime.
Clearly, this bill targets repeat violent offenders who must be kept off the streets for the good of our communities. It also provides a deterrent to youths who are involved in gangs, forcing them to weigh the consequences of their actions before engaging in crime.
The second group of offences of course involves the illegal possession of a restricted or prohibited firearm, and some of the offences that would be targeted under this particular section would be firearms trafficking, stealing a firearm, possession of a firearm for the purposes of trafficking in narcotics, making an automatic firearm, and also firearms smuggling. For these non-use offences of course there are going to be mandatory minimum sentences as well.
This legislation is aimed directly at, among other things, the gun trafficking industry. Virtually all gang-related crime we see across Canada is committed not by those who purchase their firearms legally and register them, but by people who purchase them illegally on the black market or steal them from legitimate gun owners.
In my home province of British Columbia, it is estimated that gang-related shootings or murders occur on average of once every month, sometimes more often than that. The rate of increase in gang activity in B.C. is astonishing. Most of it, of course, is fueled by the drug trade, mainly high grade marijuana, and it is carried out by young people with illegal firearms who have complete disregard for the safety and the lives of those around them.
In my home riding of Abbotsford, we are known to be a beautiful community. It is a safe community, relatively speaking. It is in a beautiful setting, nestled between 10,000 foot Mount Baker and the Fraser River. We are a community of elderly, young families, singles and students who all enjoy Abbotsford because of the quality of life it offers. It consistently scores high in all of these areas. In fact, it was recently named as the most generous community in all of Canada, and that is backed up by a number of different studies, both Statistics Canada and other studies within British Columbia.
However, the blight has crept into Abbotsford. Gangs and guns are increasingly common, usually in connection with the drug trade. Although the gangs in my area are quite fluid and frequently travel throughout the lower mainland, we have seen our share of unimaginable pain and grief caused by shootings.
The 2006 year end statistical report from the Abbotsford Police shows that 126 firearms offences took place in my riding. Some of these include robbery; assault; a sexual assault with a weapon; drive-by shootings, which are very common now; and home invasions. This is happening in Abbotsford and it is happening right across the country in communities that all of us live in.
On September 26, 2006, the Abbotsford Times reported that the police responded to a 25-year-old man who had been shot and was in serious condition. The man was known to police who believed he was purposely targeted.
Just last Friday, May 11, the CBC reported a shooting on Commercial Drive in Vancouver in a popular cafe. This man was shot several times in the stomach and transported to hospital for emergency surgery.
An 18-year-old Abbotsford native, Yulian Limantoro, was gunned down when he got caught in the crossfire of a drug deal gone sour and that was in Surrey on March 3, 2006.
On October 28, 2005, a 40-year-old woman in Port Moody was struck by a stray bullet while watching television in her living room. The bullet lodged itself in her brain but luckily she survived.
Of course, none of us can forget the string of violent crimes the city of Toronto suffered in 2005. By mid-September 40 people had been slain in the city. All of us were shocked and horrified especially by the senseless death of grade 10 student, Jane Creba, on Boxing Day 2005. Jane was gunned down on busy Yonge Street along with six others who were injured in the crossfire. The 15-year-old was the 52nd murder in Toronto in 2005.
Going back to 2006, police in B.C. recorded that over 1,000 firearms were used in crimes or kept illegally in the lower mainland. Anyone who still thinks gun crime is an American phenomenon need only look at British Columbia.
Between 2001 and 2006, 195 British Columbians died in gun-related homicides. In 2006 alone police recovered 379 semi-automatic pistols, 28 revolvers, 139 other handguns, 76 rifles, 66 shotguns, 88 assault rifles and 12 modified weapons.
The current mandatory minimum penalties for gun crimes are not sufficient. We need to discourage these criminals by making it costly to buy, sell or use firearms in the commission of offences. The way we do that is by taking away their freedom to commit such crimes and making the penalties for subsequent offences escalate in severity.
Bill will not only send a clear message that gun activity will be met with serious consequences, it will also take these criminals off the street for longer periods of time.
To place this into context, I want to stress that the bill does not represent an across the board increase in mandatory minimum sentences. Rather it targets crimes that are specifically related to gang activity and repeat and violent offences.
Going back to my community of Abbotsford, as the House knows, Abbotsford shares the border with the United States and it is part of a complex web of organized crime on the lower mainland of British Columbia. Drugs, such as high grade marijuana, meth amphetamines, crystal meth are regularly exchanged for firearms from the U.S. These are the same firearms being used to commit the wide range of violent gang related crimes we are witnessing today.
Although both American and Canadian border security officials are quite vigilant in protecting our borders and stopping the cross-border gun trade, there is only so much that they can do with limited resources when the same people go to prison for short periods of time and are turned back onto those very streets only to take up crime once again. Of course, usually that is violent crime.
The gun and drugs trade are quite lucrative industries. Unfortunately, there are many young people that are into the gang lifestyle. These mandatory minimum penalties that we are proposing should go a long way in discouraging youth from taking up this behaviour.
Our Conservative government is also concerned with preventing young people from getting involved in the crime lifestyle in the first place through community initiatives. That is why in our 2006 budget the government invested $20 million in a plan for communities. This money will be focused on preventing youth crime and helping young people stay away from guns and gangs.
I believe that both this bill and our other prevention initiatives will work together to reduce the number of gun-related crimes and deaths in Canada.
If we do not send a clear message to criminals that the consequences of using handguns to carry out a crime will far outweigh the benefits, I believe these gun crime numbers will only increase. The clear message we are sending is this. Criminals should be prepared to go to prison if they commit a serious gun offence, period.
I believe these penalty schemes will also be an important tool for police officers who must place themselves in potentially deadly situations on a daily basis. They will now know that should they send an offender to prison for committing a firearms offence listed in Bill , that offender will not be back on the streets for a long time. When we take those offenders off the streets and put them behind bars for longer periods of time, they do not represent a crime threat during that period to ordinary, hard-working, law-abiding citizens. At the same time, police officers can focus their efforts on other criminals in our communities.
It is clear that our communities across the country are suffering from violent gun crime, yet the previous Liberal government, over 13 years, did absolutely nothing to address this scourge in our country. Sadly, the Liberal and the Bloc opposition parties have done everything in their power to try to thwart our attempts to pass Bill .
In fact, when this bill went to committee, it was essentially gutted, leaving it meaningless. It had no teeth to it anymore. It was only with the support of the NDP that we were able to reintroduce the mandatory minimum sentence provisions of the bill, a five year mandatory minimum sentence for the first offence and seven years for a second and subsequent offence. Even so, the 10 year mandatory prison sentence that we had proposed for a third and subsequent offence was removed. The bill, as drafted, is better than nothing at all. Canadians are demanding this kind of legislation.
It would be comical, if it were not so serious, how the Liberals have managed to flip-flop on the issue of gun crime. The House may recall that through a deathbed conversion late in the election campaign, the Liberals suddenly agreed to get tough on crime and specifically promised to introduce and support tough mandatory minimum sentences for gun crimes. They suddenly got religion so to speak.
These were promises that were made to Canadians about their personal safety, yet here we are. The Liberals are asked to defend Canadians against an ever increasing cycle of gun violence, and what do they do? They have done a 180° turn and have fought against our Bill . Shame on them. The Liberal Party of Canada has rightly earned its title of being soft on crime.
In order to end the cycle of gun violence, our new Conservative government is committed to filling our election promise to get tough on serious criminals. We owe nothing less to the Canadian public than to protect it to the fullest, and I believe this bill is the way to do that. Effective deterrents, including escalating minimum jail terms, are an important step in reducing crime on our streets, as is choking off the supply of illegally acquired handguns.
That is why we have these two facets to the bill. One deals with the use of firearms in an offence. The second is the illegal possession of firearms. Typically, if a drug trafficker's car is stopped, guns will be found in that car, so it is easy to prosecute these individuals.
British Columbians and residents of Abbotsford are tired of watching criminals execute violence and get off with a slap on the wrist. Finally, we have a government that is committed to the right of law-abiding citizens to live in safety and security. That is a promise we made during the election and one on which we are fully following through.
I trust the House will do the right thing, protect Canadian families the way we promised to do.
Mr. Speaker, as I begin my remarks I thought I should refer to the remarks made by the who spoke earlier. He clearly was speaking in an effort to articulate good politics as opposed to good public policy. What the minister was articulating was in part lousy public policy but, from his point of view, good politics.
He said that the government wanted to send a message. I think he meant the government was trying to send a message to criminals on the assumption that we have in every case identified who those criminals are. He wants to send a message to criminals, but really what the and the government are trying to do is send a political message to Canadians. It is political. It is not good public policy. The whole exercise smacks of politics and not public policy.
My colleague from mentioned a list of witnesses who appeared before the justice committee, the vast majority of whom had good public policy reasons not to agree with the mandatory minimum sentencing regime proposed in this bill.
One of the assumptions underlying mandatory or harsh sentencing is that it will deter. There is a sense that the higher the sentence, the higher the deterrence. There may be some logic in that, but statistics, sociologists and criminologists now consistently tell us that it is not the severity or length of the sentence which deters, it is the prospect of being caught that is the major component of deterrence in society.
Whether it is a potential life sentence or a two day sentence, the person who may or may not commit a premeditated crime is thinking more about the prospect of getting away with it as opposed to what sentence might be imposed later. It is false logic to presume that by increasing sentencing or imposing a mandatory minimum sentence there will be a direct linkage into the mind of a potential criminal.
By the same token, my party and I readily accept that there are envelopes within the Criminal Code, components of activity where society needs to denounce the criminal activity in a way that requires the use of a mandatory minimum.
I will point out for the sake of reference that the Criminal Code was amended relatively recently, just in the last three or four years, to impose one year mandatory minimums for firearm offences and a four year mandatory minimum sentence for a robbery with a firearm. I believe that is section 344. We also have mandatory minimums for drunk driving, particularly on a second offence. If someone reoffends, the offender will do time. Parliament, government and Canadians accept the existence of mandatory minimum penalties.
The false logic underlying this bill, however, is that by creating and delivering a whole raft of mandatory minimum penalties, it will cause a direct response and a reduction in crime. This is not the way it works. I do not think any credible witness at the committee that reviewed this bill was prepared to accept that if we bump all these sentences into mandatory minimums, the crime rate is going to drop. There might have been a feel good part in putting criminals away.
I will quote the . I found it hard to believe, but the Minister of Justice said that the criminals will have time to think about it in jail. The question raised by the member from the Bloc Québécois was whether or not the potential offender might have thought about it before he or she committed the offence. The minister's logic was the person would have time to think about it afterward. That is like the horse going out the barn door; once the act is done, it is done. There is no deterrence there. I regretted that logic and I regretted the fact that the minister did not want to address the logic pattern that was introduced by the member from the Bloc.
The minister was also, in my view, trying to send a message and another example of that messaging is a quite inappropriate use of the term “house arrest”. House arrest actually has nothing to do with the bill that we are debating. Bill deals with mandatory minimum penalties. The minister was referring to Bill , the bill dealing with conditional sentences. Purely for the sake of a twisted messaging, the , the , resorted to a street term that is not used in the Criminal Code and he referred to the concept of house arrest.
Most Canadians would ask what is house arrest, does it have something to do with bail or prison? Anyway, if the minister wants to use these silly street terms instead of the proper terms, that is his business. He also referred to “sending the offender to camp”. What nonsense. We are hearing this from the . Surely he could use terms that are properly in use in the Criminal Code instead of using street terms to try to send some subliminal message to the public.
Anyway, I thought that his use of the terms “house arrest” and “sending people to camp” was really a disingenuous and dishonest attempt to deprecate our current corrections procedures. I personally do not like that coming from a government minister, but that is his business and if he were here now, we would probably have a little debate on it. Having had an opportunity to address the minister's remarks on this bill, I will now get to some of my own.
An hon. member: Maybe you should.
Mr. Derek Lee: Well, maybe I won't. The member does not like my remarks about the minister but this is a public forum.
Mr. Ed Fast: That is shameful.
Mr. Derek Lee: There is nothing shameful about this. This is a House of free speech.
In any event, I want to note that throughout the country there is a perception that there has been an increase in violent crime. In the statistical data if we look back into the 1960s and forward to the present, we can see an increase in crime. Many criminologists say it is actually an increase in reported crime. The criminal activity of the 1960s and early in the 1970s, was in fact arguably under reported so that our data was a little bit lower than it actually should have been. In any event, the trend line was there. We can see the material increase from the 1960s right up to 1992.
In 1992 things changed sociologically. I do not believe it was anything government did or did not do. We were in a bit of an economic recession at the time but we can see the trend line. After that point in time, all criminal activity starts to drop. I still accept that there is a perception in society, that people see a lot more crime. They are certainly getting a lot more media. We have more television, more newspapers and more Internet. If there is something happening out there in crime, people are going to hear about it and that may exacerbate the public policy problem.
I am not saying there is not any crime. There is a truckload of it and it is a social issue, but it is not increasing in the way that people are being led to believe that it is. In Toronto there was a sense that we had of a very serious firearm problem about two years ago. That was true. There was a clear spike and increase in the number of shootings and firearm incidents in Toronto. As I am going to point out a little later, that year 2005 turns out to be spike, a spike up and down. Things are actually quite different now.
However, in looking at crime statistics from across the country, I can see that not every city, not every urban area or every rural area is in the same position. There are cities in Canada that have crime rates almost double what they are in Toronto or Montreal. That may seem counterintuitive to many of us, but while big cities do have crime, small cities also have crime. In some cases the rates of crimes, not necessarily the raw incidents, are significantly higher than some of our other urban areas.
In these places across Canada, citizens definitely have an issue. I represent a Toronto area riding. It is impossible for me to speak about this issue without acknowledging that in various parts of the country, the north, the east, the west, the south, there are different takes, different perceptions of just how bad or how good or where the level of criminal activity is.
Before going on any further, on the sentencing that is currently in the Criminal Code, including the existing mandatory minimums that I mentioned earlier for firearms, my party in the last election campaign did undertake to increase the mandatory minimum penalties. The member opposite makes that point, but the increases that were proposed were an increase of the one year and four year penalties that were there.
What the government had proposed in Bill was a whole regime of increasing mandatory minimums, an escalating scheme of mandatory minimums that ran three, five, seven and up to 10 years. That is a much different kettle of fish than what the Liberal Party had proposed, of targeted, specific, reasonable mandatory minimum adjustments in the Criminal Code. Maybe we could put that debate to rest. Was it discussed in the election? It sure was, but I wanted to be clear about what my party had proposed.
We are not talking about creating a new offence. This bill does not create new offences. This bill does not create new sentences. All of that is already in the Criminal Code. What the bill does, and I could say only, is create a mandatory minimum sentence at the bottom end. Judges in this country are charged with sentencing and they can give the appropriate sentence and they do. Ninety-nine per cent of the time they give the right sentence. They can sentence to more than the mandatory minimum and sometimes they do, but it depends on a whole number of criteria set out in the Criminal Code. We legislated them here about 10 years ago.
In my view the criminal justice system from the point of view of the sentencing regime is working quite well. Once in a while there is an aberration. Once in a while there is a circumstance in a court and a judge and a set of facts that looks a little odd. A newspaper, a television station, a reporter will see it and think it looks strange, that a penalty looks a little stiff, or that a penalty looks a little light and it becomes a public issue, but those cases are far and few between. We just see a lot more of them now because we have a lot more media. If it is a story, it is a story.
In one of the comments on this bill earlier today there was a scenario that I found very compelling at the committee. It relates to sentencing in the rural areas, in the north, the west and the east of the country, but generally in the north. We have to remember that before someone is actually sentenced, there has to be an investigation, the person is charged, convicted in a trial and then is sentenced.
A witness at the committee made this point in a very compelling way. When there is a conviction in a northern community for an offence, even if a violent one, the only prospect for rehabilitation and reintegration of an offender from those northern communities is if he or she is able to be in that community.
It is just not possible to take offenders from a northern community, yank them out, send them to some place in the south and hope that they can rehabilitate or reintegrate. They are not from the south. They are citizens of our north.
Instituting a mandatory minimum regime of sentences over two years essentially ensures a federal sentence. All sentences over two years are served in federal penitentiaries. Sentences under two years are served in provincial penitentiaries. By imposing mandatory minimums way beyond the two years, this type of sentencing would remove individuals from their northern communities and place them in a federal penitentiary, which could be a thousand miles away or two thousand miles away, but not even close to their communities.
It is generally accepted that prisons are simply warehouses for offenders, where young people actually learn better how to become criminals. Prisons are not the best location. I accept that we need them to protect society, at least as a clearing house, but the witness from the north said that the existence of these new sentencing regimes with mandatory minimums greater than two years would make it virtually impossible to rehabilitate and reintegrate offenders from those northern communities. In other words, we are creating lost causes before we even begin.
Members may ask me what I would propose for someone who has committed a serious crime and needs to do serious time. The criminal justice system has already provided for that with a regime of sentencing options and a skilled judge who will make the decision on what an appropriate sentence for that convicted offender will be, taking into consideration all aspects of the case, including the circumstances of the victim, previous criminal record, propensity to reoffend and prospects for rehabilitation. That is what we ask our judges to do. The escalating sentencing regime contained in this bill would, practically speaking, remove all of those options from a sentencing judge. If the bill passes, that will be the case. I regret that but that is the way it is.
In the remarks of my friend opposite, he referred to the spike this year in Toronto of gun crimes. I am pleased to report that while in 2005-06 the incidents of shootings were at about 87 and 81, this year the number of shootings to date is at 60, which is a drop of over 25%. The reason for that is good policing. However, I do not have time to go into the details. One shooting is too many but if we have a huge city with a few million people, we will have incidents, and I am saying that there has been a 25% drop. The perceived increase in these firearm incidents is not there, and these decreases have occurred under current laws. I just wanted to get that on the record. I give a lot of credit to the Toronto police and their new policing methods.
Mr. Speaker, I do not know how much time I have, but I will not be taking up a lot of time. I will start and see where we end up.
I was listening to the debate on the monitor in my office for the entire morning and trying to get a lot of things done, but I could not help but come over and try to get involved with the debate to some degree because there are a few things that I would like to point out.
Just very recently we heard a speech from the member for that was what I considered to be a talk that was coming from the hearts, the souls and the minds of ordinary people in his riding. A lot of ordinary people are out there wondering what is going on and what is happening.
I have a lot of respect for lawyers, I really do, but they seem to approach things with a totally different idea than a lot of us do. I say that simply because it is difficult to understand them when they begin their lingo. Their language becomes so legalistic that it is difficult to know exactly where they are at and their comeback always is that the problem with people like me, the member for and others is that we are just too simplistic. I have heard that term so many times that it just about drives me crazy.
It is a simplistic answer, they say, when what we are doing is expressing this in terms as best we can, as every member can, and I know that you are the same, Mr. Speaker. We listen to the people in our ridings. They are really fed up with some of the things that are happening in our justice system. They want a truly good justice system. It appears to have turned into more of a legal system, where we are constantly engaging in debates as to what this term means and what that term means, et cetera, such that we lose sight of some things, that is, the public is not happy with the way that the justice system is operating. That is it, pure and simple. The public is not pleased.
Members can check any poll, or if they like they can conduct their own in their own riding. Even the Liberal member who just spoke can do that in his own riding with just ordinary people out there. Members can forget about those ordinary people being simplistic. Members should just remember that they are the people who are thriving in this country, who are working and paying their taxes, and they want the services rendered by this government to be efficient and effective.
One of the best things we can do to answer a lot of their concerns is provide a system that will make society as safe as possible and will protect society as a whole. One of the most elemental duties that we have as members of Parliament is to come up with legislation that will do that. I think we all try hard to do that, even in our own way of thinking, which too often is referred to by too many people in this House as simplistic.
The day that I really started getting more concerned than I ever had in the past was the day I saw 14 farmers, and prior to that another two, hauled away from a court, in shackles and chains, and going off to jail to serve consecutive sentences. Consecutive sentences meant that for each crime they had to serve a specific amount of time before they began to serve the next one. The courts do not usually sentence people consecutively; they sentence them concurrently. Clifford Olson, for example, is serving a life sentence for the death of 11 people, but he is only serving one. He probably should be serving 11 life sentences.
These farmers were hauled off to jail. They were taken to jail in shackles and chains, in most cases in front of their wives and children. For what? For selling their own grain, their own product that they raised on their farms with their own hard-working hands. They broke the law because they went across the border and tried to sell their grain. Nobody is denying that it was a disobedient thing to do and nobody is denying that maybe there should have been some charges. That is not the question.
The question is this: how did the punishment fit the crime? How well did we do in that department? We had farmers who worked hard to raise their own crops and who, in a form of civil disobedience, made a move to try to make more money, more profit, for their farms, which are struggling all the time. How well did we do when the Liberal government in power at the time did nothing about the fact that all these people were hauled off to jail?
Mr. Ed Fast: That's the Liberal way.
Mr. Myron Thompson: That is the Liberal way. That is what I was thinking. This is not right. There is something wrong with that picture.
Of course, somebody might say that is a simplistic way of thinking, but it is not. The punishment should fit the crime. I see nothing wrong with that philosophy. Yet when we check on various other aspects of sentencing, we see that offenders actually receive house arrest or community service when they commit a violent offence. All of this was going on at the same time that those 14 farmers were hauled off to jail for selling their own grain. But that is probably simplistic talk.
Millions of Canadians are wondering when we are going to stop all this nonsense and start addressing crime. They want us to send out a strong, loud and clear message that it is not acceptable for criminals to hurt people or their property or do something that is against the law. It blows my mind that some members cannot grasp that concept.
Yet on one occasion a bunch of farmers were hauled off to jail in shackles and chains for selling their own grain. They were hauled off in front of their crying wives and kids. I was there and I saw it. I talked to the wives and the children after the event was over and those farmers were locked up and the doors were slammed shut. It was that day that I vowed we had to get some common sense into the minds of the people here in the House of Commons. We need to realize that this kind of activity is not right.
So we prepared legislation. We want to get tough on crime so we brought in minimum mandatory sentencing for the use of a gun in the commission of a crime. We are trying to send the message that it is not acceptable to use guns for the purpose of committing crimes. We are telling criminals that it is not going to be tolerated. We are going to get tougher. We are telling criminals that minimum mandatory sentences will be the result.
Is this going to deter criminals? As people say, it probably will not go through the minds of a lot of them. I do not disagree with that. That is not the point. The point is this: is the punishment going to fit the crime? Is it going to match up? Yes, we are starting to take serious action, particularly against people in cases of violence and who use guns in the commission of a crime.
There are a lot of examples out there. There is not a member in this House of Commons who cannot think of one particular instance where house arrest or community service was the punishment for a crime of violence. It is a shameful disgrace to this place. Unfortunately, many of the crimes I know of were crimes against children, the most vulnerable in our society, who are treated with the least respect.
We are trying to bring forward a piece of legislation that will send a message that this House of Commons is not going to tolerate violent crimes. We are going to do our very best to make certain that criminals pay the price for their crimes, that they get a penalty they deserve.
Yes, at the same time, we have to work very hard with earlier programs and prevention activities. I was in a schoolhouse for 30 years and 90% of my time was spent trying to prevent kids from getting into trouble. However, they learned after a period of time, and they knew that once they crossed the line they were going to be held responsible for their actions. They knew that the punishment would not be pleasant. I was trying to send out a message that I did not tolerate the activity that took place and I wanted it to cease.
I find it really discouraging when we get a debate going in the House of Commons and the best argument I keep hearing is, “I listened to the speech by the fellow from Abbotsford and he was far too simplistic”. Good grief, he is talking the hearts and minds of the people in his riding who discuss these very issues day in and day out with every one of us.
I will be frank. I am pretty simplistic and I will be as simplistic as I can. I am sick and tired of this nonsense. I am really sick and tired of it. I have acquaintances, friends of mine, who have lost loved ones and have had no real closure because the perpetrator is going to be released on parole very soon who took the life of an individual. They do not understand why their loved one is gone forever and the perpetrator, who committed the most sadistic crimes of sexual assault and murder, is going to be released back into our society soon.
We can all rub our hands together and say we have done a wonderful job. I want us to think about that just a little, just start thinking about it a little more. Does the punishment fit the crime? If it does not, then let us do something about it.
I am proud of the who brought this bill forward and wants to do something about it. None of us has any magic answers as to what we can do that will make it better, but we have to concentrate on all the possibilities.
In the meantime, when individuals cross the line and use a gun in the commission of a crime, the penalty will be stiff. It will be tough. If that does not work, we may have to make it tougher. We have to get a message out that this is not the society we want to live in.
If it takes a few million dollars more to build another penitentiary to keep people like that off the streets, then let us do it. What is wrong with that? I always thought keeping criminals behind bars was a wise thing to do.
There are small communities in rural Alberta that do not have police on every corner or do not have access to police. There are small businesses and little grocery or hardware stores in small towns where it would take a policeman half an hour to get to once a crime has been committed.
How do they live? They live behind bars. They have bars on every window and door. They are doing everything they can to protect their property and keep criminals from coming in. They unlock their doors, enter their businesses, slam their doors and work throughout the day behind bars because they are afraid of the people on the street running free. There must be too many of them because there are constant troubles of breaking and entering and destroying property. Hopefully, they do not run into any these people while they are at work because it could be dangerous.
I hope that people do not believe that I am being too simplistic. I have lots of friends and relatives who all work hard and pay their taxes. The least I can do for them while I am here, I hope, is to make certain that we have people in this place who are willing to decide that criminals are not a good thing in our society and we are going to do the very best we can do take care of it. Then we get into these legal matters and opinions which most of us, including me, do not understand when conversations are engaged in with witnesses in committee. When the Bar Association representatives have discussions with members who have law degrees, they lose me most times. I admit that.
I listened to one speech today about the expert witnesses who are against this bill. I do not know why they are considered to be expert witnesses when people who agree with the bill, like the police and many others, are not referred to as expert witnesses. In other words, if witnesses agree with that member's idea of what the bill should look like, then they are experts and if they do not, they must not be experts.
The police made a very good presentation in regard to their support for this bill and others associated with it. It made very good sense.
We certainly did not get into any legal wrangling because they would lose me, but we can converse and society as a whole can converse. I simply say “Wake up, folks, wake up”. The public out there is not satisfied with the way the justice system is working.
If people do not believe me, get on those little computers and newspapers and put out all kinds of polls and ask: “Folks in my riding, are you satisfied with the way our justice system operates, yes or no”? Then people will see how satisfied Canadians are.
Canadians are not satisfied. They are paying for something they are not satisfied with. I say let us work hard to give them something that they are paying for and that they will be satisfied with. I believe in satisfying the customer.
If that is too radical or too extreme for some members of the House, then that is too bad. That is the way it ought to be. That is the way people are telling me in my riding it ought to be. As long as I can stand on my two feet in this place I am going to expound that. That is the way it ought to be.
Wake up and do the right thing and support Bill to indicate to the public out there that we are taking crime a little more seriously. Let Canadians know that we are not being simplistic about it, but that we are sincere about it. If people think I am not sincere then give me a test.
I do not know if I have any time left, but I do not think I need to say any more. I have just about said all I want to say and all I can say. For the love of me, I cannot understand what goes through the minds of individuals who simply say that the punishment fitting the crime is not right.
I will revert once again to that day that I saw farmers hauled off in shackles and chains for selling grain. I do not think there was a person in the entire public society of Canada that cheered that day, not one. “Yes, we are going to teach those farmers a lesson”.
They say it is not a deterrent to do these other things, but they certainly thought that would be a deterrent. It is not about deterrents. It is about punishment fitting the crime, letting society know as a whole that it is not acceptable to hurt people in this country, that it is not acceptable to destroy their property or steal from them. It is a wrong thing to do. It is a very wrong thing to do and we are going to take tough action.
I am thankful that we have a minister sitting in that seat that wants to do just that. I thank the House for the time. I did not intend to speak today, but I could not resist after hearing many of the things that I heard this morning.
I hope people will give this bill a second thought before they react to the bill with such negativism and criticism that says we are too simplistic because we mean what we say and we are going to get the job done. It has not been done for years. Now is the time to get it done.
Mr. Speaker, I hope that my colleague from will listen to what I have to say to him because I want to start by pointing out that my intention is not to say that he is a simplistic member. I do not believe he is, for a number of reasons.
I have had the opportunity to see the member for at the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, and he is a reflection of many people in Canada: people are asking serious questions about crime and how to put a stop to it.
I would never dream of telling the member for for whom I have enormous respect, that he is a simplistic person and has simplistic solutions. We are dealing with the extremely complex problem of crime here. My colleague and I do not look at things the same way when it comes to fighting crime.
In the few minutes I am allotted, I will try to show that the way to fight crime is not to increase minimum sentences. I know that I will not show this to the satisfaction of the member for , but I hope that some in this House will understand.
I was a lawyer for 25 years. For the last 15 years, I worked exclusively in criminal law, as a criminal defence lawyer. I have seen virtually all the amendments that members have adopted in the House of Commons in the last 15 years, to amend the Criminal Code. Because I have been here only since 2004, I had nothing to do with the amendments to the Criminal Code made by this House. We criminal lawyers, however, worked with those major changes to the Criminal Code.
I want to point out to my colleague from and all his colleagues in the Conservative Party that from 1991 to 2000—I am not going back very far, and I have the same figures as my colleague has—crime dropped by nearly 26% in Canada. Crime has fallen and is still falling.
But even better, the number of violent crimes—homicide, attempted murder, assault, assault with a weapon, sexual assault, kidnapping and robbery—fell year over year between 1992 and 2004. In 1992, there were about 1084 violent crimes, the ones I have just listed, per 100,000 population in Canada. But in 2004 there were only 946. That is a drop of 13%.
Violent crime fell by 13%, but crime overall fell by 25%. Quebec and Canada are safe countries. These are good places to live. So where is the problem?
There is a fundamental principle, one that has been stated by the Supreme Court of Canada. I hope that the 308 members in this House respect that institution. The Supreme Court of Canada has said, and reiterated, that when sentence is to be passed, one of the essential factors is the individualization of sentences. What that means, in words that are easy to understand, is that when a person comes before the court, the judge must impose a sentence that fits the person standing before the judge. I know that, unfortunately, these are not words that the member from and a majority of the Conservative Party members want to hear. They should go and read the Supreme Court’s decisions. I am not the one who wrote them. Personally, I have enormous respect for the Supreme Court and what it has said, which I repeat: the sentence must be individualized and must fit the individual.
What that means is that when an individual receives a sentence, we must tell that person or make him or her understand that the crime is serious and that society condemns that crime. However, in the sentence that the judge is about to render, an important factor must be considered: the possible rehabilitation of the individual. On that point, once again, I address myself to the member for and his colleagues in the Conservative party. Following recent amendments, the court must take into account the impact of the crime on the victim. In English, that is known as an impact statement. The victims come into the court and give testimony to explain the impact of the crime on them.
I would say to the member for and his colleagues in the Conservative party that since this measure came into force less than 10% of victims come before the court. It is not because we do not want to hear them; it is because, very often, they do not want to have any more to do with the justice system. Why is that? There are a lot of questions to be asked.
In the Bloc Québécois, we think that introducing minimum prison sentences is not the way to solve the problem. The member for and his colleagues in the Conservative party should realize that perhaps the problem lies not at the entrance to the court or prison but at the exit. What we are saying is that an individual who receives a sentence must serve time in prison and, if he or she serves a prison sentence, that person should be eligible for parole. Could someone be paroled too quickly? That is a debate that we should have soon in this House. However, we will not solve this problem by tying the hands of judges with minimum sentences. That is false.
Once again, I address the member for . He was present at the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights when the former justice minister came to testify. We asked him questions. We asked him if there were studies; whether any investigations had shown that increasing minimum prison sentences had reduced crime. The answer is no. It is no.
Therefore, we cannot vote in favour of a bill that does not solve the problem. I will try to explain to the member for and his colleagues in the Conservative party what will happen if this bill is adopted. We will have an accused person, who initially faces a minimum prison sentence of five years, for example.
So on his lawyer’s advice, he will plead not guilty, choose trial by jury, and ask for a preliminary hearing in order to drag out the proceedings as long as possible. Then he will try to plea bargain.
I invite the hon. member for to come to some court houses with me, whether in Calgary, Vancouver, Toronto or Montreal. Anyone who has done any criminal law will tell him that plea bargaining goes on, and the Bar came and told us that Bill will only cause it to increase.
This means that people will come before the judge, talk to the crown attorney, and ask him to withdraw a charge in exchange for them not dragging out the proceedings forever. We have seen it on many occasions.
I believe that the hon. member for and several of his colleagues were present here in the House when the Supreme Court of Canada determined that a minimum sentence of seven years in prison for importing narcotics was cruel and unusual punishment. I did not make up the Charter. However, we have had a Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms since 1982, and it is applied.
What I am trying to say, not only to the hon. member for but many of his colleagues as well, is that we are not getting at the root of the problem. Increasing minimum prison sentences will just jam the courts with legal procedures. We even have some figures. The hon. member for will agree with me on this because we saw figures in committee showing that we will have to spend nearly $22 million a year just to deal with the additional inmates in the prison system.
If they want to build prisons, they can build them, but that will not solve the crime problem. There are deep-seated reasons for crime. We do not want to get into this debate right now, but there are deep-seated reasons for delinquency and violence. I hope that the hon. member for and his colleagues are familiar with them. It is poverty. That much we know.
As I was studying this situation, a question occurred to me. If the hon. member is so much in favour of Bill , why are crimes committed with hunting weapons not included? They are not in the bill. We have a problem, though, because 35% of the homicides in Canada are committed with hunting weapons. So little holes are starting to appear in this, and soon little holes become big holes.
This bill will not solve the problem. What I mean—and I want the hon. member for to be very aware of this—is that this bill tries to condemn people who walk around with revolvers shooting at anyone at all in the streets. On this point, I totally agree with him. We need to get rid of that. But what is going to happen? Instead of committing armed robbery with revolvers, people will do it now with a 12, 410, 22 or 303 calibre weapon.
This is what I have to say to the hon. member for . This aspect is not in the bill. I put the question to the minister. If the member for was at that committee meeting—like his colleagues, he did not miss many—he knows that I asked the minister. The minister replied that it was not necessary because it could lead to the imprisonment of aboriginal and Inuit people. How ridiculous. We have a problem here. We are in the process of creating a second justice system, and that is unacceptable.
I would add that there are three times more homicides in the United States than in Canada, and four times more than in Quebec. There is a real problem here. This bill does not solve the problem of violent crime. That is what I want the members opposite to understand.
The Bloc Québécois believes that it is perhaps the parole system that poses a problem. I leave it to the hon. member for to pass along this message, because he knows the very well.
I would like to return to what the member for said in response to my hon. colleague from the Liberal Party. Perhaps judges must be given instructions. In my opinion—at least, I hope this will be the case—there will always be courts of appeal and the Supreme Court to review, study and analyze the appropriateness of a sentence, and to confirm if it was handed down in accordance with the sentencing rules governing the courts. That is what I would like the members opposite to understand, as well as those who are about to vote in favour of a bill that not only is incomplete and fails to solve the problem of violent crime, but will only exacerbate the existing backlogs in our court rooms. If this bill passes, there will be more backlogs. Criminal defence lawyers will make a pile of money. I can guarantee it.
What I find regrettable as well as that huge investments are also planned for the prisons. The hon. member for has visited a number of penitentiaries. I too have been inside on a number of occasions to visit clients, unfortunately. Penitentiaries are schools for crime. No one in this House can convince me otherwise. Programs need to be set up to provide help to people who want to take control of their lives.
Throughout my career, I asked my clients questions, as did others when they were inside. What I asked is whether they would have thought twice about committing such a crime, had they known there was a minimum three year jail time for it. They said no. When a person has made up his mind to commit a crime, he will do anything to make sure he does. We must stop holding on to this belief that crime will be reduced if prison time is increased. It is a false belief.
What we must do is to work as quickly as possible at solving the problems that are the causes. What must be done in particular is to start thinking seriously that there may be a problem at time of release. What I mean by that is that people may be getting out a bit too soon. On this point , I agree with the hon. member for , who shares that opinion and has often expressed it in committee. Inmates are getting out too soon. They get three years jail time and are out on the street in six months. That may be one part of the problem, but it is not going to be solved by tying the judges' hands and telling them they have to impose this or that minimum sentence. On the contrary.
Mr. Normandeau, a Université de Montréal criminologist who has examined most of the files at the Montreal Palais de Justice, reports that the result of having minimum penalties was that lawyers plea bargained to get their clients charged with offences not carrying a minimum sentence. So what will happen next?
It is not difficult to figure out. They will go to court and say to the crown attorney: “Withdraw this charge and I will plead guilty to a slightly more serious charge, armed robbery”. They will then be given a two-year sentence and the problem will be solved.
In closing, I invite the member for and his colleagues in the Conservative Party to think twice about a bill that does not solve the problem of crime. Probably the best thing to do is to admit that they made a mistake, withdraw the bill and to do what it takes to find other means of dealing with crime.
Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to speak today in this House about Bill .
This bill has been brought back to the House with significant changes after being reviewed by the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. But behind the scenes, an unholy alliance has developed between the reactionary minority Conservative government and the NDP. Together, these two parties put back a series of regressive provisions, ruining the good work of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. I think that the newly amended bill is simply not good legislation.
However, I am happy that this bill has shed some light on the debate on mandatory minimum penalties.
So I am proud to speak, and I invite my fellow members to follow the lead of the Liberals and vote against the bill as newly amended.
The bill the government initially introduced proposed heavier minimum sentences for repeat offences, despite the views expressed by experts on the fight against crime. In addition, the bill even went so far as to add offences unrelated to the crime in question to the previous convictions.
It is important to remind this House why the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights so substantially amended the initial bill. The opposition members on the committee were very reluctant to introduce escalating minimum sentences depending on the number of previous convictions.
In undertaking this tack, the committee members were simply agreeing with most of the expert evidence they heard. In the opinion of all the experts, and it is perhaps rather surprising, there is no proof that minimum terms of imprisonment deter offenders who commit serious crimes.
In certain cases, in California, for example, the method seems to have actually been counterproductive. The annual rate of serious crime has risen since this type of sentencing was introduced. This is the conclusion of the recent report by a commission set up to study the California correctional system.
In January 2005, the Little Hoover Commission submitted to the governor of California its report on what it called “California's corrections crisis”. The report highlights the major failure of the Californian “three strikes and you're out” system. It raises serious questions about the Californian model of sentencing, which there is called “determinate sentencing”. Here in Canada, it is called “minimum mandatory penalties”. In other words, its determinate sentence is the U.S. equivalent of the mandatory minimums that the Conservative government wishes to not implement, but to make even harsher and escalating here in Canada.
The report of the Little Hoover Commission of California is clear:
Despite the rhetoric, thirty years of “tough on crime” politics has not made the state safer. Quite the opposite...
California has one of the highest recidivism rates in the nation. Furthermore, Governor Schwarzenegger himself described the California prison system as a powder keg.
Is it not absurd that at the very moment that Americans are trying to fix their flawed system, Canada, under the Conservative minority retrograde government, is trying to copy the American's old and utterly proven to be inefficient model?
The American model of escalating minimum mandatory sentences is a failed model. Why in God's name, for heaven's sake, would Canadians want to follow a failed model? We want to follow models of excellence. The American model of determinate sentencing, and in particular escalating determinate sentencing, which is the equivalent of the Canadian mandatory minimum sentencing or penalties, is a failed model. In fact, since 2003, some 25 American states have eliminated their lengthy minimum mandatory penalties and their escalator penalties.
Criticisms of mandatory minimum sentencing are based on very sound arguments. It has more than its share of drawbacks. Often, and because of the excessively serious consequences it can have, what happens is charges are withdrawn or pleas are modified to get the charges changed and diminished. Equally often, the threat of a mandatory minimum sentence will discourage an accused person from pleading guilty, which obviously results in greater costs and delays for the system.
As well, this type of measure can also make a jury hesitate to convict, not because of the accused's actual guilt or innocence, because the sentence strikes the jury as being unjustly harsh, given the crime committed, given the accused, given the victim and given the real and proven impact on the victim and the community.
Also, it is known that mandatory minimum sentencing seems, as evidenced by the Australian and American experiences, to hit harder at members of certain ethnocultural communities, blacks and aboriginals. That certainly is not an outcome that Canada should be seeking.
Paradoxically, the increase in mandatory minimum sentences suggested in the newly amended bill would have cost Canada's justice system an exorbitant amount of money. Does this government realize that, by proposing to increase the number and length of minimum sentences and decrease the number of conditional sentences, it would have added a huge number of inmates to our already overcrowded penitentiaries, according to its own ?
According to Neil Boyd of Simon Fraser University, Canada would have to build no fewer than 23 new prisons to house all these new inmates. At $82,000 a year per inmate, the bill this government initially introduced would have cost Canadian taxpayers an additional $220 million to $245 million over five years.
In addition, this new obsession with sending people to prison systematically will obviously lead to other additional costs, because it is reasonable to assume that, with this attitude, appeals and lengthy trials will become increasingly common. Mandatory minimum sentences are therefore not the best way of dealing with crime in Canada. They restrict judges' discretionary power to look at the particular circumstances of a case. We should use mandatory minimum sentences very sparingly to target specific offences and, above all, we should limit them to first offences. That is what Bill , introduced under the former Liberal government, sought to do.
The whole point of minimum sentencing is its effect on an individual committing a first offence, taking into consideration the impact on the victim of that offence and on the community where the offence took place. It is designed to take the person guilty of serious wrongdoing out of his or her community for awhile in order to prevent that person from committing other crimes, while at the same time ensuring the community is not put at risk again. In such cases, this kind of sentencing serves its purpose very well.
The problem with escalating minimum mandatory sentencing, proposed in the newly amended version of Bill , was that they applied to repeat offenders. What was initially proposed would have forbidden judges, in the case of a recidivist, to tailor an appropriate sentence that took into account the criminal, himself or herself, the particular circumstances and nature of the new crime, the impact on the victim and the community and the background situation and the possibility of rehabilitation.
In the case of a repeat offence, a judge needs to be able to consider all these factors in order to determine an appropriate sentence. With escalating minimum sentences, this is impossible. With this bill, as it has been amended at report stage by the government with the collusion of the NDP, it will now be impossible.
The newly amended bill shows that the government wants to bring its so-called crime fighting strategy into line with the repressive approach favoured in the United States by the very right wing. The Conservative Party is proposing to emulate a model that does not work.
I might add that the NDP's support for this style of justice is baffling, at the very least. Once again the NDP is sacrificing its progressive roots for short term political gain and being the enabler of the right wing agenda of the .
Let us look at a few facts. The difference in rates of serious offences between our two countries is astonishing. For example, according to Statistics Canada, and that is not a left wing organization, the rates for robberies are 59% higher in the United States than in Canada. What about the rates for aggravated assault? They are 85% higher in the United States than in Canada. What about the murder rates? The murder rates are 275% higher south of our border than they are in Canada.
I am sure my hon. colleagues will be interested to learn that a Calgary resident is 840% less likely to be the victim of murder than a resident of Dallas. If we want to compare the degree of safety of our two capital cities, a resident of Washington, D.C. is 2,700% more likely than his or her Ottawa counterpart to be the victim of a serious crime.
I do not know where the government wants to lead us with its copycat, tough on crime strategy, but one thing is certain. These numbers show—