Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill C-10, a government bill that is allegedly designed to provide additional security to our population by introducing additional mandatory minimum sentences for a number of crimes, particularly those where guns are used in the commission of a crime.
In the last election my party was quite clear about the need for additional action on the part of all levels of government to try to eradicate the use of guns in our cities and towns from any illegal use whatsoever. My party will support the bill at second reading and then send it to committee. I have to make it very clear that we have severe reservations about the adequacy of the bill in combatting the specific problem of the use of illegal guns in crimes.
I want to credit the attorney general of Manitoba for giving what I thought was a very clear analysis of what is necessary to fight the use of weapons in the commission of crimes. Mr. Mackintosh drew a picture of a three-legged stool. I do not think I am putting words in Mr. Mackintosh's mouth, but he said there were three components to fighting this type of crime, the major one having programs in place to prevent the crime from ever happening.
I have practised law for a long time, including criminal and family law. I saw a lot of victims. I can say honestly that never ran across victims who, if given a choice between not having had the crime perpetrated on them, which oftentimes resulted in severe injuries, or sending the perpetrator to prison for a long time, would not choose prevention. They want these crimes to be prevented from ever happening. No matter what the penalty might be to the perpetrator, they will not get their health back. They do not recover psychologically from the trauma of the abuse.
Our number one priority for the governments, whether provincial or federal, should be to approach the issue of crime from a prevention standpoint.
The second leg on that three-legged stool is enforcement. Criminologists will tell us that one of the greatest ways to prevent crime is for individuals to know they will be caught. That means in high crime areas, in particular, we need to step up enforcement and put more police officers on the street. They should not be put in offices or in a lot of cases even in cars. They are needed on the street.
Provincial governments suffered significant cuts to their transfer payments by the Conservative government of Mr. Mulroney, the Liberal government of Mr. Chrétien and the member for LaSalle—Émard and the current government. They are still trying to recover from those cuts.
The provinces had to cut all sorts of services, including any that would have required the augmenting of police services at the provincial level. They passed a number of those cuts on down to the municipal level where most of the law enforcement in this country takes place.
We need to have more police officers on the street. It is interesting to see that in the government's budget this spring, although the government blew its horn about hiring 1,000 new RCMP officers, the budget does not address street crime at all for at least a number of years. We are probably short about 1,500 RCMP officers right now. We can only train, educate and prepare RCMP officers at the rate of about 1,200 a year. It is quite some distance before that will have any impact at all.
Where the real impact could be felt and be felt very quickly would be to move money to the provinces, which the government did not do in the budget, and allow the provinces to spend the money on enforcement by hiring more police officers and putting them on the street, particularly into areas where there are high crime rates.
The third and, I have to say, the least important leg on that stool is the legislative one. I call it the denunciatory factor. It is society saying that they condemn serious crimes and proposing harsher penalties to convey that message. When that is done we must be very careful because in order for it to be effective we can only do it when there is a serious crisis and it is tailored to that crisis. We have two reasonably good experiences of this in Canada. One is the experience we have had with impaired driving.
If we go back 20 years and look at the attitudes of the legislature, the courts and, yes, even the police and society generally, we were much more permissive about impaired driving as a result of alcohol or drug consumption and I think even more callous about the consequences.
However, about 20 years ago we began to change. Over that period of time what did we do? We introduced the mandatory minimum penalties for impaired driving but, more important , groups such as MADD, our police forces and a number of non-profit agencies came together and spent money to convince society of the negative consequences. It did have an impact, as did, to a small degree, the additional penalties that we brought to bear.
We had similar success with domestic violence. Most provinces over a period of about 20 years began to compel their prosecutors and police officers to treat domestic violence seriously, to lay charges and not withdraw charges, and to take control of the situation. By any standard that has had an effect.
Corresponding with that, although it was not in the form of mandatory minimum, there was a change in attitude by the judiciary to impose more severe sentences. Together, that combined campaign had the desired effect of reducing the rate of domestic violence. We certainly have not cured it but it has had an impact.
I believe we can learn from those experiences when we look at the crisis that faces us with regard to gun crimes. We know the abuse of weapons is particularly concentrated in our major cities. The first thing we need to do is to do an analysis of why we have the problem and it needs to be concentrated in our major cities. For instance, the murder rate in our major cities runs anywhere from 200% to 400% higher than in the country as a whole for our suburban and rural areas.
The second thing we need to look at is the nature of the crime. In the case of Canada, what has changed over the last five or six years? We have had an increase in the number of guns, handguns in particular, but rapid fire guns. These are all restricted or illegal guns. They would never be registered as legal guns. Those guns are being smuggled into Canada in much higher numbers. We are getting this information from both our federal and provincial police forces.
The increase in volume is particularly severe because organized crime, biker gangs in particular, have taken control of it. It is estimated to be running anywhere from a 100% to a 1,000% increase in guns coming into Canada illegally.
The RCMP tells us that the increase in guns has come about because organized crime gangs are smuggling drugs, marijuana in particular, from Canada into the United States. The organized crime gangs made a business decision, if I can put it that way, that it did not make sense to send the container to the U.S. full and then bring it back empty. About five or six years ago they began to fill those containers with illegal weapons, brought them back into our cities and sold them on the streets of our major cities. Smuggling at the organized crime level has had a very serious impact.
We need to look at the legislation and ask whether it responds to the crisis we are faced with. Does it target in a limited fashion where the real problem is? Does it draw too broad a scope? Is it driven, as I believe in terms of the specific provisions, more by ideology than by an evidenced-based approach?
Let me answer those questions. It does draw too broad a scope. Including the number of crimes where the government is imposing mandatory minimums, one has to suggest, would not be targeted well enough.
We had a proposal in our platform in the last election to specifically target the smuggling, importing and exporting of illegal weapons. We presently have a mandatory minimum of one year on most of those offences, if not all of them. We were proposing in our platform to increase that to four years. We are now targeting directly the biker gangs and that conduct of smuggling weapons into this country illegally.
The legislation is not targeted enough. It is so broad that the denunciatory factor gets lost. It is also limited, not only in that section but in others where the government has imposed mandatory minimums or is proposing to impose mandatory minimums where it will not have any impact whatsoever.
As parliamentarians and legislators, we must be careful in our approach to this issue. We can approach it ideologically by ignoring the facts and the evidence. We can make ourselves feel good and convince the country that we are doing something meaningful but that does not protect our society or individuals. We need to know that what we are doing will work but the bill does not take us there.
The bill has some real risks, which I will address fairly quickly, the first one being the effect of mandatory minimums, especially used in this scope.
We must appreciate that the Criminal Code already has mandatory minimums for about 60 to 70 crimes. The present bill would add about 20 to 30 more. We would be approaching close to 100 crimes involving mandatory minimums. All the studies I have seen tell us and should tell this legislature that if we do not target it or use it selectively it loses its impact. We are very close and, in fact, I think we have crossed over that line.
What the NDP would support in a very limited scope of mandatory minimums is really minuscule compared to what is proposed in the legislation.
Let us talk about the problems with mandatory minimums. It shifts the role that has traditionally been played by the judge in determining what is an appropriate sentence to the prosecutor. The prosecutor, by determining what charges will be laid and pushing for convictions, will determine the length of a sentence.
However, because of the cost, a great number of our prosecutors are caught. Even if they want to pursue more severe penalties, they know the defence lawyers and the accused will hold the process up by seeking a long trial and the crown attorneys have limited resources. They can afford to take only so many 20-day to 60-day trials.
Our system functions on the basis that somewhere between 90% and 95% of all criminal charges will be dealt with by way of guilty pleas. If that balance is upset, the costs are driven up dramatically. The crowns know that, the defence lawyers know that and most hardened accused know it. The process ends up with the lawyers plea bargaining so that the serious crime is not the one for which criminals plead guilty. The penalty imposed is less than what might have been imposed under a system where there were no mandatory minimums. Therefore, the extensive use of mandatory minimums is self-defeating. We end up with fewer convictions and lower penalties.
We need to look at how we use incarceration. I argue that the way we have to do that analysis is to look at societies that are similar to ours but which have lower crimes rates. We need to look at how they deal with their criminal law and the rate of incarceration.
We should do an evidence-based analysis and forget the ideology, the feel good thing of, “Yes, I am out here. I am real macho. I am going to get tough on crime and send all these people to jail”. We hear that from the Prime Minister and the Minister of Justice. However, if they really understood the system they would get off the macho trail and just look at what actually works.
We would look at other countries, such as those in western Europe which, overall, have significantly lower crime rates than Canada, both for murder and serious violent crime, and they have lower incarceration rates. Canada's incarceration rate, according to the last figures in 2002, was at about 116 per 100,000 population. In western Europe, Australia and New Zealand the average runs from a low of about 60 up to the high 90s. All the countries we would like to compare ourselves to, and we do regularly on all sorts of other social programs, have an incarceration rate that is 20% lower than ours and, in some cases, as much as 50% lower.
The one country in our close allies that is the exception is the United States. Its ratio of incarceration is 702 per 100,000, almost seven times higher than ours, with a corresponding crime rate that is four, six and eight times higher than it is in Canada in spite of some of the figures we hear from the government party.
At committee, the NDP will be moving significant amendments to the bill to bring it into line with what we had promised to do during the election. We will be calling for support, although I am not really expecting any from the government, but from the opposition parties to get the bill into shape where in fact it would protect Canadians and obtains results for them.
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Mississauga South.
Just about 40 years ago Canada espoused for itself the goal of building a just society, characterized by truth, fairness, equality of opportunity, and a high degree of social cohesion.
Despite 40 years of mostly progressive social policy at the federal level and a decrease in the general crime rates, we are today debating a piece of legislation meant to crack down on crime and to get tougher on criminals.
The Conservative government does not expect this legislation to deter people from committing crimes. In his budget speech the Minister of Finance admitted as much when he allocated more money to the correctional system to accommodate “the expected increase in inmates” that would result from his law and order agenda.
No, Bill C-10 is not going to prevent crime. It is not going to deter criminal activity. The government does hope it will take some criminals off the streets and keep them in jail longer. It hopes that removing the bad apples citizens will feel safer and less fearful.
The general public is naturally fearful of violent crime, particularly when innocent bystanders are its victims, but that natural fear is exacerbated and extended by the culture of fear in which we live. On television most serious drama revolves around violent crime, whether it is Law & Order or Da Vinci's Inquest, murder is usually at the centre of the plot. Even newscasts are filled with crime, terrorism, war and all the accompanying death. Journalists and editors admit making decisions about publication by the code “if it bleeds, it leads”.
In addition to this encompassing fear, citizens are also caught in a clash of values as they teach their children not to shove or hit to solve a dispute. Adults are solving disputes by bombing and destroying whole cities full of people. As teachers lecture that each person is unique, special and deserving of respect, our own Chief of the Defence Staff states publicly that his soldiers are trained to kill and will go after the “scumbags”. It is hard to find respect in that statement.
The contradictions are endless between the values taught by parents, teachers and clergy, and the behaviours observed by adolescents and young adults. Is it any surprise that they are confused about right and wrong?
They see many people whose lives are characterized by vice rather than virtue, and they see those people achieve great wealth and fame. Steroid using professional athletes, drug using entertainers, and money stealing business leaders seem to have lives of ease and pleasure and celebrity. And our media does seem to celebrate these lives of the rich and famous, no matter their route to fame.
We both celebrate wealth and we accommodate the wealthy with friendly tax policies. Between 1986 and 2000 the incomes of the wealthiest 1% of Canadians rose by a whopping 65%, an average increase of $157,000 a year. During the same period, welfare recipients in Alberta saw their incomes drop by 38%, from $14,000 a year to a shameful $8,800.
While young Canadians may be mainly unaware of these statistics, they do have eyes that see increasing numbers of homeless people begging on the streets and they see more monster homes at outrageous prices advertised in the newspapers. They question what they see. They ask, is this fair? Is this just?
I ask, will Bill C-10 help us create a more just society for all? Will the bill bring Canadians together to build supportive communities? I think not.
Bill C-10 is built on a faulty premise, that is the good versus evil vision of the world. In this world people whose behaviour causes harm are identified as evil. The role of justice is to keep our good society safe from this evil.
Even in our good society there have to be some bad people who need to be corrected through punishment. This good versus evil theory encourages quick fixes, such as removing the bad apples to keep the rest of us safe. It leads us to think crime is only the result of a few evil persons and implies that we collectively bear no responsibility for what goes on in the hidden corners of our communities, and that individually we have no connection whatsoever to it. According to this theory we could eliminate crime by isolating all the bad people in jail.
Over the last 30 years North America experienced a doubling and a tripling of incarceration rates, but this had absolutely no effect whatsoever on the amount of crime processed by the state. It appears that as we put away more and more bad apples, a constant stream of fresh apples spontaneously began to rot. Increased incarceration rates did not reduce crime, but did create a tremendous amount of suffering for a rapidly increasing number of prisoners, most of them young males.
The government is obviously committed to the good versus evil vision of the world and the removal of the bad apples methodology, even though it has not been proven to bring about the desired result of safer streets and a more cohesive society.
Instead, the result will be more Canadians in jail for longer periods. Longer sentences will increase the rate at which released prisoners who have served their sentences are inclined to reoffend. The longer they have lived inside the unique and brutal culture of a prison, which some call criminal school, the more difficult it will be for them to adjust to the norms and expectations of mainstream society when they come out.
Who will these new inmates be? Aboriginal people make up only 3.3% of the Canadian population but make up 21% of admissions to provincial custody and 18% of admissions to federal custody. I predict that with the 1,000 more RCMP officers announced in the budget that this overrepresentation of aboriginals in prison will at least continue but will probably increase.
Another group I worry about is visible minority youths in cities. Why? Because one can predict the potential for criminal activity by examining the social determinants of criminal behaviour.
The first determinant is family poverty. Family poverty results in a poorer health status, less optimism about life, less self-confidence and less resiliency to setbacks. The second determinant is a lack of parental involvement and supervision. Parents working very long hours to make ends meet and therefore are not around for the kids. Nobody is at home to help them with homework et cetera. This leads to the third determinant, a lack of success in school and little engagement with extracurricular arts or sports activities. Without classroom or sporting field success, these kids have little chance of feeling included in the school community.
In Ontario the strict rules around behaviour in school expanded the social exclusion already felt by some who were struggling there as they were struggling in life. Once expelled, these children found there was still no one at home and no space for them at school. Everybody needs to feel included somewhere, and in Ontario, during the Harris government years, these abandoned young people found their somewhere on the streets.
Now we have Bill C-10 brought to us by the same sponsors who brought us the Harris education policies. When they would not put money into educational supports for struggling young people, they sewed the seeds for the crop of desperate young people we have today. Now Canadian taxpayers are being asked to pay for the harvest in more correctional spaces for the expected increase in inmates. The price tag for this? It will cost over $80,000 per year for one federal inmate.
In Australia and in the southern United States mandatory minimum sentences overcrowded the prisons and required the building of new ones. After some years of experience taxpayers are lobbying their governments to end mandatory minimums as they have proven to be too expensive and they have not reduced crime rates.
When other jurisdictions have tried a justice strategy and it has failed, why would we try now? When it would result in more Canadian graduates of crime school re-entering our society later, why would we implement it? Have we learned nothing from the studies that show that punishment and retribution are less successful and more expensive than upfront social investment?
Bill C-10 adds to the climate of fear. Its terms dictate that Canada will never achieve the just society envisioned by Trudeau. As one Canadian, I will never stop trying to build that just society and therefore I will be voting against Bill C-10.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to add my comments to the debate on Bill C-10 on the subject matter of mandatory minimum sentences.
I doubt that there is a member in this place who would not generally agree with the premise that the punishment should fit the crime as a general principle. Add to that the aspect of whether there are circumstances in an individual case which may distinguish it from another case which is the same crime but we have some different facts on the table. I think that members will be aware of a number of cases where there are some circumstances that may be exacerbating and some may even be mitigating. It is for this reason that I am not going to support this bill. I want to amplify some of the reasons.
The former minister of justice will be addressing the House. We are going to hear that there are a couple of analyses of case studies which have been used to justify moving toward these mandatory minimum penalties to a greater extent and members are going to find it quite interesting that these were not interpreted correctly. In fact they would argue strongly against the implementation of stronger mandatory minimums. I hope that members will be present for that speech from the hon. former justice minister.
There has been some question, and I hope it is not the case, about whether or not the judiciary of the courts, the crown attorneys and our justice system generally have been doing the job for us. I hope that members do not believe for a moment there is a reason to be concerned or a suggestion that we have lost confidence in the judiciary and the Supreme Court, which has opined on most of these issues, including mandatory minimum penalties.
One of the things I found interesting in this debate is there seems to be this illusion that there are no mandatory minimum penalties under the current Criminal Code, and that somehow Bill C-10 is going to bring in these tough new mandatory minimums. I cannot count the number of speeches that have already been given that have listed the 42 mandatory minimum penalties that are already under the Criminal Code.
I am not sure if Canadians really understand that there already are penalties. They deal with the full range of the areas about which probably most Canadians would be most concerned. They relate not only to things like impaired driving, betting and bookmaking, but also to high treason, first and second degree murder, the use of a firearm in an indictable offence, and the list goes on.
There are also 10 listed offences that include mandatory minimums related to firearms. Firearms is one of the areas which is emphasized in this bill, particularly as it relates to gang use. They include use of a firearm in the commission of an offence causing death, manslaughter, attempted murder, causing bodily harm with intent, sexual assault with a firearm, aggravated sexual assault, kidnapping, robbery, extortion and hostage taking. Certainly there is no debate with regard to these serious crimes.
As I looked at some of the transcripts of the debate, the justice critic for the Liberal Party wrote a legislative summary which I would commend to all members of the House to look at carefully. It is a very difficult bill to read. We have to put it in some context and the context she has put this in would help all hon. members to understand where we might be going here.
One of the key points to know is that this bill is actually going to create new levels of mandatory minimum penalties. It is going to increase them, and with the first set of offences concerning serious offences which are committed with a restricted firearm, one of the things we learn is that under the bill, firearms will not include long guns. I do not know why that is the case.
Back in 1993 when I came here and registration of long arms became an issue, criminal offences committed with long guns were in fact almost as great as criminal offences with handguns and restricted weapons as they now exist. Since that time, the crime rate with long arms actually has gone down very substantially. That should be encouraging to all members with regard to the progress that has been made in terms of ensuring that firearms are used by people who are properly trained, know how to store them properly and transport them properly and use them in a responsible fashion.
I also believe that kind of education process that has been going on for over a decade has led to a greater confidence level in terms of the general population knowing very well that owning a gun is a serious responsibility. This bill has a flavour of inflexibility and I must admit it was concerning to me to find out that in fact the Supreme Court itself has opined on mandatory minimums, particularly increases.
The Supreme Court struck down a seven year mandatory minimum penalty for importing narcotics. The Supreme Court also upheld the constitutionality of a mandatory minimum penalty of four years for the use of a firearm and criminal negligence causing death. The case was the Queen v Morrissey. The Supreme Court commented in that decision on the negative effects of mandatory minimum sentences for introducing rigidity into the sentencing process. What it really gets down to is the issue of proportionality of sentencing. That is the issue we are really talking about.
We cannot suggest there are no mandatory minimum penalties. I have not heard too many people talk about the deterrence side, but I am not sure whether that is totally relevant because we are talking about crimes for which there is a comprehensive approach to deterrence and certainly the potential penalties are not going to be something that we would rely on totally.
In the remaining time that I have to speak, I want to cite one further example of a situation which I feel would cause me some concern with regard to the rigidity of introducing greater levels of mandatory minimum penalties. It has to do with the population in Canada's jails today.
A research study was done collectively by the provinces of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta. They found that approximately 50% of inmates in provincial jails suffered from alcohol related birth defects. In fact, the former minister of justice of the past government actually confirmed that in federal institutions across the country, approximately 40% to 50% was reflective of the prison population.
When I started off my speech, I talked about whether we should have the punishment fitting the crime. As a general principle, that is a starting point, but are there circumstances in which there would be some difficulty? In a situation where people have mental illnesses or alcohol related birth defects and are put into prison, especially for an extended period of time notwithstanding the crimes that have been committed, their affliction does not allow them to be rehabilitated. Rehabilitation of people with mental illness is not applicable. They should not be in the jails in the first place. They should be dealt with in proper institutions which are going to help them and their families to cope and to deal with their problems.
I know the courts are becoming more and more educated about the incidence of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. It is a very serious situation. It is a very significant portion of our population. Indeed, many of these people have committed some of the crimes for which this bill purports to have greater levels of mandatory minimum penalties. I am not sure that it is appropriate. I believe there are circumstances. I believe this bill should probably also cover long arms. I believe that the constitutionality of this bill is going to be challenged by the Supreme Court, if not by the Attorney General.
For those reasons, I will not be supporting Bill C-10. Notwithstanding my belief that the punishment should fit the crime, the circumstances certainly must be taken into account.
Mr. Speaker, it is my honour, as the member of Parliament for Parry Sound—Muskoka, to address the House and to speak to Bill C-10 introduced by my colleague, the Minister of Justice, on May 4.
As we on this side of the House know, the bill proposes to tackle gun violence in a manner that is specific. The specific focus is on gang and gang activity.
Canadians in my riding of Parry Sound—Muskoka, from Parry Sound to Dorset, from Port Loring to Honey Harbour are all too familiar with the reported stories of gangs engaged in turf wars, often in public areas where innocent bystanders are shot in the crossfire.
The police also relate incidents of illegal gun trafficking, for example, handguns being rented out for the night from the trunk of a car and illegal guns traced back to the United States origins being smuggled into Canada.
We recently discovered, on a farm outside of London, Ontario, eight murdered men who were reportedly members of a notorious biker gang, which brought to the forefront the whole spectre of organized crime in Ontario. However, that particular rural spot could have been any other place in Canada. It could have been just outside of Bala in my riding or just further south in the riding of my colleague from Simcoe North, somewhere out of Orillia.
While this particular crime has stunned all Canadians, communities and provinces have faced organized crime and the fear and terror it brings, unfortunately, for some period of time. For instance, the province of Quebec has long faced reported violence stemming from Outlaw motorcycle gangs, including biker wars over control of organized crime and the illicit drug trade.
Gang and gun related crimes have an impact on the Canadian way of life, on the safety and well-being of our communities and on the livelihood of our businesses. This type of violence has absolutely no place in our children's schoolyards, in our communities, in our cities and throughout our great nation.
Bill C-10 seeks to crack down on gangs and guns. It seeks to make gang members who use guns accountable, once and for all, for their crimes. The use of a gun in a crime that relates to a criminal organization would result in mandatory minimum penalties. I speak in favour of that. Police report that the firearm of choice for street gangs and drug traffickers are handguns or other restricted or prohibited firearms. This is supported by available data from Statistics Canada.
In the homicide statistics for 2003, the Canadian Centre for Justice statistics focused on the characteristics of homicide incidents in Canada and found that gang related homicides increased. While the centre explained that some of the sharp increases are due to changes in reporting practices, there has been a notable increase over the past decade since the collection of this kind of data commenced.
In 1993, for instance, there were 13 victims of gang related homicides, 13 too many. However, in 2003 there were not 13 gang related homicides, there were 84. Victims of gang related homicides accounted for approximately 15% of all homicides. We know the targets are not just gang members. Innocent bystanders killed as a result of gang and gun related crimes are victims as well. How can we forget the Toronto Boxing Day shooting spree that resulted in the tragic death of 15-year-old Jane Creba?
All of us were on the campaign trail at the time but I am sure every member of the House heard people in our constituencies, at the door, at the coffee parties and at all candidates meetings expressing sorrow for Jane Creba's needless death and demanding that the next elected member of Parliament in each of our constituencies took this issue of gang related gun violence seriously.
I heard the message at every campaign meeting I had in Bracebridge, Huntsville, Parry Sound and Gravenhurst, as I am sure every member heard it in their respective constituencies. This innocent girl was caught in the crossfire of a gun battle on the busiest street in Canada and on the busiest shopping day of the year in broad daylight. The most common motive underlying gang and gun related homicides was reported to be the settling of accounts. Drug debts, turf wars, revenge and arguments were other common motives.
The homicide survey also found that the proportion of handguns used in firearm related homicides continues to escalate and that the types of firearms used during the commission of a homicide have changed over the past three decades. This is what the hon. member was talking about earlier. These are the statistics. Prior to 1990, rifles and shotguns were more commonly used to commit homicide. However, beginning in the early 1990s, the proportions began to dramatically reverse. By 2003, 68% of firearm homicides were committed with handguns. The survey further reported that most handguns used to commit homicides were not registered. This should come as no surprise.
Although these statistics relate specifically to homicides, Canadian crime statistics from the Canadian Centre for Justice statistics show similar proportions of handguns being present in other violent crimes as well.
I do not need to remind the House that handguns are restricted firearms. Few Canadians are authorized to possess handguns and yet they continue to be more prevalent in violent gun crimes. Handguns, illegal restricted firearms, are the first choice weapon for criminals who want to advance the interests of their criminal organization.
While the overall firearm crime rates have decreased in Canada over the last three decades, it is not true when it comes to the proportion of violent crime committed with handguns or other restricted or prohibited firearms.
Gang and gun related crimes are an issue for all Canadians. It happens too often. One life lost to gang and gun violence is one life too many.
I come down on the side of my constituents in Parry Sound—Muskoka to say that it is time the House tackled this problem directly and Bill C-10 would do precisely that. The bill encompasses the firearms most commonly used in violent crimes and the offenders involved in gangs. The bill also targets other serious firearm related crimes of increased concern to law enforcement officials, such as the theft, trafficking and smuggling of guns, the illegal possession of a gun or if a person is already prohibited from possessing firearms.
Bill C-10 sends a clear message to those who use handguns and illegal weapons to commit crimes that their actions will result in real penalties. These penalties would escalate in the event that a prior offender chooses to use a handgun or a restricted weapon for further crimes. The bill also assures Canadians and my constituents of Parry Sound—Muskoka that the government is committed to creating safer streets and stronger communities.
I urge all members of the House to support the bill.
Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise today on Bill C-10.
First of all, I would never have dared to rise in this House and express my party’s position without having discussed it in advance with my colleagues, including the hon. member for Bas-Richelieu—Nicolet—Bécancour, who chairs our caucus and is a very learned man. He is so learned in fact that he has been given the important responsibility of sitting on the Standing Joint Committee on the Library of Parliament, a kind of crossroads for information. I want to take this opportunity to thank him, and I am sure that my colleagues will want to join me in doing so.
Let us get down to the matter at hand. I have consulted, of course, with my colleagues and read the jurisprudence. I even went and found information beyond what was available in caucus. The conclusion that we must draw, unfortunately, is that this is a very bad bill in every way.
I am sure that, Insofar as crime is concerned, there is not a single member of this House who is not concerned about the safety of our communities. Not one member of this House wants to live in communities that fail to value safety, peace and civic-mindedness.
There are various levels in criminality. Earlier, I was sorry to see the health minister, himself a former member of the Legislative Assembly of Ontario, confusing certain levels. This causes misunderstandings, which I would like to clear up right away.
In 1995, the Bloc Québécois, this formidable instrument, was concerned about a new phenomenon: the fight against extremely well organized crime. The hon. member for Bas-Richelieu—Nicolet—Bécancour, who is a very learned man, as I said, will remember well. Back then, there were 33 outlaw motorcycle gangs in Canada’s big cities. Some of them were in Montreal, including the Bandidos, the Rock Machine and Hells Angels.
There was an entirely new phenomenon: these biker gangs worked through delegation. It was not the gang leader, Maurice “Mom” Boucher, who would give the orders and do things for which he could be put on trial. There was a whole chain of delegation, with the result that it was impossible to dismantle these gangs.
At the time, Michel Bellehumeur of the Bloc Québécois worked with me and other members of our caucus. Since then, Mr. Bellehumeur has been elevated to the bench. The debate was non-partisan, since everyone shared the same concerns. At the time, the first bill was Bill C-95. It introduced a new offence, which was added to the Criminal Code, namely, membership in a criminal organization. This included all sorts of terms and conditions that need not be listed here. That is not what we are talking about today. We must not confuse the levels.
In 1995, Allan Rock was justice minister. I am not sure whether this conjures good or bad memories for my colleagues in this House.
An hon. member: Oh, oh!
Mr. Réal Ménard: I believe my colleague has good memories, but it depends on one's outlook. At the time, Allan Rock tabled Bill C-68, which, all of a sudden, added minimum sentences for offences committed with a firearm. For example, a four-year minimum sentence was imposed for each of the following: manslaughter, using firearm in commission of offence; attempted murder, using firearm in commission of offence; causing bodily harm with intent, using firearm in commission of offence; aggravated sexual assault, using firearm in commission of offence.
At present, there are approximately 15 offences in the Criminal Code which have existed for the past decade and for which mandatory minimum sentences already exist.
We do not dispute the fact that crimes committed with guns are something to worry about. The Bloc Québécois does not dispute the fact that we must curb, even eradicate, gun trafficking. What we have difficulty with is this.
When the Minister of Justice appeared before the committee that I am a member of to defend his interim supply, I asked him quite directly a very simple question. For a decade now, we have had mandatory minimum sentences for the use of firearms. I asked him whether he had any empirical or scientific studies that would show us the impact of implementing these mandatory minimum sentences in the Criminal Code. Amazingly, the minister, and I do not doubt his good faith, was unable to cite a single study. The same was true when I met with senior officials, who were all very nice. We are not trying to show bad faith or impugn motive. But why were they unable to cite any studies? Because the Department of Justice did not conduct any.
I do not mind being asked, as a legislator, to take what are considered the most effective means to address this phenomenon of committing any number of offences with guns. However, I would expect to be asked to do so on the basis of convincing and conclusive evidence.
That is the problem with this government. It is deeply ideological, but in an unhealthy way. We are all driven by ideologies. We all have convictions. There are some things in public life that are more important to us than others. However, we must show some scientific rationality or, at least, some rationality with a few scientific aspects.
I cannot support the addition of mandatory minimum sentences simply for the principle of it. I want Bill C-10 to be fully understood. It affects the following eight offences in the Criminal Code: attempted murder, discharging firearm with intent, sexual assault, aggravated sexual assault, kidnapping, hostage-taking, robbery and extortion. Minimum sentences already exist for these offences, whether for three years, five years or whatever. It is already in the Criminal Code. Anyone who reads the Criminal Code will see that minimum sentences exist for each of these offences.
Bill C-10 proposes that three year sentences be increased to five, five year sentences to seven, and seven year ones to ten. Thus, mandatory minimum sentences are being made stiffer for no reason other than wanting to crack down on criminals. That is what is unhealthy. Naturally, we want offenders to be prosecuted and we do not want them to use firearms to commit crimes.
I would like to begin with three comments. Such an ideology suggests that we are living in a more violent society. When the hon. member for Laurier—Sainte-Marie appointed me as justice critic, after thanking him and vowing to do my best to be equal to the task, the first thing I did was to look up the crime statistics. I was listening to the speeches of ministers and other members of the Conservative Party, and I had even read their electoral platform. To listen to the Conservatives, one would think that society is more violent than ever, that crime has never been so widespread and that crime rates are on the rise.
When we make the effort to look up the statistics, however, we can see that overall, from 1991 to 2000, the crime rate dropped by 26%. And these are not statistics compiled by researchers for the Bloc, the PQ or some lobby group. These are statistics from Statistics Canada or Juristat.
Moving to what is termed violent crime, for the sake of clarity, for Statistics Canada, violent crimes include murder, attempted murder, assault, sexual assault, kidnapping and robbery, all of which are intrinsically worrisome. Hon. members will agree that these are no small crimes. The fact of the matter is that, from 1992 to 2004, the number of violent crimes diminished from year to year. It was simple enough; I made a table. So, from 1992 to 2004, violent crime diminished, 2003 being the exception, since nationally, three provinces which shall remain unnamed saw their crime rates increase. Nevertheless, from 1992 to 2004, violent crime overall diminished.
When the minister appeared before the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, I asked him to table his statistics. I told him that we are all intellectuals, well-educated, open and pretty nice, so surely we could compare our statistics. I told him that perhaps I was mistaken and had interpreted them incorrectly. The minister did not table them. Yesterday I rose on a point of order and asked the minister to table them. When he appeared, he had the statistics with him and could have tabled them there and then. Three weeks after he appeared, members of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights are still waiting for those statistics. The Minister of Justice had the clerk tell us that it was a big job and would take a lot of time. But the minister had them in hand.
I am going to use the conditional. I have some doubts. I would suspect that the minister does not wish to table his statistics because they do not support his point of view, which is purely ideological. I can assure you that the Bloc Québécois will not allow the Minister of Justice to masquerade as George Bush just to please his constituents. We will be a little more demanding than that.
That said, we do not support Bill C-10. I would remind the House that in 1995, a certain number of minimum sentences were already added in the case of offences for which the minister would like to see increased sentences. More fundamentally, this leads us to consider carefully and decide whether, in our justice system, the use of mandatory minimum sentences has a deterrent effect. We must ask ourselves what a minimum sentence is.
A minimum sentence means that, during a trial by jury, nothing is left to the judge's discretion. In fact, the jury decides whether the defendant is guilty, but who decides on the sentence? Unlike the French system, it is not the jury but the trial judge. The judge has heard and seen the evidence and heard the witnesses. A criminal trial can last up to four weeks. It is very meticulous. The rules regarding evidence are very strict. This bill sends a message to trial judges that, although they are responsible for administering the sentence, we, as legislators, want to force them, with their hands tied, in one direction or another.
In the past, with some notable exceptions, we have not supported minimum sentences. My predecessor, the member for Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, was well-liked in this House.
He was our justice critic. I hope one day to be his equal in terms of his knowledge and dedication. Everyone liked the member for Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles. He was the one to suggest to our caucus that minimum sentences be imposed for cases of child pornography, for example. However, the Bloc Québécois is generally not in favour of the idea of establishing minimum sentences. We are not convinced that they are effective.
In the mid-1980s, the government established a commission of inquiry, the Archambault commission, mandated to review the principles of sentencing. It is quite significant that this commission did not recommend minimum sentences, except in the case of murder which carries a sentence of life imprisonment. The Archambault sentencing commission did not recommend mandatory minimum sentences for any other crime.
I repeat: it is somewhat pathetic and somewhat sad. I have friends on the government side. In fact, I have only friends and no enemies in this House, and I am proud of that. However, I must remark that the Conservatives find themselves on the slippery slope of ideology. Once again, this bill is the direct result of the government's desire to please its electoral base—western Canada—which finds security in the idea that the longer the sentence, the safer our society. Unfortunately, it is an intellectual trap.
I use the example of the United States which resorts to incarceration quite a bit. In Canada, according to the latest statistics I consulted, 116 individuals per 100,000 inhabitants are jailed. Do you know what the rate of incarceration is for the United States? Over 700 per 100,000 inhabitants, compared to 116 per 100,000 in Canada. Yet, when we look at the rates of homicide and violent offences we realize that the number of prison sentences is higher.
I would like the cabinet to think about that. I am asking the President of the Treasury Board to reflect on this issue. I know that the latter, in his own way, is a humanist. He is conservative, very conservative, overly conservative, excessively conservative. However, he is my friend. I am asking him to think about it. Is there a relation between incarceration and the safety that our communities wish to achieve? All criminologists and academics have reflected on this question.
As recently as last week, I had an initial meeting with representatives of the defence attorneys association. This is not a group that could be accused of being partisan. It is made up of lawyers who study the law and sentence administration as objectively as possible. Did you know that the association strongly opposes bills C-9 and C-10? I must say that if we listed all the people who oppose these bills, we would see, as I have seen, that it is much longer than the list of people who support the bills.
Everyone in this House knows what I am like and that I am a cooperative sort of person. But I will not be able to push this bill through quickly in committee. The Bloc Québécois will have to do its work. Unfortunately, we will ask to travel, to hear witnesses and to investigate. Amending the Criminal Code is no small matter. It must always be balanced. We cannot take it lightly.
I was told that in the government back rooms, they wanted the bill passed before St. Jean Baptiste Day. That is certainly foolhardy. It presents a problem, because I do not think that the committee can work under pressure, as that would be totally incompatible with the seriousness expected of parliamentarians.
The Bloc Québécois will therefore be unable to work so that the bill is at the report stage by St. Jean Baptiste Day. We know that this year, June 24 will reflect Quebeckers' hopes and aspirations. It is not only an opportunity to hold a cabinet meeting, but it is also an opportunity to remember how Quebec is a nation and how Quebec will one day be a sovereign country, on an equal footing with English Canada. That is the meaning of our national holiday. And that is what all Bloc Québécois members will have in mind as they celebrate on June 23 and 24. Of course, we will remain very open to any wishes anyone might want to extend to us on that occasion. But let us not digress from the meaning of the bill. Let us stick to the basics.
In addition to the eight offences that the government proposes to create with Bill C-10—and for which there are already minimum sentences that the government wants to increase from three to five years, from five to seven years and from seven to ten years—it is creating two new offences.
Imagine, Mr. Speaker, if it is not something—
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for Brant.
Safe streets and safe communities are the shared aspiration of all Canadians and the common objective of all parliamentarians and parties. No political party can claim that it alone speaks or cares for the safety of all Canadians or that it alone is legislating for that purpose.
Indeed, in the matter of combating gun and gang related crime, the Liberal government tabled legislation in November 2005, then known as Bill C-82, that proposed 12 amendments to the gun control provisions of the Criminal Code and which was part of a five point strategy to combat gang and gun related crime, including: first, tougher laws and proportionate penalties; second, more effective law enforcement; third, heightened recognition of the needs and concerns of victims; fourth, the prevention of crime through a hope and opportunity package; and fifth, civic engagement.
The government's crime control policy contains some of these features, but it mentions nothing about civic engagement and it understates the case with respect to a hope and opportunity package and crime prevention. I intend to focus my remarks on the legislative remedy the government proposes, Bill C-10, and the exaggerated and excessive mandatory minimums around which it is organized.
It is important to note that there are already 20 gun related mandatory minimums in the Criminal Code. Those who argue that mandatory minimums were an electoral deathbed conversion of the Liberal government ignore the fact that it was a Liberal government which in 1995 initiated these very 20 gun related mandatory minimums, and that in November 2005, on behalf of the government and pursuant to the recommendations of the provincial and territorial attorneys general--what I might say was an exercise in open federalism--we then recommended modest increases to mandatory minimums in matters relating to trafficking and smuggling of firearms and the like.
The question, then, is this. What legislative remedy constitutes an evidentiary based, principled and effective approach to combating gun related crime and helping to secure safe streets and safe communities and, in that context, is distinct from what might otherwise be regarded as an ideologically based, politically motivated and ultimately ineffective approach to crime control?
Let us begin by looking at the evidence, indeed, looking at the particulars of the alleged evidence that was invoked by the justice minister himself with respect to justifying this legislation. I am now citing from the justice minister's remarks on May 7:
|| Gun crimes have been reduced dramatically in those jurisdictions that targeted those gun crimes through mandatory minimum prison sentences. The experience of a number of states, a number of studies, demonstrate that--Boston, [Massachusetts] Virginia, Florida, New York and other jurisdictions consistently demonstrate that.
Let us now look at the facts, because the facts have evidence to the contrary. With respect to Massachusetts, in his 2003 testimony concerning sentencing reform proposals, William J. Leahy, Chief Counsel for the Committee for Public Counsel Services for Massachusetts, said that mandatory minimum sentencing “has proven to be a public policy nightmare: ineffective at preserving the public safety, and recklessly wasteful as fiscal policy”. A 2004 report from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Governor's Commission on Corrections Reform, in a section on minimum mandatory sentences, states, “Quite simply, based on what we now know about reducing re-offense, this is a recipe for recidivism rather than a recipe for effective risk reduction”.
With regard to Florida, the minister appears to have based his conclusion on a 2005 press release from the Florida Department of Corrections claiming that the state's 10-20-life program has had impressive results. The facts, however, are otherwise. A 2005 study by the University of Florida attributes any decrease in crime to the national decrease in crime that began before the law took effect, noting also that there was a greater drop in crime before the law went into effect.
We find the same thing with respect to Virginia and with respect to New York state. Time does not permit me to go ahead and cite in both those matters, but the principle remains the same. There is no evidentiary based justification for the kind of excessive and exaggerated mandatory minimums as are set forth in this bill.
This brings me to look at the situation in terms of other evidentiary approaches. It is not only that the evidence from the very American jurisdictions that the justice minister relies upon demonstrate the exact opposite, but even the academic studies that he relies upon, such as the highly regarded work by Thomas Marvelle and Carlisle Moody, also conclude otherwise than that of the justice minister, who sought to rely on this study for his evidentiary based approach.
Indeed, the vast preponderance of studies in every jurisdiction have concluded that mandatory minimums are neither a deterrent nor are they effective. That includes the American Sentencing Commission and the Canadian Sentencing Commission, the American Bar Association and the Canadian Bar Association, the early comprehensive study by the Royal Commission for the Revision of the Criminal Code in 1952 and the more recent studies by the Law Commission of Canada; and includes comprehensive studies by the international expert, Professor Julian Roberts of Oxford University, the exhaustive comparative study by Professor Thomas Gabor, University of Ottawa and Nicole Crutcher, Carleton University, as well as the 1999 research report to the then Solicitor General of Canada, which after surveying 50 studies involving 300,000 offenders, concluded that longer incarcerations were not associated with reduced recidivism. In fact, the opposite was found. Longer sentences were associated with a 3% increase in recidivism.
Bill C-10 is not only not evidenced based legislation, but it also marginalizes the principled approach to sentencing policy introduced by the enactment of section 718 of the Criminal Code, the most comprehensive sentencing reform ever enacted, which includes a composite set of sentencing objectives, and is organized around the proportionality principle, namely, that the sentence must be proportionate to the gravity of the offence and to the responsibility of the offender; and which incorporates, by reference, the individualization principle, the appreciation that every crime has a different set of circumstances and every criminal is different. The judiciary must be allowed the necessary discretion, which Parliament intended, to invoke and apply this principled and just approach to sentencing, including also the principle of restorative justice in that regard.
This leads me to the third consideration, and that is whether mandatory minimums are in fact effective. When we look at it, what we now know, as a result of all the evidence based inquiry, is that mandatory minimums also have adverse and prejudicial fall-out for the criminal justice system. One might call it the law of unintended consequences, which includes that they increase the prison population, resulting in increased prison costs to the taxpayer, and opportunity costs, as less funds are available for law enforcement, community programs and crime prevention while not bringing about the desired objective of safe streets and safe communities.
The prosecutors may stay or withdraw a charge or negotiate for a lesser charge because the MMs are too harsh. The decisions may move from the judiciary to the prosecution and result in fact in lower conviction rates. Where a mandatory minimum charge is maintained and the accused has less incentive to plead guilty could lead to increased trials and more costly trials. Arrest rates, charges, plea bargains and convictions have actually declined with mandatory minimums while the trial costs have increased.
Mandatory minimums have an adverse impact on minority defendants, in particular on aboriginal defendants who are already overrepresented in the criminal justice system, and on aboriginal women who have been increasingly overrepresented in the criminal justice system. Mandatory minimums become the sentencing ceiling for the offence rather than the minimum, achieving the exact opposite of what sound public policy would wish.
As the Canadian Bar Association summarized in 2005 in that regard after a survey of all the evidence:
|| Mandatory minimum penalties do not advance the goal of deterrence...do not target the most egregious or dangerous offenders...have a disproportionate impact on minority groups...and subvert important aspects of Canada's sentencing regime.
It is not surprising that Professor Anthony Doob asked plaintively in 2001, “Why are we still discussing whether Canada should have mandatory minimums?” He repeated that again recently. Professor Marie-Andrée Bertrand, referring to Bill C-10, after examining it, said:
This is a catastrophe. She said, and I quote, “No fewer than 24 new offences will be subject to four years of imprisonment. This is a catastrophe”.
In conclusion, this legislation is an ideologically inspired, politically motivated and ineffective approach to combating crime. What is needed is an evidence based, principles based and effective approach that would realize our shared objective of safe streets and safe communities.