moved that Bill , be read the second time and referred to a committee.
He said: Mr. Speaker, I will speak, not surprisingly, in favour of the provisions of Bill , which deals with criminal procedure, language of the accused, sentencing and other amendments.
As members know, this government has introduce in the House a number of legislative measures that contribute to the protection of law-abiding Canadians. I believe ensuring that our criminal justice systems remains modern, efficient and effective is an important component of the multi-faceted goal of tackling crime, which the government has made one of its key priorities.
This initiative is an example of work of the Department of Justice to update, modernize and improve the law and to respond to the ongoing need to make technical amendments, such as addressing procedural anomalies, making corrections, clarifying current ambiguities in some Criminal Code provisions, as well as modernizing other provisions by introducing the use of communication technologies. So-called housekeeping amendments of this kind are needed from time to time.
The changes proposed in Bill may not appear to some people as a pressing initiative, but it is an important bill that will contribute to the smooth functioning of the criminal justice system and it will assist the day to day functions of those who work within the system.
I believe these types of amendments are necessary from time to time and such bills should find their way to the House on a regular basis, as needed.
As many of these amendments have been developed in collaboration with justice system partners, this initiative also illustrates the government's resolve to work in cooperation with its provincial and territorial counterparts, as well as other justice system stakeholders, such as the Uniform Law Conference of Canada, to improve the Canadian criminal justice system.
The amendments contained in Bill fall principally within three categories; criminal procedure, language of the accused and sentencing.
Without describing each proposal introduced by the bill, which are for the most part so-called technical amendments, I would like to highlight some of them. First, I will deal with the criminal procedure amendments.
Several criminal procedure amendments serve to clarify the application and purpose of certain provisions, as well as improve procedural efficiencies by permitting the use of modern technology and rationalizing existing provisions.
For instance, one amendment is proposed to streamline the procedure for executing search warrants in a jurisdiction other than the jurisdiction where the search warrant was obtained. Currently, out of province search warrants can only be endorsed by presenting the original warrant for endorsement to a judge or a justice in the province where the warrant is to be executed. This, of course, takes time and is labour as well as resource intensive. This amendment would allow the search warrant obtained in one province to be submitted by electronic communication to the court in the province where a copy of the warrant would be endorsed by a judge or a justice, thus expediting the process for executing out of province search warrants.
Another criminal procedure amendment will serve to clearly set out the right of an accused person to change his or her mode of trial when the Supreme Court of Canada orders a judge and jury trial to be retried. The proposed amendment will introduce more flexibility and will assist in avoiding unnecessary jury trials where the accused prefers to be retried by a judge alone.
An additional procedural amendment would clarify that in the case of the summary conviction trial, which involves multiple defendants, the court may continue the proceedings against all of them, even where one of the co-defendants fails to attend.
The Criminal Code currently provides several provisions dealing with the proof of service of court documents, such as a notice, subpoena and a summons. The bill includes a series of amendments that will effectively consolidate into one provision all relevant sections dealing with the proof of service of court documents, thus ensuring that this regime is governed by one easily referenced provision.
Other amendments would refine the jury selection process to better protect the impartiality of prospective jury members, as well as sworn jurors. Another amendment would correct inconsistencies in this process with regard peremptory challenges.
Before moving on to the other two categories, I would like to mention one last criminal procedure amendment. The offence of possessing break-in instruments is currently a straight indictable offence. Experience has shown us that this offence is often committed together with the offence of “break and enter into a place other than a dwelling house”, which is a hybrid offence; that is, an offence where the prosecution can either elect to proceed by way of indictment or summary conviction.
The amendment would hybridize the offence of possessing break-in instruments, thereby allowing crown prosecutors, in appropriate circumstances, to proceed with one single trial by way of summary conviction for both offences.
I believe the examples I have listed together with other criminal procedure amendments contained in this bill are necessary and provide practical procedural improvements to the Criminal Code.
I would now like to turn to the amendments in Bill with respect to the language rights of the accused person during a criminal proceeding. Sections 530 and 530.1 of the Criminal Code of Canada guarantee the right of all accused persons to have their preliminary inquiry and trial before a court that speaks the official language of the accused and to have a crown prosecutor conducting a prosecution who speaks the language of the accused.
These rights are an example of the advancement of language rights through legislative means as provided in subsection 16(3) of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and have been in force throughout Canada since January 1, 1990. However, since the coming into force of these provisions, studies and public consultations have demonstrated that these language rights are often misunderstood by accused persons, the bar, crown prosecutors and judges.
This situation may well result in some accused not invoking their rights in a timely fashion, thus presenting a barrier to the full exercise and implementation of these rights, as well as creating additional difficulties and costs for the justice system. In turn, such misunderstanding has led courts to identify certain shortcomings and to issue rulings that do not always correspond with the intent of the existing provisions.
The amendments proposed in Bill would clearly set out the full extent of these rights and would assist in better implementing the language requirements in the Criminal Code and in rectifying some shortcomings identified in various studies and by the courts, notably by the Supreme Court of Canada in R v. Beaulac in 1999. The amendments also bring greater clarity to the provisions, thus ensuring greater efficiency throughout the criminal justice process.
The amendments would also provide solutions and improvements that respond to a 1995 study by the Commissioner of Official Languages entitled “The Equitable Use of English and French Before the Courts in Canada”. In the study, the Commissioner of Official Languages identified a number of barriers to the exercise of the language rights of accused persons.
The commissioner recommended that all accused be better informed of the right to a trial in the official language of their choice. The commissioner also indicated that there appeared to be little logic in providing a trial in the language of the accused while failing to provide the accused with a version of the originating documents leading to his being on trial in the language as well.
Finally, the commissioner identified a number of practical issues that arise in the context of bilingual trials and which have led to contradictory approaches and court decisions.
The amendments proposed here address many of these concerns. For example, amendments to the language rights provisions would heed the advice given by the Supreme Court of Canada in the Beaulac decision by requiring the court to inform all accused persons of their right to be tried in their official language whether they are represented or not.
The amendments also follow court decisions requiring that the charging document must be translated in the language of the accused upon request. This appears to be a necessary complement to accused persons exercising their language rights. The proposed amendment would standardize existing practices in that regard and ensure the wording in the Criminal Code more accurately reflects the state of the law.
By the same token, to satisfy the need for certainty and precision in criminal proceedings where the charging document has been translated, a further amendment would make it clear that where there is an inconsistency between the original version of the charging document and the translated version, the original document ought to prevail.
Finally, the proposed amendments would provide the presiding judge with the power to issue appropriate orders to ensure that bilingual trials run smoothly and efficiently. The absence of such a provision has led to fruitless debate and it is time to bring greater efficiency to such proceedings.
I would now like to turn to the sentencing provisions. Bill gathers together several technical sentencing amendments. The purpose of this series of amendments is similar to that of the other two categories, namely, to clarify the intent of certain sentencing provisions and improve efficiencies in the application of certain court sentencing processes. There are also other amendments that serve to update the law or extend existing measures to protect victims.
I would like to highlight some of the changes that are proposed in sentencing. One area where uncertainty warrants changing the law is the penalties for impaired driving. As I will detail in a moment, the following amendment will provide courts, the parties to the proceedings and, in particular, impaired driving offenders with some certainty regarding the exact sanction that will apply to a person convicted.
Given current uncertainty in judicial decisions, this change will have the effect of clearly stating that the minimum fine and minimum jail terms that apply for a first, second and third impaired driving offence, such as the operation of a motor vehicle while impaired and refusal to provide a breath sample, do apply to the more serious situations of impaired driving causing bodily harm or death. Accordingly, this amendment will also clarify that conditional sentence is not available for these offences as this type of sanction cannot be imposed for offences that attract a minimum penalty.
Another impaired driving amendment that I would like to highlight here is with respect to concurrent driving prohibition orders. The Criminal Code currently provides that impaired driving offenders who breach a driving prohibition order can receive a subsequent driving prohibition order. However, this subsequent additional prohibition order runs concurrently with the initial order imposed. As both orders run at the same time, the second driving prohibition may be rendered less meaningful. The amendment that is proposed would expressly provide that the second order is to be served consecutively with any existing driving prohibition orders.
This bill also contains two additional amendments with respect to impaired driving offenders who participate or wish to participate in an interlock ignition device program with a chance to make an early return to driving. These interlock device programs are currently offered in a number of provinces across Canada. Alberta and Quebec were early leaders in implementing such programs.
Criminal Code provisions enable provinces and territories, if they wish to do so, to permit an impaired driver who drives a motor vehicle equipped with an ignition interlock device to drive during the driving prohibition period imposed by the court, but only after a minimum period of time has passed based upon whether the impaired driving conviction was a first, second or subsequent offence. Just to clarify matters, if it sounded as though we are allowing impaired drivers to drive, that is not the intent of the legislation. It is those who have been convicted of impaired driving. This does not change the law in that respect.
One amendment that would provide that for greater certainty an impaired driving offender is only permitted to drive while being the subject of a driving prohibition order if he or she has registered in an alcohol ignition interlock device program and is in compliance with the conditions of the program. This amendment is intended to make it clear that the offender must not only be enrolled in the program, but must also comply with all the terms of the program during the driving prohibition period.
In addition, currently the only proceeding by which an offender can request permission to be enrolled in an interlock device program is at the time of sentencing. Where this request has been omitted at the sentencing stage, the opportunity to request permission to enrol in such a program has been lost, as no other proceeding is provided in the Criminal Code to address this request at a later time. Therefore, a minor amendment would ensure that unless the sentencing court states otherwise, all impaired driving offenders will be authorized to apply for an enrolment in an alcohol-ignition interlock device program in those jurisdictions where such a program, with an early return to driving, is available.
Before I conclude, I would like to highlight two additional sentencing amendments contained in the bill that may be of particular interest to my hon. colleagues. I hope this next amendment will give victims some reassurance as it provides sentencing courts with an additional tool to protect them from unwanted communications while the offender is serving a jail term.
Courts currently hold the power to order accused persons and convicted offenders not to communicate with victims while they are either in remand, out on bail or on probation. However, no similar power exists to order an offender not to communicate with victims while the offender is serving a jail sentence. Practises for dealing with unwanted communications in correctional institutions vary among jurisdictions with most situations being addressed on a case by case basis and handled through disciplinary measures.
The amendment will extend the existing measures to protect persons from unwanted communications by providing sentencing courts with the power to order an offender not to communicate with victims, witnesses and other identified persons while the offender is in custody.
The amendment also includes the creation of an offence as an enforcement mechanism for a breach of such an order. I believe the amendment will provide the missing link in the chain of prevention measures against unwanted communication by accused persons and convicted offenders.
Last, I would like to bring to the attention of my colleagues an amendment with respect to fines. The current maximum monetary penalty for summary conviction offences of $2,000 has remained unchanged for over 20 years. Other monetary limits in the Criminal Code have been adjusted over the years. Bill proposes to increase the maximum fine to $10,000. This adjustment would allow crown prosecutors to seek a higher fine when proceeding by summary conviction.
As members can see in some, the amendments, as highlighted by the examples presented today, would strengthen sentencing measures, enhance the efficiency of criminal procedures and clarify court related language rights provisions.
I would like to call on all members of the House to join me in supporting this important legislation.
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to rise today on Bill , which will amend the Criminal Code in several respects.
This is an omnibus bill concerned more particularly with criminal procedure, the language of the accused, sentencing, and other changes.
The proposed legislation is essentially a cleanup bill with the objectives of ensuring that the Criminal Code is up to date and to maximize its efficiency. Bill includes many substantive amendments to the Criminal Code, changes that touch on a number of issues, mostly to modernize the Criminal Code.
This is why we believe that this bill, if sent to committee to be thoroughly examined, would result in good law. At committee, experts can be called as witnesses to give evidence on the efficacy of each section of the amendments, whereby we might get closer to improving the Criminal Code, which we all recognize is a tired, well-worn and incomplete document for our criminal justice system, but it is the best we have had.
I do give compliments to the other side in suggesting that the Criminal Code was the child of a Conservative finance minister and subsequent prime minister in the 1880s. It has been patchworked together over the years, but no full and final revision of a modern Criminal Code has been undertaken, and it is long overdue.
However, this bill seeks to band-aid and fix up what we can to modernize certain sections of the code and we on this side welcome its implementation.
Some clauses included in Bill are aimed at keeping up with today's society, such as increasing the maximum fine for a summary conviction offence from $2,000 to $10,000. Although this might seem to be quite a jump, I believe that judges, with their cautious deference to the circumstances that exist, will use fair determinations to determine if an accused, based on capacity to pay, can make the payments and if the amount of the fine is indeed proportional to the person's capacity to pay.
Here I want to interject something that I think is very important to the whole tableau of justice bills that are before the House in this session. The 39th Parliament has seen a plethora of legal bills, but many of them and many of the actions of the government, despite the inundation of law, have really ripped apart the sense that we respect the judiciary.
I think of the delayed report on justices' salaries, now further delayed, we understand today. I think of the comments made by the of Canada in this House that Liberal lawyers were running the court challenges program. I think of the comments made by the at the Canadian Bar Association conference in St. John's, and of those of the Prime Minister about Liberal judges made on occasions during the campaign of December and January of last year .
Notwithstanding that everybody might have a problem with certain appointments, when a judge becomes a member of the bench, he is a judge. He is an “Honourable Justice”. He is an interpreter of the laws. He deserves all of that respect.
The government has done nothing to further the cause of respect for the judiciary. It may be the on first day of civics class in grade 1 or grade 10, or in undergraduate or law school, that one learns that unless people have respect for the law through its judges, the law will not have the impact we all need it to have.
As the member for the riding of , which is probably the most bilingual and most bicultural riding in the country, I am happy to see that Bill will reinforce the right of accused to be tried in the official language of their choice, and more particularly, the right to a bilingual trial in cases where two or more accused speak different official languages.
This is an important measure to ensure that all Canadians can have justice in either official language. As I was saying, in my community it would not be uncommon for an anglophone and a francophone to be tried together. The change to the law and the proposed amendments will ensure a trial in the preferred language of the accused. This is basic to our judicial system and would be just and fair.
At this time, I would also like to interject that this side of the House is for safer communities. This side of the House is for law and order. This side of the House is for the victims of crime as much as anything else that we stand for.
We differ in the ways to ensure that victims are safe in their communities. It is not enough to grandstand with bills that have catchy titles and catch the six o'clock news. To make people feel that they are going to be safer, the laws have to be effective. For the laws to be effective, institutions like the Law Commission and programs like the court challenges program are essential to ensure that we have a just and equitable society and that people feel safe in their communities.
More than that, in the situation and the environment where there is some $13.2 billion in surplus, we need to see that there are more resources in the community to enforce the law and to enforce programs that the police forces believe in, such as problem-oriented policing, which means having the police presence in the schools and in the community to prevent crime from happening. And that is to say nothing about the whole concept of rehabilitation, which must wait for another day.
Another aspect of the bill that I find very interesting, at least in principle, is the aspect of the issues surrounding subsequent prohibition from driving for consecutive offenders on impaired driving charges. As a father of three beautiful young girls, it enrages me to hear on the news of repeat drunk drivers and the menace they pose to our society.
I am proud to say that the president of Mothers Against Drunk Driving is a New Brunswicker. I am proud to say that the very first meeting I had in my constituency office was with the president of Mothers Against Drunk Driving. I know it is especially important to look and to act as if we as parliamentarians care about what happens when someone gets behind the wheel of a car impaired, not for the first time and certainly not for the last time if they do not get consecutive sentences that restrain them from driving.
Some people cannot get the message. They must be restrained from driving. This bill does that. It is long overdue. I think all sides can agree with the wise impact of that amendment. We often learn in these cases that it is these irresponsible individuals who have been arrested many times before for drunk driving and are out again in the community posing danger to our community.
However, here is where I must interject as well. In recent announcements by the government, $4.6 million has been cut from a pilot program administered or put in place by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to determine if someone is impaired from drug use while driving. While the acronym MADD might stand for Mothers Against Drunk Driving, they might as well be MAID, mothers against impaired driving. It matters not the source of the stupefier or the ingested product, whether it is alcohol or drugs. What matters is the danger to our innocent public.
It is insincere to cut this program on the one hand and on the other hand suggest that this law is in step with what the government feels. Through Bill , the government has added prohibitions that were long thought of, but on the other hand it has stopped a program that might easily identify people who are impaired from other sources. It completely misses the mark. It is completely inconsistent. It makes me think that the has not thought through the implications of his whole dossier in justice.
Of course, justice should not just be about more severe sentences and longer jail terms. Justice is about making our country safer. I strongly believe that this is not done by locking up criminals and throwing away the key. It is done through prevention, to protect potential victims from living through the recurrence of dramatic events. When it is not possible to prevent crimes, I believe justice is done through proper treatment to ensure criminals understand what they have done. This should, we all hope, be the first step in rehabilitating them and preventing further crimes. Again, our concern is about the victims: prevention of crime.
Bill is proposing to allow a sentencing delay in order to enable the offender to receive treatment. Bravo. This is finally the government suggesting that it believes in principles of sentencing other than deterrence and denunciation. It makes me think again that this bill, which we support, really is not a bill of the government. This was not the brainchild of the government. This is a fix-up bill that was well under way prior to the change in government.
So I must applaud the other side for seeing the sense in these parts of the amendments. I am very pleased that the Minister of Justice is bringing such a liberal approach to his department in this respect. I would almost be tempted to congratulate him on realizing the important role of treatment and rehabilitation, but of course we all know, both at the committee and in the public, that there are many other bills that have been before the House, and are to be before the committee, which strip away at the sincerity of the government's posturing toward treatment and rehabilitation. So I came close to complimenting the minister, but I cannot.
I must say it is refreshing to see the Conservative minority government respect some of these principles. We would like to see more action on them as it relates to the bill.
I am very interested in having the House discussing the omnibus bill one week after the Conservative government abolished the Law Commission of Canada. As most members are probably aware, the main objective of the Law Commission of Canada was to advise Parliament on how to improve and modernize its laws. Is that not ironic? We are here discussing Bill , which is essentially a modernization, a keeping up to date of the Criminal Code, one of our oldest statutes, and as most members are probably aware, the Law Commission of Canada is to exist no more.
The Law Commission of Canada provided exceptional advice on such topics. This is why we are at a loss to explain that on the one hand we see parts of this omnibus bill that obviously recognize the evolution--somebody watching the Criminal Code as it evolved and coming up with these proposals--and on the other hand the government is saying it is not really interested in organically studying the evolution of law and it will cut the Law Commission just like that without any real reason.
I would say, if I could make a statement here, that in the space of a few days, the government in fact has shown its support for the Law Commission of Canada by speaking in favour of the bill. It is cutting funds to the Law Commission of Canada, and on the same day, as we know, there was a surplus announced of over $13 billion.
Generally speaking, Bill is all about details, but as we all know, some amendments have been made to the Criminal Code, and sometimes they look pretty small and unimportant. They often, however, have long term implications. Any of us following the saga of Bill on conditional sentencing will know that in what was more than the stroke of a pen, in what was a 60 page decision of the Supreme Court of Canada in R. v. Proulx, what seemed like a very ordered system to deal with the application of conditional sentences turned into something completely different.
I believe, however, that we must study each of these amendments further at committee and learn more about the implications of some of the changes.
The purpose of Bill is to clean up, modernize and update the Criminal Code. We still have a responsibility, though, to study it thoroughly and understand the implications of the proposed changes.
The proposed amendments are quite varied and touch on several areas of the Criminal Code. It would be a very long, complicated process, therefore, to discuss them in detail in the House. For this reason, it is very appropriate to send Bill to committee to ensure that each of these changes is well understood.
I am looking forward to studying this bill in the justice committee and the workings therein. With almost 50 clauses, Bill will definitely need some serious consideration to ensure we do actually clean up and modernize the Criminal Code, and not create more problems.
One last thing that concerns me is the workload that is being sent to the justice committee, not because the members of the committee from all parties are afraid of work, we are sitting three times a week now, but because of the sheer volume of bills presented to the committee. It seems like the government is more interested in putting these bills in the front store of its populist democracy and has no real interest in making sure that these bills are passed by this Parliament in a quick and just way.
I caution members of this House, if we are serious about keeping communities safer, if we are serious about protecting victims, then let us back up our words, as much as we agree on certain bills, and get these bills through this House.
That is why I emphatically endorse Bill . Members will find that on this side of the House, in the House and in committee, we will put forth our very best efforts to see to it that it is passed with speed because this party and this side believe in safer communities and in the safety of victims.
I hearken back to my comments about my three daughters, aged 7, 8 and 10. If I thought we were not of ultimate dispatch in passing the amendments to this bill that call for further and subsequent prohibitions from driving for repeat drunk drivers, I would hold all of the members here accountable for not having done enough. Let us get to work on this bill.
Mr. Speaker, thank you for allowing me to speak to this bill, which, let us be frank, is really somewhat technical.
Before starting, I would like to take a few moments to comment on the news. I am a little discouraged with this government. People who know me know that I am an optimist through and through. I love life. I am even a rather affable fellow: I keep my cool and I get angry only on very rare occasions. I am a little worried about this government, however. Frankly, we get the impression that this government has assigned itself the job of making life difficult for minorities. It is unbelievable that this government, which is not even a year old, would decide to cut off programs that deal with the status of women and that fight illiteracy.
We might think that in our society, illiteracy is a marginal phenomenon, that people who need to learn how to read are found in marginal groups. When we look a little closer, we realize that there are people in all walks of life who, as a result of problems in their lives, are illiterate. Not knowing how to write has nothing to do with people’s intelligence or with how well off they are. The phenomenon is somewhat related to social status, however. Statistically, there is in fact a higher risk that poverty, in the broad sense, will lead to illiteracy. Nonetheless, it would be a major sociological error to think that illiteracy affects only people from disadvantaged backgrounds.
We also know that this government has chosen to attack gay rights, at a time when considerable progress had been made. We have to ask ourselves: why reverse the gains that have been made and that are no threat to anyone?
Earlier, in reply to a question I asked him, the said that there was no basis for this. I hope that we will never, in this House, be told that we are going to have to examine a bill that will, in the name of freedom of religion, allow disrespect to be shown for the homosexual communities, for lesbians or gay men.
We have a duty to keep a very close eye on this government. In the area of criminal justice, it has been a long time since we saw, in a democracy, a government that is not merely conservative, but completely reactionary. We have to ask who this government is speaking for. A demagogical line is being drawn between public safety and the desire for harsher sentences, and we know that there is not one member of this House who is not concerned about public safety.
In August 1995, in my neighbourhood, Hochelaga-Maisonneuve, on Adam Street, near my office, I witnessed a car bomb explode. The explosion was part of a conflict going on between motorcycle gangs. All of the members who followed the news at that time will recall that a young man, Daniel Desrochers, lost his life in that explosion. He was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
I immediately joined with all parties in this House to determine what we had to do to respond to this new phenomenon of organized crime. Organized crime was wearing a new face, it was different from what we had seen at the CIOC.
I recall having conversations with senior officials. I do not blame them because this was a new phenomenon. Some officials had the strange notion that it would be possible to break up the 38 criminal biker gangs by using provisions on conspiracy. It is one thing to conspire, and it is quite another thing to be actively involved in a criminal gang. A new law had to be created. The Bloc Québécois devoted itself to that task through the work of my former colleague, the member for Berthier—Montcalm, my colleague from , and my former colleague from Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles.
That was a time when Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles was well represented. I am convinced that this mistake will be corrected in the next election.
So, it was necessary to create a new law, to establish new provisions and the Bloc Québécois at that time supported the new section 467 of the Criminal Code which established the criminal organization offence. It was not perfect and it was quickly recognized that the criterion of having five members who had previously received sentences of five years during the previous five years—the three fives rule—was not really operational in terms of the law. Why? Because the criminal biker gangs set up what could be called farm teams that recruited people who were not so well known to the intelligence services and the police. As a result, it continued to be difficult to bring those people before the courts.
Suffice it to say that it is sometimes necessary to establish new offences. Some of the social problems we were faced with call for a solution based in criminal law. Given the times we live in, we cannot follow the government in certain matters. Criminal activity has never been so low. Obviously, if there is a crime, some wrongdoing, a robbery or a sexual assault, that is one too many. That is clear. Nevertheless, as legislators we must think of the overall picture, of prevailing trends. It is clear that currently crime is on the decline; and that is true for all western societies.
Why is crime on the decline? Because we are living in a society where, in terms of population, people age 50 and over represent a much greater share of the population. There is an obvious correlation between population distribution and criminal activity. That is the first explanation. The second factor is that the economy is doing well. We are not in a period of recession, as was the case in the 1980s or the 1990s. Of course, that does not mean that we can cut the POWA program. Obviously industrial sectors are facing obsolescence, but overall the economy is doing well.
So if the government had said that its first legislative action was going to be to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act to include social condition or status as a prohibited ground of discrimination, the Bloc Québécois would have acknowledged that the government had a degree of sensitivity. Instead, the first bill that the government brought forward relates to the issue of conditional sentences, against a backdrop of demagoguery the likes of which has rarely been seen before. God knows that I have had some experience of it. I have been here for 13 years, and I have taken part in a number of public debates.
I want to say a few words about conditional sentences before getting to the heart of the bill. I imagine that no one in the Bloc Québécois or among the other parties thinks that in every possible scenario we must allow prisoners to serve their sentences at home. Socially, one does not need a Ph.D. in criminology or political science to understand that there are some offences that call for real denunciation.
That is the purpose of sentencing. When we look at the objectives in section 718 of the Code, we see rehabilitation and denunciation. Denunciation means that there have to be exemplary sentences. Some offences are so heinous, arouse such disgust that we cannot imagine that people could serve their sentences in their communities.
But the Conservative government, with its obvious lack of nuance, says that this will apply to all offences punishable by more than 10 years in prison. Obviously, the fact that an offence is punishable by more than 10 years does not mean that a judge will hand down a 10-year sentence. We are well aware of this.
An offence that is punishable by 10 years, that could be the case for counterfeiting currency or pirating software. It can also apply in the case of simple possession of marihuana. So obviously the marker for detention in the community cannot simply be the 10-year sentence criterion.
On the other hand, some offences—such as child neglect and abuse—are not punishable by 10 years’ imprisonment. But do we want people convicted of that kind of abuse to be serving their sentence in the community? Of course not.
For organized crime, section 467, that I spoke about earlier, contains certain provisions—sections 467.1, 467.2 and 467.3—that provide for offences that are not punishable by more than 10 years in prison.
We therefore see that this is a very odd sort of government. And it is very plain that it is completely at odds with the values that Quebeckers uphold. I also think that in the next election we will be looking at a government that is refusing to resolve the fiscal imbalance issue.
It really is quite unbelievable. The was elected because of the Gomery Commission. He talks about transparency, accountability, keeping his word. He goes before the Chamber of Commerce in Sainte-Foy and he makes a speech.
We told ourselves that, if the leader of the Conservative Party had something to say about this, it was because he believed in what he was saying and he was saying what he believed, and that he would turn the commitment he had made into a reality. He undertook to solve the fiscal imbalance. In fact, the Séguin commission had mentioned a shortfall of $50 million a week for the Government of Quebec, in light of its responsibilities in such areas as education, culture and income security.
Imagine our disappointment when we heard the say on Le Point a few days ago that he was not in a hurry and that we would see.
He wants the consensus of all the provinces. All those who read the O'Connor report know full well that a consensus of the provinces regarding the fiscal imbalance and equalization will be hard to get. They do not agree on either the inclusion of natural resources or what has to go into the actual equalization formula.
Let us stay on topic. I want Quebeckers to remember how this government is on the verge of becoming dangerous for our democratic values.
The bill that the government has submitted, however, does contain some relatively positive measures overall. It is fairly inoffensive, seeking to reform some procedural provisions, such as the one on service.
The former premier of Quebec loved to quote the old Latin adage Audi alteram partem. Premier Bernard Landry also said, “That which does not kill us makes us stronger”. He used this expression in an election campaign, but of course I am not here to talk about him although I must say that former Premier Landry was a great debater. He was a very great premier, let us never forget.
That being said, the bill before us is interesting in some respects because it will harmonize the rules of service. According to the principles of natural justice, it is unthinkable that an accused person might be brought before the courts without knowing exactly why the law is concerned about him. When one is brought before the courts, one must not only have a clear idea of the charge, but one must also have complete access to the evidence. This was the ruling by the Supreme Court in 1992 in Stinchcombe.
Of course this revolutionized the whole justice system, as my friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the President of the Treasury Board knows. Incidentally, I just learned that he and I share a common passion, as he was an Olympic wrestler. Of course, we are not in the same weight class since he has put on a few kilos over the years, but I know he is in great shape. He goes to the gym regularly and it would be a great pleasure for me to take him on in a friendly competition if he so wished.
That being said, the bill contains interesting aspects on the whole issue of evidence.
We are interested in looking a little further to better understand this bill, but we are reassured with regard to this aspect.
Another positive aspect is the use of telecommunications to forward warrants to be executed in a different jurisdiction than the one where the search took place. It is called a change of venue.
There are also changes to the process with respect to the challenge of jurors in order to help preserve their impartiality, among other things. This is an interesting aspect since the use of jurors comes from the common law system. It may be the only direct way for our fellow citizens to take part in the judicial process if they are not the victims or the accused, or if they do not themselves work in the justice system.
However, the challenge of jurors is not that simple since it is a random system, something we must not forget. Parties may challenge jurors on the basis of their background, their bias, their statements, their roles, etc. We are indeed very happy to learn that there will be an updating of the way jurors can be challenged.
I was somewhat concerned after reading one aspect. We will see what it means in due course. An appeal of a superior court order with respect to things seized lying with the court of appeal is not always a simple matter, because some appeals are appeals as of right—an appeal de plano—while other appeals are appeals with leave.
The majority of appeals are made with leave to appeal, which clearly involves some degree of discretion. For example, in the case of a conditional sentence of imprisonment, it was not clear whether a conditional sentence order could be suspended. It appeared that the department had agreed and that it is not a provision that is reflected in the bill. That is, perhaps, a less positive aspect. We will see exactly what meaning is to be given to it, but that does not compromise our wish to see the bill referred to committee. However, overall, it is less positive.
In closing—I have the feeling that my time is quickly expiring and if all is well, Mr. Speaker, please let me know—I want to speak about one aspect about which we have some questions. The severity of the sentence can be appreciated depending on whether it is a summary prosecution or a criminal charge. We consider that a criminal charge is generally more serious in terms of the offence, the penalty and the judicial process because the laying of a criminal charge leads, more often than not, to a trial by jury.
Now, on the subject of fines and summary conviction offences, the maximum fines have been increased from $2,000 to $10,000. I am concerned about that. However, it is true that the amounts had not been revised for 20 years. We will see what the witnesses have to say on that subject.
This is a strange government, somewhat removed from the values of Quebeckers, but it has introduced a bill that deserves consideration not because it deals with the substance of the matter but with the rules of procedure. We will be pleased to work in committee to obtain the most information possible and to ensure that we produce the best legislation possible.
Mr. Speaker, Bill is a series of amendments to the Criminal Code with regard to, primarily, criminal procedure but also with regard to some changes in the sentencing provisions in the code and some, what I would see as improvements in the language rights of people who are accused and appearing before our courts.
I know I sound like a broken record but I will be raising, as I have just about every time I have spoken to a bill, particularly a crime bill from the government, the need for a major overhaul of our Criminal Code. It is long overdue. It is not in the process at all. The government has made no serious attempt to bring the Criminal Code into the 21st century. In some respects, this mini omnibus bill is a reflection of the need we have to reform and, in many respects, rewrite our Criminal Code.
The code contains serious contradictions and gross inconsistencies, both in crimes and the sentencing that we apply to crimes, crimes in some cases where the maximum penalty is way out of line with the seriousness of the offence in the sense that it is either way too low or, in other cases, way too high.
This is not just an academic discussion. The courts, all the way up to the Supreme Court, have made it very clear, particularly with regard to the sentencing provisions within our Criminal Code, that there has to be a reasonable proportionality between the seriousness of the offence and the sentence that is imposed. I believe we are at risk at some point of defence lawyers beginning to consistently challenge, I believe ultimately successfully, a number of provisions within the Criminal Code in that the penalties are widely disproportional to the severity of the crime and grossly inconsistent with other crimes that I believe objectively most people would say are less severe but have greater penalties. That is just one example of the problems in the code as we have it.
We have not had a major revision to our Criminal Code since, I believe, sometime in the 1970s. We are getting on close to 40 years since there was an overall to the code, and even that was not a complete revamping of it.
I compare that to the number of times this has occurred in other common law jurisdictions around the globe. A number of states in the U.S., in England, Australia and New Zealand, countries like that, have all done much better, more efficient and more timely work on their criminal codes than we have.
I believe this problem is heightened now by what happened a week ago when the government, in a very arbitrary manner, decided to kill the Law Commission, which was probably, in my opinion, the only body in the country that could have organized the necessary talent and brought it together. I do not think there is one institution, one law school or even the Law Commission itself that would not have had the resources or the talent, quite frankly, to be able to prepare a draft Criminal Code in order to update it and bring it into the 21st century.
The Law Commission will be gone if the government is successful in its meanspirited approach to that particular institution, an institution that is renowned in the common law jurisdictions around the globe. It is interesting to read the number of commentaries that have come in from our Commonwealth partners in particular about the work the Law Commission has done. It has done cutting-edge work that a number of other countries have looked to and, in some cases, used extensively in revamping various parts of their justice system and their laws.
It will be a real shame if the government is ultimately successful in destroying that institution because with the kind of problems we have with our Criminal Code it will no longer be a resource that is necessary to get the draft of the code in place so that it can be considered by the House at some time in the future.
Some of the changes the Conservatives are proposing in this mini omnibus bill reflect the technological advances that have been made but have not been taken into account. I will use a simple example. Under the Criminal Code, as it is now, we can send documentation by fax machine to other jurisdictions and the document that comes out of the fax machine is sufficient for the court to use as proof of the validity of the document and it can then be used in the court proceedings in the new jurisdiction. However, this cannot be done by telecommunication. An email cannot be sent the same way. The bill, assuming it passes, will allow the criminal justice system to use that advance in telecommunications.
Another provision to which I think we are all sensitive is communication equipment, computers, et cetera, that are used for the purposes of child pornography or luring children. The Criminal Code has no provision for that equipment to be seized after an accused has been convicted. It is just a blank because 10 or 12 years ago the Internet did not exist for mass use and, therefore, there was no need for that provision.
This is yet another example of where we need to update the Criminal Code in order for our courts to be able to adequately deal with convicted persons and dealing not only in penalties of imprisonment or fines but also being able to seize the equipment that they used to perpetrate those crimes. Both of those are clear examples where the Criminal Code has not been able to keep up with technological changes in our society.
Another proposed amendment is to modernize how we deal with betting and bookmaking. As it stands right now in the code, there are quite severe limitations on what that means and a great deal of bookmaking at this point is conducted by way of modern technology, telecommunications, computers, et cetera. As those crimes are now defined in the code, when they are performed that way they are almost certainly not crimes under the code. We need to update that and say that the conduct is the same as it would be if one were running numbers and communicating those by way of a computer over the Internet that would now be a crime. It is not at the present time, which is why the code needs to be updated.
All of those are clear examples of the inadequacy of the Criminal Code in this country at this time and they are a clear reflection of the need for a major overhaul of the code. It is so confusing and so complicated it really impairs our ability to run an efficient justice system.
However, because the government is much more concerned with the hot button items, we consistently see, time after time, very short bills coming through dealing with one hot button crime to draw attention in the electorate, but, quite frankly, in a very cynical way, having no intention of dealing with the problems in this Parliament.
We were doing some scheduling work in the justice committee yesterday and it will not see this bill, assuming it gets through second reading and out of the House, until the fall of next year and it may even be into 2008 before the committee sees it because it is that backlogged. We have many bills and we have been told that we will get two more the week after the break. The list seems to be unending.
Rather than dealing with this in a reasonable fashion and recognizing that it has to stop playing politics with crime, the criminal justice system and policing in this country, the government moved to do an omnibus review of the Criminal Code and brought back a whole new code to Parliament. As long as the present government is in power, which, hopefully, will not be for too long, we will continue to see consistently small bills coming through addressing hot button items that will have no chance of ever being dealt with by Parliament simply because the justice committee is so backlogged already.
With regard to the balance of the bill, I want to address some comments to the sentencing provisions generally, but the specific concern I have is with the increase in the fines for summary conviction offences. Those are the lower offences in terms of seriousness as opposed to indictable offences.
Fines used to be $1,000 and then they were increased to $2,000 back some time in the 1970s or 1980s, about 20 or 25 years ago. The government is now proposing to increase the $2,000 fine by a multiple of five to $10,000.
The concern I have is that those summary conviction offences tend to be the lower end ones. They tend to involve, in a vast majority of cases, individuals who are at the lower end of the socio-economic levels in our society and who would be most affected negatively in terms of their ability to pay fines. It appears, whether it is intended or not, and with the present government we never know for sure given some of the vindictiveness in its cuts last week, that the government is intentionally targeting that lower socio-economic group within our society.
However, whether it is intentionally targeting that lower socio-economic grouping within our society or not, we will end up, almost certainly, with more people from that lower socio-economic grouping being incarcerated in our provincial prisons.
This would have a double impact. It, obviously, would have a very negative impact on those particular individuals, and unfairly so compared to people who have a better economic status, but it is also a form of downloading responsibility on to the provinces. The federal government is attempting to pass a law that will require the provincial governments to increase the number of cells they have because of the number of people they will now have incarcerated in their prisons because of these new offences. If those individuals cannot pay the fine they will be going to provincial prisons, not federal prisons.
We know, from all sorts of evidence that we heard fairly recently at the justice committee, that our provincial jails are way overcrowded. There is not one province in this country that does not need additional cells. In some cases, particularly in the provinces where there is less wealth, there is a very strong need for their prisons to be expanded. This would only dump more people into those provincial jails with the end result being that the provinces will need to find ways to pay for it.
This is a double whammy because our provincial jails have no more capacity. Not only will we have an increase in the yearly administration costs, because so many more people will be incarcerated, but the provinces will need to move out substantial amounts of capital dollars to build additional prisons at the provincial level. With those huge amounts of capital dollars that will go out, there will be substantial increases in their yearly administration and operation costs for those same jails.
There was no proposal in the last budget, and no proposal with regard to this legislation or any of those other crime bills we have seen, for the federal government to give any additional money to the provinces to respond to the need that is going to be created by the federal government but dumped on them, leaving them the responsibility to find dollars in order to be able to house these additional convicted criminals in a prison setting.
We need to take a very close look at this when it gets to committee, assuming it gets there, as to whether the fine should be increased to $10,000 or to an amount that is perhaps more in keeping with inflation since the last time the amendment was made to the level of fines for summary convictions.
I am conscious of the time. If I have time, I will come back to the sentencing issue in a few minutes, but I do want to speak about two other issues.
One issue is procedural. It is with regard to these relatively minor but important changes that need to be made when we are selecting juries. Basically what is happening is that if a juror is being challenged for what we say is “cause”, the cause being some declared bias either against the accused who is before the courts or the Crown, that juror can be challenged in appropriate circumstances. It has been difficult in the past to determine how we decide whether the evidence we are getting from that prospective juror is sufficient to show a conflict and a bias to the extent that he or she would be excluded.
The amendment being proposed, which I think is a good one, is that if jurors are already selected, we would allow two jurors to make a determination, a finding, in effect, taking the place of the judge, as to whether the person has a clear bias and should be excluded from the panel.
If we do not have sufficient jurors already on the panel, then two would be picked at random from the general panel sitting in the courtroom at the time. They would be sworn in and would be required to make a decision as to the bias of the juror in question and determine whether the juror is to be excluded or included in the panel.
I think that is a major step forward in the jury selection process. I think it makes it more credible. It makes it more accountable to the panel of jurors that is there.
There are some additional provisions to clarify the availability of a person's right to use the alternate official language from the one that is customarily used in the court. There have been some problems with that as to when it is available. Oftentimes it crops up when there are co-accused, each of whom has as his or her primary language one of the official languages but not the same one. There is clarification in this bill, which I believe will go some distance toward rectifying some of the problems our judges have had in determining how extensively available trials in both official languages are in this country. That is a major change, one that would be welcome.
With regard to a number of other criminal procedural matters, again, it is a criticism of both the previous government and the current one that we have not done these before. They are quite straightforward. They should have been done a long time ago. In some cases, these problems were identified as long as 10 to 12 years ago and we are just now getting around to it. We have no way of knowing whether we are actually going to get through this bill, as I said earlier, but it may be some time down the road.
Let me conclude, in my last minute, by saying that we badly need a total revamp of our Criminal Code. This bill is a clear example of all sorts of corrections to the code, corrections that have been needed for a long time. We are probably not going to get to them in this Parliament. I keep emphasizing the need for this major revamp and reform so that our Criminal Code is in the 21st century, not back in the 1900s.