Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I was sure you would remember.
I am pleased to have this opportunity to finish my speech. I was about to explain that the government lumped together the five justice bills it had introduced previously to produce the new Bill , which the parliamentary committee studied very thoroughly.
As I said, even though the Bloc supports Bill , we wanted to make a few changes. Before I was interrupted by question period, I told the House that the Bloc Québécois has, in the past, expressed significant reservations about imposing mandatory minimum sentences.
Bloc Québécois members have long argued that this is not an effective way to fight poverty. We are convinced that we must instead provide police with the means to conclude investigations. The issue here is more the effectiveness of legislation and the fear it inspires. We believe that some offenders, some people who might find themselves on the wrong side of the law, will be deterred more by the possibility of going to court than by the mandatory minimum sentences they could receive. In fact, the witnesses we heard in committee explained that people do not necessarily read the Criminal Code before they commit an offence. That is why, historically, we have been extremely wary of mandatory minimum sentences.
We also analyzed the whole issue of the age of consent, which has now become the age of protection. My colleague from was responsible for this issue. Very early in this debate, the leader of the Bloc Québécois and member for , in cooperation with his caucus, wanted to include a close in age clause to make sure school-aged children engaging in non-exploitative sexual activity would not be liable to be arrested.
We also looked at the whole issue of reverse onus, not at the trial stage, but at the judicial interim release stage, as provided for in section 515 of the Criminal Code. The government was proposing reverse onus, which we were told was already common practice. In fact, according to the experts who came to talk to us in committee, people who committed offences involving firearms were not subject to release at the hearing stage.
Naturally, when we studied Bill in committee, we examined the whole issue of impaired driving. I am not talking about a particular departmental policy here, but about Bill , which introduces three main innovations.
The bill will make it mandatory to stop and submit to tests. Previously, this was optional under the Criminal Code. There will be two main types of tests. An individual may first undergo standard field sobriety tests at the roadside. Then, he or she may be examined at the police station by a drug recognition expert. We were told that this practice existed in some American states and that some people in Quebec had even received this training.
Of course, we are not minimizing the seriousness of impaired driving. Just this morning, the Bloc Québécois lent its support—enlightened support, I might add—to a motion introduced by the parliamentary secretary to study a number of important issues, because we know our fellow citizens are worried about them.
Indeed, the bill that raised the most questions for us, even though we support Bill , was the bill dealing with reverse onus for dangerous offenders.
As we all know, the Criminal Code has had provisions concerning dangerous offenders since 1947. Our seniors, for instance, sometimes used the expression “habitual criminal”. My mother said that, although never in reference to any of her own children, of course. But she talked about habitual criminals in general terms. I was able to make a link between that expression, which has passed on to the vocabulary of another generation, and a provision in the Criminal Code.
We had some questions. Of course, in matters of law, a reverse onus of proof is always very serious. The main offences are: weapons trafficking, possession of a firearm, unauthorized import and export, discharging a firearm, attempted murder, sexual assault with a weapon, aggravated sexual assault with a weapon, kidnapping, hostage taking, robbery committed with violence and a weapon and extortion.
It seems I am out of time. Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask for the consent of the House to continue speaking for another five minutes. I would then be able to deliver my conclusion.
Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak to , the omnibus crime bill.
I would like to start by expressing our grave concern over the delay in getting these parts of this bill passed through the whole process. The government has been blatantly partisan in its agenda with regard to this bill and its parts, using it not in the best interests of the country in advancing some of these bills as rapidly as possible, but actually slowing down the process so that the government could be critical, particularly of the Liberal Party, both in the House and Senate, and so it could attempt to portray the Liberals and I guess all opposition parties and anybody who does not adopt its right-wing radical agenda on crime as being soft on crime.
More than 60% of the bill was in the Senate. There were three different bills in the Senate when we broke for the summer recess. Based on past practice, I would argue that at least one and probably two of those bills would now have cleared the Senate or certainly would have by the time we break at year-end. Probably all three of them would have cleared.
The government's decision both to prorogue and to then bring back all these five bills into the omnibus bill has now delayed the passage of at least those three bills by several months. Also, of course, with a minority government we always sit on that edge as to whether we will have a snap election because of lack of confidence in the government, and there are good reasons to have lack of confidence in the Conservatives.
That could happen at any time. If that happens, we have to start the whole process all over again after the next election when we get back. We could be looking at delays of another year or two years. The government purposely caused that delay in order to play partisan politics with these bills.
Let us look at the bills we had before the Senate. We had the mandatory minimums bill there, which is a big part of the government's agenda. I should say in regard to mandatory minimums that the opposition parties, led by mine, were able to get the mandatory minimum sentences reduced to bring them generally in line with the sentencing policies of our courts across the country, our superior courts in particular, and with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, so that this would not be struck down at some point in the future.
That bill is still sitting there. Of the five bills that make up the omnibus bill, it was the first one to get to the Senate. It is still sitting here and again it is going to be literally months before it gets through.
Again, there is absolutely no reason for that other than partisan politics on the part of the Conservative Party and the Conservative government. It is shameful, quite frankly.
In that case, the reason we supported this bill is that we need specific guidelines given to our judiciary with regard to specific violent crimes. That bill did so. Quite frankly, the bill was one we had championed in the last election. Once we brought the bill into line with the charter, we were quite pleased to support it.
Let us look at the other bill that was in the Senate, the age of consent bill. We have fought for a large number of years over the issue of raising the age of consent from 14 to 16. I would say the issue has been before the House at least a half a dozen times over the last 10 years in the form of private members' bills. We attempted to get the issue before the House in a government bill during the Liberal administration in 2005 and were unsuccessful, but there is strong support in the country to raise the age of consent from 14 to 16.
As we see in the opinion polls and as a number of experts tell us, it is running at 70% to 75% support for this to be brought into law, to be brought into the modern age, really, and to bring us into line with a number of other jurisdictions. I will not deny that a number of people are opposed to this, but in fact the vast majority of Canadians want it. Again, we are at serious risk of not seeing this happen should we have a snap election because of the conduct of the government.
Similarly, there was a fairly small bill that dealt with alleged violent crime and people seeking bail who were accused of violent crimes where handguns or guns were used. It got broad support from all of the opposition parties, as well as the government, obviously. It was sitting in the Senate. Now it is at risk of perhaps never becoming law until after the next election.
I want the Canadian public to understand the kinds of politics that the government is prepared to play with on what are very crucial issues. In some cases, they are life and death issues.
In order for the Conservatives to make their agenda work for them, to be tough on crime and to beat their chests, the whole macho thing, they need to be able to attack the Liberals in particular for being soft on crime and for delaying. That is not accurate. None of the opposition parties has delayed these bills at all.
The omnibus bill is made up of five former bills, as I have already mentioned. The three I have mentioned involve mandatory minimums for serious violent crime, the age of consent, and the provision with regard to bail. The other two components deal with impaired driving as the result of drug consumption, for both licit and illicit drugs, as well as a provision in that particular part of the bill for doing away, reasonably and I expect effectively, with what is more commonly known as the two-beer defence.
Quite frankly, in my opinion, it is somewhat of a scandal that this was ever allowed to develop as a defence. Basically, it significantly undermines the use of the breathalyzer and that technology. I believe we have the right wording now to do away with that defence when it is inappropriate and still allow, in those extreme cases where for whatever reason the breathalyzer technology has broken down or has not been applied properly, that people would be able to defend under those circumstances and prove that in fact they were not impaired by the consumption of alcohol.
The final bill and the one, quite frankly, that gave us the greatest problem is the bill that dealt with the dangerous offender provisions. Before I go to that, I want to raise the whole issue. As we saw yesterday in the vote at report stage, the NDP in fact, with one exception, supported the bill. We believe that in spite of the dangerous offender provisions, and I am going to come back to that in a minute, the balance of the bill had provisions in it that either we had ourselves brought forward in the last election in our political platform or were prepared to support the government on because we felt that it was in the best interests of Canada. It actually either protected people or met the requirement of having to make amendments to the Criminal Code where it was long past needing those amendments.
It is interesting that just yesterday in the Ottawa Citizen there was a summary of a report that came out of the United States. It is called, in part, “Unlocking America”. The report was done by a number of well-known criminologists and sociologists. It is a very extensive report. It is consistent with a large number of other bodies of evidence in the United States on the imbalance that has been created by successive governments in the United States, primarily at the state level, in terms of the states' incarceration and criminal law practices.
Always the issue when we are looking at the criminal justice system, at civil liberties and human rights in light of the criminal justice system, and at protecting society, which of course is the absolute first criteria, is that there is this balance. How do we best protect society?
To do so, obviously, we use the criminal justice system. We have crimes and we have punishments, but equally important, and one perhaps could argue much more important, is the whole question of how society prevents crimes from ever happening. It is generally accepted, I think, that there are two ways of doing that.
One is to have preventative programs particularly directed at youth so they never enter into a lifestyle that leads them to committing crimes, both petty and serious, and, second, it is also to have a society that has reasonably strong enforcement to guarantee that the laws are in fact there and are enforced to protect society.
Every time there is a conviction, I like to think that it is in effect is a failure on the part of society for not having proper prevention and enforcement infrastructure in our society. Maybe it is not utopian to believe that we will ever get to that point, but it is utopian to believe that at this time we would be able to prevent all crime, so ultimately we need that system in place whereby incarceration or other penalties can be invoked.
Obviously the ideal to strive for, the perfection that we should all strive for as legislators, is to prevent a crime from ever occurring in the first place so that we do not have victims and also so we fulfill our responsibility of protecting all of our citizens, all of our residents of Canada, to the absolute maximum.
The “Unlocking America” report shows what the Americans have done in a large number of states, although not all of them by any means, because they did some comparisons. They have struck the role for government to play, a role very much on the incarceration and punitive side. The report, which is consistent with any number of other reports that have come out of the U.S., shows the ineffectiveness of that. It is ineffective and very expensive.
It is interesting to see the comparison between some of the states that have followed more closely the Canadian model up to this point over the last 20 or 30 years. The model showed that those states had lower incarceration rates, but with a couple of exceptions the states with the lower incarceration rates also had lower crime rates, and vice versa, so that those states that had particularly high incarceration rates had the highest crime rates.
A good comparison is that between the state of New York and the state of California. The state of California, as we all know, did the three strikes and out policy and all sorts of other very heavy-handed incarceration and sentencing policies. Its crime rate was consistently higher over the last two decades than that of the state of New York, which took many more steps with regard to prevention and enforcement and was much more effective at bringing its crime rates down.
There are a couple of statistics I want to mention. One is that the report looked back more than 30 years ago to what the crime rate was in the United States, to what it went to and to where it is now, and also at what the incarceration rate was at that point and what it is now. The incarceration rate increased eightfold over that period in the United States. Obviously the population during that period would have increased by probably about 30%. The incarceration rate went up 800% and the population growth was perhaps about 35%.
The crime rate is almost identical in the United States today to what it was in 1973. That was the year of comparison used. It is almost identical. It went up and it went down, dramatically in some states, New York state being a good example, but the incarceration rate had absolutely no impact on the crime rate in the United States even though it went up 800%.
The other thing that stood out through that whole period of time, so it had no effect on the crime rate, is that it is now costing the United States $60 billion a year for all the people it has incarcerated. The United States has an incarceration rate that is highest in the world. It is even higher than China's. China has roughly three to four times the population of the United States. The United States has 2.2 million people incarcerated at the present time and China has 1.5 million.
The incarceration rate in the United States compared to Canada is about 7:1. Our crime rate is about one-quarter of what it is in the United States.
The point I am trying to make by bringing forth these facts is that we need to be very careful in Canada as to how we deal with crime. As I have said, the greater majority of this bill is a bill that we looked at and said that, yes, these are good provisions, these are provisions that make sense in terms of building a fair, equitable justice system that protects our society.
We need to be very careful that we do not go down the route of the United States in terms of this excessive use of incarceration and punitive process that produces no effective reduction in the crime rate and, at the same time, is hugely expensive for the taxpayer.
That brings me to the final part of Bill that gave us the greatest concern. We believe that the part in this bill that deals with the dangerous offender section of the Criminal Code is already in the code and the amendments that the government was making, in particular, the reverse onus that it was bringing in, was offensive to the charter. We had crossed the line. We had not struck that proper balance. We were going the U.S. side. We were going to incarcerate, for the rest of their lives in the vast majority of cases, everybody who was designated a dangerous offender, which would increase our prison population to some significant degree.
The ultimate conclusion is whether we support the entire bill when we have this provision that is so offensive to the charter or, quite frankly, is so offensive to just common sense that it will not work. It is a useless tool because it will be struck down by the courts at some point in the future.
At the same time, if we oppose that, we give up the rest of the bill that has the age of consent. Even the mandatory minimums that are in there and some of the provisions around impaired driving are badly needed in our society.
Faced with that decision, and after much debate in our caucus, we ultimately had to support it and, unfortunately, abdicate our responsibility as legislators to pass proper legislation and expect that at some point down the road the courts will strike down that part of the dangerous offender/reverse onus part that is so offensive. We are not comfortable, quite frankly, with that but we are here to make decisions and that is the decision that our caucus has made.
I want to make one final point with respect to a question I raised with the Bloc. It is a question of how the government has approached this. Some parts of the bill will be delayed even after it gets through the Senate because the provinces, which need to administer parts of this, the impaired driving in particular, are not ready for it. I think that is a mistake on the part of the government. It should have been ready with the provinces to implement that. It is a section of the code that needs to be amended and needs to be implemented as rapidly as possible and we have had no explanation as to why it delayed on that.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to commend the previous speaker for his speech and his understanding when it comes to dealing with crime and how to actually lower the crime rates.
I dare say that the scope of the bill is problematic. It troubles me, because instead of dealing with legislation one piece at a time, it puts a number of them together, some of which are good, but some of which are very offensive. Certainly that is not the way a minority Parliament should function, nor is it the way the when he was the leader of the official opposition said that a minority Parliament should function.
The member mentioned the study “Unlocking America”. I used to be involved with an organization called, Youth In Conflict With The Law. It was named after the proposed youth in conflict with the law act which ended up being the Young Offenders Act. I started working with that organization in 1976 after I left university. One of the focuses we had was to try to deal with offenders within the context of the community and to do as much as we could at the community level to create a safe and secure community. One of our mottos was that crime and justice is a community responsibility.
For all the reasons mentioned by the previous speaker and documented in “Unlocking America”, getting tough on crime does not work. In “Unlocking America” nine leading U.S. criminologists and sociologists who have spent their careers studying crime and punishment did an exhaustive study. They pointed out that the approach of getting tough on crime, building more jails and incarcerating more people, just does not work. It might make great television and it might make great news in the tabloids, but it is an approach that just does not work. It ends up being very expensive. Beyond being very expensive, it ends up being very destructive.
Bill is one bill, but another one which will be coming forward is Bill which deals with young offender legislation. I find it very frightening that under this particular bill, unfortunately, people who go into the system as young offenders can end up in the penitentiary system, not for committing a great deal of crime in the community, but for reasons such as committing a crime within the institution itself.
Numerous people came forward at the committee hearings on this bill. One of them was Dr. Anthony Doob, a criminologist from the University of Toronto, who very clearly showed that the perception of crime in many ways is driven by the media and by politicians who want to exploit the fear of crime and does not truly have that great a basis in reality.
In his studies, Dr. Doob asked the people in one control group for their reaction to headlines from tabloids. Dr. Doob gave another control group transcripts of the trial. Dr. Doob found that in cases where people had the information, they had read the transcripts and understood the judge's reasoning, they either agreed with the judicial sentence, or thought that the judicial sentence was too harsh. This was in total contrast to those in the group that received their reports on crime from the media, from the tabloids, or from television programs.
The media love to tell about the goriest crimes that have occurred in the local community, or in the country. But if there is nothing in Canada, then they will look to the United States, and if there is nothing there, then they will look to any continent on the planet for their special diet of criminal activity. These reports frighten people. Usually they hear these reports just before they go to bed at night.
It has often occurred to me that those folks and politicians who engage in that kind of fearmongering are victimizing a large number of people. People begin to believe that the relatively safe community they live in is much more dangerous than it is. That is not right. Parliamentarians and political parties should not be engaged in that kind of fearmongering.
Another individual who made a presentation was Kim Pate, who is with the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies. Unfortunately, Kim did not have enough time to talk at committee, but she did talk at length about the challenges faced by inmates who suffer from mental health problems in the federal institutions. She also talked about the over-representation of particular minority groups that are incarcerated. In Canada there is a disproportionate number of aboriginal people incarcerated. This raises some very troubling questions. Miss Pate also talked about the number of institutional charges that will be put on somebody entering the system, to the point that the individual, for whatever he or she has done in the institution, could be declared a dangerous offender.
Today I talked about Ashley Smith, a young woman who was due to be released from prison today. She was sentenced in New Brunswick as a young offender at the age of 15. She took her life on October 19 in an isolated jail cell at the Grand Valley federal institution in Kitchener following an extensive period of solitary confinement. Four correctional staff at Grand Valley were charged with criminal negligence causing death. One correctional staff member at the Saskatoon Regional Psychiatric Centre has also been charged with assault.
Ashley's tragic death has raised a number of troubling questions that must be answered. How did a young girl struggling with mental illness, incarcerated as a young offender, end up, through excessive institutional charges, in federal correctional facilities thousands of kilometres away from home? What can be done to improve the way we deal with offenders so that we minimize the recurrence of such tragedies? When will we learn as a society that it is more feasible to invest in community safety and crime prevention programs than to pursue draconian laws that incarcerate more and more people at the expense of public safety? I underline at the expense of public safety.
The “Unlocking America” report makes the point that over-charging, which has occurred in the United States, has done absolutely nothing to bring down the crime rate. It has done everything to destroy families and communities and to perpetuate discrimination. This has been going on much too long.
In talking about crime prevention, I will come back to my community, the Waterloo region. We have been working on community based crime prevention since 1978. Next year we will be hosting the 30th annual justice dinner. We will bring in speakers on how to improve public safety through social development in our community.
We are not the only community that says this is the way it should be done. The Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police talks about creating public safety and reducing crime, not through the hiring of more police officers, not through building more jails and not through hiring more jail guards, but through social development that addresses the root causes of crime.
In 1993, following on the excellent work of a Progressive Conservative government, the justice committee, with Mr. Horner as chair, produced what is known as the Horner report. The Horner report called upon the government to fight crime through social development.
My community took up that challenge at that time and we created the Waterloo region's Community Safety and Crime Prevention Council. The very first chair of that council was Larry Gravill, the chief of police.
The membership of the council includes all the social service organizations, local governments, non-governmental organizations involving criminal justice, the crown attorney's office and the police force. We worked collaboratively on how the community could address the root causes of crime.
Over the years many other folks have come forward to chair the council, be they from the school board, local government or the Children's Aid. The last chair we had for the committee was Matt Torigian, and he has been appointed and designated as the new police chief in Baden.
Surely that approach is much more preferable to the approach that is put forward in the bill, particularly on the mandatory minimums and the designation for dangerous offenders.
An interesting thing I did in my questionnaire was to ask whether we should have the traditional Conservative neo-con approach to fighting crime, or whether we should do it through social development. I am happy to say that two to one, the citizens in my community want to fight crime through social development.
I mentioned that the neo-cons like to put out wrong information and try to tell untruths. I will give an example. The member for put out a householder where he said, and I will be quite willing to table it--
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak on Bill which we are examining today.
It is a pleasure for me to have the opportunity to help those listening to us by casting some light on what an omnibus bill is. An omnibus bill is a bill which combines several bills that could not be enacted in the previous session because the government decided to prorogue the House and terminate them at whatever stage they had reached. That was the choice of the Conservative Party and the reason behind Bill , the bill before us now. If the government had not decided to prorogue the House, a goodly number of those bills would have already been passed.
Before getting into the heart of Bill , I would offer a reminder to those listening. When a bill amending the Criminal Code is being passed, we need to keep the crime situation in mind. That is something easily done by people who follow the television news. We all know how the print and electronic media try to attract readers and viewers by focusing on certain situations, trying to sell papers or attract viewers by interviewing victims or their relatives.
Ours is, of course, a media-driven society. The media make the situation more difficult when they neglect to show the other side of the coin. It is all very well to focus on crimes, to opine that certain sentences are too soft, and so on, and to try to find evidence that the justice system is not working, but when it comes to the other side of the coin, discussing the crime situation in general, the media is not pulling its weight there.
This is what I wish to draw to your attention, as well as to the attention of those listening. Things must be balanced. That is our objective as legislators, to begin with. And it is my colleagues here in this House, such as the hon. members for , and , and all the members of the Bloc Québécois, who have the onerous task of balancing things out.
The Conservatives have but one thing in mind: to do everything they can to hold on to power. I often say jokingly—though I sometimes believe it seriously—that power drives one mad. One only needs to look at how the and some of his ministers are behaving to see what it is like to be in power after having been in opposition. A person might well say that power does have that effect on certain people and their sanity.
I am providing this background because crime has been declining steadily in Quebec as well as in Canada over the past 15 years or so. That is not an invention of the Bloc Québécois or the sovereignists that we are. Statistics Canada recently confirmed that the national crime rate reached its lowest point in over 25 years in 2006. Moreover, the homicide rate in Quebec was the lowest in that province since 1962.
So, we are doing fine. I am bringing this up, because the hon. members may have heard of people being surveyed. The Conservative Party, through the government, conducted a large survey of more than 2,000 people across Canada to determine how it might win its election by listening to what the people had to say about crimes and punishments. Interestingly enough, however, there was no mention of the current state of crime in any of the questions; I know this because, by chance, one of my assistants was among those surveyed. The press and electronic media give the impression that crime is rampant, but when we check the statistics and see that crime is down, with a crime rate at its lowest level in 25 years, we put things in perspective.
That is, of course, what the Bloc Québécois is trying to do. We have always been very aware and have always endeavoured to find a balance.
It is not easy to find a balance between the Conservatives, the Liberals and the NDP. I can say candidly that they are pretty much all the same. In light of all the surveys published all over the place, it is clearly important to have a party representing a majority of Quebeckers and trying to bring some balance to this House.
The Bloc Québécois has tried to bring such balance throughout the debate on Bill while at the same time bearing in mind the statistics. As I indicated, the national crime rate reached its lowest point in over 25 years in 2006. In Quebec, the homicide rate was the lowest since 1962.
Does this means that all is well? No, all is not well. We know that crime has not been eradicated. It is sad to say, but in our industrialized countries where the rich and the poor coexist alongside one another, there will always be crime. Our objective is to try to lower the crime rate as much as possible, and that is something the members of the Bloc Québécois work on every day.
However, we must also put all this crime into perspective. I will provide another statistic. In terms of violent crime, Quebec has the second lowest rate and is just behind Prince Edward Island. Quebec even recorded a 4% decrease in youth crime in 2006, surpassing all the other provinces.
It is important for members from other provinces to understand that it was quite some time ago that Quebec opted for social reintegration rather than repression and increased sentences, the establishment of minimum sentences or other measures. That is a choice made by Quebec.
I do not wish to repeat the statistics mentioned by other colleagues in this House, but when we look at U.S. states that also opted for reintegration rather than repression—the state of New York among others—we see that crime rates in those states, compared to others, are decreasing. That is the kind of statistic that is of interest to us.
As parliamentarians, we must mitigate the very harmful influence of media sensationalism. It is understandable because they have to sell newspapers or the best television news reports. They will try to capture the sensational aspect of an incident rather than portraying the balance that can be inherent in a society.
It is important to us that the rest of Canada understand that Quebec has done things differently. In addition, the effects on crime rates are very important and hence the position of the Bloc Québécois in the committee that discussed Bill . Our position was different than that of the other parties in this House. We do not hold that against them. It is just that Quebec and the rest of Canada are very different. We do not think in the same way.
One day, Quebeckers will make the rest of Canada understand. We will decide to have our own country with our own laws and so forth. In the meantime, we participate and try to bring Canadian society up to speed with Quebec society. And that is not easy. It is not easy.
I will give some examples of the Bloc Québécois proposals made in committee that were rejected.
We proposed amendments to Bill , to eliminate the practice of granting parole almost automatically after one-sixth of a sentence has been served. Since in Quebec we have reintegration, this causes a problem. Automatic parole after one-sixth of a sentence has been served means that when we want to create programs and force criminals to attend therapy, we find that they participate less when they know that they are automatically eligible for parole after serving one-sixth of their sentence.
Again, everyone will say that it does not make sense that criminals are eligible for parole after serving one-sixth of their sentence. This has been going on across Quebec. We wanted to change this in a House committee, but our proposal was rejected by the Conservative Party and the other parties.
Once again, Quebec society is much more advanced than Canadian society.
We also suggested putting an end to statutory release once two-thirds of a sentence has been served, by having a professional formally assess inmates regarding the overall risk of reoffending that they represent to the community.
As for social reintegration, we believe that statutory release once two-thirds of a sentence has been served is no longer acceptable in Quebec society. Before criminals are almost automatically released, we want them to be assessed by professionals. We made that suggestion in committee, but, once again, the other parties did not agree.
We suggested that the onus of proof should be reversed in the case of criminals found guilty of the offences of loan-sharking, procuring, robbery, fraud over $5,000 and counterfeiting in order to facilitate the seizure of assets that are the product of crime.
It was the Bloc Québécois that proposed reversing the burden of proof with respect to the proceeds of crime in cases involving organized groups. As some may remember, the Bloc Québécois led that crusade against organized crime by proposing that the burden of proof be reversed so that it would no longer be up to the Crown to prove where the money came from to acquire the goods. The opposite is now true. The burden of proof automatically falls on members of criminal organizations, who must prove that they paid for their goods with legitimate earnings. Since that is difficult to do, goods can be seized automatically.
That bill concerning criminal organizations was supported by the other parties in this House. We proposed to do the same for the issue under consideration today. Why not reverse the onus for criminals who have been found guilty of offences involving usury, procuring, robbery or fraud? That would cover not criminal organizations, but organized criminals. In cases of fraud exceeding $5,000, these criminals would be required to prove that the goods they acquired were paid for using legitimately earned funds. Failing that, the goods would be seized.
Believe it or not, the other parties rejected the amendments the Bloc Québécois proposed for Bill .
We proposed attacking the street gang problem by giving the police better tools to work with, such as longer warrants for investigations using GPS tracking. As I said earlier, Quebec society is a little farther ahead than the rest of Canada. GPS technology is an integral part of fighting crime in Quebec. Unfortunately, the proposed amendments do not include this suggestion made by the Bloc Québécois.
We proposed a ban on wearing signs, symbols or other indications that identify individuals as belonging to groups recognized by court as criminal organizations.
Once again, we struck at organized criminal groups. Quebec fought a battle. It went very well. We are lucky to have with us in the House the former minister responsible for public security in Quebec, the hon. , who did an excellent job in that position. He went after organized criminal groups directly, with the support of the Bloc Québécois, by amending the Criminal Code to provide for reverse onus of proof. We did well. We wanted to ban the wearing of insignia by criminal groups, organized gangs of bikers and others, but this amendment to Bill was rejected.
We wanted to put an end to the rule whereby time spent in detention prior to trial was doubled for sentencing purposes. A sentence would begin at the moment of detention rather than at the time of sentencing, in order to put an end to an abusive practice which did no credit to the administration of justice.
We discovered that, when the rule is applied, that is, when an individual is taken into custody prior to trial, the time involved is doubled in the sentence. This is standard, and criminals have obviously understood it. So they put off their trial as long as possible since, when they are in custody prior to trial, they get a bonus of double time and a reduced sentence.
Quebec society understood it well because of the fight against organized crime and all that. We put these amendments forward, but, unfortunately, none of the ones we put forward was passed, even though some have the unanimous approval of the ministers of public security in Quebec and other provinces.
This exemplifies the Conservative government, which has its blinkers on tight, which conducts polls with very specific focus, and which tells us that no changes will be allowed to a bill and that it will be made a vote of confidence.
So, the Bloc Québécois will support the conclusions of Bill , except we would have liked to improve it. However, once again, the sway of power over these Conservative men and women is such that they are self absorbed. They show no desire to improve bills. They think that they are right, that truth and life are within their power and are in the end opposed to any idea of improvement.
This is what power has done to them. We will see what happens in the next election. As I am the Bloc's chief organizer, I want to reiterate that we will support the bill, not because we are frightened by the possibility of a vote of confidence, but because we think it will further the fight against organized crime, even though this is not the way we would have chosen.
Here is an example. I am getting to the core of Bill . It combines five bills, including one that strengthens the provisions on offences involving firearms. It is perfect. Initially, Bill was simply being repeated. That bill sought to amend the Criminal Code to increase minimum prison sentences to five, seven or 10 years, depending on whether the crime was a repeat offence, for eight serious offences involving the use of a firearm, if the weapon used was not a hunting rifle. Once again, we see the Conservative vision. It is a weapon, but not a hunting weapon.
For anyone who follows these things, hunting rifles have changed considerably over the past 30 years. First of all, they are no longer made of the same materials and they are very light. This often makes it very difficult for law enforcement. I would like to believe that no hunters will use their weapons, except there is no longer a registry. Indeed, the goal of the Conservatives is to eliminate the gun registry, claiming that only hunters are going to acquire weapons. Yet, given the new technology, more and more criminals are going to use long guns—as they like to call them—precisely because they are lighter, thanks to new technology and so on. The Conservative philosophy wants to protect long guns. Naturally, to do so, there can be no registry. After all, no one who has a long gun is a criminal.
I am sorry, but plenty of cabins get robbed and hunters' weapons make their way into the criminal networks. Yet, this legislative amendment would not apply to those who have firearms. And I repeat, when it comes to these offences involving firearms, for instance, it says “if the weapon used is not a hunting weapon”. Consequently, the bill deals with all weapons except hunting weapons.
I have a great deal of difficulty understanding that, but I can understand the Conservative philosophy behind it. To the Conservatives, you can do anything with a hunting weapon. It is as simple as that. That is all there is to it. There is a reason they want to abolish the gun registry.
I would like to digress for a moment. In Quebec, 95% of hunters registered their guns. This is no problem, because there are no longer any fees. We supported the amendment that eliminated the renewal fee. Since people had already registered their guns, no one lost any sleep over this, except in the west, where the situation is reversed, obviously. Westerners were opposed to the registry from the start and decided not to register their guns. Today, to please western Canada, the Conservatives have once again decided to abolish the gun registry, even though hunters in the rest of the country could live with it. This Conservative approach to governing is evident in this bill.
Once again, all we want to say to the people who are watching is that, yes, bills have to evolve. That is true, but we have to be careful. We must not succumb to the sensationalism of the media, which will not hesitate to blow any accident or crime out of proportion to sell newspapers or get people to watch newscasts. Yet statistics prove that Quebec's approach, which consists of rehabilitating criminals by giving them every possible opportunity to work their way back into society, is much more effective at reducing the crime rate than the punitive approach some societies have opted for, as the Conservatives would like to do.