Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak in this House on a subject to which I have devoted most of my professional career. When I left university, I became a crown attorney, first at the provincial level, then at the federal level. Then I became a defence attorney. I was even the president of the Association des avocats de la défense. I was the Bâtonnier of the province of Quebec, and then minister of justice and minister of public safety. As you can see, I have long thought about crime in general and effective ways to fight it. I have also thought about the bogus solutions that are sometimes proposed and that have produced disastrous results in neighbouring countries. I would not want this country to follow in its neighbour's footsteps only to end up with the same results.
From the outset, I would say that I think we all share the same goal, and that is to fight crime. Where we differ is in how to go about it. I give my opponents credit and they should give me credit as well, especially since my past has shown that, in situations where I really had power, I could fight crime effectively. Our major victory over the Hells Angels in Quebec is a very clear example of that.
Nevertheless, I often heard from the other side that we were filibustering on Bill . I do not know whether the people who said that know what a filibuster is. In French, the word is “filibusterie”. The word “filibuster” comes from the French word “filibustier”. This tactic was first used in the U.S. senate by an elderly senator who had serious objections to a bill. At the time, there was no limit on speaking time, as there is now in all legislatures, thanks in part to him. To express his disagreement with the bill, he decided to speak without stopping. He even took the Bible and read long excerpts from it, and he kept on speaking.
Today, we have measures to prevent filibusters and systematic obstruction. We have a set amount of time to present our arguments. Filibustering means using every possible procedural means to prolong a debate.
Bill groups together five bills that were introduced during the previous session, including the bill on bail. The motion at third reading was adopted unanimously, without a vote, on June 5, 2007. I therefore do not see how we could have delayed that part of Bill .
Bill on impaired driving died on the order paper, even before the report stage. Once again, I do not see how anyone could accuse us of filibustering.
Bill on dangerous offenders also died on the order paper, in committee. What does it mean when a bill dies on the order paper? It means that ordinarily we should have resumed the deliberations that were interrupted in late spring, but the session was prorogued. The government prorogued it. It was the government that aborted the process these bills had to go through before becoming law. As a result, these bills could not be discussed any further.
The same is true of Bill . Even worse, this bill had been adopted at third reading. Once again, it had received unanimous approval.
We voted in favour of these four bills. Where, then, is the filibustering, this tactic where members try to prolong the debate so that a bill they disagree with goes nowhere?
One major bill remains, Bill , which provides for minimum sentences for offences involving firearms.
We were against it for a number of reasons, but the bill was passed at third reading on May 29, 2007.
The government decided to group these five bills together for one reason: none of the bills elicited systematic opposition. Knowing that we have some objections to Bill , which I will discuss shortly, the government is trying to say that if we vote against Bill because we are against this part, we are also against all of the other parts.
This argument keeps coming up in this House, and I do not think it is well founded. I cannot understand why all of the parties keep using this argument. I myself have never used it and probably never will. However, when we vote in favour of blocks of legislation—such as the throne speech, which contains numerous measures—that means we support some measures, but are against others.
We weigh the measures we support against those we oppose. We explain why we vote as we do. For a throne speech, when the negatives outweigh the positives, we vote against it even though we support some of the measures it contains. It is utterly unfair to say that since we voted against a group of measures, we must oppose all of the measures in that group.
The same goes for the budget when they criticize us for voting against measures that we actually want to see in place. We voted against the budget because the cons, the measures we did not support, outweighed the pros. The same applies when we vote for a budget, which does not necessarily mean that we support every single measure in it.
The argument is a faulty one, but the government has come to rely on this tactic to influence public opinion during the coming election, an election that the government seems to want as soon as possible. For example, they will say that we are against changing the age of consent, even though the bill passed unanimously, and so on.
Let us get to the heart of the matter: minimum penalties. We have some objections in principle to minimum penalties. Based on my personal experience, I believe that minimum penalties do not influence crime rates. I think many people who have long been studying crime would agree with me.
First, I think that no member in this House would be able to tell me how many minimum penalties there are in the Criminal Code. People do not know the minimum penalties. In Canada, the most glaring example is marijuana. I passed the Bar exam in 1966. I started working as a crown attorney at the provincial level, and that was the first time I heard talk of marijuana. There was not much at the time. Throughout university, I do not remember hearing about anyone smoking pot. I did not even know that expression, and I was obviously not the only one.
I then became a crown attorney at the federal level and I started to work on cases related to these issues. Let us talk about marijuana and hashish from Indian hemp. The Indian hemp growing here had no hallucinogenic properties. So at the time, all marijuana, hashish and Indian hemp that people have been smoking since the late 1960s to the present day came from somewhere else.
Does anyone know what the minimum penalty was for importing marijuana into Canada? I am sure that people do not know, just like people at the time did not. The minimum penalty was seven years in prison for importing marijuana. It is one of the harshest sentences in the Criminal Code. But it was while we had that minimum penalty that marijuana use started growing, reaching peaks in the 1980s.
Since that time, levels of marijuana use have remained very high. We can clearly see that minimum sentences had little effect. The problem is that people do not know what the minimum sentences are.
On the other hand, we have an example of success, but it still needs to be taken a little further. I am referring to impaired driving. The minimum sentences have not been increased, but we have seen awareness campaigns and increased education. People know that it is a crime to drive while impaired. I remember when I finished my studies and I was buying my first car, no one talked about it. Our attitude was to consider if the person was capable of driving and we did not really see it as a criminal act. This is no longer the case.
The public has become much more aware and we have seen a decrease in impaired driving charges. In fact, they have decreased significantly. When authorities began conducting the first tests on our roads to see if people were driving while impaired, it was not uncommon to stop about 10% of drivers. When road tests are done today, with the same sample chosen in the same manner, less than 1% of drivers are found to be impaired. People have become more aware. I think of my children who drive and who, when they go to parties, have a designated driver, everyone taking their turn. These are habits they have learned without the fear of prison.
Thus, as we can see, the simple fear of a sentence does not have an impact. Plus, people do not know what the minimum sentences are. We must know a little about how the criminal mind works. I practised criminal law long enough to know a little about the subject. Does anyone really believe that criminals think seriously about the sentence they might have to serve if they are caught? First of all, most crimes are committed on impulse. What people want to avoid and what prevents them from committing crime is not the penalty, but rather the fear of getting caught. If there is a good chance they will be caught, people change their behaviour.
I also had another experience in my personal and professional life. When I began practising law in Montreal, it seemed to be the capital of armed robbery. Some of those listening may remember the famous movie called Monica la mitraille. It was a very good movie. I do not remember her real name, but I did see her in court. She was the leader of one of the groups who committed armed robberies in Montreal. There was about one a day at the time.
Does anyone remember the last armed bank robbery committed last year? I am convinced that almost no one does. Is it because thieves are now more afraid of the sentence than back when it was harsher? Why did they do it? Why has the number of these robberies decreased considerably? It is because of intelligent preventive measures. Banks are built differently and there is no longer access to large amounts of money. The risk of being caught in relation to the anticipated profits is not worth it. Furthermore, all kinds of measures have been put in place in banks and the efforts of bankers has also decreased the menace of armed bank robberies.
Putting in place a series of measures resulted in a true decrease in crime. Fear does not stop people from committing crimes.
The third example I can give is the death penalty. We abolished the death penalty in Canada 25 years ago. Since then the number of homicides has declined steadily rather than increasing.
I am not saying that we should not have sentences. We must have sentences and for certain crimes in certain circumstances they must be severe. However, the use of minimum sentences does not work.
I have another philosophical problem with minimum sentences and it is worth talking about. A judge hears a case and arguments, then weighs all the factors that need to be taken into consideration when handing down a sentence, such as individual and general deterrents, the seriousness of the charge, the seriousness of the crime, the circumstances under which the accused committed the crime, his involvement in the crime, recidivism if any, his home life, his responsibility or the influence others may have had, and so forth.
Implementing minimum sentences forces a judge, who went over all these circumstances in his heart and soul, to conclude that, even though that person should get 18 months in jail, the minimum sentence is 3 years. He is required by law, in that case, to commit an injustice. I have heard judges say that when they hand down minimum sentences.
We often forget that when we want to impose minimum sentences we are thinking about the worst offenders. When I listen to the examples given by the members opposite who defend this bill, I know full well they are thinking about the worst cases. We have to realize that minimum sentences do not apply just to the worst cases, but also to less serious cases.
I will give an example that I witnessed in my career. This will show that, although the members opposite claim that seven-year minimum sentences are not being handed out, a number of people have, at one point, served seven years in prison for importing marijuana.
I remember a young woman whose capacities were diminished after an accident. She had a daughter and her husband had left her. She met a charming, smooth talking American fellow with an education, like her, and she fell for him. He was willing to live with her handicap. He was very attentive towards her. They were in love. He seemed to have a income, without being very wealthy. One day, he left, saying that he would be sending her parcels. It was not immediately clear to her what he was talking about. Parcels did start arriving. Based on telephone conversations between them, it is obvious that she suspected that the parcels contained something illegal, because he asked that she not open them. She did not import anything. She simply stored parcels in her home. But because she suspected that there was something illegal going on, under the doctrine of wilful blindness, she was undoubtedly guilty, like him, of importing narcotics.
I wonder what sentences my colleagues in the House would hand down to that man and that woman respectively. Does it not seem profoundly unfair that the same sentence be imposed on both of them just because the minimum sentence prescribed is seven years? Since the offence involved relatively small amounts of hashish, the least dangerous drug, he may not have deserved a seven year sentence and she certainly did not. This goes to show how minimum sentences result in unfair situations. Different situations have to be considered.
In addition, the examples of cases raised in the House often appeared very serious, based on the two or three reasons for which the judge imposed such sentences. I doubt, however, that this was the case. The judge probably cited 10 reasons or so, which are not listed, for coming to the decision which is described to us as unacceptable. It is entirely possible that a few of the thousands of sentences rendered every day in Canada seem too heavy handed. In the case of a truly unacceptable sentence, the potential remedy would not come from Parliament, as is suggested by our discussions, but from the appeal courts.
In none of the arguments put forward in support of increasing sentences was an unreasonable decision by an appeal court ever mentioned.
Finally, the most important thing to know concerning firearms: in the United States, they incarcerate seven times as many people as we do, and guns roam freely, so to speak. As a result, three times—
Mr. Speaker, I am very proud to rise on behalf of the people of Timmins—James Bay to discuss Bill .
What we are called to do in Parliament, as parliamentarians and despite everything else, is to make laws of the land that will hold up and reflect a sense of jurisprudence and also a belief that the laws will establish a way we should be as a nation. This is the forum in which that happens.
Unfortunately, we have seen over the last number of years, particularly with the Conservative government and its crime agenda, the debasement of debate. There are 308 members to reflect judiciously on serious issues. Then when they stand up and speak, they are ridiculed. We have the cheap cat call gallery in the Conservatives, which is always looking to twist and take words out of context. What we end up having is the notion of debate passing through some kind of spinmeister's message box in search of a wedge issue.
At the end of the day it serves a certain political group very well. It creates a legitimation crisis. It creates a sense that Parliament is not there to get something done, that parliamentarians are sitting on their rear ends doing nothing because they are not responding.
I will speak in particular about the Conservatives' crime agenda. They government has accused basically everyone in the House of stalling on crime and being soft of crime. Conservative members have said at times in the House that members somehow support child pornography. These claims are outrageous, and it is debasement of our role, which is to bring forward reflection on bills that deal with crime.
Nowhere is this clearer than on Bill . A number of the sections of this bill were brought through the House, voted on, discussed and brought forward with good amendments, to the point of being law, particularly the age of consent bill, which at the point of being law. The issue of gun crime sentencing, which all parties worked on, and provisions with regard to bail would all be law now. Yet the Conservatives prorogued the House and allowed those bills to die.
The government then started the whole process over again and began to accuse our friends in the upper chamber of not doing their job. If we even stood and asked questions, we were told we were being soft on crime and delaying the issue. It is a total obfuscation of fact. It really raises question as to why are these laws not already law, if the government were serious on a crime agenda and having laws that would work for people. The bills were ready to go.
What we have is this continual cheapening of political discourse. That leads me to the shenanigans we saw today during statements and question period. My good friend from Nepean—Carleton, who is often a favourite partisan ankle-biter, stood and tried to take the words I said yesterday and spin them into a little wedge issue for the Conservative Party and make it seems that I somehow refused to support the age of consent from 14 to 16, that I tried to block the bill and that we were soft on crime.
I will not respond to the member's comments. I admire his partisan glee, but if he is going to do a hatchet job, he might as well do the job properly. This is unfortunately the problem we see, the debasement of debate. These discussions have become so absurd and silly. I do not know exactly to whom he thinks he is appealing.
I spoke about this yesterday, about how the Conservatives would try to twist facts. The Conservatives will misrepresent what was said. Then the spin doctors will take the ten percenters—
Mr. Speaker, it really speaks to what is happening in terms of these issues. The statement the member made is silly. If that member wants to come up to Timmins—James Bay and run around with a little Conservative ten percenter saying that I am soft on crime, by all means do it.
The people back home sent me here because they want to get rid of that bunch. They do not believe what those members say for an instant. If the Conservatives want to spend money using the public's ink to attack me personally in my riding, they can go ahead. They can send as many ten percenters as they want. They can do their little fife and drum show and say I am soft on crime. People back home know it is not true. They know we are here to reflect on crime bills and try to get them through.
With regard to Bill , it is the misinformation that party has used again and again to try to show that members are delaying. In fact, it was the Conservative government that prorogued Parliament and let those bills die, particularly the age of consent bill, which would have been law if the Conservatives had simply signed, with a stroke of the pen, to revive it.
There is speculation that there might be an election by the time the bill goes through the Senate. The Conservatives know full well that the bill might not become law. I asked yesterday whether they might enjoy that situation and then they could run an entire campaign on how everyone else in the House was soft on crime. That is not doing Canadians any good.
My dear friend from Nepean—Carleton offered $1,000 to young people to write an essay on how to protect themselves from Internet luring. However, there was a catch. They had to take his petition around to people, a petition that blamed the Senate for stalling a bill that his own government had killed. He did not tell those young people about that.
This is another example of how the Conservatives continually put their grubby, partisan fingerprints on the imagination of our young people. What happened with that petition was a real debasement of Parliament. It brought discredit on all of us in the House, because we take these issues seriously. We take the issue of the age of consent seriously. We take the issue of gun crime seriously. We now have to play this little soap opera out day after day in the House.
The government has no national vision. It has no plan. It has been trying to rag the puck on crime bills because it has nothing else in its war chest. We are now involved again in a debate that has already been done. Everything had been settled, yet the government turned the clock back and rolled out the legislation again.
No wonder people do not have any faith in politicians when we look at the government's crime agenda. If a government is willing to be that partisan about issues involving the protection of the public, then how can we have faith in it on anything else? There are so many crime bills coming forward: mandatory minimums for bicycle theft, mandatory minimums for furniture theft, getting tough on whatever. All the government has on the docket are more crime bills. As I pointed out yesterday, this is like a wound that will never heal. All we need is one more horrific crime, one more drunk driver and the government will that say our laws are not serious enough.
This debases the larger issue of what Canada's policy should be in terms of crime. Do we need to get serious on gun crimes? Certainly we do. Do we need to have policies in place to take on gangs? Yes indeed. We need to effectively target the ability of police to serve the regions of our country where we see spikes in crime. However, we also need to have a clear, coherent plan for dealing with criminals and recidivism.
I keep going back to the member for because it was such an amusing piece. In fact, I might send it out as my ten percenter so people can see what they would have if they had a Conservative member instead of myself.
He said that I was opposed to the “three strikes and you're out” policy. Yes I am. I am certainly opposed to what the Conservatives are trying to do with their simplistic “three strikes and you're out” policy. People in California have been sentenced to life for stealing a pizza. That is the direction the government would like to take us.
The Conservatives are detracting from the larger issue. As long as we sit in the House having to defend ourselves about being soft on crime or about supporting child pornographers, or whatever else the government wants to throw at us in terms of its mud, we are not discussing the substantive need for having a forward thinking policy for the nation in the 21st century.
For example, there is a need for a committed infrastructure program for municipalities, whether rural or urban. We have no plan from the government. We are not talking about that because we are running around talking about bicycle theft today and whatever crimes tomorrow.
The other issue detracting our attention from the House by continually having bills brought back, argued again and dragged out is the example this past week of the , who shamed us on the international stage. At the Commonwealth talks he showed that Canada was no longer an international leader, that the government did not represent a national interest. It was a front for the ecological free booters, who are pillaging the tar sands. We need to have a serious discussion in the House about the failure of the government to come forward with an environmental policy that is anything but acting as a shield for big oil.
The issue of crime is a serious issue. We went through this in the House. We dealt with the issue of the age of consent. We dealt with the issue of gun violence. We came forward with coherent elements on which every party worked. At the end of the day, that is our role as legislators. We have to bring forward the experience of our communities so we bring in laws that will actually work, laws that can be applicable on the street, that the chiefs of police will agree with and for people who work with cases of recidivism, laws that are part of a coherent policy.
At this point we are now going through an entire debate process that should have already been done. These laws should be on the books. Why are we debating it again? I am not sure. However, I will not at this point turn around when the Conservatives say to take it or leave it, stand up or sit down. It is my role as a legislator to speak out on bills and I will continue to do that, regardless of the partisan mailings that go into my riding, regardless of whether they get backbenchers to stand to attack me or any other member of the House. Let them do it. It does not detract us from our job in this caucus of reflecting on the bills that are brought before the country. We need to ensure that when we introduce laws, they are workable laws and they are laws that will, at the end of the day, bring us forward as a nation rather than backwards.
I will finish on the “three strikes, you're out” policy. We have seen the complete failure of the crime policy in the United States, a vision for dealing with crime. The rates of violence continue in the United States. Gun crimes continue. People who should not have been thrown into the justice system are eaten up with its mandatory minimums and its “three strikes, you're out”. It is a failed policy.
The only thing worse than a failed policy are people who look at that failed policy years later, when they have all the empirical evidence, in the cold light of day, and make a calculated decision to approve a failed policy. That is even worse. It is much worse than the mistake our American neighbours made. If there were gun and gang violence, there would have been reasons for thinking that maybe the approach taken in the United States would work, but we have seen the failure of that approach. We know it has to be balanced and it has to be balanced between the need to ensure there is a way to get people out of the criminal system and into rehabilitation. We also need to have laws in place to take out the gangs, to have the police on the streets and to get serious on offences where need be.
We tried to strike that balance in the House. Having struck that balance, the Conservatives are driving in a much larger wedge. In the end, it comes to protecting our communities, and I have to always take it back to Timmins—James Bay, which I represent.
If the government is serious about getting tough on crime and protecting citizens, why have our communities on the James Bay coast been left almost without policing. The police officers, the service and the Nishnawbe Aski Nation police across the NAN territory are continually put in dangerous situations because there is no funding for them.
When we have one or two police officers in an isolated fly-in community of 2,000 people, that is not a place we should put anybody. We should have proper backup for police. Any other part of this country would take that for granted, but for some reason, in our isolated first nations communities, not only are the police underrepresented but the citizens are underrepresented. We have much higher rates of violence in these communities because of the lack of services, the lack of supports for communities and the lack of policing support. We know the stress that our police officers are under and the stress these communities are under.
If we are to get tough on crime, where is the money? Show me the money that would ensure that in the places where there is violence, which is on the isolated first nations reserves, that we have police, that the police have the necessary social supports and that we have the regional centres for victims of violence they could be taken to. They have none of that on the James Bay coast. I have always said that it is like a virtual third or fourth world.
However, one would think that a government that talks about getting tough on crime and dealing with the needs of citizens would recognize that we cannot simply put one police officer on his or her own in an isolated community with no backup. First, we are hurting the citizens and leaving them without police services, and second, there is not a non-native police service in this country that would put up with that.
Do we have to get serious about crime? Yes, we do. That is our job. Our job is to bring in laws and to ensure these laws work. We will reflect on these laws as they come forward. We will bring forward amendments that will make good laws and we will oppose laws that will not work. However, what we will never do is abrogate our responsibility as legislators to take the time to reflect on those bills.
If the government wants to take the time to prorogue the House for five weeks, that is its business. If it wants to allow bills that should have been law to sit and die, bills like the age of consent and the bills dealing with gun violence, and then begin again from scratch, that is its business. If it wants to take as long as it has to take, that is its business, but it cannot tell us in the House what our business is, which is representing our people and ensuring that any legislation the government brings forward, whether it is wrapped up in an omnibus bill or whether it is called a confidence motion, that it is legislation that will work and, at the end of the day, it has an efficacious nature that we can actually bring back and say to the people of Canada that 308 members of the House brought forward legislation that will work.
Mr. Speaker, I am going to pick up where the member for left off in terms of Bill and setting the context for what is very clearly hypocrisy from the Conservative government on justice issues.
The member for talked about some of the areas where the Conservatives have taken no action or actually cut back on funding. That is an important starting point because if the government was really serious about tackling crime issues, it would take the NDP lead on being smart on crime. It would take the whole spectrum of measures that need to be taken to reduce crime rates and the number of victims in society.
Indeed, though there are some measures in this bill that the NDP can support, the reality is that this seems to be more political spin than an actual attempt to deal substantively with criminal justice issues and lowering the crime rate.
I will be addressing some of these points later on, but let us look at what is not in Bill and what has not been part of the Conservatives' justice platform since they were elected.
There is nothing to deal with youth at risk. We know that $1 invested in preventive crime measures actually saves $6 later on in policing costs, penal costs and justice costs. Yet, the Conservative government has done virtually nothing to provide support for youth at risk programs.
With regard to addiction programs, we know that certain countries have managed to achieve reduction rates of about 80% in addictions, particularly drug addicts. Countries, like Switzerland, have made very substantive leaps forward in reducing the number of addicts.
We know that when we reduce the number of addicts, we essentially reduce the crimes committed by those addicts in their addicted frenzy, trying to find their next fix. Many innocent Canadians get hurt and yet the government has done nothing to put in place addiction programs to lower the addiction rate and reduce the crime rate at the same time.
We have seen an utter failure by the government in supporting community policing. It talked about increasing the number of police officers, however, it has done absolutely nothing substantive to support communities from coast to coast to coast that are looking for funding for community policing.
One of the two communities I represent, New Westminster, has an extraordinarily high cost for policing that was passed on to the federal government. The federal government did nothing to support the community of New Westminster and its extraordinarily high policing costs that were undertaken because of actions by the government.
It is the same with the other community of Burnaby because of the refusal by the government to restore the cutbacks that we saw under the previous Liberal governments for the RCMP, where there was a shortage of front line police officers. There is no support for community policing or for the overall crime prevention measures, whether it is safety audits or other community initiatives to reduce crime.
What the government does is it shovels billions of dollars out the back of a truck to the corporate sector in tax cuts. We are talking about record levels of corporate profits and all the government can do is shovel money off the back of a truck to the corporate sector rather than provide support for community policing, youth at risk programs, addiction programs and crime prevention measures.
The government funds none of those programs. It just shovels money to its corporate friends. It is the same old, same old. That is exactly how the former Liberal government acted. We see, generally speaking, no concrete measures being taken.
In terms of the international initiatives undertaken by the government, we see a clear contradiction with the purported aims of Bill . Even today in question period there was a refusal by the government to stop crimes against humanity in Darfur. There was a refusal to do anything about that.
Yesterday, at the trade committee, Conservatives and Liberals were working together to ditch the NDP motion that would put an end to the trade negotiations taking place with Colombia. This is extremely important because we know the Colombian government is linked to crimes. There were summary executions, hundreds of them this year by the Colombian military. Dozens of trade unionists were killed by paramilitaries connected to the Colombian government and yet, instead of the government saying these crimes must be punished and taking a stand, it is actually rewarding the Colombian government linked to crimes against humanity by negotiating a trade agreement.
That is symbolic of just how hypocritical the government is. People can commit crimes. They just have to do it in dress suits or be connected with a right-wing government and then it is all right.
That just does not wash with most Canadians. They understand the hypocrisy that when a Colombian regime, paramilitaries, or the Colombian military commits crimes against humanity, commits murder, instead of being rewarded with a trade agreement, the Canadian government should be condemning them.
That is the hypocrisy between how Conservatives act when somebody is in a dress suit or when somebody is in a military uniform in Colombia, as opposed to how they purport to act by bringing this legislation forward.
Let us look at the process around Bill , which is another symbol of the hypocrisy of the Conservative government.
Sixty per cent of what was in the bill was before the Senate. We have seen with this Senate, though it is Liberal-dominated, that it has done absolutely nothing to stop the Conservative agenda. Liberals work in cooperation with the Conservatives.
The Conservatives essentially have a functional majority in Parliament because the Liberal members have given up their right to be a member of the opposition. They sit on their hands. They do not protest anything. They accept anything the Conservatives hand out, and essentially those justice bills were in the process of being passed by the Senate.
The other chamber passed the softwood sellout, which was clearly not in Canada's interest, in 72 hours. This justice legislation would have been passed, but instead, the government withdrew it, took all the legislation back and now is resubmitting it to the House. It was a delay of months. If that is not hypocrisy, I do not know what is.
Essentially, they were right at the finish line, as we were with the softwood sellout winning in American courts. We were at the finish line and the government said, “No, we do not actually want this stuff to pass now”. It prorogued Parliament and reintroduced the bills in order to have the same debates all over the place because it is not really serious about taking action on justice issues. The Conservatives are not serious about community policing or crime prevention measures, dealing with addiction, or dealing with youth at risk. No, they are not serious about that, but they want to pretend that they are, so they are going to reintroduce all this legislation. Now it is here before us today.
The Conservatives said they wanted to deal with dangerous offenders. That is part of what they wanted to do. They said that this bill would deal with it, and as the member for well knows, because he has been doing the same kind of mailings into my riding that the member for mentioned earlier, this legislation will be thrown out under a charter challenge.
It is important to note that the NDP submitted amendments at committee and in this House, and has been consistently saying to the government that since it knows it will be thrown out under a charter challenge, since it knows this legislation cannot work, because we do live under a Constitution, since it knows that, let us do the smart thing and remove the caps on dangerous offender designation.
Let us look at what is in the bill. I will read it because it is important for Canadians to know the intense hypocrisy of the government. It says:
||--an application under subsection (1) not later than six months after that imposition;
It is repeated in paragraph (b):
||--that is not later than six months after the imposition of sentence--
It is still in the bill, the limit of six months. Is that important? Yes it is. The balcony rapist, Mr. Paul Callow, who was released because of these provisions that are currently in the Criminal Code, continued by this Conservative government, was released into the community because there was no provision in the Criminal Code for designation later in sentence of a dangerous offender.
That is important because in this case, this individual did not go through the required treatment programs, and this individual reportedly and allegedly assaulted a nurse in prison.
Under this Conservative justice bill that is before us now, the same situation can arise tomorrow, next week or next year because the six month deadline for the designation of a dangerous offender still exists.
It is not as if the government did not know. The member for , who has been voted by all members of this House as the most knowledgeable member of Parliament in this Parliament, told the government repeatedly, warned the government and sent letters. He went to committee and he brought forward the amendment.
Liberals and Conservatives, obviously not having the slightest understanding of what was actually in the bill, refused to adopt the amendment. Then it was brought forward to the House. There was the same rejection from Liberals and Conservatives.
Therefore, we are now looking at a bill that allows the exact same circumstances that happened earlier this year to happen again because the government does not seem to be serious about criminal justice issues.
When we take a smart on crime approach, we have to look at everything: crime prevention measures, funding for that, funding for community policing, and changes to the Criminal Code that actually address the issues. We do not look at changes to the Criminal Code that are simply there as make-up to pretend that we are doing our job.
Perhaps the most egregious aspect of this whole process of putting forward legislation, of pulling back the legislation, of putting forward the legislation again, refusing to heed the advice that the government received from committee representatives and witnesses who appeared before the government, and refusing to heed the advice of the most knowledgeable member of Parliament in the House, as voted by members of the House of Commons, is that we are back to exactly the same situation that we were in last spring with no capability to provide for dangerous offender designation later in the sentence. That is the appalling thing about this whole process.
It is appalling to hear the hypocrisy when crimes are committed internationally. The Conservatives simply say, “That's fine. You can commit a crime. You can commit a murder if you're a member of the Colombia military. You can do these things. We don't care. At home we are going to pay lip service to some aspects of dealing with criminal justice issues, but by no means all of them and by no means in the comprehensive way that is required”.
That is the net result of what we have before us. Some of the elements I have supported and some of the elements other NDP members have supported, but the process disappoints me enormously. The process points to the fact that the government is not serious about these issues. What it wants to get is political spin out of this. It does not want to deal in a concrete way with all aspects of the criminal justice system,
Perhaps the clearest hypocrisy is that the government surely does not want to change its priorities of forking out, shovelling out, billions of dollars to the corporate sector in tax gifts. It certainly does not want to change that focus to actually adequately funding the programs that will reduce the number of victims.
In other words, if there is a victim, there are certainly some enforcement measures in the bill, but the government does not do anything to actually reduce the number of victims through youth at risk, through addiction programs, through community policing, or through crime prevention measures. That is the most appalling thing.
I would like to move on to one of the other elements. Today in the Ottawa Citizen it was revealed that the federal has received studies prepared by his own department that indicate that his own criminal justice measures will not work.
I will read this into the record because I think this is very relevant to the debate we are having on Bill . Some of the provisions of Bill C-2 are improvements, but generally speaking the overall so-called crime fighting agenda of the government is designed for political spin. It is not designed for the kind of practical measures that do make a difference. The article by Richard Foot states:
|| [The] federal Justice Minister is pressing ahead with plans to create mandatory minimum prison terms for drug crimes in spite of two studies prepared for his own department that say such laws don't work, and are increasingly unpopular as crime-fighting measures in other countries.
That is from the study for the minister himself: minimum sentences are not an effective sentencing tool with regard to drug crime. That is one conclusion of these reports prepared for the justice department itself.
The report states in regard to mandatory minimum sentences that “while they show success in deterring firearms or drunk driving crimes”, and those are measures we have supported in this legislation, “particularly among repeat offenders, they appear to have no impact on drug crime”.
Of course, the justice minister did not respond to any requests for interviews on this particular subject.
I think this begs the big question. If some of the measures that are most effective in reducing the crime rate have not been considered by the government, and in fact most of the measures we have outlined today that actually do reduce the crime rate have not been considered by the government at all, and if the departmental studies that the gets in his own department indicate that some of his legislation is flawed, the question is, where are the Conservatives getting their advice?
The government had recommendations from the most knowledgeable member of Parliament in this House, the member for . He indicated very clearly that what was needed was the provision for later in sentence designation of dangerous offender. He indicated that it would have an effect and avoid the kind of loopholes that led to the balcony rapist being released into our community of New Westminster with no support whatsoever. He was put into a homeless shelter and, of course, according to the rules of the homeless shelter, it put him out onto the streets every day.
We can imagine the impact on our community of that kind of wrong-headed approach to criminal justice measures, yet not a single member of the Conservative caucus and certainly not the justice minister, no one within the Conservative caucus, actually took action to close that loophole. As we saw, the loophole is very much still there. This legislation that the justice minister is bringing forward and which the Conservatives say we should adopt still has the loophole.
So the Conservative political spin about actually dealing with that issue is very clearly nothing but spin. The studies indicating that some of the other legislation coming forward is ineffective come from the justice minister's own department.
If what is very clearly here in place is legislation that does not do what it is purported to do, that does not deal with the issues it is supposed to deal with, then we have to ask the question, what is the real agenda here? The real agenda appears to be trying to have this Conservative government campaign on crime and justice issues without having done a whole lot on those issues.
The government has flawed legislation, admittedly flawed legislation, that it has not worked to improve. In fact, there is legislation that was almost passed but that the government has now pulled back. The former justice minister was fired because of the admittedly poor nature of some of the legislation coming forward.
Most importantly, the key components of crime prevention in lowering the crime rate and actually producing fewer victims have been ignored or cut back by this government: youth at risk programs, crime prevention measures such as safety audits, community policing funding, which has been sorely inadequate, as it was under the former Liberal government, and addiction programs.
All of those measures would make a difference. All of those measures have been ignored by the government. All of those measures have been simply put aside.
As for the priority of the government, disappointing I think to any Canadian who looked at what was being promised and expected at least that the Conservatives would put into place some realistic funding envelopes that would actually address these issues they campaigned on, instead of having that as the priority, the Conservatives have put into place a priority of shovelling billions of taxpayers' dollars into tax gifts to the wealthiest of Canada's corporations.
That is why the government's real record is so disappointing. That is why when we look at Bill we can only look at it, with some good elements, as a missed opportunity.