Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to the debate on the amendments made in the Senate to Bill .
Bill was passed by the Senate on January 29 with six amendments. I will speak to each of them.
Four amendments to the language of trial provisions were made, including the creation of two new provisions. An additional amendment makes changes to the coming into force provision of Bill , while the sixth amendment coordinates changes proposed to the same Criminal Code provision in both Bill and Bill , the tackling violent crime act.
Before turning to each amendment, I wish to underline the fact that, with respect to the language of trial amendments, both the Commissioner of Official Languages and the Fédération des associations de juristes d'expression française de common law, a national federation representing the provincial associations of francophone jurists, are satisfied with the proposals found in Bill as passed by the House of Commons. The proposals in this regard were carefully studied by both the House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights and by the Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs.
I will now turn to each amendment.
The first amendment proposed by the Senate is with respect to clause 18, a clause meant to ensure that all accused persons in this country are aware of their fundamental language rights. As members know, the current Criminal Code provision grants only unrepresented accused the right to be advised of their language rights by the judge.
As passed by the House of Commons, clause 18 proposed to extend this right to all accused, whether represented by counsel or not. In other words, clause 18 would broaden the right to be advised so that it would benefit all accused persons. This would heed the judgment of the Supreme Court of Canada in the Beaulac case of 1999 as well as respond to a recommendation made by the Commissioner of Official Languages.
This being said, clause 18 as introduced did not impose a duty on the judge to personally inform each accused of his or her language rights. Rather, the clause stated that the judge “shall ensure that they are advised”.
The amendment proposed to clause 18 by the Senate would now require the presiding judge, at the accused's first appearance, to personally inform each and every accused of their language rights. We do not agree with this amendment.
During the consultation on the proposals that led to Bill , provinces and court administrators clearly told the government that a requirement for the judge to personally inform all accused, including accused persons with legal representation, would create a significant burden on judges and courts as well as considerably increase delays in criminal proceedings.
Obviously, further delays in criminal proceedings is something that all of us in this House should work against.
As many provinces developed efficient ways of ensuring that accused persons are made aware of their language rights, the government drafted Bill with a specific view to recognizing different provincial and territorial practices in this area.
Let us be clear. The duty continues to rest upon the judge. He or she must ensure that the accused is advised. The use of the words “shall ensure” does not, as some have suggested, dilute in any way the right that is granted.
In fact, it is an expression that is often used in federal legislation, for instance, in the Official Languages Act. For example, section 22 of that act states that:
Every federal institution has the duty to ensure that any member of the public can communicate with and obtain available services from its head or central office in either official language....
Section 16 states that federal courts have the duty to ensure that judges can understand the proceedings in either English or French, without the use of an interpreter.
To use the wording of the Supreme Court of Canada, the right granted will continue to be “a substantive right and not a procedural one that can be interfered with”.
By ensuring that all accused, whether represented or not, are advised of their language rights, clause 18, as introduced and as passed by this House, not only avoided the possibility of accused persons exercising their language rights outside of the prescribed timeframe, but, more importantly, ensured that positive measures are taken to improve the means by which all Canadians can avail themselves of their language rights.
For all of these reasons, we disagree with this amendment, this being the first amendment.
The second amendment proposed in the Senate was made to clause 19, dealing with the translation of charging documents. Clause 19 of Bill grants all the accused the right to ask for a translation of the information or indictment. An amendment to the English version of clause 19 was made by the Senate, as it was felt that the wording needed to be changed to clarify that the entire charging document is to be translated.
I must say that this was the intent of the initial provision and as such, we do not think that the amendment is absolutely necessary. This being said, we do not object to the amendment, as it has simply clarified what was the original intent.
The third amendment adopted by the Senate is the creation of new clause 21.1. This clause calls on the Minister of Justice to prepare and table an annual report in Parliament on the number of bilingual trials, the number of trials held in French outside of the province of Quebec and the province of New Brunswick, and the number of trials held in English in Quebec.
I appreciate that statistics of this kind may be useful in assessing the implementation of the language rights provisions of the Criminal Code. Detailed statistics often provide indicators that are essential for an overall appreciation of the impact made by legislation. Indeed the department has explored with its provincial and territorial counterparts ways in which this could be accomplished and will continue to do so in the future.
I am sure that hon. members will agree that it is not good public policy to enact a provision that imposes responsibilities on those that do not have the means to fulfill them. Practically speaking, the amendment also fails to take into account the fact that in some jurisdictions, minority language trials will take place without any formal orders issued, pursuant to section 530 of the Criminal Code. These cases are thus difficult to track and call into question the accuracy of the data that would be collected.
However, the problem with this amendment is that it imposes a statutory duty on the federal Minister of Justice, whereas in fact it is only provincial and/or territorial attorneys general who have the ability to actually collect this information. In addition, provinces and territories have told us that they do not keep statistics related to the language of trial provisions in the Criminal Code.
As I already stated, we would be asking for, and enforcing in criminal law, provisions that the provinces are not at this time equipped to fulfill.
For all these reasons, we do not support this amendment, not because we disagree with the principle or the idea that statistics of this kind would be useful, but mainly because it imposes upon the federal Minister of Justice an obligation to provide information the minister does not possess or control.
Other informal avenues to collect such data will continue to be explored. However, we cannot support the inclusion of a legislative requirement in the Criminal Code to report on information that is not under the responsibility of the federal Minister of Justice.
The fourth amendment creates new clause 21.2. This clause requires a comprehensive review of the Criminal Code's language of trial provisions be undertaken by a parliamentary committee. I understand that the Senate committee considered it necessary to create this provision in order to ensure that monitoring the implementation of the new provisions, as well as of part XVII of the Criminal Code as a whole, will occur within three years of the coming into force of this provision.
Although we do not disagree with this amendment, we do not believe that this new section is actually needed in order for Parliament to review the provisions and operation of the language of trial provisions of the Criminal Code.
Section 88 of the Official Languages Act specifically provides for the creation of a committee of the House, of the Senate, or both, to review the administration of the act. Two such committees currently exist and have the authority to study the language of trial provisions of the Criminal Code.
The fifth amendment adopted by the Senate makes corresponding changes to the coming into force provision at clause 46. It provides that new clauses 21.1 and 21.2 will come into force in the same manner as other language of trial provisions. While I disagree with the creation of new clause 21.1, we support the amendment to the coming into force provision as it does not directly refer to clause 21.1.
Finally, a sixth amendment was made to create new clause 45.2 for the purpose of coordinating two sets of amendments in Bill , the tackling violent crime act, and Bill , both of which propose changes to the same Criminal Code provision dealing with impaired driving. This amendment is required and should be supported.
I would like to urge all hon. members to support amendments numbered 2, 4, 5 and 6, but not to support amendments numbered 1 and 3.
I hope that both Houses can come to an expeditious agreement on this very important piece of legislation that aims to improve many other aspects of the criminal justice system.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak briefly to Bill . This bill is similar to Bill , which was debated in the House.
I may be a rookie here but I remember Bill very well. We were in favour of the bill but the government decided to dissolve Parliament. So here we are, debating the same bill all over again, except that the number has changed.
The context is fairly important as we start, Bill is really Bill . It contains so many important new aspects to make our criminal justice system work more equitably and to modernize it. It is why I was proud as a member of the Liberal justice team and as a member of the Liberal justice committee team to approve it and to send it on for eventual approval and royal assent.
Alas, the and his team decided that they were afraid of the environment. Their new had failed so miserably to act on the environment that they had to scuttle the whole Parliament because they were afraid of a couple of bills that might change things. In that mess, in that melee unfortunately, this good justice bill was killed and had to be reintroduced again.
One might ask, what difference does it make? It makes a difference to people who care about the criminal justice system. It may not mean a lot to people, but one of the biggest things we could have done in the last two years that I have been here would have been to modernize and make more effectual our criminal justice system, to move the maximum fine to be imposed for any summary conviction offence from $2,000 to $10,000.
A $2,000 fine is within the means of many people, but a $10,000 fine for a serious summary conviction offence, that does not warrant jail time, is a serious fine and might very well have a deterrent effect on those type of crimes for which a fine is appropriate.
There were many other amendments, which could be in effect and the law in the country now, that were just simply thrown away.
Language rights are very important in my province of New Brunswick which is officially a bilingual province. I represent the city of Moncton, which is an officially bilingual city. This is bread and butter for New Brunswick politicians. It is disturbing to me that the parliamentary secretary, when asked why Bill C-23, which contained many provisions to improve the delivery of justice services in both official languages was not given the priority of other bills, turned his answer to Bill and the tackling violent crime bill.
I asked why Bill , which everybody agreed upon, was given second shrift to Bill and of course why was Bill C-2 killed?
This love child of the Conservative justice agenda, why was it killed by the ? Was he so afraid of other bills which showed the incompetency of his own ministers?
It seems shocking to me. It included: Bill , involving mandatory minimums which was a bill improved upon at committee and which had passed the House; Bill , which modernized issues surrounding the age of consent and the age of protection, and provided for the first time a close in age exemption which made the bill very palatable in protecting young people; Bill , for which Mothers Against Drunk Driving had been clamouring for some time; and, Bill , a reverse onus on bail provisions which in effect codified the existing treatment of the law by jurists in the country, jurists who are exceptional jurists.
I have said this for two years. It seems like I just got here but I am here again defending judges and saying that they were enacting the provisions of Bill C-35 long before we had to make it law. Finally, there was Bill , with respect to dangerous offenders.
Those were all bills that were moved along and would be law now had the government not pulled the plug on its own agenda. It euthanized its own criminal justice program.
In light of the Conservative vote on the capital punishment issue today, it is not surprising that Conservative members believe in terminating things. They have terminated their own hopes and dreams for criminal justice.
However, we want to move Bill along, which is now Bill . It is an important bill that will deliver a lot of valuable aspects to the criminal justice system.
However, as I move to what is probably bread and butter for me as a New Brunswick politician, the language of the accused, I want to highlight what the bill will do and what it has done in the past. It is important to note the existing context.
At the request of the accused, a judge will order that the accused be granted a preliminary inquiry, a pre-trial procedure, and trial before a judge without jury, or judge with jury, who speak the official language, one or the other, which may be the language of the accused.
If the accused speaks neither English nor French, a judge will order that the accused be granted a preliminary inquiry or trial, without a judge and jury, who speak the official language of Canada in which the accused can best give testimony. The court is also required to provide interpretation services. That is the existing set of laws.
What Bill does to improve upon that, in clause 18 of the original bill, is to suggest that once the accused appears in court, the judge is required to advise him or her of the right to trial in the official language of his or her choice, but this requirement, as it exists now, is only if the accused is not represented by counsel.
What Bill does, which Bill C-23 did and which we all agree on, is take away the issue of representation and says that the judge must advise the accused, whether represented or not, it was a false barrier, to his or her right to have a trial in the language of his or her own choice. That was a good change and it leads me into some of my further debate points when I say that the judge was required to advise the accused of his or her languages rights.
I know the member for is a member of the bar. He is experienced in certain criminal proceedings and would know, coming from a francophone milieu, that it is critically important that the gatekeeper for language rights in that context, the provincial court judge in most instances, has that positive duty to inform a judge of his or her right to a trial in the language of his or her choice. It is important to know that the judge is already doing that.
With respect to preliminary inquiries and the trial in both official languages, clauses 18 and 21 changed it so that they became more accessible. Trials in the proper language of the accused, either French or English, would be improved by this bill.
I might add, as an aside, that the translation of documents would be ameliorated certainly by these amendments and we are all in favour of that.
I guess where the rubber hits the road is what to do with the amendments presented by the Senate. My friend, the parliamentary secretary, discussed at length some of the amendments, and I want to counter on the two on which we might have a more elaborate discussion.
We know that this bill is aimed at modernizing our criminal justice system and making it more effective. That goes without saying. My party had indicated that it would support the passage of this bill when it was first introduced before prorogation. It was the bill that I mentioned earlier, Bill
In the context of this modernization, it is important that the rights of all Canadians be respected with regard to the use of official languages in court proceedings.
Canadians, particularly those in minority language situations, know they have certain rights under the Criminal Code, but it is the federal government's responsibility, and I suggest our responsibility as lawmakers, to ensure the application of those rights is clear and that the judicial process is not delayed.
The way the government presented its view of language rights in Bill , a justice of the peace or court judge would only be charged with finding some way to ensure that accused persons are informed of their language rights. That is really not enough.
One of the amendments that we proposed should be supported. We are in argument with the government on this, at least according to the parliamentary secretary's speech. It is important to say from the outset that the judge already has a duty to advise the accused of his or her rights. The language says that the judge must ensure that the accused knows of this option.
I have witnessed many first appearances and I am very confident in the ability of our judges to advise accused persons of their rights. It is commonly done throughout the province of New Brunswick and in any federally appointed court system where official languages are important.
The amendment proposed by the Senate would ensure that the federal government takes on its responsibilities through its agents to inform any accused persons of their right to proceed in the official language they understand. The Senate amendment simply takes out any potential middleman in the administration of justice. The judge would inform the accused of his or her rights.
I do not think that it is an undue burden for a judge. If there is clear communication during court proceedings, we are simply providing for clear access to justice for all those involved. It falls in line with our democratic society's pledge to have an expedient judicial process and it takes out the aspect of appeal.
I think the government wants efficacious legislation but I cannot be sure sometimes because some of the legislation it presents is so poorly written and so hastily delivered, only for the purpose of a television spot on the news, it is not always clear. In this case, however, if the government would only support this Senate amendment, it could have efficacious and fair language policy through the Criminal Code.
Sadly, the other Senate amendment respecting the reporting on official language requests is not one that the opposition can support. We cannot agree with it because it would require the to report on the language of proceeding or testimony in criminal matters across this country.
There can be no way that all attorneys general in all provinces and in all territories would have the means to uniformly report on this. As the parliamentary secretary rightly commented, it is not the minister's mandate. In saying this, I do not mean that the is not competent. I mean that he is not competent in the law to do such reporting. For that reason, we support the government in its opposition to that Senate amendment.
I understand the Senate's concern with ensuring that there is accountability in respecting language rights but we can surely do a more effective job in ensuring this by using the other resources that are in the community.
I know well-known jurists and hard-working jurists in my own province.
They are Sacha D. Morisset and Christian Michaud, who are both members of the Association des juristes d'expression française du Nouveau-Brunswick. They often highlight the statistics with regard to French language trials in our province. If it can be done in New Brunswick, I am sure it can be done in Canada.
Again, we do not support that Senate amendment.
In short, we are very happy to get moving with this important legislation. We are happy the Senate took the time to improve the bill by suggesting that judges, who are the gatekeepers in our system, have the duty to inform an accused of his or her rights respecting language in this country.
It is bedrock in this community and this country that we offer services in both languages with respect, at least, to the Criminal Code of Canada and the criminal justice system.
On this one amendment from the Senate, I urge members of the government to agree with the Senate and with the Liberal Party and its justice team that it will make the situation with respect to the delivery of language rights in this instance a much better thing.
I am very proud to suggest that we support the bill and one of the amendments suggested by the Senate, which is one of the two that are excluded from the government's list in the final motion.
I want to move the following amendment. I move:
That the motion be amended by deleting the words “agrees with Amendments No. 2, 4, 5 and 6” and substituting therefore the words “agrees with Amendments No. 1, 2, 4, 5 and 6” and by deleting the paragraph commencing with the words “disagrees with Amendment No. 1”.
Mr. Speaker, the member for is a stalwart member of the justice committee. He works very hard at ensuring the interests of justice are served. More than that, he does a lot to ensure that his region of this great country is recognized.
After hearing the explanation of the and him paying all that money to discover that Canada ends at the Rocky Mountains, I want to assure Canadians that Canada goes from east to west. It also goes far north. It goes to the riding of . The member has expressed many concerns about the aboriginal community.
He is completely right. Bill was Bill , which could have been law except for, as he says, the ridiculous measures and attitude of the government. The Conservatives was so afraid of a private member's bill that they flushed the drain on all other business, including good business like this. It is sad, cowardly and ridiculous.
Here we are, months later, and the provision that delays the sentencing procedures so an offender can participate in provincially approved treatment programs, which already exist and are in place, should have been put into effect many months ago. The member for knows that.
The member for has also addressed language rights with respect to aboriginal peoples. We are evolving as a democracy. We have done fairly well on language rights, despite the actions, the backward, Luddite actions, of the government in cancelling the court challenges program.
We have done pretty well on language rights with respect to bilingualism, meaning French and English. However, what about those minorities in and in the northern territories and throughout the country?
The Conservatives are supposed to care about western Canada, but there are a lot of aboriginal people who are overrepresented in our justice system, in the sentencing procedures, who may not be served in the language of their mother tongue.
There has been no movement on this because the government does not care about anything but its shrinking 30% or so of the population it serves. The rest of the people in Canada, if they speak another language and the Conservatives do not represent it, they do not matter. If they get any opposition from a wee private member's bill, they will flush all the legislation down the drain to the detriment of the country. They should be ashamed.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill , which is fairly technical. It deals with the language of juries, procedures for service of documents and also, the aspect that interests us most, the whole issue of official languages and the provision of trials in the official languages. Consequently, it addresses access to justice by minority groups.
We support this bill and are in favour of the amendment tabled by our Liberal colleagues. If I have understood correctly, this amendment clearly recognizes the responsibility of a judge to inform the people before him in a court of law, the people who will be participating in a trial—whether or not they are the accused—that they have the right to a trial in either official language, naturally in the language of their choice. This ensures that justice will be served.
In general, I would like to remind the House that Bill initially proposed that an accused who does not speak the same language as the majority of a group of accused should not be penalized. It suggested as well that it would be possible for a judge or the chief court coordinator to ensure that a co-accused who does not speak the same language as the majority appears before a bilingual judge or has a separate trial. That is part of our constitutional guarantees. It is also in the Criminal Code and is one of the factors we should always remember as parliamentarians, that is to say, people must always have access to justice in their mother tongue.
For example, when francophones outside Quebec are put on trial—especially when the trial involves multiple charges or there are several accused at the same time—there is always a danger that they will be assimilated because the majority rules, and obviously that is not what we want. The bar expressed its concerns in committee that justice could be denied to minority groups at various points in our current trial procedures.
In regard to linguistic rights, the current system provides that at the request of the accused, a judge will order a preliminary hearing. We all remember that the preliminary hearing is the stage before the trial itself when a judge assesses the evidence that the Crown has and commits the accused to trial. It is a very important stage. The legislation currently provides that, at the request of the accused, a judge will order a preliminary hearing and trial before a judge alone or a jury that speaks the official language of the accused. There is always a concern, therefore, that no one in a minority language situation should be denied knowledge of the evidence against him and the legal procedure or prevented from interacting with the officers of the court and the judges, so that there is always the possibility of ordering a trial in the language of the accused.
I also want to remind the House of similar concerns surrounding the entire question of legal documents. When an accused asks to have his trial in the official language of his choice, in accordance with section 19 of the bill, the Crown must have the documents containing the charges, the information and the indictment translated into the official language of the accused or the language that he best understands. After everything is translated, if that would help the accused understand it better, it is turned over to him.
Changes have also been made in regard to the examination, cross-examination and preliminary hearing. I mentioned that the preliminary hearing is very important because it is here that the Crown reveals its evidence. This is when it is determined whether or not there is enough evidence to proceed to trial.
It should be noted that witnesses can use either official language at the preliminary hearing and the trial. Clause 20(2) of the bill enables the prosecutor, if authorized by the judge and if the circumstances warrant, to examine or cross-examine a witness in the witness’s official language.
Let us look at the case of a francophone accused of a crime. For example, suppose the member for , a francophone, were accused—let us imagine the worst—of having killed her husband. She is ordered to trial and there is a person who saw her kill her husband, Mr. Lemieux, a man who gave her more than 20 years of his life, a veritable saint of a man. If the person who saw her kill her husband is an anglophone, he or she will be summoned to testify as a witness. In this case, the crown prosecutor is bilingual. One may ask in what language the prosecutor will ask questions of the witness. Thanks to the amendments to Bill , it will be possible for the person conducting the examination of the witness, even if he or she speaks a different language than that of the accused, to communicate directly with the witness, thereby avoiding the need for interpreters. Thus, the member for , a francophone, kills her husband; an anglophone witness is called to testify and the prosecutor who laid the charge is bilingual. The cross-examination could be conducted in the language of the witness. In my example, I referred to my colleague, the member for , but honourable members will recognize the fictitious nature of my example because the member for Québec is well known as a peacemaker, without excess of any kind, far removed from anger and possessing total self-control.
That said, I want to say a few words about the amendments that the other place, the Senate, has proposed.
In my opinion—it was a recommendation of the Senate and it is a recommendation of the Liberal opposition—it is desirable that the judge should personally ensure that the person who appears before the court, whether at the preliminary inquiry stage or during the trial on the merits of the case, is clearly aware of his or her linguistic rights, including the right to request a trial in either official language. In a case were there are co-accused, one accused person can even ask for a separate trial when necessary.
Obviously, there are many people involved in the trial proceedings who could inform the accused that his or her linguistic rights must be respected. The prosecutor or the accused’s attorney could do so, or others. In my view, it is a wise move to make certain the judge is able to do that.
Our colleagues in the other place, the senators, have also asked that the legislation be reviewed in three years. This kind of review mechanism, I believe, is now quite common in our bills.
Of course, the Bloc Québécois supports this amendment. The Senate has submitted different cross-referencing provisions, particularly with regard to Bill , the omnibus bill tabled by the government. I have been told there was a bit of a delay in the Senate, which provoked some anger from the parliamentary secretary. As I recall, Bill was a combination of five previous bills, namely, , , the bill on dangerous offenders, the bill on reverse onus in bail hearings and a bill dealing with impaired driving and the new charges that could be laid.
So, Bill impacts on Bill , and the Senate has presented cross-referencing amendments.
Of course, the Bloc Québécois supports Bill and the amendments proposed by the Liberal opposition. However, I cannot conclude without talking about the court challenges program.
How sad it must be for all parliamentarians to see how this government has taken an insensitive measure. I thought the would join his voice to that of the Bloc Québécois and defend francophone minorities. If I am not mistaken, he was responsible for this issue when he was a member of the Mike Harris cabinet. Mike Harris will not be remembered as one of the most progressive parliamentarian in history, but I thought that the wanted to follow the philosophical saying to the effect that taking the middle road is doing the virtuous thing. How can one support abolishing the court challenges program and thus move away from the middle road and virtue?
As members know, the Bloc Québécois is a very responsible opposition party. It is the number one political force in Quebec, and it will continue to be so, if such is the wish of Quebeckers. So, the Bloc Québécois brought forward an amendment at the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage, and also at the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, to resurrect the court challenges program. Unfortunately, we were disappointed by the Conservatives' response. The Conservative Party can no longer be called “progressive”. The fact that they removed the word “progressive” from their name is quite telling.
So, the Bloc Québécois brought forward an amendment in both of these committees. As we know, had it not been for the court challenges program, the French fact outside Quebec—for which our ancestors fought—would not be what it is now. And the must raise his voice in cabinet, regarding this French fact.
It is being said that the is part of the progressive wing of cabinet. How could he have supported this decision? I will have to tell the member for , because I believe he has some influence with this man. I believe that the member for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie will have to make the Minister of the Environment understand that he has failed in his responsibilities by not crossing party lines and by leaving francophones outside Quebec to be denied an extremely important tool in this way.
Why is this important? Take the example of school boards. In Quebec, we call them commissions scolaires, but outside Quebec they are conseils scolaires. Governments have not always spontaneously decided to grant resources and equip francophones in some communities with all institutions, from Prince Edward to Alberta, and including Saskatchewan. By using the court challenges program, with public funds, they were able to bring challenges in the courts. The case went as far as the Supreme Court of Canada and forced the establishment of school boards in francophone communities outside Quebec, which are of course minority communities.
How bizarre, not to say stupid, is the reasoning of this government, which claims that it never enacts or introduces unconstitutional laws? Well, I have been sitting in this House for 14 years and I have seen legislation and regulations repeatedly challenged and held to be invalid. Remember that the tobacco regulations, for example, were declared invalid by the Supreme Court. A number of decisions that have been made have been held to be invalid. It is not simply a matter of laws being ruled invalid, it is a matter of getting new ones recognized.
For example, Michael Hendricks, a resident of Montreal, used the court challenges program to have same-sex spouses recognized.
Today, people whose sexual orientation is homosexual can marry, can have proper weddings and experience the joys of marriage—and of course sometimes also the anguish of divorce. Had it not been for Michael Hendricks and his spouse, René Leboeuf, we would never have moved so speedily toward full recognition of rights for the gay and lesbian community. So you can see that the court challenges program has served both francophone communities outside Quebec and gay men and lesbians well.
When we come to examine the Conservative government’s record, the debit side will include the insensitivity it has demonstrated. I can only mourn the fact that no one in the Quebec caucus of the Conservatives felt the need to stand up for francophones outside Quebec. In fact, I say “francophones outside Quebec”, but there is nothing in the court challenges program that made the anglophone minority automatically ineligible to use it. Of course I will be told that the National Assembly has long made sure to respect the anglophone minority in Quebec. In the plan he put forward before the 1995 referendum, Jacques Parizeau said that it was a founding minority of Quebec.
In Quebec, the constitutional rights of anglophones were recognized, and still are. For instance, anglophones have access to learning institutions from kindergarten to university. Even though Quebec is not officially bilingual, a whole range of programs and measures is available to anglophones outside Quebec.
Valéry, a famous name in history, wrote that one can measure how great a civilization is by how it treats its minorities. Of course, in Quebec, we have every reason to be proud of how we have treated the anglophone community. We are equally proud of how we have treated our aboriginal communities. It is well known that René Lévesque was the one who gave recognition to aboriginal communities. Indigenous languages are still used by aboriginal people, and mechanisms maintained by the state allow them to assert themselves as founding nations of Quebec.
In summary, we support this bill. It deals with a number of technical details, but where language rights are concerned, we feel that it is a good piece of legislation, particularly with respect to the right of the co-accused to be tried in the language of the minority, provided that it is one of the official languages. We also support the Liberal amendment that will see the judge presiding at the preliminary hearing or trial be put in charge of recognizing the rights of those appearing before him or her and having them recognized.
In addition, we condemn the Conservative government's insensitivity to minority communities. Hopefully, by the next election, the government will have had a burst of conscience and lucidity and restored the court challenges program.
Finally, I hope that the will rise and put a question to me.
Mr. Speaker, as members know, this week's theme is the failure of the Conservative government's agenda on crime, resulting in them being very soft on crime.
I know the member is are a very intensive member of the justice committee, but I will give him nine quick areas where he can show how the Conservatives have been a failure and soft on crime, and I know he can think of these himself.
First, we found out in committee the Conservatives were not following the recommendations of the justice department.
Second, expert after expert showed them how to be tough on crime and they went totally against their recommendations and would not withdraw the bad legislation.
Third, they would not be tough on crime by following the court challenges program and supporting it.
Fourth, they would not be tough on crime by supporting law reform, fixing up the law through the Law Reform Commission.
Fifth and sixth, by trying to remove alternative sentencing and restorative justice, which were reducing crime, they are soft on crime.
Seventh, they had terrible written laws. One law was seven words. As members know, it has taken a whole year because it was so bad and the Conservatives did not consult.
CBC had a wonderful program last week about our prisons. Prisons are where we can be hard on crime and stop the reoffending, but they do not have the educational or anger management courses.
Eighth, the Conservatives have done nothing to reduce the overpopulation of aboriginal people in the justice court, which is another way they have been soft on crime.
Finally, the Conservatives prorogued Parliament. From which department do the majority of bills come? The Department of Justice. Once again, they were being soft on crime.
There are a lot of areas the member could talk about on how they could improve the government's agenda and actually reduce crime in Canada.
Mr. Speaker, I rise today with mixed emotions. On the one hand, I am almost looking forward to the opportunity Bill gives me to attack the government and the other chamber for their misconduct, if I can put it that way. That is the emotion on one side, which is a positive one in terms of getting my adrenalin flowing.
However, on the other hand, I feel some significant regret because Bill and its prior incarnation in the form of is badly needed to be law, not to be deemed played with as a political toy, which both the government and the Senate are doing.
The history of the bill is that it was first brought before the House by the government in 2006. It went to the justice committee where a number of amendments were made that improved the bill. The bill addressed points of issue in a number of areas, particularly our police but also our prosecutors and the judiciary to more efficiently administer our criminal justice system.
A number of these amendments had been needed for quite some time. The Liberal administration, prior to the Conservative one, had allowed a number of these points to go unaddressed, some of which are as old as two decades and needed to be addressed. Requests had been coming from the police, the prosecutors and our judiciary over that period of time looking for these amendments and they just were not addressed.
The Conservatives came forward in their administration, packaged a number of them into one bill and sent them to the justice committee. We made further amendments that improved the bill. We sent it back to the House and it went through the House with all party support. It went to the Senate around the time the government decided, because it did not have enough of an agenda and did not know what it would do when it returned in the fall of 2007, to prorogue Parliament. The end result was that Bill died on the order paper in the Senate and had to be brought back.
It came back as Bill in the new House in the fall of 2007. It did not go to the justice committee. We just passed it and sent it over to the Senate because we had already done all the work that we wanted to do on it in the House.
What happened? The Senate decided that it would stick its fingers, as an unelected, non-responsive, I would say, irresponsible body--
Keep going. That's good.
Mr. Joe Comartin: The environment minister wants me to keep going on this. The thing is that it was his government that gave the Senate the chance to do that. The government keeps attacking the Senate but it keeps giving the Senate the chance to do this. If it were really serious about dealing with the Senate, it would do what the NDP has advocated for decades now and abolish it so that we are not faced with this kind of delay to legislation that our country badly needs.
Let us look at some of the things that are in the bill. The government talks about being tough on crime. There is a section that is badly needed for our judges to be able to deal with the plague of child pornography. Right now the Criminal Code has no provision that gives a judge, once someone has been convicted of child pornography, to seize the equipment that the person used to create the child pornography, whether it is photographic equipment or computer equipment. None of that can be ordered seized by the court after a conviction.
The section is there now but it should have been law by now. However, because of the determination by the government to prorogue Parliament and cause further delay to some of the crime bills, this one in particular, we do not have it yet. That is added to by the other chamber being grossly irresponsible in further delaying the bill. The government gave the Senate the opportunity to do it and the other chamber took the opportunity to further delay. It is really sad to say that our criminal justice system is, in this case, at this stage.
There are provisions in the bill that would allow for the expeditious use of technology today to obtain warrants and have other paperwork processed rapidly and transferred among the provinces. We have a major problem with this and have for a long time. Paperwork needs to be done in a very limited, specific way that really hinders the work our police officers are doing across the country because of so much more paperwork they have to do.
A number of the amendments would help clear that up and bring it into the 21st century. The amendments would allow the police officers to produce paper from computers and emails rather than having to rely on printed material, having to send it through the mail or having it delivered by messenger. It is crazy that we are at the stage that we have not changed this a long time ago.
We cleaned that up and made it possible for them to come into the 21st century and use technology much more efficiently and process the files much more efficiently. It is sitting in this House. I suppose only someone with much more wisdom than I will figure out whether it goes back to the Senate and it decides to do further amendments.
There are other provisions in here that were necessary for the law to be clarified. As we heard from my colleague from the Bloc, some provisions with regard to the rights to have a trial in the other official language other than the dominant one in the province where the charges were applied. Again, this is one area where there were some good amendments at committee and they were passed on to the Senate. The Senate has now decided that it wants to tinker with this more and further delay the use of it.
One other amendment that my colleague from the Liberal Party has referred to was the need to update the level of fines. It was an amendment that the government brought forth to increase the fines up to $10,000. I, quite frankly, got an amendment at committee that reduced the fines to $2,000 from $5,000, given that these are for more minor crimes. They are crimes that would be more likely to be committed by people who are unable to pay a fine of $10,000 and would have ended up spending extended periods of time in jail simply because they were in the lower economic classes of our society.
We got all that through. There was a fair amount of work done on this at the justice committee and then sent back to this House, passed in a democratic process and sent on to the Senate to involve itself in a totally undemocratic process.
The Senate has put forward six amendments. The government is prepared to accept them, which is wrong. I have to say, on behalf of my party, that, because the bill is so important and we need it so badly, we will accept these amendments, the four the government recommended and the fifth amendment that the Liberal Party has now moved. I would have taken the sixth one because generally these amendments do not do anything of any importance and, to avoid further delay, we would support it.
The other chamber felt that it had the right to tell this chamber that we should do a review of this bill, ignoring the reality that the justice committee is responsible for, by last count, something like 20 or 25 laws on which we are supposed to have done reviews and that we are behind in doing.
By imposing on us a mandate, which the government has accepted to do, that in three years we will review this law, it is impractical. We will not be able to do it given how busy the schedule is for the justice committee. However, that is one the government accepted.
Amendment No. 1 would impose a responsibility upon the judges. I have heard from the other opposition parties that they are prepared to accept this. I want to say that this is not the process that I see that should be applied by judges.
The existing law requires a judge to ensure that the persons before him or her is aware of their right to have a trial in the other official language. The Senate now says that is not good enough and wants to impose this duty on the judiciary to tell individuals their rights.
I want to take issue with my colleague from the Liberal Party who said that this is usual. It is not usual. This is not the role of the judiciary. It is the role of defence counsel, the legal aid system and it may be the role of the prosecutor. The role of the judge is to ensure that it happens but it is not the judge's responsibility to give legal advice.
Amendment No. 1 from the Senate would impose that role on our judiciary. It is extremely rare for the judiciary to tell the petitioners before them their rights. That is a role to be played within the advocacy system that we have, either by the defence or the prosecutor. This amendment is wrong in law and wrong in terms of the practice it would impose on our judiciary. On top of everything else, it is meddling by an unelected, irresponsible body.
Some of the other Senate amendments are technical because of the initial amendments it made. Other amendments needed to be made in order for the legislation to make sense and be cohesive.
I have one final point to make with regard to the amendment, which I think all of us are opposing. The amendment would impose the responsibility to gather data on the provinces. Under our constitutional framework, the administration of justice, which would include gathering this statistical material, is the responsibility of the provinces. If that duty is to be imposed upon them, it must be imposed, in my opinion, by the legislatures of the provinces, not by this federal legislature. I do not know if the Department of Justice has actually looked at that amendment from that vantage point, but it is definitely improper in my opinion given the constitutional relationship between the federal government and the provinces.
An argument could be made, although I do not think it would be sustained, that under our criminal law we, in this legislature, have the right to impose that responsibility on the provinces. The administration of justice power given to the provinces is the dominant one here, so that amendment is wrong and would be found to be unconstitutional.
As a result of the government's own ineptitude, it has caused a further delay in the passage of badly needed legislation that would affect a number of our laws that have needed to be amended for a number of decades. It delayed the legislation by several months because of its prorogation decision. The legislation finally gets to the Senate where that unelected body decides to tinker with it unnecessarily and produces amendments that are either unconstitutional or unnecessary and of a minor nature. However, that does not in any way justify the delay that we have been put through and will continue to be put through, especially if an election intervenes. We all know we are sitting on the edge.
Therefore, as a result of a really bad decision by the government and gross misconduct on the part of the other chamber, the bill may not even get through this Parliament and be delayed again, not just months, but it could be delayed again for another year or two before we can access its benefits.
We are dealing with a bill that is badly needed in a number of areas. We are also dealing with an unelected body that is obviously intent on meddling in and delaying this legislation just simply to justify its existence.
It has been a long time practice, when speakers from my party have risen in the House, to use the opportunity to emphasize the need to get rid of the other chamber, to bring us into the 21st century, to recognize that this is a democracy and should be a full democracy. I hope I have been able to convey that message clearly today on behalf of my constituents and my party.
Mr. Speaker, I am happy to enter the debate on Bill . The bill in its original form was passed by the House of Commons in October 2007. It went to the Senate and the Senate has come back with some amendments. The amendments the Senate is proposing are more in the area of reviewing the bill after certain periods of time and also various reporting mechanisms to ensure the bill is working the way it should.
My colleagues, the member for and the member , have been the lead on the bill, so I am not here to debate the bill generally. The bill deals with some of the mechanisms of the justice system. Generally it is seen as an improvement on the Criminal Code with respect to criminal procedure, language of the accused, sentencing, et cetera. Some of the amendments make certain processes more effective and efficient through the greater use of technology and by consolidating and rationalizing existing provisions.
The reason I am standing here today is to question a couple of the provisions of the bill. It seems to me if we are to write law in Parliament, the law should be practical, relevant, enforceable and generally have the support of the people. In some cases the latter criteria cannot always be met. Sometimes governments have to take some action that citizens generally would not appreciate. However, generally laws to be effective need to be feasible, operable and enforceable and enforced, otherwise people lose their respect and confidence in the Criminal Code.
I will speak specifically to the question of Internet betting. My riding of Etobicoke North has the Woodbine Racetrack, Canada's national racetrack for horses, thoroughbred and standardbred. It operates year round. It was the host of the Queen's Plate and the North America Cup. It brings a lot of economic activity to Etobicoke North.
The development of a two or three hundred acre plot next to the racetrack will be known as Woodbine Live. It will be a whole gathering of entertainment areas, hotels, shopping and other attractions. This operation brings in many jobs and economic activity to the riding of Etobicoke North. I know the Woodbine Entertainment Group is anxious to employ local people to help build the Woodbine Live project and to help operate it. It is committed to that as am I.
The reality is the racetrack is a legal gaming operation. The Woodbine Entertainment Group used to be the Jockey Club and was renamed some years ago. The group and I have been quite frustrated with the growth in illegal Internet betting, which essentially takes market share away from its legal gaming operations based on the racetrack. We have laws right now on the books that prohibit certain aspects that go on as we speak, and in large volume.
I will go over some of the provisions currently in the act. Bill would make certain changes to the provisions in the Criminal Code as it relates to unlawful Internet gambling. It perhaps provides greater clarity on what is illegal, and that is a good thing and a positive development. However, it needs to be enforced by the authorities, or we need to change the rules to level the playing field and allow organizations like the Woodbine Entertainment Group to get into the area of Internet gaming, and it would be quite happy to do that.
Right now, because Woodbine Entertainment Group is licensed provincially and because Internet gambling is generally unlawful, it would not engage in unlawful activity in the first place. Second, if it were to, it would jeopardize the Ontario gaming licence.
The Woodbine group is caught in a Catch-22. It is seeing its market share eroded because of activities that are illegal in Canada, but not forced. Yet because of its stringent licensing provisions and its respect for the law, it is unable to get into the Internet betting.
One of the solutions would be for us to ease our restrictions on organizations like Woodbine to get involved in Internet betting. Frankly, I do not see it going away.
We can regulate things like that to death. We can bring in laws, but organizations like the RCMP and the Ontario Provincial Police are not enforcing these provisions. In fairness to them, if they are dealing with drug dealers, terrorists, illegal migrants and other criminal activities, it only stands to reason that enforcing illegal Internet betting is not high on their priority list.
At one level, I can understand that, but at another level, if we have laws on the books, we either enforce them or we get rid of them. Otherwise we create a climate where people have a disrespect for the Criminal Code of Canada.
Allow me to go over some things by way of background. If we look at the situation in Canada, advertisement of gambling on Internet casinos, including foreign lotteries, is currently illegal if not done by the provinces.
We all know about the various lotteries that go on in Canada. Advertising those lotteries, promoting them is legal because it is done by the provinces. Provincial governments in Canada are permitted to conduct, manage and advertise computer-based lottery schemes like Internet gambling, but they cannot license others to do so.
Part VII of the Criminal Code generally prohibits gaming in Canada, but provides for certain exceptions. Among the exceptions are certain gaming activities which can be carried on pursuant to a provincial licence. A broader range of lottery schemes can be conducted and managed by provincial governments. The racing and the gaming activities associated with horse racing by the Woodbine Entertainment Group at the Woodbine Racetrack is authorized and licensed by the province, and constitutes a legal gaming activity.
Let me tell the House what is happening and happening now in greatly increased volumes and having a detrimental impact on racetracks across the country.
It has been a crime for many years to operate Internet gaming websites in Canada, but that has not stopped many offshore companies from soliciting bets from Canadians. These companies have now become so bold that in addition to placing ads in Canadian newspapers and at sporting events, they are now running seminars in Canada to attract people to their websites. When they meet with people, they say that laws in Canada are pretty soft and undefined, so this kind of activity can go on.
Sometimes we see adverts for poker when we turn on the television. They have an interesting segue. They will have a cometopoker.com or whatever it might be. They will allude or suggest that it is a tutorial on how to play poker, but they all have a very simple segue into poker playing for money. Generally they are complying with the law in one sense, but they are abusing the spirit of the law, and I am afraid the government has not done much about it.
The government says that it wants to fight crime and criminality, but many hard-working Canadians are being ripped off and people who work at race tracks that are part of that economic activity are threatened. Legitimate gaming industries in Canada, such as the Woodbine Entertainment Group in my riding and other provincial gaming operations are being impacted by these illegal Internet gambling websites. It is costing them millions in revenue and it is putting Canadians out of work. It is creating jobs and some economic activity offshore.
I must say in fairness that our Liberal government did not take a lot of action on this either. Part of the problem is that law enforcement agencies have so many other priorities that they cannot enforce it. That is why I am coming around to the conclusion that instead of clarifying elements of the Criminal Code, which Bill does with respect to Internet gaming, and making it more clear, hopefully there is an intent to enforce it, but I do not see that.
I should say that the relevant sections of Bill are in clause 5, which reads:
5. Paragraph 202(1)(i) of the Act is replaced by the following:
(i) wilfully and knowingly sends, transmits, delivers or receives any message that conveys any information relating to book-making, pool-selling, betting or wagering, or that is intended to assist in book-making, pool-selling, betting or wagering; or
The part of the code that is not being amended is saying that this is a criminal offence. I think that makes it pretty clear, but if it is not enforced, I am not sure that it has any impact.
I have looked at changes to the code but frankly do not see what that will do. It has led me to look at a private member's bill that would call on the banks essentially to intercept Visa, MasterCard, or other credit cards or debit cards that are being used for activities that are illegal.
I think that has actually been done in the United States, but unfortunately it is being challenged under the WTO rules because they limited the exposure to offshore Internet operations. However, there are a lot of onshore Internet operations in the United States also that are conducting these illegal Internet gaming operations, so someone has challenged it under the WTO rules. I suspect they will win that one because it is differentiating between onshore and offshore.
I have a draft bill which I am prepared to move forward with that would call on the financial institutions in Canada to set up regimes that would intercept these types of transactions. The bill would provide for the establishment of payment systems to identify and block financial transactions in the course of unlawful Internet gambling.
I have alerted the banking community, which is not thrilled with this because it is a big cost. It essentially transfers the burden of compliance and enforcement to the banking sector because our Criminal Code is not being enforced right here in Canada.
In the United Kingdom and other parts of Europe they have taken a different tact. They have acknowledged that Internet betting, like other activities that take place on the Internet, are almost impossible to police. We have to take action on some of them of course, such as with respect to child pornography and any criminal activity like that, but it is a tough job finding those links. People are very clever when they set up these linkages. In Europe and certainly in the United Kingdom, they said that they had to create a level playing field. They said that they would just legalize it so that those organizations that are involved in legal gaming activities under licence will not have their licences jeopardized if they get in and compete with those operators who are operating illegally.
That really is the point I would like to make with respect to Bill . Of course I will be supporting the bill because my colleagues have looked at it in some detail. In fact it was passed by the House of Commons last fall. The amendments perhaps add to the bill. The bill does, with respect to Internet gaming, provide greater clarity around what that constitutes.
If we write laws in Canada that are not enforced, or that are impractical, all we do is create a gap of credibility that we all suffer as Canadians. There is no point in putting out the smoke and mirrors and saying we are defining it more carefully if law enforcement officers in Canada are not prepared to enforce the law. Frankly, given some of the other priorities, I can empathize with that position.