I call the meeting to order. This is meeting number eight of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, on Monday, March 9, 2009. I just want to note that this meeting is televised.
You have before you the agenda for today. We are reviewing the supplementary estimates C, which have been referred to this committee.
The second half of this meeting will be in camera. We'll continue our work on providing drafting instructions to our analysts on the impaired driving study. Also at that time, we'll deal with a motion that's still on the floor, Mr. Ménard's motion regarding the organized crime study, and some travel related to that.
Today we welcome back three individuals who have been before us earlier: Justice Minister Rob Nicholson, as well as Mr. John Sims and Mr. Brian Saunders.
Gentlemen, welcome back. As is customary, you have an opportunity to make a ten-minute presentation. After that time, we'll open up the floor to questions.
Minister, I open the floor to you.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman, and thank you to all of your fellow members.
I am pleased to be here to discuss the supplementary estimates C before you. As you indicated, I am appearing here with the Deputy Minister of Justice, John Sims, and I am pleased to have with me as well Brian Saunders, director of public prosecutions.
Of course, any time I appear it is in my dual capacity as Minister of Justice and Attorney General, roles that have been united ever since Sir John A. Macdonald came up with the idea that both of these positions should be together. We have continued that tradition, and I am pleased to fill that role at the present time.
As you know, Mr. Chairman, our government in unwavering in its commitment to fighting crime and to ensuring the safety and security of Canadians. I'd like to acknowledge the invaluable contributions made every day on the front lines of our fight against crime by police officers, prosecutors, community workers and volunteers who day in and day out devote themselves to the communities they serve.
Our government has made great strides in protecting Canadians and cracking down on crime. You will remember the comprehensive Tackling Violent Crime Act, which increases penalties for those convicted of a whole series of crimes. In addition we increased penalties for those convicted of street racing, and we established the national anti-drug strategy to curb illicit drug use in Canada.
I am proud to do my part in working with you and members of the House of Commons and Senate in continuing this important work.
Most recently I have introduced legislation in the House of Commons to amend the Criminal Code in the areas of gang violence and organized crime. Specifically, this legislation would make murders that are connected to organized crime activity automatically first degree murders. That would mean an individual would be looking at 25 years in a federal penitentiary before being eligible for parole. So this legislation would put murders connected to organized crime into that category. I think most people who look at this agree this is a reasonable step forward. It also creates a broad-based offence to target drive-by and other intentional shootings. As well, we are increasing the penalties for those who intimidate police officers, prosecutors, and judges.
I will also reintroduce legislation from the previous session regarding mandatory minimum penalties for serious drug offences, specifically those involving violence or weapons, or which involve trafficking drugs to young people, or importing or exporting of drugs.
In the coming days I look forward to continuing this work by introducing other legislation consistent with our promise to protect Canadians.
Mr. Chairman, the protections we seek to provide Canadians extend to their financial security as well. Canadians are not immune to the effects of the growing economic instability around the globe. Government departments and agencies are doing their part to ensure that the funds allocated to them are spent wisely. Over and above that obligation, the justice portfolio has a more specific role in fighting capital market fraud and white collar crime. The RCMP, the Public Prosecution Service of Canada, and the Department of Justice, as well as the Departments of Finance and Public Safety, are all partners in the integrated market enforcement teams program. The IMET program's goal is to effectively enforce the law against serious criminal capital market fraud offences in Canada. The IMET units based in Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, and Montreal investigate serious Criminal Code offences that are of regional or national significance, and that threaten investor confidence or economic stability.
I am sure, Mr. Chairman, you can understand the importance of that in the present economic context.
As is the case for many of our government's programs, the collaboration of IMET units with our provincial and territorial partners accounts for much of the success in responding to the needs of Canadians. For example, to investigate these offences, members of the RCMP and Public Prosecution Service legal advisers often work closely with investigators from provincial or municipal police forces, as well as experts seconded from provincial securities regulators. In addition to its prosecution role, the PPSC provides legal advice to the IMET units.
The Department of Justice provides support to these units with respect to mutual legal assistance requests to foreign governments, as well as handling any related extradition requests. The justice department also manages and administers the IMET reserve fund to reimburse our provincial partners for extraordinary expenses related to IMET prosecutions, working with the Public Prosecution Service officials to review and approve requests from provinces for access to this contribution fund.
In the coming year, we will continue to work on making IMETs more effective. These efforts include our officials, other levels of governments, and other departments and agencies.
To conclude, Mr. Chairman, I would like to reiterate that the Public Prosecution Service of Canada and the Department of Justice are playing key roles in the government's work to respond to the needs of Canadians. We will continue to do our utmost to ensure that funds are spent wisely in the service of Canadians.
I look forward to any questions you may have.
My questions are going to be brief. I would ask that the minister be brief in response, because I have three questions that I'm going to ask.
The first question is with respect to Bill . Attorney General Wally Oppal and Solicitor General van Dongen from British Columbia came and met with you, Minister, and met with the opposition, including us. They indicated that they wanted the lawful access law changed so that the law enforcement people are allowed to lawfully intercept a wider range of communications between gangsters and gang members. As well, they want to make sure that we cut back on the two-for-one remand sentencing deals, which of course disproportionately reduce prison sentences for some violent offenders.
These two issues aren't new. These two issues have been on the table at attorneys general conferences for some time. I want to ask you, the minister, why did you not move on these as part of Bill ? Obviously, from Minister Oppal's remarks, it appears that he didn't think you were very enthusiastic about doing it very soon.
There are a couple of things, Mr. Dosanjh. A number of the issues that we have placed before Parliament have been on the desks of the attorneys general across this country, not just Bill , which you opened up your remarks with and which is one of them, but , the drug bill, as well.
I had a very good conversation with both the attorney general and the public safety minister from British Columbia. I explained to them the contents of the two bills that we have before Parliament. I'm confident that I will have their support and I'll have the support of attorneys general right across this country. I have indicated to them, and I will indicate to you, as I have to Parliament, that we are taking these bills one step at a time.
You will remember when we introduced five bills in the first session of the last Parliament. You will remember as well that, when we adjourned in the summer of 2007, not one of those bills was actually passed into law. If I sound a bit frustrated thinking about that, I was very frustrated to have to deal with that.
I think it's best to introduce these bills one step at a time. I'm trying to garner public opinion on these. As you can tell from people like you and others who have followed this government's agenda for fighting crime, we're moving ahead. We'll continue to move ahead, but I'm taking them one step at a time.
I would ask you to expedite funding approval for future years more quickly. But let me go on to my last question, about a couple of articles in the paper today that indicate the justice brass is to receive anti-racism training--about 600 managers, I believe. This is not a partisan comment.
Our previous governments didn't have stellar records in integrating visible minorities into the public service. Whether it's provincial or federal, the number of visible minorities is disproportionately lower in the federal civil service and the provincial civil service, at least in British Columbia, where I come from--and we made efforts.
It's not really a question; it's a comment. First of all, I want to thank the department for trying to do what they're doing. But I want to express some shame and embarrassment as a Canadian. We don't think of aboriginal Canadians as visible minorities, but they've been here for hundreds of years. Chinese Canadians and blacks have been here for a long time. Chinese Canadians actually came to this country 165 years ago. Indo-Canadians have been around for over 100 years. The argument that there aren't qualified people in those communities doesn't wash any more. While I thank the department for trying to make the effort to deal with this issue upfront, I am embarrassed as a Canadian that we are so far behind, particularly in the civil service, both federal and provincial.
Minister, I want to encourage you to do more and to do it more quickly.
Mr. Dosanjh, we take the situation very seriously. We've done quite a few things. We are indeed, as the newspaper article said this morning, making sure that all senior managers have sensitivity training, but we're doing far more than that.
We have more visible minority employees in the department than the labour availability numbers would suggest, but we don't have enough visible minorities at the senior level. We are making efforts to see what we can do to accelerate the advancement of qualified visible minorities in the department. We have a national diversity program for training possible managers. There's a pilot called the leadership development program that is going to equip people to compete and accede to the higher levels. We have performance measures for management to monitor the progress of people in the department.
I think I'm proudest of the relationship we have in the department today with the advisory committee on visible minorities and the advisory committee on aboriginal people, with whom we're working very closely and cooperatively to try to make progress in this regard. We aren't there yet. We're not happy with where we are, but we think we've made a great deal of progress since the moment in history that was described in that article this morning, which was about a year ago.
I would like to talk about the Criminal Conviction Review Group. I have heard that since the Conservative government took office, the group has been a little dysfunctional. Concerns have been expressed. People who are quite concerned about how this group is run have made some representations to me.
I have been informed that of the five lawyers who work for the Criminal Conviction Review Group in accordance with section 696 of the Criminal Code, two have gone on sick leave because their professional independence was not respected, primarily by your director, Mr. Scullion. The professional independence of these employees is not being respected. How many lawyers work for the CCRG? Can you get that information to me?
Can you confirm for me that since the Conservatives came to power, the professional independence of lawyers, who in accordance with a process established in 2002, must follow a four-stage process, has always been respected? Have you knowledge of any operational problems or ill-advised interventions by your director, Mr. Scullion?
I'm not going to comment specifically on some of the internal matters within the Department of Justice. Perhaps the deputy minister might want to do that.
But I can tell you, Monsieur Ménard, that the whole question of wrongful convictions is something that is quite apart from any political or ideological considerations for anybody. I'm quite certain that over the years this has been the case, not just in the government of which I am a member, but I believe in previous governments as well. We have an obligation under our Constitution and our system of government that when information is brought to us that an individual may have been wrongfully convicted we will move forward on it.
You're quite correct. A number of changes have taken place since the Milgaard report, quite frankly. I have an independent individual, Judge Grenier, who advises me. He is completely at arm's length and independent. He advises me with respect to applications. I know that within the Department of Justice they take this very seriously as well, and they work very hard on that, Monsieur Ménard.
Pursuant to the legislation reviewed by the Liberals in 2002, this service provides all evidenciary elements to the lawyer assigned to persons who have been the victims of a judicial error. I was informed that this process has been interrupted. In at least two instances, lawyers for victims like this were denied information. I'm not looking for an answer, but I am sounding the alarm and I do hope that some clear directives will be issued.
I have a question about the Coffin affair which was the subject of a vote in the House. Can the minister, or the deputy minister, give us a progress report on this inquiry that was given the go-ahead over a year ago? Where do matters stand? Which of your lawyers has been assigned to this inquiry?
Thank you for being here, Minister and officials.
I think this question is more for Mr. Sims.
I had asked in the last round of the estimates about funds spent on defending the application of the file on Omar Khadr, a case that went all the way to the Supreme Court.
We did receive a response—and thank you, Mr. Minister, for that—indicating there's no separate line item. But internally, in terms of the work justice department lawyers did on defending that application, are there records kept of how many hours they worked, how many staff worked on it, or those kinds of thing?
Thank you, Minister, for being here.
Minister, I know that lately in the news we've been seeing a lot about crime. I guess the underlying concern that I have is what happens.... Obviously, we want those stories to go away and we want crime issues to be solved, but it takes a certain amount of resolve around this committee table, and indeed in the entire House of Commons, to pass effective justice legislation. We've seen in the past that bills have been brought forward and have ground to a halt. We've seen bills that haven't gone through the process to become law.
Can you tell us a bit about the current bills that have been introduced, Bill and Bill , one dealing with drugs and the other with organized crime? What type of process goes into developing those bills? How long have those bills been on the books?
What do we do so that we don't become complacent? When I say “we”, I mean Parliament, because I know that your approach has been a steadfast approach. You're constantly pushing to improve the justice system, but obviously in a minority Parliament we need partners who are also willing to advance effective justice legislation. In the past, that's been lacking, so how do we avoid these issues being just the flavour of the week and instead something where we can be steadfast and resolved in improving the justice system?
Thank you, Mr. Moore, for that question, and thank you for all your efforts on this. I very much appreciate your support and that of my other parliamentary secretary, Monsieur Petit, and my other colleagues. Thank you for your support on all of our tough-on-crime agenda.
Quite a bit of thought and work goes into the preparation of any bill that we bring before Parliament. You hear about it as public officials. You hear about it during elections. You hear about it from your constituents. They want you to move forward on these issues, and I believe that's a great source of ideas for new legislation. Of course, we like to get the input of the provincial attorneys general, law enforcement agencies, and groups like the Canadian Bar Association and others. We have to get input from a lot of people, a lot of groups, before we go forward.
Many times these issues are before the public; sometimes they're not. You mentioned the gang legislation we have before Parliament. You mentioned the drug legislation. There has been quite a bit of publicity, particularly in British Columbia, in the last several weeks. But when I went across this country, I had law enforcement agencies in most of the largest communities raise the matter with me that they would like to see changes to the criminal law to zero in on this kind of activity. As you know, one of the sections we have is on drive-by shootings--people who fire into a crowd when they're trying to target a victim. That is a recurring problem in this country, and I'm pleased there are specific sections now in our “getting tough on gangs” act that specifically deal with that.
I am also told by law enforcement agencies, border services, and others, that we have a major problem with people bringing drugs into this country. But we have to be very clear who we're talking about. The people who bring drugs into this country are not those experimenting with drugs on a Saturday night, or poor individuals who have become addicted. These are the people who are involved in organized crime. These are the gangs. They are the ones bringing drugs into this country or shipping drugs out as currency for drugs coming into this country.
We know who they are and what they're all about, and that is why I'm very pleased that the bill we have before Parliament, Bill on drugs, includes mandatory jail time for somebody who brings drugs into this country, because that's who we're targeting--gangs and organized crime. If you want to break up gangs and organized crime you have to get these people off the streets, so we're sending out a very clear message on that.
I have to tell you this is not just a reaction to all the unfortunate publicity that has been received in the last few weeks; this has been ongoing. When this committee or Parliament has a close look at this drug bill, I hope they will note that it is virtually identical to the one we had in the previous Parliament that we wanted to get passed.
These things send out the right message, and this is exactly what victims and law-abiding Canadians want us to do. Yes, we are moving forward on these. We've had input from a wide range of people, and in my opinion Canadians are demanding action on these issues. I'm pleased to tell them that we are prepared to deliver.
I don't think there's any question that the two bills you had before that address some of the challenges we have in this area. I'll remind you, as well, that in the Tackling Violent Crime Act we sent out the right message to people; that is, people who want to commit serious gun crimes in this country are looking at penitentiary time. They're looking at a five-year minimum sentence, meaning the judge can increase that. And if they don't get the message the first time, they can get seven years the next time for a whole wide range of serious gun crimes in this country. Getting these people off the street does break up the criminal enterprise and it sends out the right message.
In addition, you will know, having studied it very carefully, the changes that we've made to the bail provisions so that we are reversing the onus for people who have a record of a history of violence in using guns. We're putting the onus on them as to why they should be back out on the street. I've had police officers tell me that this is exactly what has to take place in this country, because it sends out the right message. The wrong message, if you are charged with a serious gun crime and you have a history of serious gun crimes, is if you're back out on the street in a couple of hours this has the effect of intimidating the witnesses. It intimidates the neighbourhood and it completely sends out the wrong message into our communities. They are among those who were the first to welcome initiatives in that area to change the bail provisions.
I can tell you, we received widespread support with respect to our mandatory jail times for people who commit serious gun crimes. But we're adding to that. We're adding to that people who get involved with serious drug crimes in this country. Again, we want to help the addict and the poor individual who finds him or herself addicted. We want to help that individual. But we're very clear to the people who are in the business of destroying people's lives, the people who like to sell these things to children and around schools, who think that the grow operation business is a great career opportunity, people who think a smart business move is to start importing drugs into this country. We send out a very clear message to them: you're going to jail if you get caught and convicted under these new laws. I think that's exactly what Canadians have been wanting to hear and have been waiting to hear from their government in Ottawa, and I'm pleased that we're delivering on that.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Minister, thank you for your appearance.
I'll be very brief in my questions, and perhaps you can be briefer than the infomercial answers that you gave Rob Moore.
Very briefly, Minister, the B.C. government has asked for you to look at reducing the two-for-one remand time, or three to one, the time that is given when somebody is incarcerated before trial. Would you agree with the B.C. government that we could reduce the additional credit given for remand time? And do you agree with the B.C. government that we need to modernize lawful access to electronic surveillance and make it simpler for them to have access to this technology?
Under our Constitution, Mr. Lee, that is the responsibility given to us under the BNA Act, now known at the Constitution Act, 1867.
With respect to the administration of justice, it's done at the provincial level for the most part. Sometimes they ask me, why don't you tell the crown's attorney, and I tell them in return, hold on, I'm not in the business of telling the crown's attorney what to do, because the crown's attorneys are appointed by the provinces. Policing under the Criminal Code, as you know, is almost exclusively within provincial and municipal law enforcement agencies.
So I'm always very clear, Mr. Lee, that we are one component of what has to be done to fight crime in this country. If you remember, in my opening remarks I specifically thanked police officers and others, even though we're not the ones who run municipal police forces or the OPP in our province of Ontario. We don't run them at the federal level, but I'm very thankful and congratulatory to them for the wonderful job they do. Every time I see them, I always make that point, even though they're not federal employees. The same thing goes for the crown's attorneys as well.
Mr. Lee, you said you've only been here a couple of years. It's been a little bit longer than that, and you're not one for posturing. You want to see results. I want to see results as well. So we will make changes to the Criminal Code that will send out the right message and deal with the challenges we have.
If I may, sir, I would like to come back to the representations that were made to me about the threat weighing on the professional integrity of the lawyers who work for the CCRG. I would like some reassurances from you and I want to hear more from you about the role of your special advisor, Judge Bernard Grenier, a person that I hold in high esteem and who has long served on the Quebec Court. I was told that your special advisor must review all applications that have been denied a review by the CCRG and that unfortunately, there have apparently been some serious oversights in this area.
Have you been made aware of these oversights? Although I may look calm on the outside, when matters like this are brought to my attention, I am troubled. I'm sure you want to put my mind at ease. Can you reassure me about the review role played by Judge Grenier and about how he is carrying out his duties? I'm familiar with his record on the Quebec bench, but I would like you to quash the rumours that are circulating.
I can tell you that my relationship with Judge Grenier is at arm's length. He does his work of looking at applications for wrongful convictions, and I think it has worked very well. This is something we can all be very proud of.
You've made, I think, some allegations with respect to a working group within the Department of Justice, if that's what you're doing. Again, my understanding is that the system has worked well in the past. I'm very pleased with it. I'm unaware that somebody may be disgruntled or unhappy with that, and you've certainly brought it to the attention of the deputy minister, who administers the department on a regular basis.
But Judge Grenier is separate, even from the department. These get referred to him and he has a look at them, and then he makes recommendations to either sustain the conviction or to have the matter referred to the court of appeal, or have a new trial ordered. So I think it has worked very well.
I think we can be proud of the decisions that have been made and the wrongs that have been righted.
Thank you very much, Minister and officials, for coming here today.
If you permit me, Mr. Minister, I would like to also say it's good to see Mr. Lee back again and to share a committee together with him. I would like to just mention for his sake that I'm also on the public safety committee, and I can tell him that, yes, there are many components to the issues we're dealing with here at the justice and public safety committee. I'm also very happy that I can say for his sake, or to him, and to those folks who are watching and listening to some of the comments he made, that this government's been spending a lot of their tax dollars on improving the investigative arm of things by investing heavily in the RCMP and other police forces, as well as making sure that there's an independence with the prosecutorial part by the appointment of Mr. Saunders, of course.
I would like, Mr. Minister, to talk about Bill . In particular, what struck me was the amount of media coverage around that particular bill, and the kind of support that I know comes from the law enforcement community, with which I have a kinship. I think folks should realize that when police departments, police officers, and police associations talk to you, or you consult with them, behind that consultative process you have also community policing committees that they represent and who advise them, and also the victims of crime. I would like to ask you some questions surrounding the amount of consultation you've taken with various communities, not the least of which would be police officers, the people on the front lines who deal with these issues on a daily basis, and what kind of input they had to Bill .
Thank you very much, Mr. Norlock, and thank you for your support of these initiatives and your input on the public safety committee as well.
We never make these laws in a vacuum. That would be the wrong way to do it. We do get input.
You talked about a number of groups that are very, very important. Of course, victims of crime have to be at the top of anybody's list. I was pleased and proud to appoint the first federal ombudsman for victims of crime about two years ago. For the first time, we have an individual whose sole function is to stand up and have a look at the issues that surround and challenge victims in our criminal justice system.
These are all steps in the right direction. Having more money for the victims fund is another example to build on that initiative.
That being said, I've been the recipient of many, many inputs, inputs from people like you, from parliamentarians, from our constituents, and from speaking with law enforcement agencies and lawyers' groups. One of the great things about being Minister of Justice is that you do get invited to a whole host of functions where people who are dedicated to making a difference in this area gather, and you get the benefit of their advice and their input on these laws.
But this question of gangs is not something that just arose in the last three weeks. Again, I appreciate that Parliament will be focused on this. I'd appreciate any efforts to get these bills through, but part of what we are doing is just bringing the Criminal Code up to date.
The provisions with respect to police officers haven't been updated in many, many decades. We have to send out the message that if you start attacking police officers, the people who are in the business of protecting society, there have to be serious consequences, and that we are increasing those consequences.
Also, if you are in the business of pulling out a gun and shooting into a crowd, you should know that prison time awaits you.
These are steps in the right direction and they send out the right message.
Again, when I speak with groups and individuals, ordinary Canadians everywhere I go in Canada are not shy about telling me how concerned they are about some of the issues with respect to violent crime in this country. I can tell you--and I have said this in the House of Commons and I say it here--that your constituents will thank you if you help get these things through.
Our job and the job of all the members of Parliament is to keep the focus on these issues. I appreciate that we have other challenges in this country, and huge challenges with the economy, but this is part of what we have to do as parliamentarians. Believe me: the people of this country will thank us for that.
Minister, thank you. We're at the end of our first hour.
Thank you to all three of you, Mr. Sims, Mr. Saunders, and Minister, for appearing before us. I think you've sensed from the comments you've heard at this committee table that there may be a greater degree of collaboration we can look forward to in terms of moving forward with protecting our communities, so I'm sure we'll have you back again.
Again, thanks for appearing before us.
We'll suspend for a few minutes.
Mr. Chair, I find my colleague's motion to be an enlightened one worthy of our consideration. Since 2004, that is since we've had a minority government, I don't believe that full committees have been travelling. The whips tend to keep track of attendance in the House, which is clearly a legitimate concern. If the committee wishes to have a reduced quorum and delegation, then I will not oppose it.
Of course, we would need to know what this would mean in actual fact, but I think our colleague's motion is reasonable. I'm not saying that we need to visit each and every city. If we visited Montreal, Toronto, one city in Atlantic Canada and one city out West, I think that would suffice in terms of keeping in touch with communities.
I will not oppose Mr. Norlock's amendment, if that is what the committee wants.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
First of all, I'm hesitant to have such an abbreviated trip in the country if that's indeed what the committee wants to do. As you know, the minister spent a great deal of time last year going all over the country talking to people. He brought forward some legislation here. I think the best thing this committee can spend its time doing is dealing with this legislation and getting it through our committee as expeditiously as possible. But if the committee does want to travel to some of these areas that have seen some very serious organized crime, and drug offences, I must insist that the committee would look at going to Edmonton and Calgary, as well as Winnipeg. These are communities that are close to my riding and that are affected by the same organized crime and the same drug issues. I think it would be pertinent for the committee to go to these communities as well.
I think it's very dangerous to only go to the latest place where we've had some serious offences. I think it's important. Edmonton is a city where we've had a lot of these issues. If the committee wishes to travel, I would recommend Edmonton as well. That's if we do it as Mr. Norlock was saying, as a smaller group, so that the larger committee can stay here in Ottawa and do the work that we need to do to get this legislation passed as expeditiously as possible so we can get on to the legislation that Mr. Dosanjh and Mr. LeBlanc were hoping to deal with as well.
Thank you, Mr. Chair. Regarding Mr. Ménard's motion, I think there are two or three questions that we need to ask ourselves.
First of all, I'm not comfortable with the idea of having a small group of members travel. It's not because I want to go along too, but because I would like to hear what the witnesses have to say. It's unfortunate, but when I don't have this opportunity to hear them in person, everyone tends to recount events from their own perspective, which might differ from my own. And then, I will be obliged to work on bills C-14 and C-15 without the benefit of having heard the witnesses. Therefore, I suggest that if ever it comes to this, we arrange for videoconferencing services. That way, when our colleagues are in Vancouver, we can see the witnesses from our vantage point here and perhaps ask them questions. We've already done something similar in the case of witnesses from Great Britain. I don't have a problem with videoconferencing. It's much less expensive than plane fare.
Secondly, I agree with Mr. LeBlanc. I'm not sure if that is the impression he wants to convey, but he did say that he wants to support our two bills. Do I really need to travel to Vancouver in order to study these bills? No. Do I really need to hear from witnesses? Maybe. Can they be called to Ottawa? Certainly. So then, I find Mr. LeBlanc's suggestion rather interesting. These two bills should be examined quickly. However, perhaps we shouldn't move too quickly. Haste is not always a good thing.
As for travelling to Vancouver, a lovely city where the temperature just might be more pleasant, I would point out that Montreal was the scene of the biggest police raid in recent years. At issue were drug problems and street gangs. So then, I would invite people to come to Montreal instead of Vancouver. It's much closer, travel costs would be lower and you may see some different realities. I'm willing to concede that there have been some problems recently in Vancouver, that gunshots were fired in the street, just like in the days of Al Capone. That's a whole other situation. However, the biggest police raid took place in Montreal and the main reason for it was drug problems and street gangs.
Montreal is not far from Ottawa. Neither is Toronto. I suggest then that you look no further. If you decide to make the trip and to have only one member per party accompany the committee, then I suggest you arrange for a videoconference feed so I can follow the proceedings—because I dislike flying— and even ask questions.
Thank you very much.
Then I guess I'd be interested to know, what are we talking about in terms of a time commitment?
We just had the Minister of Justice here. My number one concern, of course, is seeing that we do the work that we need to do to have more effective legislation. We have two bills that are coming through.
For those who are promoting this, we don't have a final list of cities. I've heard Vancouver and some others mentioned. What type of time commitment are we talking about? Are we talking about doing this over the course of a number of weeks, where we'd take our regular sitting day and jet off on a Monday to Vancouver, then be back here on Tuesday? Or are we taking a whole week to do everything in one week? I haven't heard the specifics logistically speaking.
Maybe this is something the chair or the clerk can speak to. Logistically, what are the movers intending? Because there are a number of different ways something like this could be done.
We need to clear up some confusion. As I see it, there are two issues confronting us, the first being a study of organized crime. As I understand it, once we have initiated our study on organized crime, the committee will take a full week to travel to all of the cities on the list. I don't have a problem with that. We're all mindful of the fact that Bill must be passed quickly. I remind you that the bill has not yet been referred to this committee. I am prepared to move quickly. Liberal colleagues have suggested to the House Leader that only one person be permitted to speak to the bill at second and third reading, so that we move forward quickly. We won't consent to that, because this bill provide for serious penalties for offenders. However, we are prepared to move quickly on this bill.
If, Mr. Chair, you have information to the effect that the bill is about to be referred to us this week, then I suggest we set aside the issue of organized crime—the focus of the proposed study—and get down to business right away. I think it's realistic to think that we can report back to the House in a week. Bill is a priority because of what is happening and, contrary to what Mr. Petit said, with all due respect, Montreal is not Vancouver. The two cities are not interchangeable. First, we need to know when the government intends to refer the proposed legislation to us. We've been waiting since last week and we still haven't seen the bill. The House Leader's office told us that the priority was Bill . As it happens, that bill has been adopted. When the steering committee meets tomorrow, Mr. Chair, if you inform us that you have spoken to the minister or to the parliamentary secretary and we can expect the bill to be referred to us on Wednesday, then I'm prepared to make this our priority. We could begin examining the legislation as early as Thursday and new week, hold several meetings and then pass the bill. However, we cannot do two parallel studies. The two bills should be examined separately and our priority must be Bill C-14. Bill is something entirely different. But if that is what the committee wants, the Bloc Québécois will cooperate to ensure that we move quickly to study Bill C-14. Can the parliamentary secretary tell us when the House will refer the bill to committee? This hasn't yet happened.
In the effort to try to arrive at some consensus, I think Réal's point is a good one. We shouldn't see this as an either/or proposition. I've accepted that the legislation should be a priority. We should take the bills separately.
My understanding--and I'm going by memory, Rob--is that they're being debated in the House as early as Wednesday of this week. That was the plan on some calendar I saw last week. So they may in fact be disposed of on Wednesday or Thursday of this week in the House and then referred to the committee.
I'm going by what Brian Murphy was telling me after the last meeting. I think the idea, to answer your question, Rob, was that we would have a one-week trip, or maybe two one-week trips, but we would start with one week. We would try to travel as a committee to as many of these cities as we can logistically. The chair and the clerk can come up with a proposal of what might work: do a five-day week, but a sitting week, where the committee would travel and the whips would allow the committee to travel while we were sitting.
That study itself is not necessarily part of the study of Bill or Bill . They're complementary. They would be overlapping to some degree, but the study of the legislation is separate, and we would work with the government and the other opposition parties to try to have a very brief study--two committee sittings or something--of Bill C-14 and not necessarily interfere with the trip.
Realistically, the earliest time that we could travel is either the week before Easter.... We're three or four weeks away from being able to do a one-week trip, so somebody should come up with a proposal of what a one-week trip might look like. Realistically, we'll be dealing with Bill in the committee in the first week we're back after the break anyway, so one doesn't necessarily replace the other.
If we're going to travel, it's going to be the week before the Easter weekend, which is only three sitting weeks from now anyway, or even when we come back from Easter. I think somebody should work on a proposal for what a five-day trip would look like.
Monsieur Petit, you may have misunderstood. I think the understanding was that the whole committee would travel. I'm sure we'll understand if individual members have other commitments on one day or another, but I believe that so far the sentiment at this table is that the committee would travel as a whole.
I will share with you that I'm reluctant to go to the expense of travelling with the committee, but we also have a crisis in many of the cities across Canada. It's a problem with organized crime. I think they're expecting governments at all levels to respond. By actually meeting with constituents in the most affected cities, I think we're discharging our responsibilities as elected members of this House. As much as I'm reluctant to go to this expense, given the circumstances and the state of crime in some of our big cities, I think it's worthwhile to do this.
Monsieur Petit, I don't believe the understanding you had is correct. I think the understanding is for the whole committee to travel as members are able to.
Again, Mr. LeBlanc, I'm assuming that you're incorporating the suggestions about referring this to the steering committee as part of your motion.