The House resumed from September 27 consideration of the motion that Bill be read the second time and referred to a committee, and of the amendment.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to take a moment to address the communities that may be tempted to support this bill thinking that a prison expansion in their area would be a good thing. The expansion of our prisons should never be considered anything other than a collective failure. Let us not forget that. Having more citizens in prison must be considered a definite sign of the failure of our training programs and the failure of our economic system to create jobs. Prisoners are not a natural resource that help the development of a region in which there is a prison. Let us always keep this perspective in mind when making these collective choices.
Another thing related to this bill that does not make sense is the fact that it affects the right of judges to simply do their work, exercising their right to judge. This is an ideological blunder. It is something that leads us to a sort of limitation on what the law should be and deprives judges of their opportunity to think. What will happen if we tell a judge that the theft of an apple is punishable by a minimum sentence of one day in prison? A judge's job is to determine whether the apple was stolen simply as mischief or whether it was stolen to feed a starving child. Any judge who does his or her work properly would not impose the same sentence in these two cases.
The government's ideological leaning is a very bad thing and it is depriving judges of their right to simply do their job. That is why the Canadian Bar Association and the Barreau du Québec are concerned about this bill and even blatantly opposed to it.
There is an important point here. This bill does not make any sense. How can judges work with a law that would lead them to impose sentences on small-time drug dealers that are twice as long as the sentences imposed on those who sexually abuse minors? That is what the bill before us is proposing.
Another thing that does not make sense is how Canadians' right to debate is being affected. By combining all these bills, the government is manipulating the public debate. The members opposite can be sure that Canadians will not be fooled. The right to a pardon is being questioned. If someone says that it is important to retain the right to a pardon, it does not mean that they support pedophilia. The two things are unrelated. The government is manipulating the debate and should apologize for insulting Canadians' intelligence.
Therefore, we have a very simple choice to make. The government is moving towards a very repressive system. I will go back to the example I began giving yesterday of the movie, A Clockwork Orange. In this very popular movie, young people who are discovering their leadership qualities live in such a repressive society that, to be noticed, they have no other choice but to become delinquents. The more repressive the society becomes, the more that is the choice facing these future potential young leaders: to be noticed, they must be delinquents in a repressive system.
At the other end of the spectrum, another very popular movie, Mr. Holland's Opus, is about a high school music teacher who fights cuts to his budget for clarinets, saxophones and drums, and helps young future leaders to develop.
This government is ramming a choice about our society down our throats. It does not want to use any part of the $5 billion of public money to ensure that a talented young 13-year-old girl somewhere in Canada has the clarinet that will help her to develop as a citizen, or that young people who are members of a theatre group have the money to go on a provincial tour. It has decided to invest such a huge amount in repression that there will not be enough money for education, extracurricular activities or rehabilitation that would simply lead to a lower crime rate this year, next year and for decades to come. This is a social choice that is being rammed down our throats. Canadians are not fooled and it is really a very bad choice.
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to participate in the second reading debate on Bill , the safe streets and communities act.
The bill would fulfill the government's commitment in the June 2011 Speech from the Throne to bundle and quickly reintroduce crime bills that died on the order paper when Parliament was dissolved for the general election.
Integral to this commitment, as articulated in the Speech from the Throne, are two key statements that I want to quote because I think they give voice to what all Canadians firmly believe.
The Government of Canada has no more fundamental duty than to protect the personal safety of our citizens and defend against threats to our national security.
Our government has always believed the interests of law-abiding citizens should be placed ahead of those of criminals. Canadians who are victimized or threatened by crime deserve their government's support and protection--
In my view, this precisely characterizes Bill . It packages nine former bills that, collectively, recognize and seek to protect our vulnerabilities; for example, children's vulnerability to being preyed upon by adult sexual predators, foreign workers' vulnerability to being exploited by unscrupulous Canadian employers, and our collective vulnerability to suffering the harms that go hand in hand with serious drug crimes, such as drug trafficking, production and acts of terrorism.
Knowing this, and knowing as well that many of these reforms have been previously debated, studied and passed by at least one chamber, there is no reason not to support Bill in this Parliament.
Bill is divided into five parts.
Part 1 proposes to deter terrorism by supporting victims. It would create a new cause of action for victims of terrorism to enable them to sue not only the perpetrators of terrorism but all those who support terrorism, including listed foreign states, for loss or damage that occurred as a result of an act of terrorism or omission committed anywhere in the world on or after January 1, 1985.
The State Immunity Act would be amended to remove immunity from those states that the government has listed as supporters of terrorism. These amendments were previously proposed and passed by the Senate in the form of Bill , justice for victims of terrorism act, in the previous session of Parliament. They are reintroduced in Bill C-10, with technical changes to correct grammatical and cross-reference errors.
Part 2 proposes to strengthen our existing responses to child exploitation and serious drug crimes, as well as serious violent and property crimes. It would better protect children against sexual abuse in several ways, including by uniformly and strongly condemning all forms of child sex abuse through the imposition of newer and higher mandatory minimum penalties, as well as creating new core powers to impose conditions to prevent suspected or convicted child sex offenders from engaging in conduct that could facilitate or further their sexual offences against children.
These reforms are the same as they were in former Bill , protecting children from sexual predators act, with the addition of proposed increases to the maximum penalty for four offences and corresponding increases in their mandatory minimum penalities to better reflect the particularly heinous nature of these offences.
Part 2 also proposes to specify that conditional sentences of imprisonment, often referred to as house arrest, are never available for offences punishable by a maximum of 14 years or life, for offences prosecuted by indictment and punishable by a maximum penalty of 10 years that result in bodily harm, trafficking and production of drugs or that involve the use of a weapon, or for listed serious property and violent offences punishable by a maximum penalty of 10 years that are prosecuted by indictment.
These reforms were previously proposed in former Bill , ending house arrest for property and other serious crimes by serious violent offenders act which had received second reading in this House and was referred to the justice committee when it died on the order paper.
It is in the same form as before with, again, a few technical changes that are consistent with the objectives of the bill as was originally introduced.
Part 2 also proposes to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act to impose mandatory minimum sentences for serious offences involving production and/or possession for the purposes of trafficking and/or importing and exporting and/or possession for the purpose of exporting Schedule I drugs, such as heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine, and Schedule II drugs, such as marijuana.
These mandatory minimum penalties would be imposed where there is an aggravating factor, including where the production of the drug constituted a potential security, health or safety hazard, or the offence was committed in or near a school.
This is the fourth time that these amendments have been introduced. They are in the same form as they were the last time when they were passed by the Senate as former Bill , in the previous Parliament.
Part 3 proposes numerous post-sentencing reforms to better support victims and to increase offender accountability and management. Specifically, it reintroduces reforms previously contained in three bills from the previous Parliament: Bill ; Bill ; and Bill .
Bill reintroduces these reforms with some technical changes.
Part 4 reintroduces much needed reforms to the Youth Criminal Justice Act to better deal with violent and repeat young offenders. Part 4 includes reforms that would ensure the protection of the public is always considered a principle in dealing with young offenders and that will make it easier to detain youth charged with serious offences pending trial.
These reforms were also previously proposed in former Bill .
Part 5 proposes amendments to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act to better protect foreign workers against abuse and exploitation. Their reintroduction in Bill reflects the fifth time that these reforms have been before Parliament, with the last version being former Bill .
In short, Bill proposes many needed and welcome reforms to safeguard Canadians. Many have already been supported in the previous Parliament and Canadians are again expecting us to support them in this Parliament.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to today's debate on Bill , which deals with crime.
I will first look at the context in which this bill is being introduced.
I will look at the crime rates. What is happening with the crime rates? They are dropping, and they have been dropping for a long time, as a matter of fact.
What is happening with the violent crime rates? They are also dropping and they have been dropping for a long time.
What about the intensity of crime? That has also been dropping.
: Unemployment rates are going up.
Hon. Geoff Regan: Meanwhile unemployment rates, as my colleague, the member for , points out, have been going up.
On July 21 of this year, Statistics Canada released this information stating:
The national crime rate has been falling steadily for the past 20 years and is now at its lowest level since 1973.
In that circumstance, what might the government invest in? What would it decide to put its resources into? It could put its resources into health, but it is not doing that. It could put the money into education, but we are not seeing that. It could put an emphasis on putting funds into innovation to make our economy strong, but we do not see it. It could put funding into crime prevention.
However, what the government does instead is it puts a number in the window on a budget and says that it will spend this much on crime prevention and ends up spending far less in reality. That is where the government's priorities are.
We know the government is not interested in the crime rates in the same way that it is not interested in data or scientific information when it comes to the census, which we all saw what happened there, when it comes to climate change and in so many other areas. In fact. the government's attitude is that it wants Canadians to be very afraid and to believe they need this kind of an agenda.
Of course we should be striving to lower crime rates because that is a good thing, and it is good that it has been happening, but is building more prisons the answer? The government is already spending a lot more money on programs that do not work and a lot more money on prisons.
In fact, let us compare what has happened in the last few years. In 2005-06, the last year of the Liberal government, $1.6 billion were spent on the correctional service. By 2011-12, this year, that number has gone up from $1.6 billion to $2.98 billion, an increase of 86%. The forecast that we have already seen, and there is more coming because of this bill, is that by 2013-14, it will be $3.15 billion, an increase of over 100%. That is just based on the changes that have been made so far, not including what is in this bill.
This bill is an amalgamation of nine previous bills, many of which this party previously offered to fast-track and move forward. However, the government did not want to do that. It wanted to play games. In fact, some of the bills were brought in and then it prorogued Parliament and tried to blame the other parties for not moving the bills forward. What a ridiculous strategy.
Meanwhile, we have the work of the Parliamentary Budget Officer, a person who was hand-picked by the , chosen by the government, selected to do the job, an important job, of assisting members of Parliament in assessing bills being brought forward, assessing what the government is telling us about finances, and telling us whether it is accurate or not.
The fact is that the Parliamentary Budget Officer told us that just one of the government bills would add $5 billion to the taxpayers' burden. That is the one bill that he could information from the government about. It would not give him information about the other bills.
We need to remember that we are talking about this bill amalgamating nine bills entirely, not just one. We are hearing that will cost, according to the Parliamentary Budget Officer, somewhere between $10 billion and $15 billion, although it is difficult to say since the government will not share information.
This is, after all, the biggest spending government in Canadian history. This is the government that has increased spending since it came into office by 35%. It increased spending by 18% in its first three years. That was before the recession began.
Members on this side will recall that the recession did not start until the fall of 2008. However, in April and May 2008, the government was already in deficit because of its high spending.
That is an important point. The money was spent for gazeboes, steamboats and $90,000 a day consultants to do the jobs of highly paid, highly skilled civil servants.
Madam Speaker, that is very timely. I have finished the part of my speech regarding the context of this legislation, the finances of the country, and where the Conservative government chooses to spend money.
Yesterday, an article in the Globe and Mail stated:
Correctional Services Canada’s overall budget for the current fiscal year of 2011-12 is projected to be $514.2-million, or 20.8 per cent, higher than the year before.
It is clearly higher than the minister's estimates.
What do we have after six years of this kind of agenda from the government? We have overcrowded prisons. What is the result? The result is more crime in prisons. Corrections Canada officials who appeared before the government operations committee on which I was sitting last spring told us about the problems caused by double-bunking in their facilities and how it is creating a more dangerous work environment for them. We see this in places like the Dartmouth jail in my province of Nova Scotia. As we have seen in other places, the result of this is more reoffending.
The bills the government has already passed are imposing costs on the provinces as well. That is an important point. They have to build more correctional centres. They are seeing fewer plea bargains because of mandatory minimum sentences. Defence lawyers are not willing to bargain because there is nothing to bargain for. They cannot bargain down a minimum sentence. We are seeing more trials as a result, more backlogs and longer pretrial remands. Most of these costs are falling on the provinces.
For example, there is a section in Bill that would amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act. In that part of the bill, 16 minimum mandatory sentences have been created, and the maximum of two years less a day or less is left alone. In other words, that person stays in provincial custody. The cost of these additional sentences and the additional number of people who will be imprisoned is on the province.
Those are the facts. That is important data. However, the government is not interested in that kind of information.
Under this legislation, if a young person at university has a prescription for Tylenol 3 and he or she passes one of those pills to a sick friend, that young person could go to jail for two years.
Where is the evidence to show that shovelling billions of dollars into the prison system would make us safer? Safer streets are mentioned in the bill's title. Therefore, that should be the number one question. Would this legislation make our streets safer? All the evidence indicates no.
The philosopher George Santayana once said that those who cannot remember the past are condemned to fulfill it.
Let us look at what has happened elsewhere in the past.
The U.S. is the best example of a place with high incarceration rates. These methods have been tried and have proven to be disastrous there. Its prisons are collapsing under their own weight. The U.S. incarceration rate is now 700% higher per capita than Canada's. Its violent crime rates are far higher than Canada's. For every 100,000 Canadians, Canada has had two murders, whereas the U.S. has had five. For every 100,000 Canadians, Canada has had 89 robberies and the U.S. has had 145.
As my time is running out, I will wind up by urging members to vote against this legislation.
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to participate in the second reading debate on Bill
Bill is a comprehensive bill that brings together reforms proposed from nine bills that were before the previous Parliament. The short title of the bill, the , reflects the overall intent of this comprehensive legislation. It seeks to safeguard Canadians and Canadian communities from coast to coast to coast. This is such a fundamental principle and objective. To my mind, this objective should be unanimously supported by all parliamentarians in all instances and in all cases. While I appreciate there are many issues on which we as lawmakers may reasonably disagree the safety and security of Canadians, including that of vulnerable children, should never be one such issue.
Let us consider this comprehensive bill is. It proposes amendments that generally seek to do the following:
First, Bill , through part 2, proposes to better protect children and youth from sexual predators. These reforms were previously proposed in former Bill in the last Parliament, the .
Specifically, these amendments would propose new and higher mandatory minimum penalties to ensure that all sexual offences involving child victims are consistently and strongly condemned. They would create two new offences to target preparatory conduct to the commission of a sexual offence against a child. They would also enable courts to impose conditions on suspected or convicted child sex offenders to prevent them from engaging in conduct that could lead to their committing another sexual offence against a child.
Second, through part 2, Bill proposes to increase penalties by imposing mandatory minimum penalties when specified aggravated factors are present for serious drug offences. Those offences would be the production, trafficking, possession for the purpose of trafficking, importing and exporting, possession for the purpose of exporting of schedule 1 drugs such as heroine, cocaine, methamphetamine, and schedule 2 drugs such as marijuana.
These offences often involve organized crime, including gang warfare over turf, which in turn brings its own disastrous impact on Canadian communities. They also enable and feed drug abuse, the negative impact of which is not only felt by the addicted individual but also by the family of that addict, as well as by the Canadian health system and the economy.
These reforms were previously proposed and passed by the Senate in former Bill .
Third, part 2 of the bill includes what was previously proposed in former Bill to end house arrest for serious crimes.
Under these reforms offences carrying a maximum penalty of 14 years, as well as serious offences that are punishable by 10 years or more and prosecuted by indictment, that result in bodily harm, or the import or export, trafficking and production of drugs, or that involve the use of a weapon, or that is specifically identified, would never be eligible to receive a conditional sentence of imprisonment.
Fourth, Bill through part 4, proposes to protect the public from violent and repeat young offenders. These amendments include: recognizing the protection of society as a principle in the Youth Criminal Justice Act; making it easier to detain youths charged with serious offences pending trial; requiring the courts to consider adult sentences for the most serious and violent cases; and, requiring the police to keep records of extrajudicial measures.
These reforms were previously proposed in former Bill and respond to the Supreme Court of Canada 2008 judgment in Regina v. D.B., and the 2006 Nova Scotia report of the Nunn commission of inquiry “Spiralling Out of Control, Lessons Learned From a Boy in Trouble”.
Fifth, Bill C-10, through part 3, includes proposals to replace the word "pardons" with "record suspensions". It would expand the period of ineligibility to apply for a record suspension and proposes to make record suspensions unavailable for certain offences, including child sexual offences, and for persons who have been convicted of more than three offences prosecuted by indictment and for each of which the individual received a sentence of two years or more.
These reforms were previously proposed in former Bill .
Sixth, Bill also through part 3, proposes to codify some additional key factors in deciding whether a Canadian who has been convicted abroad would be granted a transfer back to Canada. These reforms were previously proposed in former Bill .
Seventh, Bill , through part 3, proposes to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act to recognize the rights of victims, increase offender accountability and responsibility, and modernize the disciplinary system for inmates. These proposals were previously proposed in former Bill .
Eighth, Bill , through part 1, seeks to deter terrorism by supporting victims of terrorism. Specifically, these reforms would enable victims of terrorism to sue perpetrators and supporters of terrorism, including listed foreign states, for loss or damage that is incurred as a result of an act of terrorism committed anywhere in the world on or after January 1, 1985. These amendments were previously proposed and passed by the Senate in former Bill .
Last, Bill , through part 5, proposes amendments to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act to protect vulnerable foreign nationals against abuse and exploitation. These amendments were previously proposed in former Bill .
I have briefly summarized the nine core elements of Bill . All of these proposed amendments seek to better protect Canadians. That is something on which we should all be able to agree. Certainly, we know it is something on which Canadians agree. I call on all members to support the bill at second reading so it can be quickly referred to and studied by the justice committee.
Madam Speaker, I am grateful to have the opportunity to speak to Bill , the government's so-called .
Indeed, of the many ways in which the Conservative government is moving Canada backward, few initiatives do more to achieve this than Bill .
In my riding of Davenport over the last two years, this is one of the issues that has come up most often. There is concern over the government's obsession with spending billions of dollars, and by the way, compelling the provinces to do the same, on a crime bill that will largely not make our streets any safer and will not contribute to building stronger communities.
I live in a riding where in the last two years we have seen schools close, recreation centres close, daycare centres close. Programs to help settle new immigrants have been gutted. Bus routes, used primarily by folks doing shift work, have been cut. Senior services are in dire need of new investments. I live in a city where 70,000 people are on a waiting list for affordable housing.
While the essential services that are needed to create strong, vibrant, safe streets and communities are being choked, the government can find billions upon billions of dollars for an experiment on crime prevention which has failed in every jurisdiction where it has been attempted. It utterly failed, as we know, in the United States.
Members should not get me wrong. It is not that people in my riding are not concerned about crime. They are concerned about crime. Indeed they are, but I am reminded of a conversation I had with some residents who were concerned about drug dealers taking over the local park. I am concerned about that too. It was not that they were just concerned about the dealers. To a person, these residents complained not so much that there are not enough prisons to lock the dealers up, but that there are not enough programs for young people to get involved in. With nothing to do and few local job prospects, young people are vulnerable to falling into gang culture and criminal elements. Bill does not address this fundamental foundational issue around crime prevention.
While I listed all the closures in my riding, and I could list more, there are things that are being built and opened in my riding. In the riding of Davenport there are two brand new police stations being built as we speak. Many are hopeful, as am I, that these new police stations in our neighbourhoods will help with some of the crime issues that people are dealing with, but the problem underlined in my riding is writ large in Bill : there is no balance.
In communities across the country investment in social infrastructure is desperately needed, yet we are told that we are heading into a period of austerity and that there is no money. Well, there is money for some things, but when ideology trumps common sense, we get nasty pieces of legislation like Bill .
Instead of a national affordable housing strategy that would provide a framework to provide stable affordable housing, a key determinant to health and a primary building block for safe communities, the government will spend over $500 million this year alone on new prison construction. That is the housing strategy for Canada.
While the government squeezes middle and working class families and small businesses, it is happy to spend over $162,000 on average annually for each new prison cell in this country, according to the Parliamentary Budget Officer.
Instead of investing in getting at the roots of poverty, mental illness and addiction, instead of focusing on a comprehensive pan-Canadian job strategy--and rolling over for the oil and gas industry is not a cross-Canada jobs program--the government wants to spend close to $3 billion a year locking up more people, providing fewer programs to rehabilitate them, all the while draining our public coffers, our precious resources, that could truly create safer streets. Indeed, prison costs are up 86% since the Conservatives took power while the crime rate continues to fall to its lowest level since the 1970s.
The government has racked up the biggest fiscal deficit in the history of Canada. Instead of being smart with taxpayer money, it plays politics and lets its dated right-wing ideology continue to craft bad public policy.
For example, a single new low security cell is going to cost $260,000 to build. A medium security cell is going to cost $400,000. A maximum security cell is going to cost $600,000. For goodness sake, even the annual cost of an inmate in a community correctional centre is now over $85,000 a year. Does this make fiscal sense?
As the income gap gets wider and wider in our country, the government hectors Canadians about belt-tightening, while its spends and spends on a prison expansion scheme about which both the Canadian Bar Association and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, among many others, have serious concerns.
The government does not actually want to hear what Canadians think about this omnibus bill. If it did, it would not have limited debate on the bill. Bill packages up nine government bills from the previous Parliament and presents them to the House and to Canadians as one whopping bill. Then it says that it wants us to accept it all without any conversation or debate.
With the motion that passed yesterday morning, Canadians in the House will only be able to debate for a period of less than two hours for each of the nine bills. For a government that was elected to bring more transparency and more accountability to this place, it is in fact bringing less. The action of limiting debate on this huge and outrageously expensive bill is one more example of its lack of transparency.
It is too bad. Canadians deserve to have Bill aired to its fullest. Experts say that mandatory minimum sentences do not work for reducing drug use, tackling organized crime or making our communities safer. The measures contained in the bill, for example, will not make it easier for law enforcement agencies to get to the organized crime bosses who run the drug trade, who we need to bring in and incarcerate.
One of the most effective ways to promote public safety is the successful rehabilitation and reintegration back into society of offenders. Our federal prison system lacks the programs to deal with this effectively. This legislation does not deal with this issue in any kind of real way.
We do not oppose everything in the bill. As we saw yesterday in the House, my hon. colleague from tabled a motion that would have expedited the passing of elements of the bill that were in the last Parliament, known as Bill . This section seeks to protect children from exploitation and sexual abuse. In fact, the government has adopted measures in this section of Bill put forward by the NDP in private member's bills.
It is too bad that the government would rather play politics than move quickly on parts of the bill that could get unanimous support in this House, like those measures to protect our children. In fact, immediately after voting down the motion that would have sent that part of the bill to the Senate within 48 hours, government members proceeded with statements on the importance of the very measure they had just voted against putting on the fast track.
As I said, there are things in the bill which we do agree with and which we could find common ground with the government on, but it is not really interested in doing that. The government's decision to limit debate heaps a measure of ideological cynicism on to what should be a very thorough, serious examination.
The bill is too costly and it will not make our streets and communities safer. We on the NDP side of the House have come prepared to work with the government to quickly pass the measures that will protect children and to fix measures that will not work. It is too bad the government wants to play politics and games with the safety of some of the most vulnerable in our society.
Madam Speaker, I come from northern Alberta, a very beautiful part of Canada with lush wilderness and five rivers flowing into my community. It is a beautiful place. I have lived there 45 years. During that time I have seen a move from 1,500 people to approximately 100,000 today. That is quite a growth for any community, but during that period of time I also had the opportunity to practise law. I practised several different types of law, including criminal law.
My family has lived in that community in the centre of town for 45 years and during that time period we have seen a tremendous growth in one particular trade. That trade is obvious and seen daily on the streets of downtown Fort McMurray as the drug trade.
I get many calls from constituents in relation to this activity, which carries on during the day. That is why I am so pleased today to rise to speak in support of Bill , which would help those beautiful communities across Canada that have turned into places where drugs are sold openly in public at all times of the day.
This must stop. This is Canada. This is not some third world country. This is Canada where we believe in the rule of law, where we believe in obeying the laws. I am glad to say that Bill is not just in relation to punishing drug dealers, but also to protect our youth, to protect our country and enact the justice for victims of terrorism act and to amend the State Immunity Act, the Criminal Code, the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, the Corrections and Conditional Release Act, the Youth Criminal Justice Act, the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and other acts. We are getting a lot of work done here notwithstanding the NDP's position on the bill.
I have received tremendous support, not just from Fort McMurray but from small communities like Slave Lake and High Prairie, which are nestled in a different area of Alberta about five hours by vehicle further south. However, these communities have seen a tremendous increase in plain and obvious drug trafficking as well. They have spoken loudly and clearly that they want this off their streets.
The bill, the safe streets and communities act, responds to and reflects our commitment to reintroduce our law and order agenda legislation to combat crime and terrorism. We hear members on the other side say that we should study it some more. We have studied it and many of the positions that are found in these bills have been Conservative Party policy for many years. They have been thoroughly debated in the House before. Maybe some of the members are new, we understand that, but they have been debated. The people of Canada spoke in the last election. They gave us a clear mandate to move forward with this agenda because they knew that the Liberal Party, which is now pretty much gone except for a few members, had blocked our agenda.
I can hear those members over there talking about standing up—
Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
Thank you, Madam Speaker, just like the Conservatives stand up for victims, you are standing up for me and I appreciate that.
As noted by the in his speech to the House last week, this bill reflects the strong mandate that Canadians have given us to protect society and ultimately hold criminals responsible for their actions. That does not mean a slap on the wrist. It means time away for the crimes they have committed, proportional, of course, to the crimes they have committed.
Bringing these nine bills together, that died on the order paper in the last Parliament, sends a clear signal to Canadians that we have listened to them, that we are following the mandate they have given us, and we are following through with our commitment. Canadians know that they can count on this government to do exactly that.
We have, through a series of bills and legislative moves, sought to improve public safety and strengthen our justice system since we formed government in 2006. While we have enacted significant criminal law reforms, there is much more to be done. Moving forward on this particular piece of legislation will certainly be a step in the right direction.
However, our work is not done and we look forward to constructive criticism from the opposition. We are sure it will be constructive and we know there will be criticism, but we look for suggestions from them because nothing is perfect. We know that we have to go further to better reflect what Canadians want. That is clearly safety on their streets, to take drug dealers off the streets, and ensure their children can play on the streets.
The suggestion by the opposition that we should somehow cherry pick parts of the bill and fast-track them is not listening to what Canadians said in the last election. They clearly support our law and order agenda, and the NDP and Liberals should get on board and do exactly that, not just with this bill, as I know the Liberals have said they will support some parts of it, but other bills because clearly Canadians should be the final boss of this place and of us.
As I said, this debate is welcome because we have an opportunity to put in the forefront what we are trying to do for Canadians and that we are listening to them. It is also important to recognize that we have continued this debate time and time again with many of the same people across the way now complaining that we are not having proper discussion.
Clearly, we know that moving forward with this bill would ensure public safety. It would ensure offenders are held more accountable. There are minimum sentences to ensure that happens and so that judges have clear knowledge. I remember when I practised law that I would stand before judges who would say they did not have a clear indication from Parliament here or there, that they did not know which sentence to give, that an offender in a certain case went away for two years and in another case an offender got two months for the same offence, maybe drug trafficking in Vancouver versus Edmonton. That happens. I can assure everyone that happens.
This sends a clear message to judges that the minimal sentences we are passing, with the help of the Liberals, hopefully, and convincing some NDP members about what Canadians want, will actually happen. We are sending clear direction to judges across this country. We want to see this stopped. Judges have asked for direction and I hope they are listening today. They should recognize that Canadians speak to us by electing us and we speak to them through putting laws in place that judges will interpret. Judges will impose the sentences we ask them to because Canadians have clearly told us they want that.
I have heard a good overview of Bill by many members in the House. I know many have complained it is a bit too large and complicated. I have had an opportunity to sit in on special legislative committees, passing 15 bills in this place through committees, and I do not see any complication. It is plain language and is very clear. It has been before the House in some cases for years and years.
I would suggest it is not too large nor complex. However, if members on the other side have difficulties with particular clauses, I would be happy to go through them with them. I am sure many members in this place, at least on the Conservative side, would be happy to sit down and explain some of the more complex details. Clearly, we have to listen to Canadians and pass these laws, and I am looking for support from the opposition side to do exactly that.
Madam Speaker, when the told us that he would not govern on the basis of the most recent statistics, he was basically saying that he would not use facts or evidence to guide his decisions. That is very worrisome.
Are we going to be subject to governance without logic or reason for the next four years? Should we also expect the Conservative government to rule by fiat without recognizing that 61% of Canadians did not vote for them? The day after the May 2 election, when the Conservatives had only 39% of the votes, the admitted that the results of the election showed that Canadians wanted the parties to work together. Was this a false promise? I think that the whole government and, more specifically, all members of Parliament who are paid by taxpayers and represent the people in their ridings, have the duty to govern in a reasonable and thoughtful manner.
When the government stubbornly insists on passing a bill when it does not know the actual costs of that bill but does know that certain extremely costly measures will not address the actual problems and, worse, could very well create more problems, it is not logical, responsible or thoughtful. I would even go so far as to say that the government is acting in bad faith.
I find it hard to believe that all the Conservative members agree that the government should put the provinces further in debt when they do not have the slightest bit of evidence that the proposed measures will actually make our streets and communities safer. In fact, by taking just 15 minutes to read the news or the press releases issued by experts such as the Canadian Bar Association, we quickly learn that minimum sentences do not reduce crime rates; this could save us $90,000 a day. Minimum sentencing does not work and costs a fortune.
The government needs to tell taxpayers the truth by revealing the costs and by explaining the basis for its proposals, particularly those related to minimum sentencing. The government needs to ask taxpayers directly whether they would like it to pass a bill of unknown costs that threatens health and education or whether they would rather the government take the time to ensure that their money is invested responsibly and adopt measures that would truly make their streets and communities safer. Clearly, Canadians would chose the second option.
We all agree, even the members of the opposition, that criminals must be punished. I do not want to dwell too long on what has already been said, but there are measures that we are prepared to support right now, namely, all those related to violent crimes and sexual offences against children.
However, the government seems to forget that 95% of prisoners will eventually be released and that the correctional system is a dangerous environment, rife with drug trafficking and violence, which can lead to other kinds of crimes. Thus, it is possible that increasing the number of prisoners and taxing the prison system even further, without investing more judiciously in preventive measures that tackle the source of the problem, could have very negative, or even dangerous, consequences.
If the purpose of Bill really is to make our streets and communities safer, why does it not include more investment in rehabilitation and prevention programs? I know the government does not like statistics, but 80% of incarcerated women are in prison for crimes related to poverty, including 39% for unpaid fines. These figures released this morning by the National Council of Welfare point to a real problem. The council also noted that the cost to incarcerate a woman who fails to pay a $150 fine is $1,400.
I am sure the will be pleased to hear—and free of charge too—that for every dollar invested in prevention and rehabilitation, the government would save far more in incarceration costs, addiction costs and the cost of crimes committed in prisons themselves. Front-line workers such as social workers, street outreach workers, school psychologists and counsellors are looking for an opportunity to become more involved on the ground to prevent crime by targeting at-risk groups—young people in distress, people with mental illness or substance abuse problems, and marginalized people. Their work allows would-be offenders to get help and referrals to the services they need. All studies and examples from elsewhere demonstrate that prevention is more effective than incarceration and punishment.
Prevention not only stops the crimes from being committed, but also contributes to the well-being of Canadian society. Therefore, fewer crimes mean fewer victims and less incarceration. Is that not a nicer social and economic picture? It appears that we are not all on the same page.
As members of Parliament, we are all paid to make difficult decisions, but we are also paid to make logical decisions and to undertake the necessary research to ensure that taxpayers' money is not being wasted but is being spent effectively.
Why is the government so anxious to pass a bill that includes measures that have failed in other countries?
With a government that so often takes a page from the United States government when developing new policies, it should learn from one of the United States' concrete examples, which shows that minimum sentences do not decrease drug trafficking crimes. Not only that, minimum sentences are expensive and can exacerbate a large number of issues such as overcrowded prisons and negative effects of repression on society.
Logic tells me that if the Conservatives truly want to improve public safety—and I have no doubt that that is what they want, as do the rest of us—why not ensure that the proposed measures truly target the root of the problem?
To do that, we simply need more time to do the necessary research and base the measures on facts, on concrete examples from other countries and on responsible reasoning.
With this very uncertain economic climate, it is not the time to act like reckless cowboys and pass laws with unknown price tags, which could be detrimental to the economic health of the country and the provinces, as well as public safety.
To justify the bill and evade our questions, the , who says he does not rely on figures and statistics, often cites the price paid by victims, which runs to $99 billion. I hope that this is not an arbitrary amount.
But where is the evidence that this cost will decrease with implementation of this legislation? Taxpayers deserve answers. If there is clear and objective evidence that minimum sentences do not reduce drug-related crimes in the U.S., how will they lead to a reduction in the price paid by victims?
Why not vote for measures that are unanimously accepted in the House, continue a healthy and democratic debate on the contentious issues and find the right, intelligent and effective solutions to ensure the safety of Canadians?
And above all, why not show Canadians that the Conservatives are prepared to work with the opposition parties, which represent 61% of the population, and make considered decisions by splitting the bill and debating the laws one by one?
I can confirm—and this is more free advice—that the majority of Canadians will be pleased to see that the government is prepared to make good decisions and consult experts rather than hastily proposing repressive laws with unknown social, economic and legal consequences. This would bode well for the next four years.
Therefore, I do not support passage of this amalgamation of repressive and unjustified bills in Bill . I invite the Conservatives to review this bill and allow a debate that is healthier and more democratic for everyone.
Madam Speaker, I am pleased this afternoon to participate in the second reading debate on Bill , the .
We all know that the safe streets and communities act proposes a wide range of reforms to strengthen the law's response to several things: child sexual abuse and exploitation, serious drug and violent property crimes, terrorism, violent young offenders, offender accountability and management, and the protection of vulnerable foreign workers against abuse and exploitation.
As many hon. members have noted, the bill brings together in one comprehensive package reforms that were included in nine bills that were put before the previous Parliament and that died on the order paper with the dissolution of Parliament for the general election.
I will itemize these. These former bills are: Bill ; Bill ; Bill ; Bill ; Bill ; Bill ; Bill ; Bill ; Bill ; and finally Bill .
Many hon. members have participated in several hours of debate today and ongoing debate from the last Parliament to now. It is clear that some do not share the same views as the government about the need to address crime in our society, the need to increase public safety, the need to better balance the role of victims in the justice system and the need to make offenders more accountable.
My remarks here today need not repeat what some of my hon. colleagues have already noted about the key features of Bill and the importance of these reforms. I propose to briefly comment on the important reforms proposed in Bill as they relate to the Youth Criminal Justice Act.
The Youth Criminal Justice Act came into effect in April 2003. The reforms now proposed in Bill , have been shaped by consultation with a broad range of stakeholders. After five years of experience with the Youth Criminal Justice Act, a review was launched by the in 2008. This began with discussions with provincial and territorial attorneys general to identify the issues that they considered most important.
In May 2008, the began a series of cross-country round tables, often co-chaired by provincial and territorial ministers, in order to hear from youth justice professionals, front-line youth justice stakeholders and others about areas of concern and possible improvements regarding the provisions and principles of the Youth Criminal Justice Act.
Input from individuals and organizations was also provided through the Department of Justice website, in letters and in in-person meetings. The results showed clearly that most provinces, territories and stakeholders believe the current youth legislation works well in dealing with the majority of youth who commit crimes. However, there were concerns about the small number of youth who commit serious, violent offences or who are repeat offenders who may need a more focused approach to ensure the public is protected.
Clearly, the message was to build upon the good foundation of the law and make much needed improvements and the reforms proposed in Bill reflect this. Although the Youth Criminal Justice Act is working well for most youth, particular elements of the act need to be strengthened to ensure that youth who commit serious, violent or repeat offences are held accountable with sentences and other measures that are proportionate to the severity of the crime and the degree of the responsibility of the offender.
There have been concerns voiced from many sources and this government has responded. The reforms included in Bill , previously included in Bill , known as Sébastien's law, would enhance our fair and effective youth justice system and result in a system that holds youth accountable for their criminal misconduct and promotes their rehabilitation and re-integration into society in order to promote the protection of the public.
In addressing amendments to the Youth Criminal Justice Act, it is important to note that the act's preamble specifically references that Canada is a party to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. The Youth Criminal Justice Act also recognizes that young persons have rights and freedoms, including those stated in the charter and the Canadian Bill of Rights. Nothing in Bill will impair these rights of young persons.
The Youth Criminal Justice Act provides for a range of responses that relate to the seriousness of the crime. These sentences also address the needs and circumstances of the youth and promote rehabilitation.
Amendments to the Youth Criminal Justice Act will ensure that young people under 18 who are serving a custody sentence will serve it in a youth custody facility. It will no longer be possible to put young people in adult prisons or penitentiaries, where the correctional regime is more suited to adults and where young people could all too easily become vulnerable to older, more hardened criminals. It is in the interests of the protection of society that young people become rehabilitated, and this amendment is aimed to ensure that this takes place.
While a sound legislative base is an essential part of ensuring that Canada has a fair and effective youth justice system, it is also essential to address the conditions that underlie criminal behaviour if we are to achieve any long-term or meaningful solution to the problem. Conditions such as addiction, difficult childhoods, mental health, fetal alcohol syndrome, or longer-term marginalization will continue to pose challenges to solving the problems of youth offending.
Our government has implemented various programs to assist in addressing these issues. The national anti-drug strategy has a significant youth focus. On the prevention front, the government has launched a national public awareness program and campaign to discourage our youth from using illicit drugs. The government has made funding available under the youth justice fund for pilot treatment programs that will assist with the rehabilitation of youth who have drug problems and are in the justice system, and for programs that are working toward preventing youth from becoming involved with guns, gangs and drugs.
Partnering with health, education, employment and other service providers beyond the traditional system, we can all work together. For example, through the youth justice fund the Department of Justice provided funding to a pilot program called Career Path, which offers a comprehensive specialized service for youth in the justice system who are at risk or are involved in gang activities. The program offers youth educational training and employment opportunities by connecting them with an employer who will also act as a mentor to facilitate making smart choices, foster pro-social attitudes, build leadership skills and gain valuable employability skills as a viable option to gang membership.
The reforms to the Youth Criminal Justice Act are essential and responsive and should be supported as a key part of a broader effort on the part of the government to prevent and respond to youth involved in the justice system.
I would like to bring it a little closer to home, if I may.
This is the story of Ann Tavares, of London, who suffered a huge loss in November of 2004 when Stephan Lee stabbed her son 28 times. Steven Tavares was an innocent victim who was in the wrong place at the wrong time. His death irreparably scarred the lives of those who loved him forever. That loss is what happened.
To compound her tragedy, her son's killer was found not criminally responsible due to mental disorder and sent to an Alberta hospital the following year. He was conditionally released in May 2008 and is now living in Alberta. All of this happened without notification to the victim's family or the public at large.
Suffering such a loss might have destroyed an individual. However, this became an impetus for Ann's quest to make others aware of what happened to her son and the lack of justice for this heinous crime. She has lobbied tirelessly against the inequities of the system, a system the government is trying to fix.
Ann strongly felt that there needs to be a connection between mental illness and crime. Specifically, she felt that the insanity defence needs to be banned. She felt that to say a perpetrator is not criminally responsible is too subjective. Mental impairment is a defence that anyone can claim. If someone commits a crime, that person should be punished.
She believes mental illness should not absolve someone from the crime they committed. The punishment needs to be based on the severity of the crime, and a fixed minimum time needs to be served before they are put back into the community. However, Ann did want good to come of her tragic situation. In addition to the punishment, she felt that the perpetrator should get mental health treatment, and that to protect innocent victims like her son and the community at large, such criminals should not be released into the community until they have been certified as not a risk to others.
I would like to expand on that through the questions and answers, if I might, Madam Speaker.
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to join the debate on Bill , the safe streets and communities act. I have been very glad to see the vigorous debate that has taken place in this House over the past few days and, of course, over 79 hours of debate in the previous Parliament.
As we know, the safe streets and communities act is a piece of comprehensive legislation, a piece of comprehensive legislation that is made up of nine separate bills. I have heard my hon. colleagues from the opposition question the rationale of bundling this important piece of legislation together, so I would like to speak to that point.
Since taking office, our government has made no secret of the fact that we will stand up for the safety and security of Canadian families. We have been clear that we will ensure that victims are heard and that victims are respected. We have been clear that dangerous criminals belong behind bars and not in the streets, where they can harm law-abiding Canadians.
The safe streets and communities act, and every piece of legislation within it, is about fulfilling those commitments to Canadians.
This is not the first piece of comprehensive legislation that our government has introduced. We were proud to have delivered the Tackling Violent Crime Act back in 2008, an act that has now been law for some period of time.
Members will recall that the Tackling Violent Crime Act strengthened the Criminal Code in a number of ways. It delivered tougher mandatory jail time for serious gun crimes; it established new bail provisions, which require those accused of serious gun crimes to show why they should not be kept in jail while they are waiting for trial; it protected youth from adult sexual predators by increasing the age of protection from 14 to 16 years of age; and it ensured more effective sentencing and monitoring to prevent dangerous, high-risk offenders from offending again and again and again. It also made new ways to detect and investigate drug-impaired driving, as well as stronger penalties for impaired driving.
Much like the safe streets and communities act, all of the provisions had been pieces of previous legislation that had been blocked in political games by the oppositions prior to 2008. However, our party and our government believed so strongly in this action that we did what was in the best interests of Canadians: we bundled them into a comprehensive package known as the Tackling Violent Crime Act. On top of that, we made that act an issue of confidence in this House.
Now we find ourselves, after the May 2 general election, in a similar position with Bill , the safe streets and communities act.
As we know, this past spring Canadians gave us a strong mandate to move forward with our law and order agenda. As part of the Conservative election platform, we made a commitment to move quickly to reintroduce legislation that had been blocked or opposed by the opposition.
It has always been a point of pride that this government delivers on the promises we make to Canadians. That is why we have done as we have promised and why we are here today debating the safe streets and communities act.
Now I would like to talk a bit about the principle of protection of society.
What exactly does that mean? In short, it means that when courts and government officials are making decisions, the first thing they would now consider is how those decisions would affect the greater society.
It may come as a surprise to many Canadians that when it comes to the transfer of offenders, the protection of society is not currently the principle of consideration. We are currently in a situation in which the is compelled to look at a number of factors when considering whether a prisoner should be transferred back to Canada. In fact, currently, the minister is restricted in the considerations that can be taken into account when he is looking to transfer offenders.
Bill would change that. This bill provides additional factors that the may consider when determining whether to grant an offender's request to serve his or her sentence back in Canada. In doing so, it clarifies one of the key purposes of the International Transfer of Offenders Act, which that is to protect the safety of all Canadians. This would ensure that Canadians and their families are safe and secure in their communities and that offenders are held accountable for their actions. Canadian families expect no less.
Let me give members a few additional examples of what the minister could consider when considering whether an offender should be transferred back to Canada.
As examples, he could consider whether the offender is likely to endanger public safety, he could consider whether the offender is going to keep engaging in criminal activities, and he could consider whether the criminal would endanger the safety of Canadian children.
This legislation would also allow the minister to consider, among other things, whether the offender was co-operating with rehabilitation and local law enforcement, and whether the offender accepted responsibility for his or her actions. This means that when a minister makes a decision as to whether an offender is transferred back to Canada, he or she has the ability to look at a broad range of factors that go beyond what is simply in the best interests of the offender to ensure that protection of Canadian society comes first.
These proposed changes to the International Transfer of Offenders Act are among important changes contained within the . Others include better protection for our children and youth from sexual predators, increasing penalties for organized drug crime, and preventing serious criminals from serving their sentences in the comfort of their own living rooms by ending house arrest for serious crimes. It also would protect the public from violent young offenders and would eliminate pardons for serious crimes. It would increase offender accountability. It would support the victims of crime and would protect vulnerable foreign nationals from abuse and exploitation.
These are all measures in which our government strongly believes. We promised Canadians we would bring them forward swiftly after the election. That is why we have introduced the . It is also why we are hopeful that members of the opposition will do the right thing and support this important legislation.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to focus on a couple of aspects of Bill .
Why has the government decided to bring in this bill at this time? It has a lot to do with propaganda. It has a lot to do with the government wanting to give the appearance to Canadians that it wants to be tough on crime. If the Conservatives really want to do Canadians a favour, they should get tough on the causes of crime or they should get tough on fighting crime. Bill would not result in less crime being committed on our streets or in our communities.
The government is trying to send a dated message to Canadians. It is a message that was tried many years ago in the United States. It was that right-wing conservative thinking which ultimately said that to beat crime, people had to be thrown in jail and kept there for a long period of time.
The jurisdictions that bought that argument built the jails and the jails exceeded capacity. Did it cause the crime rate to go down? No. If we compared some of the states in the deep south of the U.S. where megaprisons were built with states in the north, such as New York, we would find that the crime rate did not go down in the deep south. The jails did not help.
The Conservative government is convinced that the way to appease Canadians and to make Canadians think that their streets will be safer, is to bring in legislation that would foster more and bigger jails. The government would do far better in trying to make our streets safer so Canadians can sleep better at night by taking action to prevent crimes from taking place in the first place.
For a number of years I was the justice critic in the province of Manitoba. I have a good sense in terms of what works and what does not work. I have also served on youth justice committees as chair and as a layperson. I know there are many other things we could be doing that would have a far greater impact on preventing crime.
When I knock on doors in my constituency of Winnipeg North, I tell people that there should be consequences for crime. There is no doubt about that. If we are going to start getting tough, then let us start getting tough on fighting crime, on preventing some crimes from occurring in the first place.
How do we do that? In good part we do it by thinking outside the box. We do not even have to think outside the box; we could support some of the things that are out there right now.
How do we get young people, for example, to shy away from getting involved in gang activities? This is a serious problem in most of Canada's urban centres. It is a concern in the city of Winnipeg. Winnipeg is a beautiful city; I love it to death. There are all sorts of wonderful opportunities in Winnipeg. A vast majority of young people in Winnipeg are outstanding, but there is a certain percentage of youth who are being lured into activities that are not what I would classify as being of benefit to the community as a whole. There are some things we could do as legislators to improve the likelihood that those youth will not fall into the trap of prostitution, selling drugs, or getting involved in gangs.
I am interested in making sure that government policy allows us to deal with the issue at hand. The issue at hand is how to prevent crimes from taking place in the first place.
I have no love for pedophiles who commit these heinous crimes. I believe in consequences for those severe crimes. However, I do not necessarily buy-in to what the Americans were trying back 15 or 20 years ago. We will find that many of those strong Conservatives who advocated for the big jail concept no longer do. They have tried that experiment and it did not work. Now they are talking about how to get people back into communities and trying to develop other programs in order to prevent crimes in the first place.
One could talk about some of the bizarreness of the legislation. We have members who were officers of the law on the Conservative side who talked about the teeth in the legislation. Also, earlier today I made reference to a Winnipeg Free Press story on September 26. It is from Ethan Baron, a Vancouver columnist. He is not a member of Parliament and would be unbiased. I believe he is someone who would not likely have a party membership. The article states:
A pedophile who gets a child to watch pornography with him, or a pervert exposing himself to kids at a playground, would receive a minimum 90-day sentence, half the term of a man convicted of growing six pot plants in his own home.
For the member who canvasses his constituents and poses questions to them, I wonder what his constituents would have to say about that quote.
I do not question the fact that some aspects of Bill are positive. However, let us look at what is being proposed. It is a piece of legislation that I have never experienced in my many years inside the Manitoba legislature. There are many bills of substance in this one omnibus bill, but the Conservatives have told this chamber that we have a limited time to debate all of the bills. Their argument is that they have a mandate.
Of the 39% of Canadians who voted for them, yes, that is a mandate, and I know the Conservatives won the most seats. However, there is a thing called respect.
It is a privilege for all of us to be in this parliamentary precinct, the House of Commons. We should be respecting the fact that there is a responsibility for us to go through legislation in a timely fashion. However, this is not as if we are just putting the word “the” or “a” into these bills. These are all bills of great substance within Bill . It is a lack of respect for this chamber for the Conservatives to try to force through Bill and then put a time limit on debate.
In this bill, the government has a grouping, but what is next? Are we going to see another bill making reference to 25 bills from the Conservative brochures in the last election? Would the Conservatives now have the support of Canadians and the mandate to have an omnibus bill that would include those 25 bills? Would they want us to pass those bills all in one omnibus bill?
The Conservative government needs to respect what is taking place today. For many of those backbenchers, this is the first time they have been elected to the House. As well, for many of the New Democrats, it is the their first time as members of Parliament. To what degree have they been afforded the opportunity to speak on what should have been separate bills?
The principle of this legislature is supposed to be all about that. We are supposed to be here to thoroughly debate and ensure there is accountability from the different ministers who would be responsible for those bills. Shame on the government for not recognizing the importance of democracy and not respecting the importance of this chamber in allowing members to have dialogue on this. If members want to sit 24 hours, 7 days a week, I am game if that is what they want to do. Why put in the limits? Why force members of Parliament to speak only ten minutes, which is barely enough time to address one bill?
I suggest the government would be best advised to break up the bill. It needs to look in the mirror and wonder if it has gone too far.
Mr. Speaker, there are two points I want to raise.
The first is the member opposite says that the government does not have a mandate to bring in this legislation because only 39% of Canadians voted for our Conservative government. When I look at the results of the last election in his riding, he got 35% of the vote in his riding. What mandate does he have to tell the House what we can or cannot bring forward?
We won 166 seats in the House specifically on a mandate to bring forward this legislation. Thirty-nine per cent of Canadians voted for this government. We have 166 seats and a majority government. Liberals have 34 seats. He got 35% of the votes in his riding. What mandate does he have to stand in the House and say that his constituents do not want this bill? He does not have that mandate. He has 35%.
There is another thing in his speech with which I take offence. He has suggested that somehow we can either be law and order, support the police, have prisons and tough laws or we can help kids on the other side and have some preventive justice. It is such a nonsensical, laughable argument that he makes, that it is a this or that proposition. The fact is we have put forward all kinds of proposals, policies and programs to support those who are at risk.
I will tell him about a project in my riding called S.U.C.C.E.S.S., which helps kids who are the most at risk, the most troubled kids in our society who live in my community and need some support and structure. These are kids who have a last opportunity to get some structure in their lives, some discipline and opportunity for growth. We funded that program, we built that program, and those kids are now moving forward in their lives.
It is not a this or that proposition, it is both, and we are getting it done with 39% of the vote, not 35%.
Mr. Speaker, I am proud to rise today in the House to add my voice to those of my hon. colleagues who have spoken so passionately in favour of this legislation.
Bill represents sweeping change to laws that we believe are no longer acceptable as they stand. It enacts common sense measures that are long overdue.
On May 2, Canadians gave us a strong mandate to keep our streets and communities safe. Part of that means delivering on our promise to strengthen victims' rights, to protect our most vulnerable and to ensure serious criminals serve serious sentences. The legislation before us will go a long way to helping us fulfill our pledge to Canadians.
As we have heard during the debate, the safe streets and communities act contains many important components. These include measures that protect our children from violent sexual offenders, that restrict house arrest and conditional sentences and that target organized crime by imposing tougher sentences on drug dealers.
Today I will focus on the reforms to our correctional system. Specifically, these proposed amendments enshrine in law a victim's right to participate in parole hearings and address inmate accountability, responsibility and management under the Corrections and Conditional Release Act.
Allow me to give hon. members a brief background to this measure. In 2007 our government undertook an important review process of Correctional Service Canada. This was done through an independent panel, which studied the business plans, priorities and strategies of the agency.
The panel released its final report in December 2007. It was entitled, “A Roadmap to Strengthening Public Safety”. It included no fewer than 109 recommendations that fell under five themes: offender accountability; eliminating drugs from prisons; physical infrastructure; employabilty/employment; and moving to earn parole.
This report represented a road map that would help us improve rehabilitation, provide a safer environment for employees and, most important, enhance public safety.
Our government has already made important progress on two key areas laid out by that independent panel, those drug use in our prison system and addressing the problems of offenders dealing with mental illness.
The legislation before us today proposes reforms in four more key areas that were proposed by that independent panel some four years ago. These areas include providing better support for victims of crime, enhancing the accountability and responsibility of offenders, strengthening the management of offender re-integration and modernizing prison discipline.
Let us start with the first item, providing better support for victims of crime. Canadians have told us that victims of crime deserve to have their interests and concerns brought to the forefront. For me, that is certainly the priority.
The amendments we have proposed are in direct response to what we have heard from victims and victims' rights groups across our country. They have asked our government to give them a stronger voice, and we are proud to deliver.
Victims often have to travel from far distances to be in attendance at parole hearings. The problem is that under the existing legislation, offenders can withdraw their participation in the hearing at the last minute, effectively cancelling the parole hearing.
We believe this is fundamentally unfair to victims of crime and we propose to fix this. The bill proposes that if an offender withdraws his or her participation 14 days or less before a hearing date, the Parole Board may still go ahead with the scheduled meeting regardless. It also gives victims the right to find out why the offender has withdrawn his or her attendance at the parole hearing.
These two measures would go a long way to ensuring victims minimize further financial and emotional hardship. Bill will also ensure that victims have a legal right to attend and make statements at parole hearings.
The safe streets and communities act will also amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act to allow victims and their families to obtain more information about an offender through Correctional Service Canada and from the Parole Board of Canada. This includes information about the reasons for temporary absences from custody as well as updates on the offender's participation in his or her correctional plan.
Victims would also have the right to request information on why an offender is being transferred between institutions and particularly, whenever possible, advance notice when the offender is being transferred to a minimum security institution. They would also be allowed to obtain information on any serious disciplinary offences that offenders commit while serving their sentence.
Just as importantly, guardians and caregivers of dependents of victims who are deceased, ill or otherwise incapacitated, will have access to the same information that victims can receive. This is important because these guardians and caregivers play an important role in the ongoing care of victims and their dependents.
In terms of providing victims more of a voice, this legislation is an important step forward that will help put victims rights at the forefront of the corrections and parole system. I think that should be the prime concern of all members of this House.
The second change focuses on the offenders themselves. As I mentioned earlier, a key recommendation from the independent panel was to make offenders more accountable. As such, Bill contains amendments that will ensure that rehabilitation, as well as reintegration into the community, is a shared responsibility between offenders and Correctional Service Canada.
The question is, what does this mean practically? It means that offenders will be required to conduct themselves in a manner that is respectful of other people and their property. It means that offenders must obey the rules set out by the institution where they are serving their sentence, as well as heed all conditions that govern release.
Above all, it means restoring common sense. Offenders will simply not receive benefits for bad behaviour. Offenders will also be responsible to actively participate in their correctional plan.
As part of these amendments, the legislation allows for the establishment of incentive measures that will promote offender participation in their correctional plan. We firmly believe that with appropriate programs and active participation from both the offender and the corrections system that many individuals can become law-abiding citizens.
The successful rehabilitation and reintegration of an offender into a community is a shared responsibility. We are committed to providing appropriate programs to offenders, but it is only fair to expect offenders to do their part.
That is the message that we have heard consistently from Canadians, from victims, from advocacy groups and from our corrections officers. By enshrining in law the importance of correctional plans, we are sending a message that engaging offenders in their own reintegration into the community is an important part of our correctional system.
Both the offender and Correctional Service Canada have a part to plan in meeting that objective. These reforms will also take particular note of offenders with mental health issues, and ensure that their correctional plans are developed properly. This is reasonable and fair.
The correctional plan will play an important role in the lives of each offender, setting out the expected behaviours, the need to participate in rehabilitation programs, and also the requirement to fulfill all court-ordered financial obligations.
The third part of these reforms involves how offenders are managed in the community. For example, the amendments will give police the power to arrest an offender without a warrant if it appears that he or she is in violation of their release conditions. It will automatically suspend the parole or conditional release of an offender if that individual receives a new custodial sentence.
We come now to the final area of reform related to this component of Bill . This covers amendments to modernize the system of prison discipline. Specifically, two new disciplinary offences will be created: first, knowingly making a false claim for compensation from the Crown; and second, throwing a bodily substance at another person. The reforms will also address disrespectful and abusive behaviour.
We also propose to allow the Commissioner of Correctional Service Canada to designate sub-populations. By this I mean moving beyond the traditional designations of minimum, medium and maximum. This will better reflect the diversity of the inmate population and the challenges of managing subgroups that are often incompatible.
These measures will go a long way toward our commitment to transform our corrections system and to put victims first. We believe these changes are needed, and they are needed now.
I urge the NDP to finally stop putting the rights of criminals ahead of the rights of law-abiding Canadians and support this legislation.
Mr. Speaker, the clock is ticking and this debate is closing far too soon for those of us who believe that we are on the verge of a very large, serious mistake that future parliamentarians will have to struggle to correct.
First, let me say to the hon. government benches and the members here where we agree. I would happily vote for the victim of terrorism act, and I would vote to change the Criminal Records Act to replace the word “pardon” with “record suspension”. However, I will be forced to vote against this legislation if it comes packaged with sections that would cause this country nothing but grief.
I wish to say to all hon. members on the government side whose talking points have repeatedly forced them to say that those who question the flawed premise of mandatory minimum sentences have somehow sided with criminals against victims. Nothing could be further from the truth. Members of my family are involved in law enforcement. People close to me have been murdered. It is not as though we side with criminals when we recognize a piece of legislation is so egregiously flawed that this place should say no.
We look at all the evidence from criminologists, not just one or two, but all of them. We look at evidence from our own Department of Justice that studied this matter in 2002. We look at what is happening in the U.S., not only at the fact that its prisons are full of people but its prisons are full of people who are disproportionately low-income and Black. We also look at what could happen in this country. We have seen the report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples and the report on the Commission on Systemic Racism in the Ontario Criminal Justice System. We know that with this legislation, without many changes, we would disproportionately fill our jails with people who should not be in jail.
We also know that this legislation would cost us billions, which has not been fully costed.
Yet, at the end of the day, it may actually result in weaker sentences for those who deserve higher sentences because we would ruin the opportunity for judicial discretion.