The House resumed from November 8 consideration of Bill , as reported (with amendment) from the committee, and of the motions in Group No. 1.
Mr. Speaker, I rise today to express my support for Bill . I would like to use my time today to discuss the proposed changes to this bill that would affect the LGBTQ2 community, human trafficking and the victim surcharge.
As special adviser to the on LGBTQ2 issues, I am particularly proud of the work of our government in advancing the rights of LBGTQ2 Canadians and the work of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights in making concrete, tangible legislative changes that would improve the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and two-spirit Canadians.
Today, on the the International Transgender Day of Remembrance, when we pause to reflect on the lives of transgender people here in Canada and around the world that have been lost to murder, suicide, hatred and discrimination; the lives diminished due to overt transphobia and misogyny; and the daily discrimination faced by trans children, siblings, parents and their loved ones, I am proud, as the first openly gay MP elected from Alberta to the House, that Parliament passed Bill to protect trans persons in the Criminal Code and the Canadian Human Rights Act. I am particularly proud that our government led this charge.
I am also proud of the work of our government in passing legislation to enable Canadians who have criminal records for same-sex consensual activity to have these records expunged, and I acknowledge the leadership of the on this file.
I would also like to thank the for including in Bill the removal of section 159, which discriminates against young gay or bisexual men. That would now be removed from the Criminal Code with the passing of Bill C-75.
I also applaud the work of the committee and the ministry in responding to expert testimony for the repeal of the bawdy house and vagrancy provisions that were used by police forces to arrest gay men who frequented gay clubs and bathhouses. Men arrested in these police raids, many now in their 60s, 70s and 80s, still face criminal records as a result of these charges. We heard the testimony, and the committee and the ministry responded. Should Bill pass, these odious provisions in the Criminal Code would be removed and amends could thus be made.
Parts of the bill pertain to human trafficking and the victim surcharge.
I think it is very important to clearly state that human trafficking cannot be tolerated and that our government sees it as a very serious concern. That is why we continue to work closely with the provinces, territories, law enforcement agencies, victim services groups, organizations representing indigenous peoples, and other community groups, as well as our international partners. We are working together to combat all forms of human trafficking in Canada and abroad, to provide victims with special protection and support, to bring the perpetrators of these crimes to justice and to ensure that their punishment reflects the severity of the crime.
Human trafficking is a very difficult crime to detect because of its clandestine nature and victims' reluctance to report their situations out of fear of their traffickers. We heard testimony about that when the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights travelled across the country to listen to victims of human trafficking and to see how we could change the Criminal Code to provide more opportunities for police to work with those organizations that work with victims.
The legislative changes within Bill would provide police and prosecutors with additional tools for investigation and prosecution. These measures would bring the perpetrators of human trafficking to justice so they can answer for the severity of their actions.
The amendments proposed in Bill would bring into force amendments that have already been passed by Parliament, but were not promulgated in the former parliamentary initiative, Bill . They would also strengthen the legislation to combat all forms of human trafficking, whether through sexual exploitation or forced labour, while respecting the rights and freedoms guaranteed in our Constitution.
We heard of heinous crimes being committed not just against those who are unknown to the perpetrators, but also against family members. Family trafficking exists in this country, and we must make sure that police forces are armed with the tools they need to be able to put an end to such heinous crimes.
More specifically, the proposed changes will make it easier to prosecute human trafficking offences by introducing a presumption that will enable the Crown to prove that the accused exercised control, direction or influence over the victim's movements by establishing that the accused lived with or was habitually in the company of the victim.
In addition, these changes would add human trafficking to the list of offences to which the provisions imposing a reverse onus for forfeiture of proceeds of crime apply.
I would now like to discuss the changes that would affect the victim surcharge. Bill proposes to restore judicial discretion to waive the victim surcharge by guiding judges to waive the victim surcharge only when the offender is truly unable to pay. For certain offences against the administration of justice, where the total amount would be disproportionate in certain circumstances, the bill would also provide for limited judicial discretion to not impose a federal victim surcharge amount per offence.
The federal victim surcharge, which is set out in the Criminal Code, is imposed on a sentencing basis, and revenue is collected and used by the province or territory where the criminal act was committed to assist in the sentencing process for funding victims services. Bill would maintain that the federal victim surcharge must be imposed ex officio and must apply cumulatively to each offence. However, to address concerns about the negative impact of current federal victim surcharge provisions on marginalized offenders, the bill would provide limited judicial discretion regarding the mandatory and cumulative imposition of the surcharge in certain circumstances.
Bill would provide clear direction as to what would constitute undue hardship. These guidelines would ensure that the mandatory exemption, or waiver, would be applied consistently and only to offenders who were truly unable to pay the surcharge. In addition, the bill would state that undue hardship would refer to the financial ability to pay and was not simply caused by harm associated with incarceration. We are trying to avoid the criminalization and over-criminalization of people simply because of their inability to pay a federal victim surcharge.
For certain offences against the justice administration, in the event that the cumulative surcharge was disproportionate to the circumstances, Bill would contain provisions allowing an exception to the victim fine surcharge ratio. This exception would apply to two types of offences against the administration of justice: failure to appear in court; and breach of conditions of bail by a peace officer or court order, and only when said breach did not cause any moral, bodily or financial damage to the victim.
Studies show that marginalized offenders, especially indigenous offenders and offenders with mental health and addiction issues, are more likely to be found guilty of offences against the administration of justice.
Under the existing victim surcharge provisions, it is unlikely that much of the money collected in the federal victim surcharges that are paid out to the provinces and territories comes from groups of offenders who are unable to pay the victim surcharge or who are only able to pay part of the surcharge because of their personal situation or because of their multiple offences against the administration of justice.
In addition, offenders who suffer undue hardship as a result of the mandatory victim surcharge are, by the current application of the provisions, hampered in their ability to regain financial stability. This places them in a situation where the surcharge does not allow them to successfully reintegrate into society after serving their sentences or paying their outstanding fines, and they risk reoffending. These types of situations do not help survivors or victims of crime or the provision of services to help them. This proposed exception would be consistent with the principles of fairness and equity.
I am confident that by maintaining a higher mandatory surcharge, this proposed legislation would support the objective of the victim surcharge to provide a source of funding for provincial and territorial victim services while strengthening offender accountability regarding victims and society in general. At the same time, the bill would be in keeping with the principles of proportionality, fairness and respect for the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Not having gone through law school, I can say that it is an honour to serve on this committee and to be part of making Bill appear in the House today.
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise and put some thoughts on the record with respect to Bill , which is the government's response, we are told, to the Jordan decision, which had to do with lengthy delays in the criminal justice system in Canada. The ruling maintained that cases had to be dealt with in a certain amount of time or the people accused of committing a crime would be off the hook. We have seen across the country instances of people accused of very serious crimes not being tried in court because of a failure to meet deadlines.
It is quite important, I think, that both the government and Parliament take action. This is a long-standing complaint, and not just in some of the most serious crimes and trials. We have also heard from Canadians who have had occasion, one way or another, to deal with court proceedings, especially if they are victims or the families of victims, that they are often outraged at the amount of time it takes to get justice. Of course, justice delayed too often is justice denied. The Jordan decision emphasizes that even more so and raises the stakes in terms of being able to deal with issues in a timely way. If we do not do so now, we will face a situation of people never being tried for the crimes they are accused of having committed.
Our responsibility as parliamentarians is to judge, on balance, this piece of legislation being presented by the government, which was not greatly amended at committee. I know the hon. member for and the NDP caucus did a lot of great work on this bill and made a lot of proposals at committee that were not accepted by the government, so this really remains a government package of reforms. Our duty as parliamentarians is to decide whether, on balance, this is going to address the issues that were raised in the Jordan decision and expedite our legal processes so that Canadians can expect to get justice through the courts.
One of the ways the government could have done that prior to presenting any legislation in this House would have been to act swiftly to appoint federal judges. It has been an ongoing story of this Parliament in terms of the failure of the to ensure that the roster of judges is full. We have heard many times in this House that the government ought to have been acting more quickly. Vacancies remain on the bench. The fact of the matter is that even if we have perfect laws, which we do not now and will not after Bill passes, if we do not have judges to hear the cases, it matters very little what the laws on the books are. It is the judges who hear the cases and the judges who make decisions.
Thus, it is incumbent upon the government to move more quickly on this. It has been three years now. Surely the government is not going to make a case that Canada does not have people qualified to hold those positions. The people are out there. It is a matter of the government making it a priority to actually make those appointments happen. Saying it is a priority is not enough. They have to actually appoint those judges. I do not want to hear government members getting up to talk about how important it is to them. I will wait to see when those positions are filled. That is the true test of how important it is for the government, and so far, it has not been very important.
The other thing we know is that if this is the government's signature justice reform, which it appears to be, a contributing factor to what is at stake with the Jordan decision is the issue of mandatory minimum sentences. That issue was very popular with the previous Conservative government. For a wide range of criminal charges, they brought in mandatory minimum sentences. We know that those are problematic in a number of ways. I think they are problematic in principle.
The fact of the matter is that no two crimes are the same. There are different circumstances depending on the particular crime and who is involved. The people best qualified to make decisions about what is an appropriate time to serve, along with other measures, such as addictions treatment and whatever else is factored into sentencing, are the people who hear the cases. I do not think it is for Parliament to pre-judge, for any case or set of cases, what the appropriate punishment is. That is why we have judges, people who are trained in the legal profession and have seen many different cases and are able to discriminate.
It is appropriate to entrust that work to judges, for whom it is a profession. Mandatory minimum sentences are about taking that away. One of the side effects of that, particularly in cases of smaller charges like minor drug possession and charges of that nature, is that when people know there is going to be a mandatory jail sentence of two, three, four or five years, it is really a disincentive for them to plead guilty. We have tools in order to make sure the most serious cases are heard in a timely way, and that murderers and gang members are not getting off easy because of the Jordan decision. One of those tools is to take some of those smaller cases and plead them out. People are not going to do that if it means serious jail time.
Again, there are people in the courts and the police force who are involved in making those kinds of decisions when they have that discretion. It is important to leave it to judges, prosecutors and the police to prioritize those cases, precisely to make sure that the worst ones and the ones they have the best chance of getting a conviction on are tried. Those people then get justice, and the courts are not bogged down with other kinds of cases without any ability to make a judgment call about what is relatively more or less important.
That was a major problem with changes to the justice system that we saw in the last Parliament. Outside of the Conservative Party and people who supported them in the last election, there was a pretty broad consensus that those things had to be repealed. We do not see that here. That is an obvious thing that is not in this legislation. It would have helped with respect to the Jordan decision, and would have been important to do on principle anyway.
One of the other things the bill does is establish hybrid offences between the provinces and the federal government. There is real concern that this is going to mean we are going to improve federal court wait times at the expense of provincial court wait times. This is classically Liberal, in a certain way.
I do not want to be too partisan about it, but I remember the nineties, when the federal government decided it was going to balance the budget at all costs. It made deep cuts to the health and social transfer. That ended up on the ledger of provincial governments, which now did not have the same funding for health services and other services that they were providing to their populations. Those governments went into deficit or had to take other measures, whether it was cuts to services or raising taxes, in order to be able to maintain what had theretofore been supported by the federal government.
For as much as the federal books looked better, there was only one taxpayer, and those people paid it at the provincial level instead of at the federal level. What looked good on the federal government did not ultimately make a difference to Canadians. They paid for it, either through higher taxes at the provincial level or through serious cuts to service.
Unfortunately, we had a Conservative government in the nineties, and we paid for that in terms of serious cuts to services. We lost nurses and teachers, and the federal government sat pretty while pretending it was not responsible for that. At the end of the day, its budget cuts did that.
We are gearing up for the potential for something similar, where the federal government will say, “Look at us. The wait times for the Federal Court are way down.” However, we have the potential to see those same waits happening at the provincial level, because people who at one time would have faced a charge at the federal level will now instead face a similar charge at the provincial level. We will not get rid of the wait times; we are just shifting the burden from the federal books to the provincial books.
For anyone paying close attention, the Liberals are not fooling anybody. If our job is to make sure those wait times go down and justice is served in a timely way, it is really important that we do it in a way that actually accomplishes that and does not give the federal government a talking point at the expense of the provinces.
I am out of time, but I look forward to questions.
Madam Speaker, it is my honour to address the House today in discussion of Bill . As members are aware, Bill C-75 represents our government's commitment to ensure that the criminal justice system continues to serve Canadian citizens in the most efficient, effective, fair and accessible manner possible.
Through Bill , our government is fulfilling its promise to move forward and modernize the criminal justice system and address court delays. Due to the failures of the previous government, court delays have persisted within the criminal justice system. Court delays are not a new problem.
However, our government recognizes we can and must do better. Since 2015, we have heard from countless stakeholders, community members, lawyers and other individuals regarding the need to reform the criminal justice system.
In fact, the Supreme Court's rulings in the Jordan and Cody cases further support this rationale. As such, through collaborative efforts identified by the federal, provincial and territorial governments, Bill seeks to remedy these significant gaps and inefficiencies.
Among other reforms, Bill proposes to limit the use of preliminary inquiries for offences carrying maximum penalties, modernize bail practices and procedures in order to improve access to justice, better protect victims of intimate partner violence, provide judges with greater discretionary tools to manage cases and efficiently bring criminal matters to resolution, hybridize offences punishable by a maximum penalty of 10 years or less, and increase the maximum penalty for all summary offences to two years less a day.
Today, I will be focusing on the hybridization aspect of Bill . Bill C-75 introduces legislation that provides Crown prosecutors the discretion to elect the most efficient mode of prosecution, evaluated on a case-by-case basis. This system of reclassification would reduce court time consumed by less serious offences while allowing limited resources to be redirected to more serious offences. Moreover, this legislation prevents indictable cases from being dismissed or stayed due to the system's inability to try the accused within a reasonable time frame.
Bill amends over 115 offences punishable by either an indictable offence or summary conviction. Since the proposal hybridizes all straight indictable offences punishable by a maximum of 10 years or less, criminal offences relating to terrorism and genocide are subsequently captured. These are clauses referring to section 83.02 of the Criminal Code, providing or collecting property for certain activities; section 83.03, providing, making available, etc., property or services for terrorist purposes; section 83.04, using or possessing property for terrorist purposes; section 83.18, participation in activity of terrorist group; section 83.181, leaving Canada to participate in activity of terrorist group; subsection 83.221(1), advocating or promoting commission of terrorism offences; subsections 83.23(1) and 83.23(2), concealing person who carried out terrorist activity and concealing person who is likely to carry out terrorist activity, and finally subsection 318(1), which relates to advocating genocide.
Canada is a leader among nations in the fight for universal human rights and the international rule of law. We were one of the first countries to sign the Rome Statute and the first country to ratify its membership within the International Criminal Court. Moreover, on a number of occasions, Canada has publicly denounced the actions of other governments due to their harsh treatment of their citizens, and urged their cases to be referred to the International Criminal Court for investigation, such as in the cases of Myanmar and Venezuela. Canadians are proud to live in a country that is diverse, with a global reputation as a defender of human rights.
Given the very few times that genocide and terrorism-related charges have been invoked in Canadian courts, the extremely serious nature of the issues, as well as Canada's moral obligation to continue to serve as an international promoter of justice, I am proud to inform the House that all eight clauses referred to above relating to genocide and terrorism-related offences were removed from the hybridization list. Specifically, all genocide and terrorism-related offences will continue to remain as straight indictable offences with a maximum penalty of 10 years less a day.
In its witness testimony, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs expressed its strong support for such amendments. It stated:
...terrorism [is] a heinous and potentially catastrophic phenomenon. Today, terrorist groups around the world, some of which actively seek to inspire recruits in Canada, are often motivated by ideologies infused with antisemitism. Far too many Jewish communities around the world – from Argentina to Denmark, and from France to Israel – have suffered from deadly terror attacks.
Additionally, B'nai Brith Canada expressed its concerns regarding the hybridization of offences relating to genocide and terrorism, stating:
It is inappropriate to allow these offences to be prosecuted in a summary fashion. To be treated with the seriousness which they deserve, they should continue to be prosecutable by way of indictment only.
Following the proposed amendments to remove all eight genocide and terrorism-related clauses from Bill , our government will continue to send a clear, symbolic and moral message rebuking the offensive crimes mentioned above. However, I would like to strictly emphasize that the reclassification of offences does not affect basic sentencing principles exercised by courts. Depending on the severity of the case, Crown prosecutors will be required to consider a multitude of factors and ultimately decide to prosecute either as an indictable offence or summary conviction.
Before I conclude, as a member of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, I would like to take this opportunity to offer my sincerest thanks to all the witnesses for submitting their testimony and appearing before the committee to present their expert opinions regarding Bill . I can assure everyone that all recommendations and appeals put forward were carefully considered and taken into account.
Although there is no simple solution to resolve the issues of court delays, our government is taking action to introduce a cultural shift within the criminal justice system to address its root causes. We are taking important steps forward to act on what we have heard. Moreover, we are taking full advantage of this opportunity to create a criminal justice system that is compassionate and timely, a system that reflects the needs and expectations of all Canadian citizens.
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise in the House and speak to Bill , an act to amend the Criminal Code, the Youth Criminal Justice Act and other acts and to make consequential amendments to other acts.
It is disappointing to again see the Liberal government bring in a 300-page omnibus bill after the Liberals specifically said in their campaign promises that they were not going to do that. However, a broken promise a day seems to be the order of the Liberal government.
That said, let us think about what we are trying to accomplish in our judicial system and then look at how Bill may or may not fit into that.
What we first want to do in our criminal justice system is define the behaviour that is criminal. We want to say which things are not acceptable in Canadian society. That would be goal number one. Goal number two would be to make sure that appropriate punishments are established to deter people from perpetrating these crimes. We want to make sure that we have those appropriate punishments defined. We want to make sure that victims rights are protected, that we are not just focused on the criminal but we are also focused on making sure that victims rights are protected. Then we want to make sure that whatever rules we decide, we actually enforce them in a timely way.
I think that is really what we want to get out of the criminal justice system.
If we look at the Conservative record, everyone in Canada well knows that the Conservatives want to be tough on crime. We want to ensure that if people commit crimes, they do the time. We want to make sure that people are not just let off the hook.
If we look at the Liberals' record on this, it is not quite so clear. In fact, I would argue that the criminals seem to be making out very well under the Liberals.
The first issue is the Liberal government's failure to appoint judges so that cases could be tried in a timely way. According to the Jordan principle, if they are not tried in a timely way, within two years, those people will go free. We have seen murderers and rapists having their cases thrown out of court because there were not enough judges being appointed. Clearly, that is a failure of the Liberal government. We are in the fourth year of a four-year mandate and there are still vacancies, which is causing cases to continually be thrown out.
If the government were responsible, at some point it should have taken a look at perhaps more minor crimes. For example, if it thought that it was going to legalize marijuana, perhaps any of the charges with respect to possession of marijuana that were in the system could have been punted in order to focus on prosecuting more serious crimes, like murder and rape. However, that was not done.
The other thing we saw is that the Liberal government is continually trying to soften the penalties for crime.
Today, in Canadian society, it is a crime to disrupt a religious ceremony or to threaten a religious official or cleric. The Liberal government tried to put Bill in place to take away those protections with respect to worship and the clerics. There was a huge outcry across Canada. I know that all the churches in my riding wrote letters. There were many petitions that were brought forward. There was a huge outcry from Canadians, so the government backed off on that. Now we see that the government has brought this back under Bill as one of the things the government wants to reduce sentences on to a summary conviction, which would be less than two years in prison or a fine for obstructing or violence to or arrest of an officiating clergyman. It seems a little bit sneaky that the government heard a clear message from Canadians to back off and then it tried to slide it into another bill. That is not a good thing.
Let us look at some of the other crimes that are now considered in Bill to be minor and subject to a judge's decision on whether or not they get a fine or a summary conviction of up to a two-year maximum.
One is prison breach. Really, somebody who breaks out of prison is going to be given a fine. That should not even be an option. Municipal corruption is another thing on the list, as is influencing or negotiating appointments or dealing in offices. We have already talked about obstructing or violence to clergymen.
Another is impaired driving offences causing bodily harm. It is unbelievable that at this particular moment in time, when the Liberals have just legalized marijuana and every other jurisdiction has seen a tripling of traffic deaths due to impaired drug driving, they would decide that this crime is less serious and people might be able to get off with just a summary conviction or a fine.
Regarding abduction of a person under the age of 16 or abduction of a person under the age of 14, what is a more serious crime than kidnapping a child? I cannot imagine. To give that person a fine or a summary conviction just seems like there is no moral compass whatsoever.
It is interesting that polygamy is on the list. We have not had a lot of trouble. Polygamy has always been illegal in Canada. Why are we now saying that we would reduce the penalty for polygamy and make it a fine?
What about forced marriage? I was at the foreign affairs committee yesterday, and we had testimony from the Congo, Somalia and South Sudan about the dire situations there and 50% of girls being forced into child marriage and what a horrendous impact that had on their life. The Liberal members of the committee were sitting there saying, “Oh, this is a terrible thing.” However, here in our own country, we have decided that the penalty for forced marriage is going to be a fine or a less-than-two-years summary conviction. It is ridiculous.
Arson, for a number of reasons, is now on this list and is not considered that serious when in fact it drives up the cost of insurance and it takes people's homes. It is obviously a serious crime.
Participating in the activities of a criminal organization is now on here as not being that serious. The government members have been standing up, day after day, talking about trying to eliminate organized crime from Canada. Now if people are part of organized crime, apparently that is not a serious offence.
Therefore, Bill does not meet what we said we wanted to meet originally in our justice system. We wanted to talk about the appropriate punishments that need to be established to deter crime. That is not what is happening here.
In addition to all of those things, we see that there are other changes recommended in this bill. There is the repealing of the victim surcharge changes that were brought by the Conservatives. It is important that we protect victims' rights and that there is a fund that will help victims in some way after they have suffered a crime.
Removing the power to have a youth tried as an adult is a bit concerning to me. There are some very heinous crimes where the judges still need to have the ability to do that.
Delaying consecutive sentencing for human traffickers was an important law that was brought into place under the Conservative government. We have a huge issue with human trafficking. From my riding to Toronto, there is a huge ring. If someone were caught human trafficking, it would not be just one life that was impacted. There would be hundreds of girls involved. The consecutive sentence allowed individuals to be sentenced for each one of those victims and not get out of prison for a very long time, for what is a heinous crime.
I always like to say what the good things are that I like about the bill as well as the things that I do not like. I see in here that the only increases in penalties are for repeat offenders on intimate partner violence. I am glad to see that because the government has been totally inadequate in its response to violence against women. As the former chair of the status of women committee, we studied and found that one in three Canadian women suffers from violent acts in her lifetime. It has been disappointing to see that the current government, while pledging $400 million in the last budget for StatsCan to steal people's private information, gave $20 million a year to address the problem of violence against women. That has been totally inadequate. At least the Liberals have done something in this bill to try to move forward on that.
In summary, I would say that this bill has not met the objectives. It has not helped put penalties in place. In fact, I would argue that it would erode the penalties that people would receive.
I call on the to do her job, to appoint the justices who are missing and to put in place punishments that fit the crime. I have brought numerous petitions to the House on Bill to just eliminate it.
The Liberals talk about trying to get wait times down. They could get wait times down by not trying any criminals and not putting any of them in prison. That would get the wait times down, but it would not achieve what we want in our justice system, which is to define the crimes and to define adequate punishment and ensure that they are enforced in a timely way.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to Bill .
There is no doubt that we need to modernize our criminal justice system, and in order to do so, we need to amend the Criminal Code, the Youth Criminal Justice Act and other acts. Some of the issues that must be reviewed are the lengthy pre-trial delays, changes to how administration of justice issues are managed, legislative changes, as well as judicial case management. However, in my humble opinion, the most important amendment has to do with how the justice system deals with certain accused persons.
Some groups, like indigenous peoples, minorities and people with mental illness or substance abuse issues, are overrepresented in our criminal justice system. These groups are among the most vulnerable members of our society, yet they are sometimes treated unfairly by the justice system. One could even say they are treated with hostility. Our justice system cannot treat different people differently. This is unacceptable, and it has been going on for a very long time.
Bill allows us to correct these inequalities in the justice system. Complainants who wait years to testify and witnesses who want to move on and get back to a normal life have no choice but to wait because of delays in the system. These delays interfere with their need to feel safe and the justice system's mission to maintain public order. Then there is the matter of the accused who wait years to be declared innocent or those who commit heinous crimes but end up walking away because of the dysfunctional system.
I am running out of time, so I will focus on the issue of bonding. This is an aspect of criminal law that directly affects the presumption of innocence. This fundamental concept is protected under section 11(d) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The Charter guarantees that any person charged with an offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty according to law in a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal. Section 11(e) of the Charter provides that any person charged with an offence has the right not to be denied reasonable bail without just cause. Section 7 of the Charter states that everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of the person and the right not to be deprived thereof except in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice.
When it comes to bail, everyone should be fully entitled to their charter rights. Every one of us must receive equal treatment in accordance with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and other laws. Unfortunately, that does not always happen. For example, defendants who live in remote communities are disproportionately affected by the existing bail system. Statistically, poverty, unemployment and substance abuse are more prevalent among people who live on reserves, and, as a result, they own very little. Bail is also required of people who have to travel from their remote communities to big cities because the judicial system does not serve their hometowns. How are these people supposed to come up with bail? When the financial burden is so great, is that not a violation of people's charter rights?
That is why Bill is so important. It would allow for less burdensome conditions of release for those who are already disadvantaged compared to other members of society.
This will also help break the cycle of the most vulnerable Canadians being overrepresented in the justice system.
Another reason that Bill is very important is because it deals with remote appearances. This bill would bring the system in line with current technology and all of its benefits. It would be invaluable to have access to audioconference and video conference technology, allowing all parties involved in the process, including judges, to participate.
It would be helpful if accused persons could participate via these types of technologies instead of having to fly in from remote communities, which takes considerable resources. These technologies would alleviate the financial burden on society and give accused persons better access to justice. Furthermore, complainants would not have to travel from their remote communities, since they could use these technologies to seek justice.
Courts would have discretionary powers and would consider the individual circumstances of each case, so these technologies could be used for individuals to appear remotely at each stage of the justice process.
The reason for the amendments to remote appearances is to help ensure the proper administration of justice, which includes fair and efficient criminal proceedings, while respecting the right of the accused to a fair trial and to a full and complete defence, as guaranteed by sections 7 and 11(d) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
If we take another look at plea bargaining, a lot can go wrong. For instance, the accused will often plead guilty in order to minimize the cost of their defence. Those living in precarious situations are less likely to properly defend themselves. This once again demonstrates the need for Bill . It is very sad to think of an innocent person pleading guilty because it is faster and cheaper.
Clause 270 of the bill highlights an important fact. Many vulnerable people are not always aware of the magnitude of their actions and decisions. This can include adolescents, aboriginal people, minorities and people who want to avoid the stress of long delays before the trial. They are more likely to plead guilty for those reasons.
In addition to the provisions set out in section 606 of the Criminal Code, the amendment would require judges to be satisfied that the facts presented support the charge before accepting a guilty plea.
Bill 's modernization of the bail system also includes changes regarding intimate partner violence. It is unfortunate that not until recently the matter of intimate partner violence was not given the attention it warranted. The changes to the criminal justice system in this aspect are in keeping with our government's commitment to give more support to those who have faced domestic violence.
Statistically, intimate partner violence is the most common form of violence reported to the police. One in two women face intimate partner violence. This is a dire statistic. It means that 50% of our female population has been victimized while in an intimate relationship. Those who are already vulnerable, such as the elderly, trans, people with disabilities and the indigenous population, face these things in a difficult way. One time is one time too many when people who are accused of intimate partner violence are given bail and go back and attack the very same partner. This reason alone demonstrates to all of us the urgency in having intimate partner violence directly addressed during bail hearings.
The amendments I have mentioned are crucial for the protection of those facing such forms of violence. For all of these reasons, I support Bill , an act to amend the Criminal Code, the Youth Criminal Justice Act and other acts and to make consequential amendments to other acts.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill , an act to amend the Criminal Code, the Youth Criminal Justice Act and other acts and to make consequential amendments to other acts. This omnibus bill is over 200 pages. It includes major reforms to our criminal justice system.
With a concerning level of rural crime in my riding, the safety of my constituents is a high priority for me. The safety of Canadians should be the number one priority of any government.
While there are some aspects of the bill that I agree will help to reduce delays in the court system, there are several problems associated with it with which I have concerns.
First, I want to talk about the bill itself. As I mentioned, this is a 204-page omnibus bill. I want to remind the Liberals that during the election, they promised they would never table omnibus bills, but here it is. However, 80 other promises have either been broken or have not even started.
This is still on the Liberal web page, which I looked it up the other day. It states that omnibus bills “prevent Parliament from properly reviewing and debating [the government's] proposals. We will change the House of Commons Standing Orders to bring an end to this undemocratic practice.” Yet here we are today discussing an omnibus bill.
It is a mixed bag that amends a total of 13 different acts in various ways. The bill needs to be split into more manageable portions so we can properly study it. What is more is that the government also has thrown in three bills that have already been tabled, Bill , victim surcharge; Bill , consecutive sentencing for human traffickers; and Bill , repealing unconstitutional provisions. Perhaps if the government could manage its legislative agenda more effectively, it would not need to re-table its bills, push through omnibus bills or repeatedly force time allocation and limit debates.
The Liberals are failing to take criminal justice issues seriously. In March they tabled this bill the day before a two-week break period in our sitting schedule. Then they waited a half a year. Now they have returned it when there are only a few weeks left before our six-week break period. This does not give the image that justice is a high priority for the Liberal government.
The government's lack of judicial appointments has resulted in violent criminals walking away without a trial. As of November 2, 54 federal judicial vacancies remained. Appointing judges is an effective solution that is much faster than forcing an omnibus bill through Parliament. I remember in April when the minister talked about 54 more federal judges, yet here we are, almost the end of the year, and still no action.
I also want to talk about what is actually in the bill. Again, some parts of the bill I can support. For example, I agree with efforts to modernize and clarify interim release provisions and provide more onerous interim release requirements for offences involving violence against an intimate partner.
Modernizing and simplifying interim release provisions is an important step that will assist many rural communities across the country that do not have the resources to navigate lengthy procedures and paperwork. For that reason, I support this.
However, I wish the stricter release requirements were not limited to offences involving domestic abuse. With an alarming rate of rural crime in my riding and across Canada, which is often carried out by repeat offenders, we need to make it more difficult for all violent criminals to be released. Otherwise, we have a revolving door where they commit a crime, get arrested, get released and start all over again.
I was at a rural crime seminar in the city of Red Deer last Friday. A former police officer from Calgary city police told us about one of the cases he had worked on recently. An Alberta offender was charged with 130 offences, ranging from break and enter to car theft, equipment theft and possession of stolen property.
At the last sitting in Alberta the judge released him. Out the door he went. Where did he go? He took off to B.C. Now we understand they are looking for him in British Columbia, which has 100 similar outstanding charges against him in a very short period of time. This person should not have been released.
These criminals prey on farmers and elderly people. They know that RCMP resources are lacking in these areas and take full advantage of that. What the government needs to do is to provide our law enforcement agencies with the tools they need to stop the revolving door of criminals in and out of the courts. That is happening constantly.
Victims should be the central focus of the Canadian criminal justice system rather than special treatment for criminals, which is why our party introduced the Victims Bill of Rights. The government, unfortunately, does not agree since Bill would repeal our changes to the victim surcharge and reduce its overall use and effectiveness.
I believe in protecting victims of crime, which is why I introduced my own private member's bill, Bill , that would ensure that criminals who take advantage of vulnerable people, specifically adults who depend on others for their care, are subject to harder, sure punishment.
Last month, a gentleman from my riding of Yellowhead was a witness before our public safety and national security committee. He shared with us his first-hand experience. It was a terrible story. This gentleman, whom I consider a friend, is aged 83. He heard his truck start up one day when he was having lunch with his wife. He walked outside to see his truck being driven out of his yard. He lives about 70 kilometres from the town of Edson where the local police office is located. He picked up his phone and was about to call when his vehicle returned to his yard. Two youths, one aged 18 and one aged 17, got out, knocked him to the ground, repeatedly kicked him in the face, the chest, the ribs, attempted to slash his throat, and then drove off again. This gentleman is 83. This is still being dealt with in the courts despite the fact it happened a year ago. This gentleman has had to attend court 10 times so far and the matter is still not over.
We on this side of the House will always work to strengthen the Criminal Code of Canada and make it harder for criminals to get out.
I am concerned that portions of Bill would weaken our justice system. Through the bill, the Liberals would reduce penalties for the following crimes: participating in criminal organizations, various acts of corruption, prison breach, impaired driving, abduction, human trafficking, forced marriage, and arson, just to name a few of many in the bill. Participation in terrorist activities and advocating genocide were deleted from this list only because a Conservative amendment was accepted at committee. Those are just a few examples of more than a hundred serious crimes that could be prosecuted by summary conviction and result in lighter sentencing, or even fines.
The government is failing to take criminal justice issues seriously. Reducing penalties for serious crimes sends the wrong message to victims, law-abiding Canadians and to criminals.
I am also concerned about the wording used in the section that would increase maximum sentences for repeat offences involving intimate partner violence. I support increasing these sentences but I do not support replacing the language of “spouse” with “intimate partner”. I believe both should be included. I understand that not all domestic abuse is within a spousal relationship, so there is a need to have "intimate partner" included. However, it should not replace "spouse". Rather, both terms should be included.
Another problem I have with Bill is the reversal of protections for religious officials.
When Bill was referred to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights in January, two amendments were moved by my Conservative colleagues. The first amendment proposed keeping section 176 in the Criminal Code of Canada, while the second aimed to modernize the language of that section. The Liberals agreed to them and that was good, but they need to listen more.
Imagine my disappointment when I read in Bill that section 176 in the Criminal Code was once again under attack. Assault of officiants during a religious service is very serious and should remain an indictable offence.
Thank you for the opportunity to present my views.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in the third reading debate on Bill , an act to amend the Criminal Code, the Youth Criminal Justice Act and other acts and to make consequential amendments to other acts. I intend to focus my remarks on sentencing-related issues.
At the outset, it is important to address the continuing criticism by the opposition that hybridizing all straight indictable offences punishable by a maximum penalty of 10 years imprisonment or less—to allow the Crown to proceed by summary conviction in appropriate cases—would minimize the seriousness of these offences. These concerns reflect a lack of trust of the judiciary and Crown prosecutors, who already make these decisions every day. They also represent a profound misunderstanding of what Bill aims to achieve by reclassifying certain offences.
The proposal to hybridize offences is procedural in nature and is intended to allow prosecution by summary conviction of conduct that currently does not result in a sentence of more than two years. For instance, it is a mischaracterization of the reclassification amendments to assert that by hybridizing section 467.11 of the Criminal Code, i.e., participation in activities of a criminal organization, Bill is sending a message not to take organized crime offences seriously.
The proposed amendment simply recognizes that this offence can, by virtue of the range of conduct captured, include circumstances where an appropriate sentence falls within the summary conviction range. Proceeding summarily in these circumstances allows for more expeditious proceedings without undermining public safety or impacting the sentence ranges for this offence.
In fact, in 2011-2012 there were 49 guilty verdicts entered pursuant to section 467.11 of the Criminal Code. Of these 49 cases, only 34 were given a custodial sentence. Of those, one received one month or less, six received between one month and three months, 10 received between three months and six months, nine received from six months to 12 months, four received from 12 months to 24 months and the four remaining received a custodial sentence of 24 months or more.
At the time these sentences were imposed, section 467.11 of the Criminal Code was a straight indictable offence, and yet the overwhelming majority of sentences imposed were in the summary conviction range, including 15 non-custodial sentences. It is clear that keeping section 467.11 of the Criminal Code as a straight indictable offence would not in any way prevent the Crown, in appropriate cases, from seeking a non-custodial sentence or a sentence of imprisonment that is in the summary conviction range.
Let me be clear. There is absolutely nothing in Bill that would suggest to prosecutors and courts that hybridizing offences should result in their seeking or awarding lower sentences than what is currently sought or awarded under the law. Prosecutors would continue to assess the facts of each case and the circumstances relating to the offender and previously decided cases in order to determine which type of sentence they should seek. Sentencing judges would continue to impose sentences proportionate to the severity of the crime and the degree of responsibility of the offender, as mandated by the fundamental principle of sentencing in section 718.1 of the Criminal Code.
The misapprehensions about the proposed reclassification amendments also unnecessarily detract from other notable reforms. For example, the bill proposes to toughen criminal laws in the context of intimate partner violence, IPV, thereby increasing public safety and enhancing victim safety.
Bill includes a proposal that would impose a reverse onus at bail for an accused charged with an intimate violence offence if the accused has a prior conviction for violence against an intimate partner, regardless of whether it is the same partner, a former partner or a dating partner. In this context, to enhance the safety of victims of this type of violence, the accused, not the prosecutor, would have to justify their release to the court and the public. What this means is that the presumption that the accused should be released pending trial no longer applies
This proposal is targeted and reflects what we know about the heightened risk of safety that victims of intimate partner violence face. Victims of intimate partner violence tend to experience multiple victimizations before reporting it to the authorities or police. Based on Statistics Canada data from 2014, 17% of victims of spousal violence indicated that they had been abused by their current or former partner on more than 10 occasions.
I understand that one of the criticisms raised at committee was that the reverse onus could be problematic in jurisdictions where dual charging occurs, a practice whereby both partners are criminally charged, sometimes because self-defence on the part of the victim is confused with assault. I also understand that it is often not the law that is the problem in this context, but how it is applied.
Dual charging is an operational issue that provinces and territories have been addressing through the development and implementation of training and policies. For example, in March 2016, the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police released the document “National Framework for Collaborative Police Action on Intimate Partner Violence”, which addresses dual charging and provides guidance for cases where charges against a victim are being contemplated.
Knowing that the research shows that victims are at an increased risk of violence in the aftermath of reporting to police, especially in cases where there is an ongoing history of violence in the relationship, I am confident that the reverse onus proposed here is carefully tailored to address the concerns raised.
Bill would also require courts to consider whether an accused is charged with an IPV offence prior to making a decision to release or detain the accused during a bail hearing. In addition, Bill C-75 would clarify that strangulation, choking and suffocation are elevated forms of assault and would also define "intimate partner" for all Criminal Code purposes, clarifying that it includes a current or former spouse, a common-law partner, as well as dating partners.
Moreover, Bill proposes a sentencing amendment to clarify that the current sentencing provisions which treat abuse against a spouse or common-law partner as an aggravating factor apply to both current and former spouses, common-law partners and dating partners. What is more, Bill C-75 would also allow prosecutors the possibility of seeking a higher maximum penalty in cases involving a repeat intimate partner violence offender.
I think we can all agree that allowing for the imposition of higher than the applicable maximum penalty in cases of repeat intimate partner violence offenders is a concrete example of Parliament sending a clear message to prosecutors and the courts that repeat intimate partner violence offenders should receive strong denunciatory sentences.
In these cases, where the Crown serves notice under section 727 of the Criminal Code that a higher maximum penalty is sought, a sentencing court would be given additional discretion to impose a sentence that exceeds the otherwise applicable maximum penalty. This will better reflect the severity of the conduct in question and assist courts in imposing sentences that better protect victims.
I urge all members to support this very comprehensive legislation which will reduce delays and make the criminal justice system more efficient and effective on the basis of evidence and not ideology.
Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to rise today at report stage of Bill , an act to amend the Criminal Code, the Youth Criminal Justice Act and other acts and to make consequential amendments to other acts. This is an omnibus bill that addresses matters related to the Criminal Code of Canada.
At first, everyone in our society who deals with major justice issues were quite pleased with what the had to say. There is a clear need for reform. Unfortunately, many in the legal community and elsewhere who are calling for real reform are disappointed.
There is a great sense of disappointment. The longer we work with Bill , the more the disappointment deepens. Michael Spratt, the former chair of the Canadian Criminal Lawyers' Association, has been quoted in this debate before. As he put it, “It all sounded so good. But it has all gone so wrong.”
I did attempt to make improvements to the legislation. Members of this place will know that while my status as leader of the Green Party of Canada does not allow me to sit on any committees, through the work of the PMO, first under former primer minister Stephen Harper and now under our current , I have what some might think of as an opportunity but I have to say it is an enormous burden that increases my workload. It is rather unfair because if it were not for what the committees have done, I could have been presenting substantive amendments here at report stage. That is my right as a member of Parliament and not of one of the three big parties. I have very few rights as a member of Parliament with one seat for the Green Party, but one of those rights was to be able to make substantive amendments at report stage. My rights have been subsumed into what, as I said, was done first by the Conservative government and now by the Liberals, to say that I have an opportunity to present amendments during clause-by-clause study at committee, although I am not a member of the committee. I do not have a right to vote, but I get a chance to speak to my amendments.
It was under that committee motion I was able to present 46 amendments. I participated vigorously in the clause-by-clause consideration of Bill . It was a very discouraging process as very few amendments from opposition parties were accepted. Most of my amendments went directly to testimony from many witnesses who wanted to see the bill improved and I am disappointed that none of my 46 amendments made it through.
I should say that some of the worst parts of Bill were changed on the basis of government-proposed amendments. One of the ones that had worried me a great deal was the idea that in a criminal trial, evidence from the police could come in the form of a written statement without proffering the police officer in question for cross-examination. That was amended so that the prosecutors cannot use what is called routine police evidence without having someone put forward to be cross-examined. There was also the repeal of the vagrancy law and repeal of the law about keeping a common bawdy house.
However, many other sections of this bill cry out for further amendment, so at this point I want to highlight those sections that really need to be amended. We are at report stage, and third reading will come in short order. We are already under time allocation. I hope that when this bill gets to the other place, as it inevitably will, the other place will pass amendments that are needed.
It is quite clear that this bill, in some key areas, would do the opposite of what the government has promised, particularly in relation to disadvantaged people, particularly in relation to the status of indigenous peoples in our prisons, and particularly in relation to access to justice and fairness which have actually been worsened in this bill. That is not something I expected to be standing up and saying at report stage, but there it is. It is massively disappointing, and I hope that the Senate will improve it.
One of the things that was done, and I am not sure it was the best solution, but it was clearly a response to the Stanley case where it was a massive sense of a miscarriage of justice. When there is a jury, it is supposed to be a jury of the accused person's peers. If the person is an indigenous youth and his or her jury is entirely Caucasian, it is not exactly a jury of his or her peers. One of the reasons this happens is the use of peremptory challenges. Therefore, I do appreciate the effort in Bill to eliminate peremptory challenges. However, I want to go over the way in which this bill actually takes this backward.
The effort here of course, as many other hon. members have pointed out, is that this bill is in direct response to the Jordan decision of the Supreme Court of Canada in 2016. In the Jordan case, the delays were so profound that the case could not proceed. Therefore, I think it is very clear that all Canadians feel the same sense of concern with the new trial timelines of 18 months for provincial courts and 30 months for superior court. No one wants people to be freed, who at this point still have the presumption of innocence, because they have not gone through their court case. If the evidence is good enough, the prosecutors bring those people forward. The idea that they are just let out of jail because the trial times and the processing of that person took too long offends our sense of justice. The Government of Canada and the Parliament of Canada were given a very quick jab toward justice by the Supreme Court of Canada. However, have we got it right?
In an effort to speed up trials, I will mention one thing first, which is the issue of eliminating preliminary inquiries. There was a great deal of evidence before our committee that the Government of Canada and the justice department did not have good data to tell us that preliminary inquiries were a source of great delay.
I want to quote from one of the legal experts. Bill Trudell is the current chair of the Canadian Council of Criminal Defence Lawyers. He described preliminary inquiries like this, “They're like X-rays before an operation”. That is a very useful thing to have. They do not happen all the time, but when we remove them without good evidence as to why we are removing them, we could end up having innocent people convicted. In fact, Bill Trudell said that as difficult as it was for him to say, he thinks more innocent people will be convicted because we have taken out preliminary inquiries without quite having the evidence that that was a good thing to do to speed up trials.
We have heard a lot from my friends in the Conservative caucus about the question of hybridization. We have the problem that, having changed the range of sentencing, the effect of Bill is to also increase the sentencing for a summary conviction from six months to two years.
The Liberals have also added in Bill provisions about the use of agents that I do not think were thoroughly thought through. To give a better sense of agents, and this goes to the question of access to justice, suppose people are not quite poor enough to get a legal aid lawyer but are trying to navigate the legal system and they cannot afford a lawyer. In many of those cases, for a very long time, criminal defendants have had the benefit, particularly if they are low income, of law school clinics, which are young lawyers in training. They are student lawyers working as a clinic to provide legal services to people charged with lesser offences. It is too late to amend as here we are at report stage. I hope the other place will amend this to ensure access to legal aid clinics out of law schools in order to help marginalized groups navigating the legal system. I think this is an unintended consequence. I am certain that people in the Department of Justice did not ponder this and say that one of the problems is too many poor people are getting help from law students. That was not a problem that wanted solving, that was a very good and ongoing process that has been recklessly compromised in this bill. I have to hope that when it gets to the other place, we can fix this and make sure that in the definition of “agents” we exclude law students and law schools running clinics.
There are other aspects of this bill where the Liberals have just failed altogether to deal with the issue of the disproportionate number of indigenous people behind bars. They have taken in some aspects, in taking things into account. However, one of my amendments, that I really regret was not accepted, was we have no definition of “vulnerable populations”, and a lot of the evidence that came before the justice committee suggested we need such a definition. I tried one and it failed. Maybe the other place can try again. I hope that Bill will see more improvement in the other place before it becomes law.
Mr. Speaker, I rise on Bill , which is officially called an act to amend the Criminal Code, the Youth Criminal Justice Act and other acts and to make consequential amendments to other acts. Once again, we have before us another omnibus bill.
Just two weeks ago, I spoke on the budget implementation act, part 2, which was an omnibus bill as well, which of course followed the BIA 1, which was also an omnibus bill. Those bills had sections inside of sections making legislative changes.
When the Liberals were in opposition they railed against omnibus bills, so much so that they actually put it into their campaign pledge. If we go to Liberal.ca, it is still there. This is what it says about omnibus bill. It starts, of course, by attacking Stephen Harper, and what Liberal talking point would be complete without blaming Prime Minister Harper? It says, “Stephen Harper has...used omnibus bills to prevent...properly reviewing and debating...proposals. We will...bring an end to this undemocratic practice.”
When we say that, of course, we put our hand over our heart. However, despite their pledge, here we have another omnibus bill. Perhaps that pledge meant they would prevent others from bringing omnibus bills, but not the Liberals.
If we go to the famous Liberal mandate tracker, what does it say on this promise? Under the “unfair and open government” part, it says they will end the use of omnibus bills. Funnily enough, we have an omnibus bill here, the budget implementation act, part 2, and part 1 is on omnibus bills.
Despite that, under the Liberal mandate tracker under “End the improper use of omnibus bills...” it says it is completed and fully met. Of course, this is the same mandate tracker that is judging balancing the budget by 2019-20. It says it is under way with challenges. The government has stated, its own finance department has stated, we will not see it balanced until 2045. However, somehow it was promised for 2019, and by 2045, it is under way with challenges. It makes me think that if the Liberals were the head of the Titanic, after hitting the iceberg and while it is going down, the Cunard Line reaches out to the captain and asks, “How are you making out on your trip?” and the response is, “Well, we are under way with challenges”.
Moving on to Bill, I agree with a few items in this omnibus bill. With over 300 pages of changes, one has to be able to find a few good things. Bill C-75 would repeal unconstitutional provisions in the Criminal Code. That is fair and good. It would increase the maximum prison term for repeat offences involving intimate partner violence. It would provide that abuse from a partner is an aggravating factor on sentencing. We agree with that and fully support it. It would provide more onerous interim release provisions. Again, we can get behind that. It makes some efforts to reduce delays in the judicial system by restricting the availability of a preliminary hearing, increasing use of technology to facilitate remote attendance, and providing for judicial referral hearings to deal with administration of justice offences involving failure to comply with release conditions or failure to appear.
That being said, I have many grave concerns with the bill, mostly around how it waters down penalties for crimes. The Liberals are claiming they want to push through Bill using time allocation in order to speed up the court process, and also because of the Jordan ruling. The big problem is, the Liberals are not able to get their act together and appoint judges. It is one thing to make small steps in this way, but until they get their act together and appoint judges, we are going to continue with justice delays and people being released under the Jordan ruling. There have been hundreds of cases tossed due to delays because the government has been unable to do its job and appoint judges.
There are about 2,000 more applications before the courts to dismiss cases because of delays. We had a gang hit man in Calgary accused of three murders, and suspected by the Calgary police of committing 20 murders. He was released from his trial for the three murders he was charged with, because of delays, because we do not have enough judges. We had a man accused of murder, charged in Edmonton, released because of delays, because the government cannot get its act together and appoint judges. We had a killer in Quebec released because of delays. Possibly the worst was a monster in Nova Scotia who took a baseball bat and broke the ankles and shins of his baby. This man was released because the government is too incompetent to do its job and appoint justices. This is an issue that they have to get hold of and they are failing Canadians.
I am pleased that the Liberals did listen to the Conservatives and other opposition members at committee and backed away from having lighter sentences for some crimes, such as terrorism-related offences and advocating genocide. It makes one wonder why it takes us, in committee, to force the government to back away from lightening a sentence for advocating genocide.
Just two weeks ago in the House, we heard the , the , the NDP leader, the Green Party leader and members of other parties stand up and make wonderful speeches, apologizing for the disgrace of Canada's not accepting the MS St. Louis and the genocide that happened. The same week, we had a concurrence report from committee about the genocide against Yazidi women, a report that, to the credit of my colleague from , dragged the government, kicking and screaming, into the light of recognizing that this had indeed been genocide. Despite everything ISIS has done in slaughtering these people, member after government member stood up to say that the UN had not decided it was genocide and that we could not call it that.
At least the government has recognized this and is not watering down the sentences for advocating genocide. However, I have to ask, why does it take the opposition to demand the government make this change?
As I mentioned, I have serious concerns about the watering down of serious crimes in this bill and reduced sentences for many serious crimes, including sometimes just a monetary fine. I want to go through a few of them.
One is prison breach.
Then there is municipal corruption, the influencing of municipal officials. Members will recall a couple of ex-Liberal cabinet ministers who went on to pursue careers in municipal politics who were charged with fraud. Maybe they were just doing a favour for their compatriots.
There is also influencing or negotiating appointments or dealing in offices. Actually, we now have the being looked at for the clam scam. Perhaps they are trying to do him a favour.
Then there is obstructing or violence to or arrest of officiating clergyman. This one is especially egregious. The Liberals tried to suspend this under section 176. There were special protections for clergyman performing ceremonies, whether church ceremonies, funerals, or other religious ceremonies. The Liberals tried to take that protection away. The opposition fought back. They promised they would not do that, and yet here in this bill they are reducing that crime.
Let us think about it. Two weeks ago we heard of the massive anti-Semitism that results in the genocide of Jewish people. This is two years after the massacre at the mosque in Quebec and just a month after the defacing of the Talmud Torah School, the Jewish school in my riding, with swastikas. Now we have the government saying that it is okay, that we do not need special protection for religious figures and clergymen.
Other crimes the Liberals are watering down include keeping a common bawdy house. Now, that may be great for parliamentarians, but certainly not for Canadians.
Then there is punishment for infanticide. As I mentioned earlier, we had a gentleman, a monster in Halifax, who was released after breaking the bones of his baby. Here we have a bill that allows for a reduction in sentencing for infanticide.
Another is concealing the body of child.
A further one is driving offences causing bodily harm. Again, we just legalized marijuana. We do not have a proper way to measure the impairment. Police departments have said they are not ready, and here we have the government going out of its way to reduce possible penalties for that.
Others include material benefit—trafficking, abduction of person under age of 16, abduction of person under the age of 14.
There there is forced marriage. Just in committee yesterday, we heard that in Sudan, Somalia and the Congo something like 50% of young girls are being forced into marriage. We have the government saying that we need to do more to prevent that, and we do overseas, but why is it reducing the crime here?
Again, to wrap up, I am sure this bill has wonderful intentions, but the government should look at fulfilling its responsibility of filling judicial vacancies and focus on victims and society, not on making things easier for criminals.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in today's debate of Bill . I would like to use my time today to discuss some aspects of amendments to the selection of juries. As we know, jury reform is an area of shared jurisdiction and Parliament is responsible for the criminal law and the rules in the Criminal Code setting out the framework for in-court jury selection. The provinces and territories are responsible for determining, for example, who is eligible for jury duty and the process by which the jury roll is compiled. Bill proposes several reforms with respect to the in-court jury selection process.
First, is the abolishment of peremptory challenges. The Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights heard several witnesses testify on jury reforms. Several legal experts and advocates expressed strong support for their elimination, as it would finally put an end to discriminatory exclusion of jurors.
Kent Roach from the University of Toronto stated:
The proposed abolition of peremptory challenges in s.271 of Bill C-75 is the most effective and efficient way to ensure that neither the Crown or the accused engages in discrimination against Aboriginal people and other disadvantaged and identifiable groups when selecting a juror.
Brent Kettles from Toronto said:
...having peremptory challenges cannot help but lower the public confidence in the administration of justice when members of the public and perspective jurors watch perspective jurors excluded on the basis of no reason, on the basis of no evidence, and without any information.
When those exclusions are based basically on the gut feeling of who is likely to be sympathetic to one side or the other, then that doesn't give the public or perspective jurors a feeling that jury selection is happening in a way that is fair and impartial, and also represents the community.
Legal expert Vanessa McDonnell noted:
It's important to recognize that these challenges have historically been, and can be, used against accused persons to their detriment. We have to balance the perceived benefit of having the peremptory challenge in your pocket to challenge someone whom defence counsel doesn't feel quite right about against the very real risk, I would suggest, that these challenges are going to be used in a way that disadvantages the accused person. My view is that, on balance, the potential harm, not only to the system but to accused persons, is greater than any benefit that accrues.
Discrimination in the selection of juries has been documented for decades. Concerns about the discriminatory use of peremptory challenges and its impact on indigenous people being under-represented on juries were raised in 1991 by Senator Murray Sinclair, then a judge with the Manitoba aboriginal justice inquiry.
More recently, we heard from retired Supreme Court Justice Frank Iacobucci, who studied these issues in his 2013 report on first nations representation on Ontario Juries. Having read these reports and after hearing from many experts on the topic, I am confident that Bill proposes the right approach in abolishing peremptory challenges. It is a simple and effective way to prevent deliberate discrimination and the arbitrary exclusion of qualified jury members.
Furthermore, to bring greater efficiencies to the jury selection process and to make it more impartial, the bill proposes to empower a judge to decide whether to exclude jurors challenged for cause—for example, because they are biased to one side—by either the defence or prosecution.
Currently, such challenges are decided by two laypersons called “triers” who are not trained in the law. This process has been problematic, causing delays in jury trials even before they begin and appeals resulting in orders for a new trial.
The proposal would shift the responsibility for such challenges to judges, who are trained adjudicators and therefore better placed to screen out impartial jurors. The proposed change reflects a recommendation made in 2009 by the Steering Committee on Justice Efficiencies and Access to the Justice System, a group established by the federal-provincial-territorial ministers of justice, comprising judges, deputy ministers of justice from across Canada, defence lawyers, representatives of the bar associations and the police. It is also consistent with what is done in other common law countries, such as England, Australia and New Zealand.
I am confident that this change in procedure would result in improvements in the overall efficiency of our jury trials.
There are also several proposed changes to modernize and update the challenge for cause grounds. Notably, the proposed change to reduce the number of jurors with criminal records for minor offences who could be challenged and excluded from jury duty would help address concerns that excluding individuals with minor criminal records disproportionately impacts certain segments of society, including indigenous persons, as noted by Justice Iacobucci. It would also assist in improving broader participation on juries, and thus, jury representativeness.
In conclusion, the jury reforms in Bill would mark critical progress in the area of promoting fairness, diversity and participation in the jury selection process. These improvements would also enhance efficiencies, as well as public confidence, in the criminal justice system.
I call upon all members of the House to support this transformative bill.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to this important bill, which affects entire segments of our justice system and is essential to the organization of our society.
However, I have no choice but to start this brief speech by saying that the government's approach has left a very bad taste in my mouth. I am choking on this gag that has been forced on me.
The Liberal government is once again imposing a gag order. It has used this tool over 50 times in the past three years to prevent parliamentarians from discussing and fully debating this type of bill, which will affect our justice system, the way justice is meted out in our country, and the rights of victims and accused persons.
Once again, the Liberal government is refusing to allow us to take the time we normally would to conduct a full and exhaustive study of a bill. It is the same broken record, the same old story. The Liberals promised to restore confidence in our institutions, to restore Parliament's credibility, and to once again allow parliamentarians, MPs, to fully participate in discussions. Instead, the government is once again muzzling us and sweeping us aside.
Bill , which we are debating today, is the government's response to the Supreme Court's ruling in Jordan. The court was examining some very long delays in some complex cases. These delays represented a denial of justice for the accused. The cases were never-ending, going on for years.
The Jordan decision set limits. For a normal case, there must not be more than 18 months between the time when charges are filed and the trial is concluded. There are, however, some exceptions. In some cases, the maximum may be 30 months.
The Jordan decision was meant to prevent justice from being unduly delayed or denied, but it has also led to the release of criminals who essentially escaped justice, an unforeseen consequence of the decision. When cases go beyond the time limit set by the Jordan decision, the accused in these cases walk free and never have to face justice or face the charges that were filed against them.
That being said, the government's response must be to determine how to free up the justice system and ensure that criminals are made to stand trial and cannot escape conviction and be released.
That would not necessarily be a good thing from a public safety perspective. We want to keep that from happening again. We agree with the Jordan decision because it was based on sound reasons and grounds, but it has had unintended and dangerous consequences for our society and our fellow citizens.
Is the government's response adequate? That is where we disagree with the Liberal government. We do not think that the solutions set out in Bill C-75 will meet the objective of speeding up the court system so that any accused persons are duly tried within the time frame set out in Jordan. The simplest and most effective solution would be to put more resources into the system so that more files, more cases and more charges can be dealt with more quickly. There are a number of things the government could do to make that happen. The easiest one would be to appoint judges. If there were more judges, then there would be more trials. If there were more trials, then they would be handled much more diligently and would take less time.
Unfortunately, the Liberal government has been dragging its feet on this for three years, and there are still quite a few vacant seats on federal court benches. We are still waiting for those decisions to be made.
To the NDP, this is not about being tougher. The NDP believes that until the government decides to invest in the judicial system, open courts, appoint judges and hire clerks so everyone in the legal system can meet these deadlines, anything else is just a half measure and could even make things worse.
Before getting into preliminary inquiries and routine police evidence, I would like to take two minutes to mourn yet another broken Liberal promise.
This bill is 300 pages long and covers all kinds of things. One might have thought that, while making such major changes to our judicial system, the Liberal government would have taken the opportunity to keep its promise to scrap the mandatory minimum sentences brought in by the Stephen Harper government.
During the campaign, the Liberals told us they would get rid of those mandatory minimum sentences because they made for a bad system that prevented judges from doing their job properly. They said they wanted to restore flexibility to the judicial system and empower judges to exercise judgment because no two cases, no two situations, and no two trials are identical. There are always slight differences.
The Conservatives, meanwhile, took a right-wing populist approach to mandatory minimum sentences. They wanted to provide a show of force and send a message to criminals that they would not get away with anything. Instead, judges' hands were tied, as legislation took away their ability to determine, based on a full understanding of the evidence presented, the best way forward and the most appropriate sentence for an accused.
This is even more disappointing considering that not only was it one of the Liberals' promises in their election platform, but it was also included in the mandate letter given to the . The mandate letter said that mandatory minimums were a priority issue for the Liberals, yet the Liberals did not include this important matter in their criminal justice reform legislation. This is a lost opportunity to implement real, meaningful reform.
We are left, then, with the status quo, and judges still have no discretion around sentencing. Defence counsel will have no incentive to negotiate a plea, and the number of cases going to trial could increase. Once again, the Liberals missed the boat. This problem could have been solved.
I would like to take a moment to quote a few people. Amanda Carling, Emily Hill, Kent Roach and Jonathan Rudin wrote an article earlier this year in The Globe and Mail. The authors believe that mandatory minimum sentences are a bad idea. They argue that Parliament cannot possibly know all the varieties of offences and offenders who might commit them. Furthermore, such sentencing does not take into account the various circumstances offenders might find themselves in, for example, whether offenders live in abject poverty, have intellectual disabilities or mental health issues, have experienced racism or abuse in the past, or have children who rely on them. The authors added that mandatory minimum sentences do not allow judges to decide whether incarceration is necessary to deter, rehabilitate or punish a particular offender.
I think that is a major point that the Liberals should have included in this bill, but they missed the mark. Let us not forget that the courts are a reflection of the social problems and the social reality in our communities. This bill not only offers solutions that will not help clear the backlog in the system, but it does very little to recognize the root causes of the court backlogs, the myriad of social problems such as poverty, addiction, mental health problems, marginalization, and so forth. Investments and social support are urgently needed to reduce the burden on the courts and address the complex issue of over-representation of minorities, especially indigenous or racialized persons in the prison system.
In closing, I want to point out that the NDP is particularly concerned about the provision authorizing the admission of routine police evidence presented by way of affidavit. In other words, if we consider the fact that this routine evidence is presented through an affidavit, there is no opportunity during a trial to cross-examine the police officer on this piece of evidence. We think this could infringe on the rights of the accused to a full and complete defence.