moved that Bill , be read the second time and referred to a committee.
He said: Madam Speaker, I am pleased today to speak to Bill , which proposes much needed reforms to the Criminal Code and the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, or CDSA.
These proposed reforms are first and foremost about addressing the systemic discrimination and unfairness in our criminal justice system, which includes the overrepresentation of indigenous peoples, Black Canadians and members of marginalized communities in Canada's prisons.
The policies that we are targeting in this legislation have not accomplished their goal of deterring crime or keeping our communities safe. What they have done, rather, is disproportionately criminalize and imprison communities that are already discriminated against, especially indigenous peoples and Black Canadians.
We need a policy that is truly effective, that protects all Canadians and that ensures that our justice system is fair. We need a justice policy that is, well, just. In particular, the Speech from the Throne committed to address systemic inequities in all phases of the criminal justice system, including from diversion to sentencing.
These are the primary areas of focus of my proposed legislative reforms.
There are three components to the changes we are proposing in Bill . First, it would eliminate mandatory minimum penalties in all drug offences, a tobacco offence and some firearms offences. Second, it would reverse the previous Conservative government's severe restrictions on the availability of conditional sentence orders, or CSOs. Third, it would require police and prosecutors to consider other measures for simple possession of drugs, such as diversion to addiction treatment programs rather than laying charges or prosecuting individuals for simple possession of an illegal drug.
Before describing the proposed changes in detail, it is important to understand the impact our existing sentencing laws have had on the over-incarceration of indigenous persons, Black Canadians and members of marginalized communities. In 2020, indigenous adults accounted for 30% of federally incarcerated inmates, despite accounting for approximately 5% of the general Canadian adult population. Indigenous women account for 42% of all federally incarcerated women. Similarly, Black adults represent 3% of the overall Canadian population, but they now represent 7.2% of the federal offender population.
These figures are staggering, and the trends have continued to grow year after year. We must do something to turn the tide.
One of the main contributors to these negative trends has been failed sentencing policies. This includes the former government's increase to and indiscriminate use of mandatory minimum penalties of imprisonment, also known as MMPs. This one-size-fits-all approach to crime mandates that anyone who commits an offence, regardless of the circumstance or the individual's degree of responsibility for that crime, must be imprisoned for at least the amount of time prescribed in that MMP.
I ask members to consider the following scenario: A single mother struggling with substance use has begun selling drugs in order to support her addiction and have a bit of money left over to put food on the table. She is charged and convicted of drug trafficking. Even though the judge recognizes prison time would not be appropriate in her circumstance, they have no choice but to order the mandated prison time. As a result, she is separated from her children, her job and her life.
Now, I ask members to contrast this situation with the individual who runs a network and specifically targeted her and other vulnerable individuals like her to get them hooked on drugs and eventually trafficking to fuel their addiction. Because of the mandatory minimum sentence, the judge cannot choose to send only one of these two individuals to prison. They must both be punished in the same way.
I ask my colleagues what that serves. Bill proposes to eliminate all mandatory minimum penalties for drugs, which were brought in by the previous Conservative government in 2012. It would also eliminate MMPs for some firearm offences, which we know have a disproportionate impact on indigenous and Black communities.
Between 2007 and 2017, 39% of Black and 20% of indigenous offenders were placed in federal correction facilities for an offence that carries a mandatory minimum sentence.
During that time, the proportion of Black Canadians admitted to federal corrections for importing or exporting drugs increased from 33% to 43% in 2017. Even worse, the proportion of indigenous offenders admitted for firearms-related offences punishable by a MMP more than doubled.
In a similar vein, Bill would reverse the previous Conservative government's severe restrictions on the availability of conditional sentencing orders, which give judges the option to order that a sentence be served within one's community under strict conditions, if the individual does not pose a risk to public safety, and if the penalty given would have been less than two years of incarceration.
Previous Conservative governments would have us believe our communities are safest when we put all criminals behind bars and throw away the key. That is simply not supported by the evidence. When it comes to lower-risk and first-time offenders, prison is actually associated with elevated risks of recidivism and worse outcomes in both the short term and the long term.
On the other hand, alternatives such as conditional sentencing, or CSOs, are an effective and proven way to enable more effective rehabilitation and reintegration by enabling individuals to maintain their employment, or continue caring for children or family members in need. The data is clear. We just have to listen to it.
The removal of restrictions on CSOs is crucial to reducing the failed trend of Conservative justice policies that have made it difficult, if not impossible, for judges to sentence individuals appropriately. This individual tailoring of sentences is supposed to be a fundamental principle of our criminal justice system, yet it has been altered by these policies.
Our sentencing laws have also prevented sentencing courts from giving full effect to the Gladue principle enshrined in paragraph 718.2(e) of the Criminal Code, which is based on restraint and requires courts to consider all available sanctions other than imprisonment for all offenders, with particular attention to the circumstances of indigenous offenders.
With respect to indigenous women offenders, these targeted measures will have real and measurable impacts. Take, for example, the changes to CSOs. Prior to the previous Conservative government's restrictions, many indigenous women received conditional sentences with positive outcomes. After the restrictions, indigenous women in the same circumstances were instead sent to prison. By restoring the availability of CSOs, more indigenous women can heal within their own communities, continue caring for their children and family members, and have access to culturally appropriate support services. This is effective criminal justice policy in action.
These failed so-called “tough on crime” sentencing policies have made the criminal justice system less efficient. For instance, in cases involving offences with MMPs, the evidence demonstrates that trials take longer to complete, accused persons are less likely to plead guilty and a stark increase in successful charter challenges before Canadian courts. In short, MMPs also clog up our criminal justice system.
Let me provide an overview of the bill. Bill will repeal MMPs for all drug offences that were enacted by the previous Conservative government in 2012. It will also repeal MMPs for certain offences involving—
Madam Speaker, I remind the House that I have taken all decisions based on the health and safety of my employees, following regulations and meeting the needs of my constituents, as well as Canadians across the country in my portfolio.
I will provide an overview of the Bill . The bill would repeal MMPs for all drug offences, which were enacted by the previous Conservative government in 2012. It would also repeal MMPs for certain offences involving the use or possession of firearms and a tobacco-related offence. We know that MMPs do not deter these crimes or keep people and communities safe. In eliminating these MMPs, Bill C-22 would restore judicial discretion, reduce the time and money spent on needless litigation, and address systemic barriers to equality.
We have always held that serious criminals should be treated seriously. As such MMPs will remain for the most serious offences including murder, child sexual offences and firearm offences linked to organized crime.
These changes go hand in hand with the proposed measures in Bill , to increase maximum penalties for certain firearms offences related to gun smuggling and trafficking.
This would allow judges to issue stricter sentences for the most serious gun crimes, including gang-related violence, while enabling a broader range of options for lower-risk and first-time offenders, including alternatives that could help prevent them from becoming hardened criminals behind bars. This is critical to helping keep our communities safe.
With Bill serious crimes would be sentenced seriously and proportionate to the gravity of the offence and degree of responsibility of the offender.
The second area of proposed reforms I would like to discuss focuses on realigning the conditional sentence regime with the purpose for which these sentences were originally intended, namely, to address the overreliance on incarceration for less serious non-violent crimes. A CSO is a sentence of incarceration of less than two years that may be served in the community under strict conditions. It is only available if a judge is satisfied that doing so would pose no risks to public safety.
Bill would repeal a number of restrictions brought in by the former Conservative government on the availability of CSOs. The additional restrictions have limited judges from imposing CSOs in appropriate cases. The current restrictions have resulted in more people being sent to jail and more charter challenges and have contributed to the over-incarceration of indigenous persons, in particular.
In July 2020, in the case of the Queen v. Sharma, the Ontario Court of Appeal struck down the provisions in the Criminal Code limiting the availability of CSOs for offences punishable by a maximum term of imprisonment of 14 years or life, or 10 years if drugs were involved. The court noted that these limits on the availability of CSOs undermined the remedial purpose of the Gladue principle in the Criminal Code by limiting a judge's ability to impose fit sentences to take into account the circumstances of indigenous offenders, including the well-documented impacts of colonialism and residential schools.
Bill seeks to reform the CSO regime in a way that would allow courts to order sentences other than incarceration in appropriate cases that focus on restorative justice principles. We have heard a strong and positive response from the legal community to these proposed changes. These changes would have real, measurable results. Again, CSOs would only be available for those facing sentences of less than two years and where the judge is satisfied that there is no risk to public safety. They would not be available for more serious offences, including murder or attempted murder, torture, advocating genocide, and criminal organization and terrorism offences punishable by a maximum term of imprisonment of 10 years or more.
I would now like to turn my attention to describing the third set of important legislative reforms proposed by Bill , which support our commitment to public health-centred approaches to drugs and substance use.
Bill aligns with amendments proposed by Private Member's Bill , an act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, in terms of evidence-based diversion measures, with certain technical amendments. I would like to thank the member for for his private member's bill and his leadership in this area. We agree that these changes to treat addiction as a health issue would improve the state of the criminal justice system in Canada, particularly as we examine better approaches to dealing with the opioid crisis, and believe that changes like these may very well help save lives.
Substance use is first and foremost a health issue. Bill would enact an evidence-based diversion framework in the CDSA with a set of guiding principles informed by Canada's drugs and substances strategy, as well as principles adopted by the United Nations and the World Health Organization. The Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, on February 19, released a statement in support of 's treatment of drug possession offences. It is clear that we must move toward more effective ways to address public safety concerns relating to substance use.
These reforms are also inspired by the successful approach used in the Youth Criminal Justice Act. They would require peace officers and Crown attorneys to consider alternatives to charging and prosecuting. That includes diverting individuals to a public health agency before proceeding with a charge or before proceeding with a charge once laid. It is worth noting that prosecutors and law enforcement work together in determining which charges to lay in a specific situation and, as such, extending this requirement to both would help ensure that appropriate discretion is exercised.
The reforms proposed would encourage the diversion of simple drug possession cases away from the criminal justice system and focus on the needs of the individual.
Another important benefit of these reforms is that individuals would not have the stigma and the legal costs associated with being charged with a criminal offence. Moreover, these reforms are consistent with the director of public prosecutions' August 2020 guideline that requires prosecutors to pursue diversion for simple drug possession cases.
These proposed amendments will support my 2021 supplementary mandate letter commitment to divert first-time, non-violent individuals charged with simple drug possession at an early stage.
These proposed legislative reforms will generate several long-term benefits to the criminal justice system, including overall cost reductions, and will lead to more effective responses leading to less recidivism. I am confident that Bill strikes the right balance. Indeed, it has been applauded as much-needed legislation. It responds to long-standing calls for reforms by the Quebec Bar and the Canadian Bar Association.
Our changes reflect several calls to action made by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, calls for justice by the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, and recent calls by the Parliamentary Black Caucus.
Moving forward, we will do more. We have committed to support the application of Gladue principles and Gladue report-writing in the criminal justice system. We have also committed to supporting community justice centre pilot projects across Canada, which will provide more culturally appropriate services to address root causes of crime. Finally, we have noted our support for the implementation of the impact of race and culture assessments, which will better inform sentencing decisions, as they will be based on an understanding of the systemic inequalities faced by racialized groups such as Black Canadians.
In advancing these reforms, I am conscious that some stakeholders and parliamentarians may believe that Bill C-22 does not go far enough or, for others, it goes too far.
Bill C-22 is an important step that advances evidence-based reforms, which will alleviate some of the negative trends plaguing our criminal justice system. It will ensure that sentencing judges are better able to consider the entire context, circumstances, and seriousness of an offence when they impose a sentence.
The time has come to break with the past, the so-called tough-on-crime policies of the previous government, whose only benefit has been to make politicians look tough. We can do a better job and we will.
Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak to Bill .
When this bill was first introduced, I read the news release on it, heard the 's comments and, like many Canadians, took the government at its word about what this bill would do. Unfortunately, when we actually saw the text of the bill, we saw that this was not about simple possession of drugs; that this was not about minor crimes, as the minister just remarked in his statement; and that it was not about minor offences.
I want to highlight the text of the bill and what it actually would do. I think most Canadians would be alarmed by the approach the government is taking.
First, I will talk about mandatory minimums and the elimination of mandatory prison time for what the government is saying are minor offences. What are these minor offences? They include robbery with a firearm; extortion with a firearm; weapons trafficking; importing or exporting knowing a firearm is unauthorized; discharging a firearm with intent; using a firearm in the commission of an offence; possession of a prohibited or restricted firearm with ammunition; possession of a weapon obtained by the commission of an offence; and possession for the purpose of weapons trafficking. What do all those mandatory prison sentences have in common? They predate the previous Conservative government. Most of them are one-year minimums that were brought in by Liberal governments. We did not hear the Liberal mention that in his press release, and it would have been good of him to do so.
I think Canadians would be surprised that the bill in fact would do away with minimum sentences on all those offences, and that was certainly not made clear by the government. In fact, the government's messaging was primarily framed as turning a page on Conservative justice policy. There are two things that are worth raising on that.
I am proud to support strong sentences and prison time for individuals who conduct drive-by shootings, robbery with a firearm or crimes like weapons trafficking. This is impacting Canadians from coast to coast. Whether people live in an urban centre or a rural area, they deserve to be safe from crime. In fact, I think most Canadians would agree with that, which is why the Liberals will not talk about what offences they are actually repealing mandatory prison time for. We just heard the speak. He did not list the firearms offences, like I just did, that would have their punishments lowered under the bill.
Second, the former Conservative government certainly did bring in some mandatory prison sentences for violent offences like the ones I just listed. It is worth noting, though, that if we trace the mandatory prison sentences back, we can trace many of them to 1995 and beyond, under former Liberal governments. In fact, we can even trace the mandatory prison sentence for using a firearm in the commission of an offence back to former Primer Minister Trudeau in the 1970s. Many of the mandatory minimums being maintained by the Liberal government, being kept in the Criminal Code were implemented and strengthened by a former Conservative government.
This is all to highlight the fact that this is largely the Liberals leaning heavily on warped communications to make reforms to the Criminal Code to weaken penalties for crimes that most Canadians would say deserve mandatory prison time.
Now I will touch on the mandatory prison time being eliminated under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. The Liberals would have us believe this is just about simple possession of drugs. In fact, Bill tells us it is just the opposite.
Bill would eliminate mandatory prison time for trafficking or possession for the purpose of trafficking; importing and exporting or possession for the purpose of exporting; and production of a substance schedule I or II, for example heroin, cocaine, fentanyl and crystal meth. People would be forgiven if they were confused, because the federal government's news release does not mention that it will be eliminating mandatory prison time for drug traffickers. It does not mention that they will be eliminating mandatory prison time for those importing or exporting drugs. Nor does it mention that Bill C-22 would eliminate mandatory prison time for the production of drugs like heroin, cocaine, fentanyl and crystal meth.
I hypothesize that the government's news release does not mention any of this because it recognizes that Canadians would not support eliminating mandatory prison time for drug traffickers. To be clear, these are not people in simple possession of drugs. These are people who are preying each and every day on addicts, on people who need help. These are the individuals taking advantage of them in our communities. These are the people involved in criminal activities and are actively preying on those who struggle every day with addiction.
There is a component in the bill that codifies principles that police officers and prosecutors should follow when determining whether to lay charges, but the fact is that police officers already have the ability to use their discretion when determining to lay charges. Further, the director of public prosecutions previously issued a directive to prosecutors telling them to avoid prosecuting simple possession charges unless there are major public safety concerns. This change, in practice, will therefore have little impact.
The Conservatives believe that those struggling with addiction or mental health issues should get the help they need. Many Canadians struggling with addiction should have access to treatment rather than prison if their crime was non-violent. However, the bill before us would do absolutely nothing to address that.
I will now move on the to the conditional sentencing component of the bill.
Bill would make a number of offences eligible for conditional sentencing, which means a person would serve their sentence from the comfort of their own home. Again, the government's news release does not outline what those offences are. The minister referred to them as minor offences. Well, here are some examples of offences for which a conditional sentence would be available under Bill : manslaughter, discharge of a firearm with intent, sexual assault with a firearm, robbery, breaking and entering a dwelling-house, breaking and entering a place other than a dwelling-house, assaulting a police officer causing bodily harm, sexual assault, abduction of a person under 14 and kidnapping. The government did not mention any of these specific offences in its news release. It completely brushed over this point and referred to them as minor offences. I think almost all parliamentarians and Canadians would agree that those are in fact serious offences and that people should not be serving a sentence from the comfort of their own home if they have just finished burning down one of ours.
The government has said that removing the section of the Criminal Code that prevents conditional sentences from being issued for the offences I just listed would allow for more effective rehabilitation and reintegration by enabling individuals to maintain employment or to continue caring for children or family members. Quite frankly, I do not think someone convicted of kidnapping, sexual assault, manslaughter or the many other offences I listed should be eligible for house arrest, and I think most Canadians agree on that point.
The Conservatives support reducing recidivism, but Bill is not the way to tackle it. In fact, my colleague, the member for , has introduced Bill , an act to establish a federal framework to reduce recidivism. This bill would set up a framework of measures to help reduce recidivism, reducing the number of people coming into continual contact with the criminal justice system. I hope members on all sides of the House will support it.
We have seen a trend from the government in its failure to respond or stand up for victims of crime. In November of last year, the federal ombudsman for victims of crime called on the government to proceed with the in-depth parliamentary review of the Canadian victims bill of rights, as required under the legislation, so that further means to protect victims of crime could be identified. This has yet to happen.
This is an opportunity to strengthen the act and ensure that supports are made available for victims. The federal ombudsman for victims of crime said that based on the data available to her, it appeared the objectives of the act established in 2015 have not been met. Her office released a series of recommendations in a progress report that should be reviewed more fully in the parliamentary review that the government should proceed with quickly to ensure that victims and their families receive the support they deserve.
A few days after the report from the federal ombudsman was released, a decision by the Quebec Court of Appeal struck down a section of the Criminal Code allowing for consecutive life sentences. This was the case of a man who murdered six people in a Quebec City mosque in 2017—
Madam Speaker, I am speaking this afternoon to Bill , an act to amend the Criminal Code and the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.
The Liberals have advertised this bill as a response to the disproportionate number of Black, indigenous and other marginalized Canadians caught up in Canada's criminal justice system. They have advertised this bill as removing what they have characterized as unfair and disproportionate mandatory jail time for what they claim to be minor offences. The Liberals have repeatedly advertised in that regard that Bill eliminates mandatory jail time for simple possession. On its face, it all sounds pretty good. The only problem is that Bill C-22 is not as advertised by the Liberals.
The bill has very little to do with helping marginalized Canadians and persons who are struggling with drug addiction, as the Liberals have advertised. It has absolutely nothing to do with eliminating mandatory jail time for simple possession, because there is no mandatory jail time for simple possession. Rather, Bill is about the government advancing a radical, ideological agenda that is not evidence-based. It is based on putting the rights of criminals first. Through its false advertising, this cynical government in a cynical and dishonest way is seeking to change the channel from what the bill is really all about. Quite frankly, I believe the more Canadians learn about Bill C-22, the more alarmed the vast majority of Canadians will be.
It is true that this legislation does eliminate mandatory jail time, but it does not eliminate mandatory jail time for so-called minor offences. Rather, the bill removes mandatory jail time for some extremely serious offences, including serious firearms offences.
What sorts of firearms offences does this legislation eliminate mandatory jail time for? Those offences include robbery with a gun, extortion with a gun, discharging a firearm with the purpose of inflicting injury, weapons trafficking, using a gun in the commission of an offence and possession of a gun obtained in the commission of an offence. I could go on.
I say this to the government, through you, Madam Speaker: How does that benefit or help marginalized Canadians? The simple answer is that it does nothing in that regard. Instead, it helps give a free pass to dangerous criminals.
This is quite ironic because this is the government that talks a lot about getting tough on guns and gun crime. When the Liberals talk about getting tough on guns, what they really mean is getting tough on law-abiding Canadians who own guns. We see this in Bill , which was introduced three days before the Liberals introduced this deeply flawed piece of legislation, which imposes onerous new restrictions on law-abiding firearms owners and threatens law-abiding firearms owners with jail time if they fail to comply.
There we have it, in terms of the Liberal approach. If someone happens to be a law-abiding firearms owner, the Liberals are coming after them and threatening them with jail, but if they happen to be a serious criminal who commits serious offences with guns, the Liberals are here to help them stay out of jail. Talk about a mismatched set of priorities on the part of the government. Talk about putting ideology ahead of common sense and public safety.
This legislation would not just eliminate mandatory jail times for serious firearms offences. This bill would also remove mandatory jail times for serious drug related offences, as my colleague, the member for , pointed out. These include drug trafficking, exporting and importing drugs, and possession for the purpose of trafficking. I could go on.
That is very inconsistent with the false advertising of the government, which says this bill is about helping people struggling with addictions. In fact, what this bill is really about is helping those who prey on some of the most vulnerable Canadians, including Canadians who are struggling with addictions. It is simply a further example of the dishonest approach the government has taken with respect to selling this deeply flawed and ideological piece of legislation.
The difference in the approach of the previous Conservative government, compared with the approach of the current government to Canada's criminal justice system and holding dangerous criminals accountable, could not be more stark. The previous Conservative government worked tirelessly to strengthen Canada's criminal justice system by holding dangerous criminals accountable under the law.
Among the measures taken by the previous Conservative government was ending house arrest for some very serious offences. Bill would eviscerate the measures that were introduced by the previous Conservative government by allowing persons convicted of some very serious offences to serve their time in their homes, perhaps next to you, Madam Speaker, instead of behind bars where they belong.
Offences that could be served in the community if this legislation is passed include manslaughter, prison breach, criminal harassment, sexual assault, kidnapping, kidnapping a minor, motor vehicle theft, theft over $5,000 and arson for a fraudulent purpose. That is just scratching the surface.
Bill would put the rights of criminals ahead of victims, public safety and safe streets and communities. It is why we, on this side of the House, will vigorously oppose this legislation every step of the way.
Madam Speaker, my father, who was a political commentator, once referred to a Conservative minister of justice as the “minister of crime and punishment”, and I am very proud to be speaking on behalf of a government that has a .
The Conservatives have several times referenced the discretion of the police in the justice system, and it is clear that Conservatives trust the police more than judges. I will let them explain that.
Extreme crimes would still get extreme sentences. That is clear. This bill deals with mandatory minimum sentences, and is focused more on prevention than on punishment. The former governments' approaches, Liberal and Conservative, clearly have not worked. The situation is getting worse. It is getting more violent and there are more victims. The status quo is unacceptable.
Every time we talk about prevention, whether it is gun control or new investments in housing, child care, education, health care or recreation, Conservatives vote against prevention. There is no evidence, none, that mandatory minimum sentences prevent crime. There is none.
If there is no evidence mandatory minimum sentences prevent crime, what are Conservatives prepared to do to stop a crime before they respond to it with more punishment? Why are they more interested in building jails than building housing, saving people rather than saving—
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today to speak to Bill . In our opinion, this is an important bill that deserves to be carefully examined in committee and then debated in the House.
The Bloc Québécois believes in the principle of honest and impartial deliberations before an impartial court. We think it is important that judges have the necessary discretion to render appropriate decisions. They must first decide whether a crime has been committed and then they must determine the sentence for that crime, if applicable.
Some rather tragic situations have occurred in the current context, where Parliament decided a few years ago to tie the hands of judges with minimum sentences. I am thinking of a relatively recent case. Two or three years ago, a young man who was about 22 or 23 years old had a girlfriend who was about 15. He was in a relationship with her. The parents of both young people were okay with it and consented to it. The young people were open about the fact that they were dating. There were no secrets. At one point, the young man was sentenced, and the Court of Appeal had to reduce that sentence. The Court of Appeal indicated in its decision that it was rather absurd to impose minimum sentences in situations like this one, where the judge clearly needed to be able to exercise some discretion and use judgment in enforcing the appropriate standards.
We think judges should have that discretion, so we are in favour of getting rid of mandatory minimums wherever possible.
That said, eliminating mandatory minimums does not mean a free-for-all. It means that judges we trust, who have a modicum of intelligence, experience and knowledge of the justice system, will be able to adjust a sentence, instead of simply imposing sentences over which they have no discretion whatsoever, just because lawmakers decided at some point that it should be that way. That is one thing.
I would say that our confidence in the justice system shows in the objections we have repeatedly raised, as all my parliamentary colleagues have witnessed, with regard to the Liberal government's partisan appointment process. I can still hardly believe that we were told they were using the infamous “Liberalist” to check whether candidates for the bench had any relationship with the Liberal Party. That really bothered me because a system like that undermines public confidence in those judges. That was just an aside, but we have been consistent about that.
Let me just say that we think that the justice system should work and we should be able to have confidence in it. Our job as legislators is to pass legislation and ensure that judges are unhindered, that they are completely free to apply the law objectively and judiciously.
I would add that we must never forget that the job of the legislator is to decide what constitutes an offence. Our work on a criminal offence is to determine whether drug possession is an offence or not, whether murder is an offence or not. I hope it will continue to be, but theoretically it is up to the legislator to make those types of decisions. As part of the executive branch, police officers have to apply or enforce the laws voted in by us, and the judiciary has to decide whether the Crown is right, whether an offence has been committed. We have to be consistent and eliminate minimum penalties. I completely agree with that.
I also think that diversion measures are rather important. In Quebec, we have a rather unique system with young offenders and youth law. There were fierce debates several years ago before I was elected when the previous government wanted to impose minimum sentences on young offenders. In Quebec, we believe we must try to rehabilitate young offenders. In Quebec we have expertise on diversion programs. We are pleased to see that the current government wants to move the legislation in that direction.
Getting back to the topic of drugs, in recent years, drug addiction problems have been dealt with as Criminal Code offences. We believe that this is a public health issue rather than a judicial one.
I am not talking about drug traffickers. When someone brings 100 kilograms of cocaine into Canada, we agree that it has nothing to do with the person having a drug addiction. That individual does not need to spend time in a rehabilitation centre, but rather to be tried and duly punished.
On the other hand, when we are talking about simple possession or a young person with a drug addiction, we need to look after that person. That young person needs to be loved, treated fairly and supported in their recovery. That is what we believe, and we therefore plan to support Bill .
I do not know how much time I have left, but I could go on and on about why I believe in the principles of diversion and judicial discretion. I also want to mention that I have been listening to my Conservative colleagues and, although I do not agree with everything they have said, I also do not disagree with everything they have said. They are right about a few things. I think the bill is far from perfect and therefore needs some fine tuning. We need to hear from experts in various fields at committee, propose amendments and improve the bill, because there is considerable room for improvement.
I have serious concerns about clause 20 of the bill, which would add a section 10.2 to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, giving peace officers, or police officers, the power to either lay an information for certain offences, to give a warning or to send the offender to a program, such as a rehabilitation program, an agency or another service provider. I think that rehabilitation programs are good, but I am hesitant to give police officers the authority to make this decision without any legal framework.
Personally, I like the system we have in Quebec. If a police officer wants to lay an information, they first go to the Crown prosecutor, who will choose whether to authorize the charge and may decide to send the offender to a program instead of proceeding to trial. The Crown prosecutor is given some leeway, while Bill C-22 would give that leeway to police officers.
I have a lot of friends who are police officers, and I have a lot of respect for what they do. I am not saying that they are unable to show discretion, diligence or good judgment, but I still believe that Crown prosecutors or the director of criminal and penal prosecutions should have some oversight over this specific issue.
New clause 10.4, which the bill would add to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, states that the police force in question may keep a record or registry of any warnings or referrals. Should the “may” not be a “must”? That would ensure that there is a record of all of the warnings and referrals made by the police. What is more, should a provision not be added to enable the director of criminal and penal prosecutions to check that record from time to time or to ensure diligent follow-up? I do not think that leaving all the discretionary power in the hands of the police without any follow-up or oversight is the right solution.
I am not willing to give carte blanche with regard to Bill C-22. I think we need to examine it. I would like to hear what police officers think of the bill. I would also like to hear from people working in detox facilities or in offender rehabilitation. I would like to hear from all of those people and from Crown prosecutors, but I do not know how comfortable they would feel testifying before a parliamentary committee.
I would like to examine every aspect of these provisions because this is so important. I have to say that I am a little disappointed to see this happening at the end of the legislative process.
There has been talk of an election. Mr. Trudeau seems to be hinting at a spring or fall election.
Will we have time to pass Bill before Parliament is dissolved? I—
Madam Speaker, I listened with great interest to my colleague's remarks. He seemed to suggest that he believes that the legislature has no role in sentencing—that it is up to the legislature to determine what is a crime, but that it is up to judges alone to determine sentencing. I think there is a strong case to be made, though, that legislatures in a democracy have a responsibility to at least establish something like sentencing starting points. We can debate whether mandatory minimum sentencing starting points and other mechanisms are appropriate.
The reason for the legislature to have a voice in sentencing is twofold.
Number one, in a democracy, it is the job of a legislature to establish the relative seriousness of a crime and to say, through sentencing starting points or mandatory minimums or other mechanisms, that we view something as a very serious crime and that we therefore have set a higher sentencing starting point, and that we view something else as a less serious crime and have therefore set a lower starting point.
Another important reason for the legislature to be engaged is a matter of equality. Different judges likely have different opinions about the sentences that are appropriate for certain crimes, so to have a standard sense of what the sentencing starting point is for a particular crime ensures equality for people who go before different judges for the same crime.
Does the member agree in principle that legislators in democracies should have some role in establishing, at the very least, starting points for sentencing so that there is equality and so that there is some social voice speaking to the court about the relative seriousness of certain kinds of crimes?
Madam Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for his question.
We have already been asked why we would support Bill , which would take certain firearms off the market.
I can understand why he would say that Bill C-21, at face value, appears to restrict or prohibit weapons that are harmless, or, at least, not harmful or the same type we want to restrict or prohibit.
We took the same approach with Bill C-21. We said that it needed to be studied in committee and amended. If my colleagues want perfect bills that can be passed as soon as they are introduced, I encourage them to immigrate to Quebec. Once we become a sovereign nation, we will have excellent pieces of legislation. The only thing we can do now is study the federal government's bills, and there is no question that they need amendments.
We have to study them in committee so that we can hear from experts and get people to reconsider poorly worded bills. My colleague is right; Bill C-21 must be improved.
I do not believe that people playing with toy guns need to be sent to prison. When I was a kid I played with guns and I did some things that my children and grandchildren may not be able to do today. I do not see how I, or anyone else, could have been sent to prison for such activities.
My colleague is right: Bill needs to be improved, and so does Bill .
Madam Speaker, I would be pleased to rise in the House today rather than just speak to a pinhole camera, as I always say, but let me say that New Democrats will be supporting Bill at second reading, because there are some good ideas in it. However, if we are going to be amending the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, we see Bill C-22 as a real missed opportunity. We have two very important crises in front of us as Canadians. One is the opioid crisis and the other is the over-incarceration of indigenous people, Black Canadians and Canadians living in poverty. We had a real chance to tackle both of those issues in this bill and, instead, the government has given us a very tepid response.
What we should see in this bill is a change to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act to decriminalize the personal possession of small amounts of drugs for personal use, and we should also see a second provision that would automatically expunge previous criminal records for personal possession of drugs. If we had those two things in this bill, we could tackle the problem of addiction by moving it clearly to the health system rather than the criminal justice system, and we could tackle one of the main causes of over-incarceration of marginalized people in Canada.
The policies that New Democrats are talking about are more effective, more just and even cheaper. I want to talk about mandatory minimums. The one good idea in the bill is to eliminate mandatory minimums for drug offences. New Democrats have certainly long argued for this. Conservatives, in their speeches, have been saying that the bill would eliminate mandatory minimums created by the Liberals, which is true and I am for that, and it creates a lot more mandatory minimums created by Conservatives, and I am also in favour of that.
Mandatory minimums do not do a thing to prevent or deter crime or make Canadians safer. All that mandatory minimums do is to guarantee that some people who should not be in prison at all, who would be better off in rehabilitation or diversion programs, are incarcerated. Mandatory minimums end up costing the public money, and having spent 20 years as a criminal justice instructor before coming here, I can say that those who go to prison actually end up far more likely to reoffend than those who do not. Therefore, rehabilitation and diversion programs are a great success and mandatory minimums stand in the way of those programs.
When it comes to overrepresentation, there is no doubt that when we look at the statistics of how many indigenous people are in the correctional system, though they are only 4.9% of the population, they make up over 30% of the people incarcerated in Canada, as the criminal investigator, Ivan Zinger, reported. If we look at Black Canadians, in the last census though they were about 3.5% of Canadians, they are more than double that percentage of the prison population. Many people who live in poverty end up embroiled in the criminal justice system because of very minor drug offences. Again, if we are looking at what the real solution is to both of these problems, it is decriminalization of the personal possession of small amounts of drugs.
Let us take the example of Portugal, which decriminalized personal possession in 2001. We see some very positive results as a result of that legislative action. There have been steep declines in overdose deaths in Portugal, in drug usage, in new cases of HIV and hepatitis C infections and in drug-related crime. Overdose deaths declined from over 400 per year to less than 40. Drug usage declined among all age groups, but it was an especially large decline in the 15-year-old to 24-year-old age group. New HIV infections declined by 90%. Portugal previously had the highest rate of drug-related HIV cases, and decriminalization led to that very steep decrease. It also led to a decrease in incarceration, by about 75% for drug offences.
This measure had lots of related impacts. First of all, the police reported that they had much more time to devote to serious drug trafficking cases when they were not messing with personal possession cases, and it helped eliminate many long delays in the Portuguese criminal justice system by taking many of these minor cases out of the court system.
Did it solve all problems related to addiction and drug use? No, of course it did not. Observers have pointed to the need that if we decriminalize personal possession, we need strong prevention and treatment programs to go alongside that. We need things like supervised injection sites, needle exchanges, provisions for the safe supply of drugs, better access to anti-overdose medications and improved access, obviously, to drug prevention and treatment programs.
Certainly the opioid crisis makes more dramatic action than this bill offers necessary. On the south island, in 2019, there were 65 overdose deaths. In 2020, during the current pandemic crisis, there 120 deaths. In British Columbia as a whole in the period of COVID, the number of toxic-drug deaths doubled in that time period.
Is decriminalization of the possession of small amounts of drugs for personal use still an idea outside the mainstream? Certainly I felt like an outlier when I first began talking about this as a city councillor in 2008, though, of course, Portugal was my example then as it is now. However, now we can add to the list of supporters of decriminalization of personal possession, including big city mayors, from Kennedy Stewart in Vancouver to Valérie Plante in Montreal; the Elizabeth Fry Society; the John Howard Society; virtually every criminal justice researcher; the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police; the World Health Organization; the Global Commission on Drug Policy; and various UN agencies.
While the New Democrats are offering support for this timid bill, it does do one good thing in eliminating those mandatory minimum sentences for drug offences. However, what we are offering is also criticism for the failure to take on the bigger questions that lie behind our failure to confront the opioid crisis, the over-incarceration of indigenous people, Black Canadians and Canadians living in poverty.
The New Democrats will continue to fight for more effective, comprehensive and cheaper measures to get these two jobs done.