Mr. Speaker, I am delighted to join the House this morning to speak to Bill , an act to amend the Criminal Code and the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. I want to acknowledge that we are gathered here on the traditional unceded lands of the Algonquin Anishinabe peoples.
This bill fulfills a platform commitment to reintroduce former Bill within 100 days, and I am proud to work with the on this important piece of legislation. The proposed reforms represent an important step in our government's continuing efforts to make our criminal justice system fairer for everyone by seeking to address the overrepresentation of indigenous people, Black Canadians and members of marginalized communities. Bill focuses on existing laws that have exacerbated underlying social, economic, institutional and historical disadvantage and which have contributed to systemic inequities at all stages of the criminal justice system, from first contact with law enforcement all the way through to sentencing.
Issues of systemic racism and discrimination in Canada's criminal justice system are well documented, including by commissions of inquiry such as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, and the Commission on Systemic Racism in the Ontario Criminal Justice System.
More recently, the Parliamentary Black Caucus, in its June 2020 statement, called for reform of the justice and public safety systems to weed out anti-Black racism and systemic bias, and to make the administration of justice and public security more reflective of and sensitive to the diversity of our country. I was pleased to sign this statement, as were numerous cabinet colleagues, including the , many members of Parliament and senators representing the different political spectrums.
The numbers speak for themselves. Black Canadians represent 3% of the Canadian population yet represent 7% of those who are incarcerated in federal penitentiaries. Indigenous people represent roughly 5% of the Canadian population yet represent 30% of those who are federally incarcerated. The number is profoundly higher for indigenous women, who represent 42% of those who are incarcerated.
Indigenous people and Black Canadians have been particularly marginalized by the current criminal justice system. The calls for action recognize that sentencing laws, and in particular the broad and indiscriminate use of MMPs, or mandatory minimum penalties, and restrictions on the use of conditional sentences have made our criminal justice system less fair and have disproportionately hurt certain communities in Canada.
This is precisely why Bill proposes to repeal a number of mandatory minimum penalties, including for all drug-related offences and for some firearm-related offences, although some MMPs would be retained for serious offences such as murder and serious firearm offences linked to organized crime. Data shows the MMPs that would be repealed have particularly contributed to the over-incarceration of indigenous people, Black Canadians and members of marginalized communities.
This bill would increase the availability of conditional sentencing orders in cases where offenders do not pose a risk to public safety. CSOs allow offenders to serve sentences of less than two years in the community under strict conditions, such as house arrest and curfew, while still being able to benefit from employment, educational opportunities, family ties and community and health-related support systems.
I want to talk about who we want to help with Bill . It is the grandmother who agrees to let her grandson leave a gun at her house overnight even though she knows she is not supposed to because he did not purchase the gun legally. It is for the young indigenous man who shoots a hunting rifle at what he believes to be an empty building and no one gets hurt. The incident prompts him to get his life back on track. He goes into a rehab program to get off drugs and starts counselling to address childhood and intergenerational trauma that has haunted him throughout his young life. By the time of sentencing, he has a job and a new relationship, and is ready to contribute positively to his community.
These are not the hardened criminals. These are people who deserve a second chance or an off-ramp from the criminal justice system. They are people who, with the right support, will never offend again. Sending them to jail, which hurts not only them but their families and communities, will do nothing but put them on a path toward further criminality. This is why MMPs that tie judges' hands can lead to negative outcomes in the justice system and for our society more broadly.
To appreciate the pressing need for these reforms, we must go back to the foundational principles of sentencing in Canada. The fundamental purpose and principles of our sentencing regime are rooted in trail-blazing reforms made in 1996, which created a statutory recognition that sentencing is an individualized process that relies on judicial discretion to impose just sanctions. Such sanctions are proportionate to the degree of responsibility of the offender and the seriousness of the offence.
To achieve these sanctions, the 1996 reforms directed judges to take into account a number of sentencing principles, including rehabilitation and deterrence. Some of these principles acknowledge that in sentencing less serious crimes, imprisonment is often ineffective, unduly punitive and to be discouraged. The sentencing principles also recognize the need to address the over-incarceration of indigenous persons, who were at that time already overrepresented within the system. As such, the amendments to the Criminal Code directed judges to consider all sanctions other than imprisonment that are reasonable in the circumstances before choosing to send an offender to jail. This principle applies all offenders, but requires judges to pay particular attention to the circumstances of indigenous offenders.
To give full effect to these principles, the 1996 reforms created conditional sentences of imprisonment that allowed judges to order that terms of imprisonment of less than two years be served in the community under certain conditions. An offender could be eligible for a conditional sentence if serving their sentence in the community would not pose a risk to public safety, if the offence for which they were convicted is not subject to a mandatory minimum penalty and if the community-based sentence would be consistent with the fundamental purpose and principles of sentencing.
Unfortunately, the previous Conservative government's increased use of mandatory minimum penalties and imposition of additional restrictions on the availability of conditional sentencing orders have restricted judicial discretion and made it difficult for courts to effectively apply these important principles. These so-called tough-on-crime measures have actually made our criminal justice system less effective by discouraging the early resolution of cases. These measures have eroded public confidence in the administration of justice.
The biggest problem with these measures has been that they disproportionately affect indigenous people, Black Canadians and members of marginalized communities.
In fact, the Ontario Court of Appeal recently found in its 2020 decision in R. v. Sharma that certain of the limits on conditional sentence orders enacted in 2012 undermine the purpose of the Gladue principle by limiting the court's ability to impose a fit sentence that takes the offender's circumstances into account. The Court of Appeal held that those limits perpetuate a discriminatory impact against indigenous offenders in the sentencing process.
By targeting these sentencing policies, Bill seeks to restore the ability of courts to effectively apply the fundamental purpose and principles of sentencing, and ensures that sentences are individualized and appropriate for the circumstances of the case. Although it is important to ensure that fair and compassionate sentences are imposed, it is equally important to ensure that measures are in place to avoid contact with the criminal justice system in the first place.
This is why Bill would require police and prosecutors to consider alternatives to laying or proceeding with charges for the simple possession of drugs, such as issuing a warning, taking no action or diversion to addiction treatment programs. We want to focus on getting individuals the help they need, whether that be treatment programs, housing or mental health support, instead of criminalizing them. These measures are consistent with the government's public health-centred approach to substance use and the opioid epidemic in Canada.
Together, these measures would encourage responses that take into account individuals' experiences with respect to systemic racism, health-related issues and the particular supports they could benefit from. These reforms would allow police, prosecutors and the courts to give full effect to the important principle of restraint in sentencing, particularly for indigenous offenders, and explore approaches that focus on restorative justice, the rehabilitation of individuals and their reintegration into the community.
It is essential that Canadians have confidence in the justice system and that they believe it is there to protect them, not harm them or their community. These reforms reflect what we have heard from Canadians.
The 2017 national justice survey revealed that Canadians overwhelmingly support diversion measures, less restrictive sentences and judicial discretion in sentencing, even in cases where there is an MMP. For instance, 91% of Canadians indicated in the survey that judges should be granted flexibility to impose a lesser sentence than an MMP. Moreover, 69% of those polled believe that diversion could make the criminal justice system more effective and 78% believe that diversion could make it more efficient by reducing the caseload for the courts and court processing times.
I would like to assure my colleagues that our government takes violent gun crimes seriously. I am from Scarborough, a community that has issues with gun violence. I understand the need to crack down on firearm traffickers and the organized criminal element that threatens our communities. In my previous life, I ran a youth organization and saw many young men buried as a result of gun violence. I saw the pain in the faces of the parents. In fact, I recall one mother, whose son was killed over 20 years ago, who is still grieving for her loss. This affects the community as a whole. That is why we are not repealing MMPs for those offences.
I had a chance to speak with Louis March of the Zero Gun Violence Movement this morning. He has advocated for taking guns off our streets. He came to Parliament about two years ago, just before the pandemic, to advocate for MMPs to be removed, because he feels it is crucial for judges to have discretion over decisions and that MMPs have disproportionately impacted members of the Black community. Many of the mothers who came here that day were broken by what they saw as a problem with guns. I bring the issue of gun violence to Parliament each and every day, and in many ways, in Toronto and other major cities, it is a significant problem that requires a significant response. Our government is working toward that.
For less serious offences, particularly when someone is a first-time offender who is young or non-violent, MMPs are not the answer. MMPs that send young Black men in my community to prison, when they could be rehabilitated and turn their lives around, only serve to continue the vicious cycle that leads to involvement in gangs and further criminality.
We are repealing the MMPs for robbery and extortion with a firearm, and for discharging a firearm with intent or recklessly when this does not involve a restricted firearm or organized crime. In other words, where the offender—
Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise today to speak to this bill.
It is unfortunate, though, that the government is taking the first opportunity possible to flex its soft-on-crime approach. They have very much reinforced this approach with Bill . It would do nothing more than reduce punishments, and truly reduce accountability, for perpetrators of violent gun crimes and drug dealers. It would keep those individuals in our communities, among their victims, rather than in prison, where they belong.
Bill , for those who are just tuning in, would eliminate a number of mandatory minimum sentences for very serious crimes. I am talking about a soft-on-crime approach, and I would like to contextualize that. This bill would reduce the mandatory minimum jail time for robbery with a firearm, weapons trafficking and discharging a firearm with intent. The hon. member for demonstrated very ably, in response to a question by the parliamentary secretary, why this approach is so problematic, and why the example given does not make sense. It would not achieve the result they are looking for.
This bill would also reduce the mandatory minimum jail time for possession of an unauthorized firearm, possession of a prohibited or restricted firearm, possession of a weapon obtained by commission of an offence and possession for purpose of weapons trafficking. These are incredibly serious offences, but the government is taking its first opportunity to reduce the accountability mechanisms available for the commission of these serious offences. Instead, we are seeing the Liberals posturing, and they hope Canadians will confuse motion for action on gun crime. The motion and activity they will generate will be to crack down on law-abiding firearms owners instead of gun smugglers and drug traffickers.
I find one talking point the Liberals use particularly offensive, and that is that this bill would help those who are struggling with addiction get the help they need. Of course, it would not do that. Canadians, and anyone who is struggling with addiction, should be receiving treatment, but that is not what this bill would do. In fact, the problem would get worse under these Liberals because this bill would also eliminate mandatory prison time for those convicted of trafficking, or possession for the purpose of trafficking; importing and exporting, or possession for the purpose of exporting; and production of a substance in schedule 1 or 2.
The Liberals would literally be letting drug traffickers and manufacturers off the hook while saying it is helping addicts and people in our communities. We are in the grips of an opioid crisis in this country. People are dying every day. We should crack down on the people who are peddling that poison in our communities. However, that is not the approach the Liberals are going to take.
I also heard mention from a representative of the government that they would be getting rid of these nasty Conservative minimum penalties. Rightly, many of these laws came into force in the mid-nineties, and the government of the day was a Liberal government, so there is a bit of a disconnect between what they are saying and what they are doing, as is often the case.
The Liberals want to blame Conservatives for laws that former Liberal governments enacted. They say that they are helping addicts and communities, but they are actually reducing sentences and eliminating accountability for traffickers and manufacturers. Instead of punishing gang members, they are looking to crack down on law-abiding firearms owners.
To be clear, the process and the system we have in place in this country for law-abiding firearms owners is robust. There is no disagreement in the firearms community, with hunters and sport shooters, on the need for that system to be robust. Background checks and CPIC checks are already in place. They are effective and important. When we have a group of citizens who are following the laws in place, it might seem like low-hanging fruit for the government to say that they will just make tougher restrictions and demonstrate that they are putting more laws on the books, and Canadians will somehow believe that they have gotten serious about this.
However, it speaks to the priorities of this government when, last year, its members voted against the Conservative private member's bill that would have seen punishments for weapons trafficking strengthened, but here we are with them proposing to weaken it with this inadequate law. While Conservatives seek to empower victims of crime and to defend their rights, this Liberal government wants to empower the criminals: the drug manufacturers, the traffickers and the gang members.
I have heard from people in my community who have been victimized, or who have loved ones who have been victims of violent crime, and they have serious concerns about the rise of violent crime in Canada. However, it seems like the approach that this government is taking is one that is soft on crime and not one that stands up for victims.
I have certainly heard from police who are at their wits' end. They are doing their part to keep our neighbourhoods and communities, our country, safe, but they are dealing with a justice system and a government that would rather see criminals released back into the community instead of putting them in jail. For example, the police will pick up someone for a violent offence, for one of the offences listed here, on Friday, and by the end of the weekend, that person is back in the community, then rearrested on a different crime, released and rearrested in the same week.
I took the opportunity to go on a ride-along with local police in my community, and in the time it took us to drive five minutes away from the station, the officer observed someone who was violating their release conditions. When the officer called back to dispatch to say that the person was detained and there would be an arrest, the person was still showing as being in the system because the person had been released so recently. The release was processed, and the person was rearrested. The officer was tied up with that individual for the evening.
I then went out on the road with another officer, and before the end of the shift, that same person was back on the street again. I heard story after story from these officers and from officers across Canada who, while dealing with fewer resources, are dealing with a government that wants to see police further taxed with fewer resources available for our law enforcement, less protection for our victims, and leniency and less accountability for criminals.
It is important to note that we are not talking about someone who is accused of a criminal offence. We are talking about individuals who have been convicted. They have, in fact, committed and been convicted of committing the offence, and the government's response is to let them out. They would let them out for robbery with a firearm or for extortion with a firearm or weapons trafficking. It is unbelievable to think that these are the priorities of the government.
We heard the government talk about conditional sentencing and the expansion of conditional sentencing. That means that someone could be put on house arrest, as the parliamentary secretary said, for a number of offences, including kidnapping, sexual assault, human trafficking or trafficking in persons, abduction of a minor or a person under 14 years of age, and being unlawfully in a dwelling house.
It is incredibly concerning that this is the approach that the government wants to take. Those individuals ought not to be released into the community after having been found to have committed the offence for which they were accused. They were found guilty. This bill would only result in an increase in violent crime, fewer resources for our police and law enforcement, and more fear in our communities.
This soft-on-crime approach is full of talking points about helping folks who are struggling with an addiction, but it does not do that. We know that currently the justice system and the police are exercising their discretion in dealing with folks who are struggling with addiction for things like simple possession. If the government wants to get serious, we should be talking today about its expansion for support for people who are struggling with addiction or their mental health.
We know that the House passed a call for a national three-digit suicide prevention hotline, but government members have not done that. Instead, they are dragging their feet and dragging the pot, talking about CRTC consultations that go on and on and on. Get serious. Members from across the country called for this to take place.
That would be a concrete action, but it looks like the government does not want to do it because it was proposed by a member of the official opposition, by one of my Conservative colleagues. That is not in the spirit with which we should be approaching serious issues like addictions and mental health. How will Canadians get the help they need when the government will not even streamline the process for them? We know that that three-digit number is not currently in use. We need to get the lead out.
We saw the government take a full two months after what it deemed to be the most important election that we have had. It certainly did not do that to hand out mandate letters to their ministers, name parliamentary secretaries, or consult with Canadians on any of a number of things that it now wants to rush through this place. It is concerning. Canadians are concerned.
I hear those in the Liberal benches heckling that they have a mandate. Do you have a mandate to let people out for kidnapping someone under the age of 14? Do you have a mandate—
Madam Speaker, Bill is important. It was introduced during the previous Parliament when it was known as Bill . The two bills are substantially the same, with some minor differences. What really makes Bill C‑5 different from Bill C‑22 is context. Society is in a completely different place now.
In my mind, Bill C‑5 might be better off being split up. The debate over diversion and the debate over minimum penalties are two completely different debates. People could be very much in favour of one and against the other. If we want to be able to work effectively on this bill, all members of the House need an opportunity to speak to each of the aspects of the bill. We should be able to agree with one aspect and disagree with the other.
That said, the Bloc Québécois has historically been in favour of decriminalization. We believe that rehabilitation is an essential step to eliminating crime in a society. We can never completely eliminate crime, of course, but rehabilitation would at least help make our society better and more in line with our values.
The Bloc Québécois believes in rehabilitation. This can be seen particularly in Quebec's young offenders legislation, which facilitates diversion. For example, young people who have broken the law are asked to do community work, to engage in activities with various organizations.
I know of a case where a young man who shoplifted and vandalized the wall of a convenience store had to meet with the store owner, clean up the wall and do some work for the store. They ended up fully reconciled. While the young man and the convenience store owner may not have become great friends, they developed a relationship that was probably conducive, if not essential, to the young man's rehabilitation. There are other positive experiences and cases like that one. That is why the Bloc Québécois believes that diversion has a role to play and it has historically agreed with this principle.
With respect to minimum penalties, the courts must be able to exercise their power freely and judiciously. The Bloc Québécois has always believed that minimum penalties are a hindrance, but that is not always the case. In some circumstances, minimum penalties can be a way of sending a clear message to offenders. We need to look at this aspect of the question. However, generally speaking, we do not think that minimum penalties contribute to a healthier society. On the contrary, we believe that they may have given rise to some highly regrettable situations.
I remember one case in the Lower St. Lawrence region of Quebec. An 18-year-old man had a 16- or 17-year-old girlfriend. Both families were aware of the relationship and approved of it. Everything was fine. However, for one reason or another, they found themselves in court, and the young man was found guilty of corrupting a minor. The judge said he hated to do it, because the situation did not warrant it, but he had no choice, because there was a minimum penalty in the Criminal Code, and he had to impose it. At the time, this caused an uproar and a certain amount of frustration in Quebec, and for good reason. I was one of the ones who felt that, in a situation like that, not only did the minimum penalty not help, but it hindered the judicious exercise of judicial power. For this reason, the Bloc Québécois has historically also been in favour of the abolishment of minimum penalties.
That being said, I am speaking from a historical point of view, but we are now in 2021. The situation is not the same as it was in 2020, 2019 or 2018. I could go back as far as 1867.
Circumstances are changing, and the law is changing. There is a reason we pass laws here in Parliament and in the legislative assemblies of Quebec and the provinces. We are continually passing laws because circumstances change, society evolves and, as a result, the laws must be adapted to fit our different realities.
What is the context surrounding Bill ?
I think that it is important to discuss it, because that is our job as legislators. We cannot simply pass a law that will apply to everyone without considering the consequences. We cannot pass a law until we evaluate the context in which a decision will be made concerning Bill C‑5. What is going on in Montreal in 2021?
On January 4, 2021, a 17-year-old boy was injured in a shooting in the Saint-Michel neighbourhood of Montreal. On January 31, 2021, a 25-year-old man suffered minor gunshot wounds in the Rivière-des-Prairies borough of Montreal. On February 7, 2021, 15-year-old Meriem Boundaoui died from a gunshot wound to the head in Montreal.
On July 5, 2021, 43-year-old Ernst Exantus was shot dead in Montreal North. He was known to police for his ties to organized crime. On July 26, 2021, a 22-year-old woman was injured by glass shards when her vehicle was shot at. On August 1, 2021, an 18-year-old man sustained gunshot wounds to his lower body during a dispute between groups. On August 2, 2021, three people were killed and two others were wounded in a shootout in the Rivière‑des‑Prairies borough of Montreal.
On September 1, 2021, once again in Rivière‑des‑Prairies, a man was shot during an attempted murder. On September 10, 2021, 35-year-old Patricia Sirois was in her vehicle with her two young children when she was shot dead by her neighbour, a 49-year-old man from Saint-Raymond. On the night of September 24 to 25, 2021, a 19-year-old woman was shot dead in her vehicle.
On September 26, 2021, once again in Rivière‑des‑Prairies, 33-year-old Yevgen Semenenko was found dead near a vehicle with bullet holes in it. On September 28, 2021, a man was shot as he was walking down the street in Mount Royal. On October 25, 2021, a 25-year-old man was shot and wounded in Montreal.
On November 14, 2021, in the Saint‑Michel neighbourhood of Montreal, 16-year-old Thomas Trudel was shot dead as he walked home. On December 2, 2021, in the Anjou borough, 20-year-old Hani Ouahdi was shot dead in a vehicle; a 17-year-old boy in the vehicle was also wounded. On the same day, in Coaticook, Quebec, 80-year-old Jeannine Perron-Ruel was shot dead by her 38-year-old neighbour. On December 3, 2021, in Montreal, a woman in her fifties was injured at home by a bullet that came through her window. On December 6, 2021, an 18-year-old man was shot and wounded in a Laval library.
I have just listed 18 incidents that took place in Quebec in 2021. Were there more? Probably. I found 18 after a quick search.
Were there others outside Quebec? Probably. I would be surprised if crimes of this sort and gunshot victims were found only in Quebec. There are undoubtedly others. In any case, in the past 11 months, there have been at least 18 incidents involving as many, if not more, gunshot victims.
On September 21, the mayor of Montreal asked the federal government to institute gun control measures.
On November 22, the City of Montreal reiterated its request, and the Quebec government said that it wanted to increase pressure on the federal government regarding gun control at the border and banning handguns.
Many debates have taken place in the House in recent weeks, and I have taken part in them. We demand that the government take responsibility, because Quebec and certain parts of Canada are turning into the wild west.
We want the government to set up a special task force. Illegal firearms are flooding into Canada via the St. Lawrence River through the Akwesasne reserve, which borders the U.S. and the St. Lawrence. Quebec and Cornwall, Ontario, are just across the river.
We need a special task force. Currently, we can do little to prevent arms trafficking because there are too many jurisdictions involved. We need a special joint task force made up of U.S. agents, peacekeepers, the Ontario Provincial Police, the Sûreté du Québec and the RCMP to fight these crimes effectively. It could be funded by an investment from the federal government. For example, we could have five boats patrolling this part of the St. Lawrence 24-7. I can guarantee that the problem would be solved within a year. There would be no more firearms crossing the border there. They might cross elsewhere, but we will fight them where they are.
We need to take concrete action. We demand investments in the fight against arms trafficking and the creation of a joint task force. A bill against organized crime could be tabled, like the one I introduced in the House in 2016 during the 42nd Parliament. Unfortunately, the bill was rejected for reasons that, in my opinion, were not justified, but I will not reopen a debate from the past. Maybe the bill could be reintroduced, because organized crime, arms trafficking and the government's complacency on gun control are causing immense harm and putting Quebeckers in an unsafe and vulnerable position. We cannot let that happen, not in 2021.
I read out a list of 18 incidents. I explained that cities in Quebec and the provinces are demanding that the government take action. What did the government do? The latest incident I mentioned happened on December 6, when the 18-year-old man was shot and wounded in a library. A library seems like the ideal place to find peace and harmony, yet this young man was shot and wounded in a library on December 6. While we have been debating the topic for weeks, on December 7, the day after that particular shooting, the Liberal government chose to table Bill , the bill we are considering today, for first reading. This bill aims to divert certain offences away from the justice system and to abolish certain minimum penalties, including for offences involving the possession and use of firearms and the commission of certain other crimes.
As I said, the Bloc Québécois has historically been in favour of abolishing mandatory minimum penalties. However, I am starting to seriously wonder about the Liberal government's timing. If the Liberals were tabling Bill and creating a joint task force; if they were proposing to deploy river patrols starting Monday to put an end to the arms trafficking; if they were investing in the creation of a special unit to patrol the entire border of Quebec and the other Canadian provinces to fight arms trafficking; if they were adopting a bill like the one proposed by the Bloc Québécois in 2015 to create a list of criminal organizations and treat members of these organizations in the same manner as members of listed terrorist organizations, so that if someone in organized crime is caught with a firearm, he gets his comeuppance; if that were what they were proposing, I would feel less uneasy voting in favour of Bill C‑5.
Right now, I am feeling very uneasy about the government's timing and its complacency in the face of an almost unheard-of situation that is threatening not only people's quality of life and ability to thrive, but the very survival of our youth on the streets of Montreal.
Once again, we are not in the wild west. This is not the 1600s or 1700s, when cowboys rode around with guns, shot at each other for no reason and were summarily hanged because a trial was too much trouble. It is 2021. I think that we should be able to agree on the importance of keeping our teenagers and the entire population safe, and we should not have to discuss it. We need to do something about it.
Once the government has done something about that, then we can talk about diversion programs. In fact, we could talk about it at the same time; we could talk about it now. With respect to minimum penalties, we need to abolish many of them. The Supreme Court itself has said so, and far be it from me to go against it. I think that it is entirely justified: some need to be abolished, and others need to remain in place.
Bill C‑5 warrants a good, solid discussion in committee. We need to review the details of this bill, but the government needs to step up, for goodness' sake. We cannot tell citizens that we are going to do away with minimum sentences when there are people going around with guns, yet nothing is being done to stop gun trafficking and people keep getting shot at week after week on the streets of Montreal. That would be absurd. If the government is serious and really wants to get tough on crime, then we would be talking about diversion programs because we want to rehabilitate young people, and we would be talking about doing away with minimum sentences because we want judges to be able to do their job effectively and judiciously. Most importantly, the government needs to get tough on crime by taking responsibility and putting an end to firearms trafficking and the gun violence we have been seeing over this past year.
We will take responsibility and work effectively in the public interest. I am here for one thing. I want to represent my constituents and Quebeckers, and I will not keep silent on this issue.
Madam Speaker, let me start by thanking the voters of Esquimalt—Saanich—Sooke for sending me back to the House once again, this time for a fourth mandate. In particular, I would like to thank my partner for more than 20 years, Teddy Pardede, for his constant and enduring personal and political support. My role as an MP is now taking up more than half our relationship and I will never be able to repay him.
As I said during the campaign, I very much wanted to come back to the House to be able to deal with unfinished business from the last Parliament. Indeed, there were lots of things we made progress on that were cut short by the early and unnecessary election. That is why I was pleased to see the quick passage of the ban on conversion therapy, Bill , unanimously no less, both here and in the other place.
There are other examples of bills on which this House had held hearings, had achieved a broad consensus on moving forward and is now able to do so. Those include my Bill , to make coercive and controlling behaviour and intimate partner relationships a criminal offence and Bill , which would remove self-harm from the military code of conduct as a disciplinary offence and instead make sure that self-harm is treated as the mental health challenge that it truly is. I hope we can find a way to move forward on both of those bills that were left undone in the last Parliament.
Today, here we are debating Bill . I am frankly surprised to be up on Bill C-5 so soon because its predecessor was not one of those bills which had been to hearings and it was not of those bills where we had lots of discussions about how to come to a consensus on what needed to be done. Normally, I would be glad to see the House moving quickly to get stuff done that sat on the back burner for far too long. That would be especially true of the issue of systemic racism in the justice system and it would be even more true of the opioid crisis on our streets today.
However, Bill is a virtual carbon copy, to date myself with an archaic phrase, of Bill , which the government introduced at the eleventh hour in the last Parliament. At that time, we New Democrats clearly told the government we found Bill C-22 to be weak sauce. After its introduction, there were only very limited discussions before Bill C-22 was reintroduced in this session as Bill C-5. In those brief talks I made it clear that New Democrats wanted to see a bill with a few more teeth. We have a crisis of over-incarceration, we have a crisis of opioids on our streets, and the bill is not strong enough.
I am not sure how happy I am to be rushing forward on a bill that remains a half measure, especially when it is not even very clear what it is a half measure of. Here is the first and most important question I have for the government about Bill : Is this a bill to address systemic racism in the Canadian justice system? If so, why is its focus so limited? We know mandatory minimum sentences are one of the causes of the over-incarceration of racialized Canadians and indigenous people. Then why does the bill restrict itself to only removing mandatory minimums for some offences, namely personal possession of drugs and some firearms offences?
We have years of experience now with mandatory minimums. We know they do nothing to reduce crime. We know that they only result in the incarceration of people who have no place in the prison system.
As the over-involvement in the justice system is a real problem for indigenous and racialized Canadians every day, I still have my doubts of some of the provisions in Bill , like introducing those diversion programs instead of more fundamental reforms. In the absence of tackling the thorny question of reform of the RCMP, again I still have some doubts about increasing police discretion in drug cases as Bill C-5 proposes.
If Bill is actually about racism in our justice system, then there is surely much more it could do. I will return to this question later in my remarks. If Bill C-5 is not about tackling the broad issues of systemic racism in the criminal justice system, then is it really about something else? In fact, the heavy focus on removing mandatory minimums for drug crimes might lead us to believe that Bill C-5 is actually about the opioid crisis. If that is the case, then once again, it makes it hard for me to be excited about quick action on the half measures to confront the opioid crisis that we have in the bill, especially when we have known for so long what is needed.
As an elected official, I first spoke in favour of decriminalization of personal possession of all drugs more than a decade ago as a city councillor in Esquimalt. At the time, I argued that decriminalization provided the most effective path, along with safe injection sites, to tackle the emerging problem of deaths from drug overdoses in my community.
Even then, I was able to point to early signs of success in Portugal where decriminalization was adopted in 2001. Since then, Portugal has seen an 80% reduction in overdose deaths. It has seen the proportion of people who use drugs fall from 52% to 6% when it comes to new HIV and AIDS diagnoses. It has seen a decrease of incarcerations for drug offences by over 40%. Instead, in Canada over the last decade, we have seen so many preventable deaths and now this problem has accelerated into a full-blown crisis across the country.
Last month the Province of British Columbia announced a record number of people had died so far this year from overdoses. There were 201 deaths in the month of October alone, the highest ever in a single month. Think of all the families we are talking about, all 201 families affected by the loss of loved ones in a single month in a single province. This is a crisis.
Numbers released by the B.C. Coroners Service show a death toll in the first 10 months of 2021 in British Columbia being 1,782, surpassing the 1,765 deaths recorded in all of 2020. B.C.'s chief coroner, Lisa Lapointe, was direct in her assessment of the situation in B.C., a situation no different than any other jurisdiction. “Simply put, we are failing,” she said. With six people dying every single day in British Columbia, the status quo cannot be accepted.
That is why recognizing the stark reality of the opioid crisis, the City of Vancouver, the Province of British Columbia and now the City of Toronto have all three applied to the for an emergency exemption from the provisions of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act that criminalizes personal possession of small quantities of illegal drugs. They are asking that we recognize that criminalization only adds more harm to the toll addiction takes on its victims.
Where are the Liberals on decriminalization of so-called “hard” drugs, either as a temporary exemption or permanent strategy to shift our response to addiction from punishment to health care? One might be surprised to learn that decriminalization is the official policy of the Liberal Party, endorsed more than three years ago at its 2018 convention in Halifax. Perhaps some will be even more surprised to learn that the government was advised to move on decriminalization of personal possession of drugs before the last election.
The previous Minister of Health appointed a commission of experts to advise on drug policies well before that election. Don MacPherson, executive director of the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition at Simon Fraser, was part of the task force that simply said that charging people with simple possession and seizing their drugs makes no sense.
In a CBC Radio interview, MacPherson said, “There's mountains of evidence that show it's a bad thing. It's harmful, it hurts people and there is not really an upside to it.” He continued saying, “So the task force...came fairly quickly to the conclusion that the federal government should immediately start work on putting forward a plan to decriminalize simple possession of drugs across the board.”
The task force submitted that report before the election and has since followed up with the new and the new , but MacPherson reports they have yet to hear anything back.
Since we returned to Parliament last month, MPs have been increasingly vocal in raising their concerns about the opioid crisis. Certainly, my leader of the New Democratic Party, the member for , has repeatedly called on the government to commit to moving quickly on decriminalization. This call has come from all parties and all parts of the country, urban and rural.
Last August, during the election campaign, even the Conservative leader added his voice to those calling for shifting our approach from punishment to treatment as the way to respond to the opioid crisis, though he did not go quite as far as decriminalization.
Last week, the new member for , who was previously the Territories' medical health officer before running for the Liberal Party, rose in this Commons to acknowledge that the Yukon has the highest rate of opioid deaths in the country. The new Green MP, the member for , made a moving statement in this House on the scourge of opioid deaths in his community.
Indeed, when the new cabinet was appointed, we saw the appointment of the first at the federal level, which many of us took as encouragement and acknowledgement of the urgency and seriousness of the opioid crisis.
Therefore, when we know the severity of the problem and we know the solutions, it surely becomes incumbent upon all of us in the House to ensure that we act. Therefore, where is that action? It is not in Bill .
Unfortunately, when it comes to the three emergency decriminalization applications from Vancouver, B.C., and Toronto, we have no indication that things are moving quickly. Under the leadership of Mayor Kennedy Stewart, a former member of the House, Vancouver submitted its preliminary application for an exemption on March 3, and its final application June 1. British Columbia's application was submitted November 1 and Toronto's December 1. It is not like the government has been taken surprise by these requests, yet all the is reported to have said is, “We are looking at these proposals very, very seriously.”
At the same time, the refused to set a timeline for a decision on these applications. Instead, the minister veered off into an argument that decriminalization alone would not solve the opioid crisis, as if anyone ever thought decriminalization by itself was a solution to addiction rather than an important measure of harm reduction.
The minister said that other options were being considered, including establishing a safe supply of opioids to give injection drug users an alternative to the increasingly toxic fentanyl now on the streets. She indicated the federal government was also looking at setting up more safe injection sites and making more counselling available. Yes, that it is all good, but there is no need to wait on decriminalization while putting together a more complete package.
What was especially disappointing to hear was the in one interview referring to these ideas as “innovative”. She should know that these are not new ideas, but rather tried and true harm reduction strategies with a track record of nothing but success.
When it comes to the temporary decriminalization applications, the B.C. minister of mental health and addictions, Sheila Malcolmson, also a former member of this House, told reporters last week that Health Canada staff had identified no barriers to speedy processing and approval of B.C.'s decriminalization application.
Where are we? On the one hand, we see no real sense of urgency on the short-term exemption applications and, on the other hand, that leaves us with Bill , which reflects none of that necessary urgency to move toward permanent and complete decriminalization of personal possession of drugs. The narrow scope of Bill C-5, as drafted, certainly means that, for technical reasons, we cannot likely add decriminalization through amendments at the committee stage.
That brings me back to the question of what is Bill really about. It seems that in the government's mind, this must be a bill primarily about tackling systemic racism in our justice system. If that is the goal of the bill, is there enough there to support?
Clearly removing mandatory minimums for drug offences would be a step forward. Even better would be removing mandatory minimums for all but the most serious violent offences. That is not there, not in Bill C-5. The frustration with the ineffectiveness of mandatory minimums has gone so far as to see a provincial court judge in Campbell River last week substituting probation for a mandatory jail sentence for a woman convicted of dealing fentanyl to support her own addiction. The judge said that she could see no positive impact of a jail sentence in that case.
Not only does Bill fail to address cases like the Campbell River case, but as well Bill C-5 is missing other elements that would help right the wrongs caused by systemic racism in the justice system. Let us make no mistake about how serious this problem is.
Correctional investigator Ivan Zinger reported in 2020 that while indigenous people made up 4.9% of the total population of Canada, they made up just over 30% of the people in Canadian prisons. Approximately 3.5% of Canadians identified as Black in the last census, yet Black Canadians make up more than 7% of those in prison.
When we look at indigenous and racialized women, the figures are even more stark. Zinger reported that Black women made up just over 9% of women incarcerated and indigenous women made up a shocking 42% of the population in women's prisons. This is the result of mandatory minimums.
The injustice does not end with incarceration as then there is the legacy of a criminal record. Not only have indigenous and racialized Canadians been disproportionately targeted for investigation, prosecution, diversion, fining and imprisonment, the most marginalized among us then end up stuck with criminal records, criminal records that make getting a job almost impossible, criminal records that often restrict access to affordable housing. Bill lacks any provision for automatic expungement of criminal records for drug possession, something for which the NDP has been calling for more than two years.
Automatic expungement is clearly what is needed after seeing the failure of the government's program for expedited pardons for marijuana convictions, a program that has granted pardons for less than 500 people of the estimated 10,000 eligible in the two years it has been operating. We need something better; we need automatic expungement of these records.
Again, the narrow drafting of Bill means, for technical reasons, we likely cannot add those elements we really need to tackle racial injustice to the bill. Certainly we cannot add expungement. It is likely we cannot even add additional offences where mandatory minimums now apply to the removal list.
Therefore, I have a question for the government, one I had already been exploring with it before we rushed into this debate. Is there not a way we can make this bill do more to address both racial injustice and the opioid crisis?
The New Democrats are ready to talk, but we probably need to do so before we reach the conclusion of this second reading debate. There is one possibility I will put forward right now to get the ball rolling, and I have to credit the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which put forth the following recommendation in call to action 32 more than six years ago. This call to action states:
We call upon the federal government to amend the Criminal Code to allow trial judges, upon giving reasons, to depart from mandatory minimum sentences and restrictions on the use of conditional sentences.
This proposal would allow judges to ignore mandatory minimums where there are good reasons to do so, including the good reason that mandatory minimum sentences are, in and of themselves, most often unjust. This call to action to restore discretion to judges over sentencing for offences where mandatory minimums have been imposed is clearly doable, it is just not in Bill .
A way to put this call to action into legislation has been provided in what is now Bill . Again, it is probably not possible to add restoring discretion for judges when it comes to mandatory minimums to Bill in committee, because this idea is far beyond the scope of the existing bill.
What I am asking of the government is whether we can think about using the relatively rare process of sending Bill to committee before the vote at second reading. This would allow the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights to alter the scope of the bill and to add missing provisions like the TRC call to action 32 to Bill C-5, and to add expungement to it. That would put some teeth in this bill.
Sending Bill to committee before a second reading vote would require a motion from the , and he has that opportunity later today when he speaks.
Let me conclude with this offer to work with the government on Bill . This is renewing the offer New Democrats made when the bill was originally introduced in the last Parliament. I make this offer pointing to the progress we were able to make on bills like Bill and Bill C-3, when we were able to work together on common goals and purposes.
If sending Bill to committee before a second reading vote is not the way forward in the government's view, then let us work together to find other ways to strengthen the bill.
Am I optimistic about the chances of Bill proceeding? With the bill as it stands, can the government actually convince the New Democrats that there is enough in Bill C-5 to justify proceeding quickly or even proceeding at all? As I have said, I have good ideas about how we can ensure that is true.
I know there are misgivings in other parties about certain provisions of the bill, but I also know that no one in the House is unaware of the systemic racism in our justice system and its impact on racialized and indigenous Canadians. As well, I know no one in the House wants to turn a blind eye to the suffering imposed on families by the opioid crisis.
I also know we will not get a lot of opportunities to address systemic racism in the justice system in this minority Parliament and will not get many, if any, other opportunities anytime soon to respond effectively to the opioid crisis. Let us not waste the opportunity we have before us now with Bill to do one, the other or both—
Madam Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for .
I stand before the House as the member of Parliament for Whitby, but I grew up in Peel region. My father who was a homicide detective there for much of my upbringing and then moved to the National Parole Board. In terms of my life history, he spent most of his career catching individuals who were committing crimes in our community and making sure they were convicted of those crimes. He then spent the latter half of his career working toward reintegrating offenders successfully within society. Also, I spent seven years working with a local halfway house in Brampton, which definitely gives me a unique perspective on the bill we are debating today.
It is a pleasure to speak on Bill , an act to amend the Criminal Code and the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. Today, I will be speaking to the issue of mandatory minimum penalties, MMPs for short, in the Criminal Code and the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.
The importance of equitable sentencing laws in the criminal justice system cannot be overstated. Indeed, imprisonment represents one of the most grave intrusions by the state into the lives of individuals. As such, sentencing laws must be carefully reviewed in order to ensure they reflect the values that Canadians hold dear.
Unfortunately, there are inconsistencies within the current sentencing regime provided by the Criminal Code and the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act that have disproportionately impacted indigenous people, Black Canadians and members of marginalized communities right across Canada. This bill proposes to repeal the particular MMPs that have been shown to have the most significant impact on those communities, while ensuring that courts can continue to impose sentences for violent and serious crimes that respond to their seriousness and the harms caused.
When considering the appropriate sanctions for an offender in a criminal case, a judge must effectively balance the principles of proportionality, parity and restraint. The principle of proportionality requires a sentence to reflect the gravity of the offence and the degree of responsibility of the offender, also taking into consideration some of the background circumstances within which the offender offended. The principle of parity requires sentences to be similar to those imposed on similar offenders in similar circumstances. Perhaps most important is the principle of restraint, which dictates that an offender should not be deprived of liberty if less restrictive sanctions may be appropriate in the circumstances. Balancing these principles is highly individualized and is a process that demands an assessment of all relevant factors, including the personal characteristics and life experiences of the individual standing before the court.
However, when an offence carries a mandatory minimum penalty, the minimum punishment is prescribed by law. This removes a certain amount of discretion from judges, and it means they cannot impose sentences below the legislated minimum, even in cases where they find that a shorter period of imprisonment or no imprisonment at all would be an appropriate sentence given the circumstances of the offence. I will also add here that the Canadian Sentencing Commission recommended the abolition of all MMPs except for murder, and 90% of Canadians when surveyed agreed that judges should be given sentencing discretion.
While proponents of MMPs often argue they ensure consistency and fairness in sentences for the same crime, the reality is that for some crimes they can and do yield unfair results that can have negative impacts on the justice system writ large, as well as on victims. MMPs can be inconsistent with the direction in the Criminal Code requiring judges to use imprisonment with restraint and to consider all available sanctions other than imprisonment that are reasonable in the circumstances for all offenders, with particular attention to the circumstances of indigenous offenders.
Data shows that between 2007 and 2017, indigenous and Black individuals were more likely to be admitted to federal custody for an offence punishable by an MMP than were other Canadians. In fact, the proportion of indigenous adults admitted with an offence punishable by an MMP almost doubled between those years, from 14% to 26%. Similarly, in 2018-19, Black people represented 7.2% of the federal inmate population but only 3% of the Canadian population.
Indigenous people and Black Canadians are particularly overrepresented for firearm and drug offences carrying mandatory minimum penalties. Specifically, Black Canadians comprised 43% of individuals convicted of importing and exporting drugs in 2016-17, while indigenous people comprised 40% of those admitted for a firearm-related offence that same year. To quote from the study, “Over the ten year study period, Black and other visible minority offenders were much more likely to be admitted with a conviction for an offence punishable by an MMP.”
In response to this data, Bill proposes to repeal mandatory minimum penalties for all drug offences in the CDSA, as well as for one tobacco-related offence and 13 firearm-related offences in the Criminal Code. MMPs should remain for offences such as murder, sexual assault and all child sexual offences, and for certain offences involving restricted or prohibited firearms or where the offence involves a firearm and is linked to organized crime.
While MMPs have been in place since the Criminal Code was first enacted, they were largely the exception until relatively recently. Over the last two decades, there was an increased reliance on MMPs to further denounce crimes, deter offenders and separate them from society. What is interesting here is that the evidence shows the contrary. In fact, there is really no deterrent effect provided by MMPs. No criminal stands in contemplation before committing an offence and considers the length of the sentence they will get, so MMPs do not deter future crime. One of the intentions behind support for MMPs in the first place was that they are supposed to deter crime, but that is actually false based on the evidence I have seen and based on my personal experience from working with ex-offenders.
MMPs are also incredibly expensive and ineffective in general, and they increase the rate and volume of incarceration. Prosecutors can use the threat of mandatory minimum sentences as a bargaining chip. Harsher penalties increase defendants' incentive to go to trial because of higher stakes, which means they are less likely to plead guilty and instead go to trial. They clog up the justice system. They lead to charter challenges and, in essence, increased court costs. Also, longer, harsher sentences lead to the overcrowding of our prisons and increased prison costs.
Overcrowding in prisons also contributes to congestion within the criminal justice system, which soaks up vast quantities of limited resources. This takes away resources that could otherwise be dedicated to release planning and reintegration efforts that actually reduce recidivism. Remember, recidivism is the rate at which offenders who are released reoffend, and in many cases it is a measure of success regarding the measures that are implemented. In addition, lengthier sentences actually increase the likelihood of reoffending. The evidence shows that recidivism actually goes up the longer people stay in prison. There are many reasons for that. There is more institutionalization, offenders are subject to greater stigmatization when released and they have a harder time finding work and reconciling with family members.
I will end with a story. I worked with federal offenders to help reintegrate them into society. I did this for about seven years with St. Leonard's Place Peel. These offenders were out on statutory release under conditions, and many of them, with the right reintegration supports and programming in the community, were not reoffending. We had about a 92% to 96% effectiveness rate. We can see that in essence, the whole tough-on-crime agenda and approach seems to be an ideological narrative that is not based in facts and reality.
I hope that all members of the House will support Bill .
Madam Speaker, I am rising to join this important debate on Bill . I am speaking today from the unceded territory of the Algonquin and Anishinabe people in Canada's House of Commons.
This bill that is being debated today, and the changes it proposes to make to the Criminal Code of Canada, are critical to addressing systemic racism and systemic discrimination in the criminal justice system. Anyone who has been listening to this morning's debate knows quite clearly at this point that we are facing a very serious issue. That issue is the overrepresentation of Black and indigenous persons in our criminal justice system, primarily Black and indigenous men.
How did we get to this situation? We have prepared legislation, tabled it in the last Parliament and retabled it in this Parliament because we have fundamentally listened to experts I had the privilege to consult with in my capacity as parliamentary secretary to the minister of justice in the last Parliament. We have also listened to Canadians, among whom are my constituents in Parkdale—High Park. We have been seized with certain issues that relate to challenges not just with individual acts of discrimination, vis-à-vis one particular person or group of people, but rather norms and rules that embody our systems and our institutions. There is no more robust place to do the hard work and the heavy lifting that goes into addressing systemic racism than the criminal justice system of Canada.
We know that Canadians in every riding in this country were seized by the videos we saw of George Floyd. Things were also occurring here in Canada with respect to indigenous populations. We could talk about the response of law enforcement to the Mi'kmaq fishers on the east coast. We could talk about RCMP officers and the overuse of violent force with Inuit individuals in Canada's far north. These images, stories and issues really captivated our nation. That is why we are here today acting and mobilizing on that sentiment. We are here to listen to those voices and act upon them.
We have also consulted the statistics, and they are startling. In 2020, despite representing 5% of the Canadian adult population, indigenous adults accounted for 30% of federally incarcerated inmates. That is a sixfold increase. That is reprehensible. I think I heard that from across the way. Although Black individuals represent 3% of the Canadian population, in 2018-19 they represented 7.2% of the federal offender population. This was more than a twofold increase.
What I have heard from my constituents in Parkdale—High Park and from people right around this country is that we need to act. That is why we are taking action now, specifically as it relates to Black and indigenous persons and other persons of colour. There is a unanimous sense I have heard that there is a need to take action.
Today, we are talking about a bill that would do so in three areas. Before I touch on those, I want to outline two broad themes that underlie the points I am making today. The first point is that we need to tackle systemic racism. The second point is that on this side of the chamber, we are a government that believes in judicial discretion. That is fundamental because it will underpin what I am going to speak about.
First, Bill would repeal mandatory minimum penalties or imprisonment for certain, but not all, offences to address the disproportionate impact on indigenous and Black offenders as well as those struggling with substance abuse and addiction, as appropriately raised by the member for . Second, it would allow for greater use of conditional sentence orders, or CSOs in the legal parlance, when an offender faces a term of less than two years' imprisonment and does not pose a threat to public safety. Third, it would address issues dealing with drugs, opioids and addiction in this country by requiring police and prosecutors to consider measures other than laying charges or prosecution for simple possession of drugs, such as diverting individuals to addiction treatment programs.
In terms of the first category, we heard about mandatory minimum penalties ad nauseam during this morning's debate: why they exist and whether they are useful, etc. I rest on the side of the evidence. The evidence has shown us clearly that regardless of how they are imposed, who imposed them or how long they had been in place, mandatory minimums have only served to disproportionately impact men of colour in particular, but also indigenous women, by having them be overrepresented in our criminal justice system.
These are for crimes such as simple possession of narcotics, simple possession of a firearm, or a first-time offender using a firearm. More likely than not, people of colour are entrapped in the criminal justice system based on these charges, and more likely than not, because of the mandatory minimums they face jail time.
This is problematic because it eschews judicial discretion. We heard about this from the member for . He spoke about his family's experience, including his father's, and about what we need to do to ensure people are not sent down a certain path for the rest of their lives. The way we do that is by not putting people into a revolving-door situation of incarceration after incarceration where people are habituated to a life of criminality behind bars.
The way we do that is by ensuring there are other options available. One of those options is to give judges the tools they need to craft sentences that are appropriate for particular individuals. As a minor digression, that is what informs our motivation behind the impact of race and culture assessments, which we are also funding. We want to be able to look hard at accused individuals and understand their life circumstances, what got them to this place and how we can ensure they do not reappear in front of a court six months or six years from now on a repeat offence.
We want to get them out of a cycle of potential criminality and toward a cycle of productive life, contributing to our communities. By binding the hands of judges, we have seen exactly the opposite. The exact law and order methodology that is professed by members of the official opposition is turned on its head by this kind of blanket prohibition. All it does is produce more criminality, not less. That is why we are standing up against it.
Secondly, judges have spoken out against these types of penalties. Decision after decision rendered by courts as high as the Supreme Court of Canada has found these types of penalties unconstitutional. They violate the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. That is why we are taking action: We believe in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and adhering to it particularly when guided by the judiciary.
The impacts of these penalties have been legion. In terms of worsening over time, we know that in 1999 indigenous peoples represented approximately 2% of the adult population, but accounted for 17% of admissions to federal penitentiaries. By 2020, after a series of mandatory minimums were added to the Criminal Code by the previous Conservative government, 30% of the federal inmate population was indigenous. That is a trend in the wrong direction, and it is a trend we need to correct.
I do not want this bill to be mis-characterized. Canadians are watching, and I know it is not just our mothers and fathers who watch in the middle of the day. Other people watch the House of Commons in the middle of the day. They need to know that we are not purporting to get rid of mandatory minimum penalties for serious offenders. Mandatory minimums involving cases of firearms, and those who traffic, smuggle, commit repeated violent assault or murder using firearms, are not being targeted. We are targeting single, first-time offenders in low-level offences. That is who we do not want destined for lives of criminality.
The other serious issue that needs to be addressed concerns conditional sentencing orders. I want to emphasize that this is the old-fashioned notion of house arrest. It goes back to the point I made at the outset of my remarks today. If we want to ensure that individuals are not subjected or destined to lives of criminality, or lives interacting with the criminal justice system, one good way to ensure that is to ensure that they do not spend time behind bars for their first offence.
Instead, when they are not a significant threat to public safety and when they are not likely to reoffend, at that point in time we would subject them to a conditional sentence order. This would allow them to serve their sentence outside of incarceration, subject to certain restrictions. This is critical, because we need to ensure there is a penalty applied. However, by not having them placed behind bars, we do not subject people to lives of criminality.
We have seen that conditional sentence orders entrenched by Allan Rock, who was the Minister of Justice 26 years ago, were eroded over time by the previous Conservative government. We are trying to return to the status quo.
My last point is on drug diversion. This is critical. The reason we are doing this is simple: We are listening to the evidence in the city of Toronto and the city of Vancouver. We are listening to the Canadian chiefs of police who have advocated for this type of drug diversion, and we are listening to the director of public prosecutions. They have said that not having diversion clogs our system and renders it less effective in addressing the true cause of criminal behaviour.
These are important initiatives. They are threefold within this legislation. I hope all members will stand behind this important bill.
Madam Speaker, before I begin today, I would like to first thank the fine people of Medicine Hat—Cardston—Warner for putting their trust in me for the third time. It is an absolute honour and privilege to serve them in this capacity.
I thank my core campaign team, including our chair, Ryan Thorburn; volunteer coordinators, office managers, get-out-to-vote leaders, full-time encouragers, and basically the real bosses of the campaign, Sharlyn Wagner and Margo Dick; our IT go-to guy, Dean Grey; my financial wizard and agent, Dave Camphor; planning and printing logistics, Tim Seitz; volunteer care and event planning, Val Seitz; and all things signs, Alex Dumanowski and Gary Proctor. I thank them all so much for their dedication and hard work. They are a testament of what can be accomplished when people get together as a team. I will always be indebted to them.
I thank the many volunteers who door knocked, put up signs, helped in the office and volunteered with scrutineering on election day. None of this is possible without them, and I thank them very much.
I will turn my attention now to Bill , which is the exact same bill, ironically, that was introduced as Bill in the last Parliament before the called his snap vanity election.
The Liberals would want Canadians to believe that Bill is simply about reducing minimum sentencing for simple drug possession, but that is not so. Most Canadians would be alarmed to learn that the Liberal bill, Bill C-5, is aimed at eliminating mandatory prison time for criminals who prey on our communities and victimize the vulnerable.
Bill proposes to eliminate mandatory prison time not for petty crimes but for things like drug trafficking and acts of violence. It would even allow violent criminals to serve their sentences on house arrest and not in prison, putting our communities at continued risk.
Over the last six years, Liberal legislation on crime and the criminal justice system has been largely out of touch with the realities of most Canadians, especially those impacted by crime. Canada's crime stats confirm that we are seeing rising crime rates all across this country, increased gang violence and shootings, increased organized crime activities, and increased drug trafficking, drug use and drug overdoses.
Let me focus for the next few minutes on examining several of the main areas of Bill , those being the elimination of mandatory prison time for firearm offences, the elimination of mandatory prison time for drug dealers, the expansion of conditional sentences and the diversion for simple drug possession.
I try to look at this legislation through the lenses of having been in law enforcement for 35 years and of being a parliamentarian representing the constituents of my riding and their voices. Let us first of all look at the elimination of mandatory prison time for firearm offences.
In contrast to the Liberal spin on their being so-called tough on gun violence, which is what they have been feeding Canadians, there is the complete hypocrisy of Bill , which proposed to eliminate several mandatory minimum sentences related to gun crimes, including serious gun crimes such as robbery with a firearm, extortion with a firearms, using a firearm in the commission of an offence, discharging a firearm with intent, which is Criminal Code language for shooting at someone, illegal possession of a prohibited or restricted firearm, importing or exporting an unauthorized firearm, discharging a firearm recklessly and other firearm offences such weapons trafficking, importing or exporting knowing the firearm is unauthorized, possession of a prohibited or restricted firearm with ammunition, possession of a weapon obtained by the commission of an offence in Canada and possession for the purpose of weapons trafficking.
What does this really all amount to? Because the Liberals believe the current laws are unfair, they would be eliminating mandatory prison time for criminals who commit such crimes as robbery with a firearm, drive-by shootings and unlawful possession of firearms. It is clearer than ever that the Liberals are more interested in protecting criminals than they are protecting our communities. If we think things are bad now, just wait for this legislation to take effect, should it pass in its current form. I am afraid the worst is yet to come.
Let us look at the second area of the bill, which is the elimination of mandatory prison time for drug dealers. At a time when we are experiencing the heartbreak of addiction and overdose deaths in our country, the Liberals' solution is to eliminate mandatory prison time for several offences in the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, which specifically targets drug dealers and offences such as trafficking, or possession for the purpose of trafficking; importing or exporting, or possession for the purpose of importing or exporting; and production of a schedule 1 or schedule 2 substance, which are drugs such as fentanyl, crystal meth, heroin, cocaine, the very drugs that are wreaking havoc on our communities. How does that even make sense?
The Liberals are trying to spin it and say that Bill will help those who struggle with addictions. Come on, Canadians are not that naive or stupid. They know the Liberals are purposely failing to point out that the mandatory minimums they are eliminating are for drug dealers who specifically prey on those with addictions. This is not the solution. It would only make the current problems a lot worse.
The next area I want to look at in Bill is the expansion of conditional sentencing. The bill allows for greater use of conditional sentencing orders, such as house arrest, for a significant number of serious offences for which the offender faces a prison term of less than two years. Those offences now include sexual assault; kidnapping; criminal harassment; human trafficking; abduction of a person under the age of 14; assault causing bodily harm or assault with a weapon; assaulting a peace officer causing bodily harm, or assaulting a peace officer with a weapon; trafficking or importing schedule 3 drugs, which are hallucinogenic like LSD and psilocybin; and many other offences, such as prison breach, motor vehicle theft, theft over $5,000, breaking and entering a place other than a dwelling house, being in a dwelling house unlawfully, arson for a fraudulent purpose, causing bodily harm and criminal negligence.
What this all means is that criminals who prey on victims in their communities can now serve their sentence at home, many times in the same neighbourhood as their victim. Again, this clearly puts communities at risk. For years now we have heard whispers that the Liberal government was trying to empty out our prisons, expedite parole and reduce sentences. It now appears that those whispers are coming true. I wonder how conditional sentences will deter criminals who prey on our communities.
I also want to touch briefly on another aspect of Bill , which is the diversion measures for simple drug possession. Again, the Liberals are trying to tell us, and are asking Canadians to believe, that the diversion section in Bill C-5 all of a sudden gives police and prosecutors the ability to use their discretion when determining for simple drug possession whether to lay charges, warn, or refer to support programs. It might come as a complete surprise to the Liberals, but that has been the case all along.
Police have been doing that. For decades they have been using their discretion whether to lay charges on someone for drug possession. In fact, Canada's Public Prosecution Service has previously issued a directive to prosecutors to avoid prosecuting simple drug possession unless there are major public safety concerns. Yes, I admit, Bill C-5 now does codify this approach, but it is unlikely to have any impact because this is already the practice when dealing with simple drug possession.
This legislation is out of touch with rising crime on our streets. It is out of touch with the needs of victims and communities battling gang violence. It is out of touch with law enforcement from across the country, who continue to report rising crime, increased violent crime and more gang shootings. This legislation is out of touch with our country's opioid epidemic. Crime has been increasing every year the Liberals have been in power, reversing a two-decade trend. This is the worst government on keeping Canadians safe in the last 20 years.
According to Stats Canada, the crime severity index has risen since 2015 from a 66.9 rating to a 79.5 rating in 2019, a 25% increase in serious crime. The violent crime index has increased from 70.7 in 2014 to 89.7 in 2019, which is also a 25% increase in the last five years.
Stats Canada also reports that rural crime and the rates of rural crime are increasing 23% faster than urban crime rates.
The Toronto Police Service has some of the best publicly available stats when it comes to the realities in its community. There has been an increase in shootings, gun homicides and injuries in each year of the last six years the Liberals have been in government. In comparison, let us first look at 2014, before the Liberals formed government, as the baseline for the Toronto numbers. In 2014, there were 177 shootings in Toronto alone, which resulted in 103 people killed or injured. Those are unacceptable numbers, but pale in comparison to the years that followed. In 2016, there were 393 shootings in Toronto, with 183 people killed or injured. In 2017, there were 367 shootings, with 180 people killed or injured. In 2018, Toronto again had 393 shootings, with 208 people killed or injured. In 2019, those numbers jumped to 492 shootings, with 284 people killed or injured. In 2020, there were 462 shootings, with 217 lives lost or injured. So far, in 2021, those numbers are continuing, at similarly unacceptable rates, with over 380 shootings and 198 people killed or injured.
I am sure Canadians are wondering how this bill will reduce shootings and people dying even by just one. What will removing mandatory minimum sentences on firearms offences such as the ones I have mentioned do for our communities? Safer communities should be the focus of the current government, but sadly they are not.
Since 2016, nearly 30,000 Canadians have died from opioid-related addiction and overdose. Why is the first action of the Liberal government to reduce sentences on drug trafficking? How does this help the tens of thousands battling addictions whose habits are being fed by the very drug dealers preying on the vulnerable this bill is meant to protect? Going after these drug dealers should be the priority of this place.
Canadians do not feel safe and nothing in this bill will help them be any safer in their homes and communities. In 2020, an Angus Reid survey found that 48% of Canadians felt crime was getting worse. Canadians are rightly tired of being afraid in their own neighbourhoods and homes. The top priority of any government should be the protection of its people. This bill does nothing to address those threats against Canadians; it only protects criminals from being held responsible for their crimes.
The bill really shows how far out of step the Liberal government is with the needs and concerns of everyday Canadians. A legal scholar recently suggested that when looking at legislation we should be asking what the problems are that we are trying solve and whether the proposed legislation would solve those problems. It is the kind of question that should be asked in this place every time the Criminal Code or any similar act is used to try and solve policy problems. I can say that after reviewing Bill , I would assert that the legislation may actually contribute to the problems we are facing in this country, rather than trying to solve them. It does nothing to improve public safety.
Let us be clear. The problem the government should be trying to solve is gun violence committed by criminals and gangs using illegal firearms, mostly smuggled into this country and used to kill in communities across Canada. It should be trying to solve the addiction and drug problems we have and the overdose deaths plaguing our communities across this country, not catering to those who are contributing to the epidemic. It should hold criminals responsible for their violent crimes and drug dealing and focus on rehabilitation, not a revolving door of justice. However, the Liberal solution to these problems is a lazy, misguided approach that caters to criminals, ignores victims and does not protect Canadians.