The House resumed from December 13 consideration of the motion that Bill , be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Madam Speaker, though I have been on my feet a number of times in this Parliament it is my first formal speech, so I would like to take a moment to give my thanks. Representing the people of St. Catharines in this place has been the greatest honour of my life. I want to thank the voters, my supporters and everyone who helped on the campaign.
For all of us here there is one name on the ballot, but we know it takes dozens of people behind the scenes. Though we all have differences of opinion, I know that everyone comes to this place to work hard for the betterment of their constituents, and I commit that to my constituents and the people of St. Catharines.
Even though there are far too many people to thank, I want to say a special thanks to my team: Sam, Sara, Zack, Romy and Cass, who were there with me behind the scenes. They are an incredible team and I am so fortunate. The people of St. Catharines are fortunate to have them working for them. I would be remiss if I did not also thank a standout volunteer on my campaign, Alice, who did some incredible work for us and helped us get to where we are. I thank her so much.
I was in the House yesterday and listened to some of the debate. I was reminded of a dinner I was at, probably about 10 to 15 years ago. A children's mental health organization in our region was presenting its first ever hope award to a local member of the community who was outstanding in terms of delivering on mental health and addiction. I believe the recipient that year was Dr. Robin Williams, who is a long-time pediatrician. She was my pediatrician when I was young. She eventually became a medical officer of health and is a passionate advocate for mental health, especially children's mental health.
At that time, the House of Commons was debating significant changes to the Criminal Code. A “lock them up and throw away the key” approach had unfortunately made its way through, and Dr. Williams was concerned by this. I remember her looking down from the podium, after accepting the award, at the Conservative member of Parliament at the time. She said, “Please give me a fraction of what you intend to spend on building prisons and I promise I will lower the crime rate. Locking them up and throwing away the key does not work”.
The same member of Parliament Dr. Williams pleaded with was later sitting in committee. In one of our first studies at the justice committee after the 2015 election, we were discussing the overrepresentation of indigenous people in federal prisons. I believe more than 20% of the prison population is indigenous people, yet indigenous people are 5% or less of the Canadian population. I expressed some concern. That same member, when he had an opportunity to question a witness, said that the system was working: People in jail meant the system was working. It was not.
We have fought the war on drugs for a long time now. Almost for my entire life we have been fighting this war, and we have lost it. I do not know if there is a member here who can stand and say that this has been a successful public policy adventure for any level of government in any country. It heartens me a bit when I finally see Conservative members get up to talk about the opioid crisis and about a three-digit suicide phone number that people can call, but there is no connection. That is a great initiative and I truly hope to see it in the immediate future, but there is no connection to broader policy concerns. There is no connection to the systemic racism that exists. There is no connection to our criminal justice system in which people with mental health disorders and concurrent disorders, that is addiction and mental health disorders at the same time, are overrepresented.
Members of the Conservative Party call for more mandatory minimum penalties and say that they are effective tools of government. If we look to the United States, it is a laboratory for mandatory minimum penalties. Canada has done it and it has not worked. Let us look to the United States and pick whatever state hon. members want to. It has not worked. If mandatory minimum penalties worked as a significant tool of deterrence, the United States would be the safest country in the world. I do not know that anyone here is willing to stand and say that, in terms of drug or firearms offences. It is significant.
We even see right-wing politicians in the United States finally saying enough is enough. As significant percentages of their states' budgets and the federal prison budget are exploding and not producing public safety, questions need to be asked: Why is this not working and what is happening here? Judges in the United States often have zero discretion in terms of what they do, but I know in Canada we have a significant respect for our judiciary.
Madam Speaker, it is with pleasure that I speak to Bill , an act to amend the Criminal Code and the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. The bill proposes sentencing and other amendments that would provide greater flexibility to the criminal justice system and support appropriate and proportionate responses to crime. In doing so, the proposed changes would help to reduce the overrepresentation of indigenous people, Black Canadians and members of marginalized communities in the criminal justice system, including by repealing sentencing laws that have been shown to disproportionately impact these groups.
I applaud the government for showing leadership on important issues like this. Recent events remind us that systemic racism and discrimination are real problems in the criminal justice system, and the consequences of leaving these problems unaddressed are significant. We know that many systemic factors contribute to the seriousness of this problem. These systemic factors can be addressed only through deliberate and sustained action by all those responsible for aspects of the justice system and other social systems that interact with it. That said, our criminal laws and the responses they dictate significantly impact what can and cannot be done by those in the criminal justice system. These laws affect those who engage with the criminal justice system as accused, as offenders, as witnesses or as victims.
Conservatives' sentencing reforms have resulted in the increased use of mandatory minimum penalties of imprisonment, or MMPs, and additional restrictions on the availability of conditional sentence orders, or CSOs. These changes have limited judges' ability to impose proportionate sentences. They also affect judges' ability to meaningfully consider the background or systemic factors that impact indigenous people, Black Canadians and marginalized people, and they play a part in bringing them into contact with the criminal justice system.
Unsurprisingly, we have seen significant increases in incarceration rates for members of these communities in the last two decades. For example, in 1999, indigenous people represented about 2% of the Canadian adult population but accounted for about 17% of admissions to provincial, territorial and federal custody. As of 2020, indigenous adults accounted for 5% of the Canadian adult population but represented 30% of federally incarcerated individuals, with indigenous women accounting for 42% of all federally incarcerated women.
Similarly, in 2018, Black individuals represented 7.2% of the federally incarcerated population but only 3% of the Canadian population. We know that Black people are also more likely to be admitted to federal custody for an offence punishable by an MMP than are other Canadians. Data from the Correctional Service of Canada from 2007-17 reveal that 39% of Black people and 20% of indigenous people who were federally incarcerated between those years were there for offences carrying an MMP. That is why repealing those MMPs is expected to reduce the overall rates of incarceration of indigenous people and Black Canadians.
Bill 's proposed reforms are informed by extensive consultations with a broad range of justice system and other partners across Canada, including Crown prosecutors, defence lawyers, indigenous leaders and communities, academics, victim advocates, restorative justice proponents, representatives of frontline community support systems, and representatives from such areas as health and mental health, housing and other support programs in the social system.
The bill also responds to calls for reform from various 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.
Parliamentarians have also noted the detrimental effects of MMPs. For instance, the August 2016 interim report of the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs, entitled “Delaying Justice is Denying Justice”, found that MMPs have negatively impacted indigenous persons and members of marginalized communities, including those with mental health challenges. Similarly, the Parliamentary Black Caucus in its June 2020 statement called for the review and repeal of MMPs and the removal of limitations on CSOs.
The common theme in all of these calls for reform is the recognition that the broad and indiscriminate use of MMPs and the Criminal Code's current restrictions on the use of CSOs have had numerous negative impacts, and that those impacts have been disproportionately felt by indigenous people, Black Canadians and members of marginalized communities.
They have also made our criminal justice system less effective and less efficient. I believe this bill would help to restore the public's confidence in the criminal justice system by providing much-needed discretion to sentencing judges, who are aware of all the facts of a case. It would allow them to impose sentences that respond to the particular circumstances of the offence and of the individual before the court.
The bill would achieve this important goal by repealing 20 MMPs, including MMPs for all drug-related offences and for some, not all, firearm-related offences. The bill would also lift many of the restrictions on the availability of CSOs in cases where offenders do not pose a risk to public safety, allowing them to serve their sentences in the community under strict conditions, such as house arrest or curfew, while still being able to benefit from employment, educational opportunities, family, community and health-related support systems.
Most Canadians would agree that conditional sentences are an appropriate sentencing tool and should be available for judges for appropriate cases. I would expect that they would be used in less serious cases, and I am confident that judges could make the appropriate assessments as to their use.
Lastly, this bill would require police and prosecutors to consider alternatives to criminal charges for the simple possession of drugs, such as issuing a warning or diversion to addiction treatment programs. These measures are consistent with the government's approach to treating substance use and the opioid epidemic in Canada as a health issue rather than a criminal justice one.
I would like to conclude by noting that I am aware that Bill has already been met with widespread support by communities and those responsible for the justice system in Canada. Some have gone so far as noting that it is among the most progressive criminal law reform bills introduced in many years. Like many others, I believe the government is on the right track with this bill, and I urge Parliament to support its swift passage. I look forward to hearing the views of other members.
Madam Speaker, it brings me no great joy to rise in the House today to speak to Bill .
The first thing I want to point out is that this bill is an exact copy of Bill , which was introduced and debated in the previous Parliament. Then there was an election, so now we have to start over. On second thought, maybe starting over is not such a bad thing, because if Bill C‑22 had been adopted in its entirety a few months ago, the mandatory minimum sentences for a number of important offences would have been reduced. At least now we have a chance to change things.
The main reasons that led me to become a Conservative MP have to do with public order, national defence, public safety and sound economic management. More than anything else, it was the Conservative approach to public order that really prompted me to become a Conservative MP. I was elected for the first time in 2015, but, unfortunately for my party, the Liberals won that time around and have been in power ever since.
Since 2015, we have witnessed drastic and tragic changes to how public safety issues are addressed. Victim protection has changed, and criminals have been given more rights. That really worries me.
Personally, I blame the Liberals, of course, but also the New Democrats, who, unfortunately, systematically support the Liberal approach. The Bloc Québécois tends to do that as well. As a Quebecker, I often have a hard time understanding how my Bloc colleagues can be so far to the left on these issues, but that is another debate. As I see it, the approach in Bill C‑5 is totally ideological and utterly incomprehensible.
Here are some examples of crimes for which Bill C-5 will reduce minimum sentences: robbery with a firearm; extortion with a firearm; weapons trafficking; importing or exporting an unauthorized firearm; discharging a firearm with intent; using a firearm in the commission of an offence; possession of a prohibited firearm; possession of a prohibited or restricted firearm with ammunition; possession of a weapon obtained by the commission of an offence; possession for the purposes of weapons trafficking; and discharging a firearm.
If Canadians and Quebeckers were listening carefully to that list of the various crimes involving firearms, most people would say that that does not make sense and that reducing the penalties for such offences is out of the question. If people had a clear understanding of what is being debated today, if people were polled, the vast majority would say that this makes no sense and that there is no reason to reduce the sentences of criminals who commit these kinds of offences. That is what the average person on the street would say.
Of course, each member has a duty to represent their constituents, about 100,000 people on average. The Liberals are going to say that this is what people want, and the NDP will support them. Unfortunately, we Conservatives are in a minority. However, I can guarantee that if we asked Canadians about this, the majority, over 50% of them, would surely say they are against this type of measure.
We also must remember that the Liberals have had a change of heart. The offences I just listed were included in the Criminal Code in 1976 under the Liberal government at the time, which was led by Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau, the current 's father. Back then, the left and right saw crime very differently, and we can all agree that these were important measures that did the trick.
Today, over 40 years later, we are trying to understand why Pierre Elliott Trudeau's son has a totally different perspective on this issue and is taking his government in a direction that puts public safety in jeopardy.
What is more, Bill C‑5 deals on one hand with firearms and on the other hand with drugs. Let us be clear: We are talking about sentences for traffickers, not addicts or drug users. This is not at all about managing people who use drugs for various reasons and all the risks that entails. This is truly about traffickers, those who sell, produce and traffic in drugs such as heroin, cocaine, fentanyl and crystal meth.
On that, I would like to read what my colleague from said in the House yesterday. I find it very relevant when we are talking about fentanyl. He said the following:
We have an opioid crisis in Canada today. Every day, approximately 20 Canadians lose their lives to an opioid overdose. It has increased by 88% since the onset of COVID, 7,000 Canadians a year. The Liberal government's solution is to roll back mandatory sentencing for the very people who are putting this poison on our streets, endangering lives and killing 20 Canadians a day.
That is the main issue, that ideological and philosophical approach to criminals.
As my colleague from St. Albert—Edmonton so wisely pointed out yesterday, how are Canadians supposed to agree with eliminating harsh sentences for drug traffickers, the people who are responsible for the fentanyl that kills 20 Canadians a day? Where is the logic there? I cannot wrap my head around it, and neither can most of my colleagues.
I would like to hear my colleagues from other parties, like the Bloc Québécois members and even some from the Liberal Party, acknowledge that the Conservatives are right and that the government is going too far with Bill C‑5.
This is not the right way to tackle the problem. As I was saying, this has nothing to do with addicts. When speaking about people who use for various reasons, a Bloc member said earlier that we should be proactive in tackling this problem. To be proactive, to help drug users, we would have to go after the traffickers who get those drugs onto the streets and whose actions lead to the death of 20 Canadians every day.
What is worse, the appears to think all of this is okay. He does not seem to grasp the problem, and the government does not seem to be able to find the right approach. If this were based on facts or on some logic that people could get on board with, it would be fine, but no, the government seems to think its ideology is perfect. This is unacceptable.
I remind members that Bill C‑5 would reduce minimum penalties for crimes that involve the use of a firearm. There has been talk in Montreal about firearms and the trafficking of guns through the United States for several weeks now. People are bringing in weapons from all over the place and selling them on the black market. There are 14- 15- or 16-year-old kids using these weapons on Montreal streets. Toronto has had the same problem for many years. Quebec is now grappling with this issue, as firearms are becoming increasingly prevalent in Montreal.
While police, judges and the justice system try to find a way to control this problem, here in Ottawa we are debating a bill that, ultimately, tells gun traffickers that they need not worry, and that if they are arrested, they will not be sentenced and that everything will be fine; that it is no big deal if they sell guns; and that there is nothing to worry about if they buy and use guns. Bill C‑5 sends the message that traffickers should not worry, they can do what they want, they will only get a little slap on the wrist and it will not really be that bad.
The same goes for drugs. Usually, in a society where the rule of law, law and order, is important, people who are considering selling drugs should say to themselves that they will be put in jail for some time if they are caught, so they should perhaps reconsider.
Instead, the government is telling them that there is no need to worry, that they can sell drugs to young people and that it is not serious if 20 people die every day. In my view, it defies logic.
The bill also refers to conditional sentences and house arrest. It is as though the Liberals want to empty jails completely by sending inmates to serve their sentences at home.
The bill contains a long list of crimes for which sentences will be decreased, including criminal harassment, sexual assault, abduction of a person under 14, trafficking in persons, motor vehicle theft, and breaking and entering, all of which are not minor crimes. Instead of being jailed, offenders who commit these crimes will be told to stay home and celebrate. That means a person who has committed a sexual assault could be under house arrest in a neighbourhood close to the victim. That is just ridiculous.
Let us get back to firearms. Last month, the media reported that the integrated RCMP Cornwall border integrity team had commenced a firearms smuggling investigation after a boat crossed the St. Lawrence River and made landfall near Cornwall, Ontario. The criminals unloaded three large bags from the boat into a vehicle and departed the area. The RCMP conducted a roadside stop of the vehicle and seized a large number of firearms, including prohibited and restricted weapons and high-capacity magazines. Inti Falero-Delgado, a 25-year-old man from Laval, Quebec, and Vladimir Souffrant, a 49-year-old Montrealer, were placed under arrest.
Under Bill , the two individuals involved in this arms trafficking and smuggling incident would not receive minimum sentences. It is unlikely either of them would go to prison. They would probably get a conditional sentence or, at worst, serve their sentence at home. That is how it works in real life because, in real life, criminals always think about the possible consequences of their crimes.
Criminals are aware that the government keeps reducing the penalties. That is why there has been a 20% increase in violent crime in Canada since the change of government in 2015. Criminals who want to commit a crime or live a life of crime will benefit from the measures the government is proposing. The hardened criminals will influence the younger ones and tell them not to worry because the 's government made sure that things would not be so bad for them.
The other point I would like to raise has to do with systemic racism, which the government claims this bill will help to combat. It is not relevant to say that this will have an impact on Black and indigenous communities and other racialized groups. These groups may be proportionally overrepresented in prisons, but the notion of crime should not be related to race because that does not change anything. A crime is a crime, regardless of the skin colour of the person committing it, whether they are Caucasian, Black or indigenous. As soon as a crime is committed with a weapon, then race should no longer be a factor. The government is pulling the wool over people's eyes by saying that this bill will combat systemic racism. It is a false debate. There is no connection there.
We need to consider other solutions when it comes to incarceration and overrepresentation. Reducing sentences will not solve this problem. On the contrary, it will give just about any group more leeway to commit crimes, since they will be less concerned about the fear of incarceration.
I have a very concrete example of this. Three or four years ago, Bill was introduced to enhance gun controls. I was a member of the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security at the time, and I was the one who asked representatives from indigenous groups to come and share their thoughts on the bill. I would remind the House that it is because of Bill C‑71 that gun owners are now required to apply for a number from Ottawa to sell a gun or transfer it to someone else.
That approach to public safety is debatable, but that is what we have, so that is fine. I asked indigenous people to appear before the committee to tell us what they thought. They were very clear that they felt it was irrelevant. The indigenous representative from Saskatchewan made it clear that there was no way a father wanting to follow tradition and pass his gun on to his son would contact Ottawa and ask for an authorization number. No one would do that.
My first reaction was this: Any time someone has two hands and picks up a gun, it is a public safety issue, regardless of whether the person is indigenous, White or Black. In my view, race has nothing to do with public safety. The fact remains that, until we hear otherwise, Bill does not apply to indigenous people. I had asked the former minister of public safety, but he did not have an answer.
They want to play with these ideas to get a message of openness across in the media. However, when I am talking about public safety, I prefer to have the facts: When someone picks up a gun and shoots, race becomes irrelevant. These are very sensitive issues, and I hate when the Liberals use them to try to score political points and make themselves out to be the best and most open of the parties. In reality, that is just not true.
I will finish by saying that Bill is a bad bill because it is trying to pull the wool over Canadians' eyes and make them believe that it will solve systemic racism. In fact, all it will do is help criminals commit more crimes, and it will do nothing to help Canadians.
Madam Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for .
I would like to thank the Chair for giving me time to talk about Bill , an act to amend the Criminal Code and the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.
Canadians want a criminal justice system that makes them safer and reacts quickly and effectively to crime. They expect the criminal justice system to produce equitable outcomes for all.
Unfortunately, we know this is not the case for all Canadians. There are many reasons for this, including the way our criminal laws are drafted and how they are applied.
I am very proud to be part of a government that has demonstrated the courage to acknowledge that our criminal justice system and our laws do not always produce the most appropriate outcomes for everyone, and that has taken decisive action to correct this. In so doing, we are providing our courts and decision-makers within the criminal justice system with the flexibility they need to make better decisions for everyone.
Bill proposes needed law reform in three areas. First, it would give sentencing courts greater discretion to impose fit sentences by repealing mandatory minimum penalties of imprisonment for some offences in the Criminal Code and all offences in the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. Second, it would provide sentencing courts with greater discretion to impose fit sentences by repealing unnecessary restrictions on the granting of conditional sentences of imprisonment. Third, it would require police and prosecutors to consider diverting simple possession cases away from the criminal justice system and to a health treatment program.
Traditional criminal justice system approaches to offences in simple drug possession cases are not working. This new approach would produce better outcomes for the accused and for society more generally.
At the heart of this bill is a recognition that those responsible for administering our criminal justice system need to have discretion in responding to crime. This is completely appropriate because the ability of our criminal justice system to produce appropriate outcomes is based on the proper exercise of discretion.
The Supreme Court of Canada has said on many occasions that the proper exercise of discretion is essential to the effective operation of our criminal justice system. I am in perfect agreement.
Bill would repeal all mandatory minimum penalties for six offences in the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act and for 14 offences in the Criminal Code. In so doing, it would restore judicial discretion to sentencing courts.
Some people may say that this means that the sentences for these offences will now be shorter and that, by doing away with these rigid sentencing rules, we are sending the message that these offences are not serious.
I would respond by saying that judges would impose appropriate penalties based on facts before them. A fit sentence is just that: one that is appropriate in all circumstances. If a particular trial judge's decision is inappropriate, our system enables this to be corrected through an appeal.
I also have complete confidence that the courts will continue to view these offences with the seriousness that is warranted. Repealing MMPs for certain offences involving firearms does not mean these offences are not serious or that courts will not recognize their level of severity. On the contrary, courts across Canada consistently comment on the fact that firearms-related crimes are particularly serious and should be addressed in correspondingly serious ways. That will not cease to be the case because of this bill, and offenders who deserve to go to jail will still go to jail.
What will be different, however, is the following. There would be fewer charter challenges, prosecutions would be faster and sentencing decisions would be better tailored to the circumstances of individual offenders. When courts are sentencing indigenous people, Black Canadians and members of marginalized communities, they will have the ability to meaningfully consider the circumstances of the offender before them to make a sentencing decision that properly takes circumstances into account. I urge all members to support these changes.
In our platform, our government committed to continuing to combat gender-based violence and fight gun smuggling with measures that we have previously introduced, such as lifetime background checks to prevent those with a history of abuse against their spouses or partners from obtaining firearms licences; red-flag laws that would allow immediate removal of firearms if people are threats to themselves or others, particularly to their spouses or partners; increased maximum penalties for firearms trafficking and smuggling from 10 to 14 years of imprisonment; and enhancing the capacity of the RCMP and the Canada Border Services Agency to combat the illegal importation of firearms.
Bill also proposes to restore judicial discretion for sentencing courts through amendments to the conditional sentence regime. Conditional sentences were created in 1996 to provide an innovative way for courts to sentence offenders by allowing them to serve their sentences in the community under strict punitive conditions, but also rehabilitative ones. These changes recognized that imprisonment at correctional facilities is not always necessary. These changes also responded to the fact that indigenous people were disproportionately being sent to prison and that this had to change.
The conditional sentencing regime has always disallowed the use of conditions sentences for offences punishable by a mandatory minimum penalty. Sentencing courts also have always had to be satisfied that serving a sentence in the community would not pose a public safety risk, and a sentence had to be less than two years. However, over time, additional restrictions placed on this tool have diminished its effectiveness and made it unavailable in a wider range of cases. This has taken away judicial discretion by removing an important tool for addressing over-incarceration.
With the changes proposed by Bill , the government is correcting course from the previous Conservative government's limiting of CSOs so that courts can better respond to the specific facts before them. They will still only be available in cases where public safety would not be impacted. These are welcomed evidence-based changes that are broadly supported and that will make an important difference in our criminal justice system.
Lastly, I would like to briefly address the changes relating to simple drug possession.
The opioid crisis affecting many Canadian communities has focused the spotlight on the harms of drug addiction. It has forced communities to find innovative solutions, but it has also helped demonstrate that a response to addiction based on health measures and social action is far more effective than other means, namely criminal justice measures that stigmatize users and create barriers to their rehabilitation.
The government has long recognized the importance of making greater linkages between the justice system and other social systems, including health care. The proposed measures in this bill would do just that. This bill would encourage police and prosecutors to move away from charging and prosecuting for simple drug possession in appropriate cases and, instead, direct people into other appropriate systems that are better able to respond to the root causes that contribute to their interaction with the justice system in the first place.
If we think about it, instead of being charged and prosecuted, which can result in job loss, separation from family and community and increase the possibility of reoffending, the system would facilitate the supports needed, keep the offenders working and keep them in their communities. This is smart criminal justice policy that has been proven to work, and I strongly support these changes.
The reforms contained in the bill are long overdue and have garnered wide support. I know that many people would have preferred that the bill go even further, but I also know that the said that this is only one major step in a broader effort to make our criminal justice system more equitable for all. It is essential that we take this step now.
I am asking all members to support this important legislative measure.
Madam Speaker, it is a privilege for me to rise in the House today and debate Bill . This bill proposes legislative measures that would repeal certain mandatory minimum penalties and give prosecutors the discretion to deal with simple drug possession as a health issue rather than a criminal one.
I would like to begin by telling you what I think is the most fundamental aspect of this bill that provides for the independence of the judiciary with respect to sentencing.
Before I had the privilege of serving the voters of Kings—Hants in the House, I was a lawyer, so I can say with assurance that the circumstances of each case are usually different. For these reasons, when it comes to sentencing, I think that not allowing judges to use their discretion is a problem.
I had the privilege of listening to this debate on the same bill before the House in the 43rd Parliament, about the aspect of judicial independence and judges' discretion. I want to make a link to what I believe to be generally a Conservative principle, namely that we allow local decision-makers to use their discretion when available. It is the idea of decentralizing decisions to local governments, provincial governments, when available and necessary. My friends from the Bloc Québécois would certainly appreciate that as well, with respect to the devolving of powers.
I also see that in this legislation. We sit here as parliamentarians. I have heard the and other members of this House provide circumstances and cases that could be used to talk about how this bill could impact sentencing and judicial outcomes. The reality is no one in this House knows the particular circumstances of a case that is going to happen three or four years from now. At the end of the day, we want to allow our judges, our judiciary, to make those decisions and weigh both mitigating and aggravating factors. As I mentioned before, in my time as a lawyer, not all circumstances of a case are the same. Fundamentally, this allows our judiciary the discretion to make those decisions.
The member for St. Catharines, the , in his remarks earlier today talked about the fact that the Supreme Court of Canada has found that mandatory minimum penalties, in some cases, are unconstitutional. It is up for debate in this House, but they are not effective at actually reducing crime. I have heard conversations among colleagues in this House about how we tackle crime and how we can challenge some of those points. I agree that there needs to be work done outside of this legislation. This legislation is not a silver bullet to solve that, but this is legislation that would help provide that discretion to judges and reduce the systemic challenges that indigenous and Black Canadians face.
I have mentioned many times in the House that I have the privilege of representing the three indigenous nations of Kings—Hants: Sipekne'katik, Glooscap and the Annapolis Valley First Nation.
While talking with the leaders of these communities, I heard about how the structure of the criminal justice system can create inequality, and how first-time offenders can become lifelong criminals after spending years in prison for simple drug possession, instead of receiving rehabilitation services or the necessary support to turn their lives around.
As opposed to trying to work to rehabilitate individuals and look at certain circumstances, we are putting people in jail for a minimum period of time, even if the circumstances do not warrant it. That is the reality.
An hon. member: Oh, oh!
Mr. Kody Blois: The members opposite can have their views, and I would welcome their questions when I am done, but I would like to keep the floor.
Madam Speaker, I would certainly welcome the questions once I have finished.
The statistics have been borne out. Again, I really think fundamentally that this is about judicial independence and discretion. The facts are quite stark. Five per cent of the adult population in Canada are indigenous. They represent 30% of our incarcerated population, and 42% if one considers women; 7.2% of our incarcerated population is Black, despite the fact that they represent only 3% in this country. This bill means a lot to my indigenous communities and my Black residents in Kings—Hants.
What I heard in the debate, and perhaps what some of the members opposite were trying to intervene with is “a crime is a crime”. I hear that. A crime is proportionate. It does not matter what a person's background is. At the end of the day, we need to look at the circumstances behind the behaviour. I agree that serious crime represents and should represent serious punishment, but at the same time, by imposing mandatory minimums and taking that discretion away from common law principles in terms of sentencing, we are not giving that discretion for the judges to be able to look at the best-case scenario. The same applies to prosecutors in terms of their ability to look at the circumstances and provide recommendations that will keep our communities safe.
Again, I would agree with the idea that this piece of legislation alone would not solve the issue. There has to be a focus on investment in social support systems, in housing and in recreation. All of that is important to reducing crime, writ large, in communities across the country. This is important to creating challenges for individuals for whom there may perhaps be better programs and supports than just imposing a mandatory minimum penalty.
I want to also mention the point around encouraging diversion for simple drug possession. I know we have a challenge in this country. I would be naive to stand here in the House and say that drugs are not a problem in Kings—Hants. They certainly are. The opioid crisis is something that is often mentioned in the House, particularly by our colleagues from British Columbia. It is just reasonable, sensible public policy to allow and give further discretion to police officers to be able to use their discretion to treat these instances as a health issue versus a criminal issue, and to try to make sure those supports are in place.
I know the members of the NDP would be asking for a step even further. There are circumstances where the and the are able to work to allow municipalities to go further. I do not have the section at the moment, but I know those are going to be things our government will consider in the days ahead.
I do not know how much time I have, perhaps two or three minutes, but I would suggest this in terms of my conclusion.
All members of this House agree that serious crime and activity deserve a serious penalty and that we should not be light on crime in that sense. However, looking at the mandatory minimum penalties in place, in some cases they have been ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of Canada. We know they have a detrimental impact on visible minorities in this country. They take away the discretion for judges to be able to look at the circumstances of a case and move forward. Indeed, many members of this House have said that the mandatory minimum penalty almost provides a cap in terms of what the courts will award, as opposed to maybe looking at the circumstances, recognizing that there is an aggravating factor and saying that this individual in question actually deserves a higher sentence. Sometimes the courts will simply look at the mandatory minimum and put that in place, and that is really problematic as well.
We need to be able to move forward. I will certainly be in support of this legislation. It is reasonable, and I look forward to taking questions from members opposite in this House.
Madam Speaker, it is a privilege to stand in the House to speak to a bill that is not only a long time coming and not only important to many Canadians, but is one that touches upon a very real and profoundly important issue that touches every community in our nation.
The bill deals with the issue of mandatory minimums and the initiative of the government to remove mandatory minimums for a number of prescribed sentences. It would remove mandatory minimum sentences for all drug offences under the Criminal Code and then some others with respect to tobacco and firearms provisions.
I was in the House when many mandatory minimum sentences were put into the Criminal Code by the previous Harper Conservative government, and our party opposed that approach then and we oppose it now. We do so for a number of reasons. The New Democrats have long opposed the imposition of mandatory minimum sentences in our Criminal Code for all but the most serious of crimes. These are some of the reasons for that position.
First, it is a very blunt tool. It removes the discretion of a judge to shape sentences to suit the specifics of every case. I happen to have been trained as a lawyer, and I spent 16 years litigating cases in the labour setting. I would posit before the House that every single case that comes before a judge is unique. It touches upon unique individuals with unique circumstances and it occurs in very specific circumstances and conditions. The essence of justice is to fashion a resolution that suits the particular circumstances that come before a court.
Politicians should not be sentencing people from this chamber. In our system of government, we have separation of powers, the judiciary separated from the legislative branch, separated from the executive branch, separated from the police force. These are core elements of our modern democracy and they are very important ones.
I am always suspicious of attempts by politicians in the House to try to reach into the courtrooms of our nation to tell judges what to do in a particular situation. What is particularly wrong with mandatory minimums is that they purport to tell judges to sentence a person irrespective of the person before them and the circumstances of that case.
Second, mandatory minimum sentences are routinely ruled as unconstitutional in our country. I think we could safely say that in most cases, mandatory minimum sentences do not comport with our Constitution and our Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Third, the evidence is crystal clear now that mandatory minimums are a major factor that contributes directly to the overrepresentation of the incarceration of the most marginalized Canadians, including indigenous, racialized and poor people.
As an example, indigenous people make up about 4.9% of our population, but if we were to walk into our prisons, we would find that 30% of the people in prisons are indigenous. With respect to indigenous women, it is even more shockingly appalling that 42% of the women in prisons are indigenous. A major factor contributing to that is the use of mandatory minimum sentences.
Finally, mandatory minimum sentences do not work. I need only point to the United States as the best example for that. The United States locks up the highest percentage of its population of any country in the world, and it has done nothing to reduce the crime rates or the rate of violent offences in the United States. If it were true that the use of mandatory minimum sentences reduced crime, then there would be empirical evidence of that in our neighbour to the south, and it has been proven to be quite the opposite.
In fact, the State of Texas, one of the most tough-on-crime jurisdictions we will find on this planet, has publicly stated that mandatory minimum sentences have not worked. All that has happened is that it has locked up an incredibly high percentage of the population in that state, with no impact on crime rates.
Therefore, I support this measure and I support the bill. Discretionary sentences and diversion from prison are distinctly preferable to mandatory minimum sentences that lock up more Canadians, for longer time, with no positive effect.
However, make no mistake that the bill would do nothing, zero, to address the core problem with our drug policy; that is to treat drug addiction and substance use as health issues, not criminal ones. That is the root cause of the problem with our drug policy. Substance use and addiction are health issues, not criminal ones. They are not moral failings. They are not issues of character. They are pure issues of health. Addiction is a complex biopsychosocial illness. It results in compulsive behaviour that is rooted in trauma. Substance use disorder is listed in the “DSM-5”, which is a diagnostic manual that our medical professionals use.
This is one of those issues where I will say that the general population is far ahead of the politicians of our country and, dare I say, many politicians in the House. That is because no family, not one, is untouched by addiction or substance use disorder. Everyone has a mother or father, a sister or brother, an uncle or aunt, a cousin, a grandparent or maybe even himself or herself, who has suffered from substance use, whether that is alcoholism or addiction. These families know something that is important to acknowledge in the House: Those people who are suffering are not criminals; they are sufferers, they are patients, they are people struggling with an illness.
Dr. Gabor Maté, whom I consider to be an authority of global stature in our country, a great Canadian, has found that the basic cause of addiction is trauma. He is on record as saying that after treating people in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver for many years, he never treated a single person who did not have significant childhood trauma.
Therefore, what does criminalizing those people do to them? Criminal sanctions are society's way of imposing maximum trauma on citizens. They get accosted by the police. They go through the trauma of arrest. They go into the very serious, intimidating context of a court. They go through a trial. They go to jail. This system is designed to impose the most serious pressure society can possibly impose. In other words, what we do when we criminalize drug policy is we re-traumatize people whose main issue is that they suffer from trauma. That is completely counterintuitive. In fact, it is cruel and it does not work.
If criminalizing drug use worked, we would have eliminated it years ago. We have spent billions of dollars, incarcerated millions of people around the world, harmed tens of millions of people, and achieved nothing. Today, Canada is setting, year after year, record deaths in opioid overdose. Every year since the government was elected in 2015, the death rate has gone up. Since 2016 until 2020, over 17,000 Canadians have died. In B.C., six and a half people die every day.
I will conclude by saying that stigma, shame and punishment are the core emotional issues of those suffering from substance use disorder and criminalizing their behaviour exacerbates and deepens that shame and stigma. We do not need to get rid of mandatory minimum sentences; we need to decriminalize drug use, bring in a regulated low-barrier safe supply, focus on education prevention and a treatment on demand through our public health care system. Then we will make progress on drug policy and use in our country.
Madam Speaker, I want to begin by thanking the voters of Ottawa South. This is my seventh consecutive election. I am honoured and privileged to represent such a magnificent riding, a very diverse riding, with over 82 languages spoken and over 160 countries of origin. I like to describe my riding as “the United Nations of Ottawa South”.
A great deal of time has already been spent describing the objectives of Bill , its proposed reforms and expected impacts. I support these changes, and I believe they will make a significant positive contribution to our criminal justice system. They will also contribute to efforts to address the undeniable and disproportionate impacts existing criminal laws have on certain communities in Canada.
We know that certain communities in Canada and other countries are involved in the criminal justice system at higher rates than other people. In Canada, the over-incarceration of indigenous persons and Black Canadians is well documented. The reasons for this are systemic, and they include our laws on sentencing. It is clear to me that the issue of over-incarceration must be addressed by revisiting our existing sentencing laws. That is exactly what Bill proposes to do.
Canada is not alone in recognizing that the increased and indiscriminate use of mandatory minimum penalties, or MMPs, has proven to be a costly and ineffective approach to reducing crime. Indeed, many jurisdictions comparatively around the world are moving away from this approach to criminal justice. While MMPs can be a forceful expression of government policy in the area of criminal law, we know that MMPs do not deter crime and can result in unjust and inequitable outcomes. The Supreme Court of Canada has been very clear about these issues.
Criminal justice policy is not developed in a vacuum. Evidence-based policy is informed by relevant research, including comparative studies from other countries. By examining a particular policy's successes and failures, we can develop reforms that build on what we know works and address what we know does not work.
For instance, while the United States, both at the federal and state levels, has historically made great use of MMPs, in the last decade many states have moved toward reducing or outright eliminating mandatory sentences, with a particular focus on those for non-violent and drug-related charges. These trends reveal a shift motivated by, among other things, a need to address high levels of incarceration and the corresponding social and fiscal costs. One could speak to a California legislator about how expensive it has been for the state of California over the last several decades.
This is being done by governments of all political stripes in the United States, and I encourage all parties in this House to recognize the true impacts of MMPs and work to improve our criminal justice system. Some in the United States have termed this the “smart on crime” movement. It is an approach that recognizes the need to address high levels of incarceration of young Black and Hispanic Americans, who face disproportionate negative impacts because of the use of mandatory minimum sentencing laws in the United States, particularly, as I have already noted, for non-violent, drug-related offences.
Some have also pointed out that mandatory minimum sentencing actually encourages cycles of crime and violence by subjecting non-violent offenders, who could otherwise be productive members of society, to the revolving door of the prison system.
Recently, the President of the United States indicated his intention to repeal MMPs at the federal level, where he has jurisdiction, and provide states with incentives to repeal their own mandatory minimums as well. Other countries have made similar changes. For example, in 2014, France repealed certain MMPs, predominately citing evidence that the reconviction rate had more than doubled between 2001 and 2011, increasing from 4.9% to 12.1%.
When examining trends in like-minded countries, we can see a clear policy shift toward limiting the use of mandatory minimum penalties to the most serious of cases and restoring judicial discretion at sentencing. While international comparisons cannot be the only lens through which we develop sentencing policy in Canada, particularly given our unique cultural traditions and diversity, such comparisons provide a useful backdrop against which to assess the adequacy of our own sentencing laws.
Currently, the Criminal Code and the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act provide MMPs for 73 offences, including for firearms offences; sexual offences; impaired driving; kidnapping; human trafficking; sex trade offences; murder; high treason; and drug-related offences, such as trafficking, importing and exporting, and the production of certain drugs like cocaine and heroin.
In the last 15 years, 30 offences have been amended, almost entirely by the previous Harper government, to increase existing MMPs or to impose new ones.
I was in this House when those amendments were made by the previous government, and when they were introduced, and I had an opportunity to debate them at the time. I was opposed to them then, and I am opposed to them now. I was particularly struck at the time by evidence that was presented to the House, produced by the criminal law policy division in the Department of Justice, where the director happened to be a former Progressive Conservative member of Parliament. The evidence adduced and presented by the Department of Justice indicated that the amendments the government of the day was pursuing would not achieve the outcomes it desired. It had been warned and forewarned, not only by opposition members at the time, but also by the think tank insider at the Department of Justice.
Bill would reverse that trend, and in so doing, it seeks to make the criminal justice system fairer and more equitable for all. It would repeal MMPs for 20 offences, including MMPs for all drug-related offences, as well as some for firearm-related offences. This is not a signal from Parliament that drug and firearms offences are not serious and not worthy of important denunciatory sentences in appropriate cases.
Firearms and drug offences can be very serious, and I have full confidence in our courts to impose appropriate penalties. Bill , as I said, would not repeal all MMPs in the Criminal Code. This bill does not propose changes to the penalties for child sexual offences and other sexual crimes, nor would the mandatory penalty of life imprisonment for murder be changed.
Some will argue the government should have done away with all mandatory minimum penalties. Others will be critical of the government's decisions to reform the MMPs that are included in this bill. This bill is an important and balanced step forward, and I know our is always open to considering further changes in the future.
Despite there being differences of opinion as to the role of MMPs in our sentencing laws, I would not want these views to distract us from our job, which is to examine the important changes in Bill . We have a good bill before us that has been welcomed by a broad range of stakeholders. It would make critically important changes, not just in the area of MMPs, but also with respect to conditional sentencing and the way the criminal justice system addresses simple drug possession.
I will be voting in favour of these changes because I am convinced they will make our justice system fairer and better. I urge all members on all sides of this House to support the swift passage of Bill .
Madam Speaker, I am not sitting in my usual place, because Standing Order 17 does not apply. Government Motion No. 1 made sure of that, so I am taking advantage of that motion.
This is the first time I am rising in the House to give a speech of some length, although I have risen several times in Routine Proceedings and on some other things, but I want to thank my constituents, the residents of Calgary Shepard, for honouring me with this third term in the House of Commons. I am still in awe of this place. This is the cathedral of our democracy, as was said by one of my mentors who was a former member of Parliament.
I have listened to the debate we have had so far from different members on both sides of the House. Sometimes they are describing the content of the bill and other times they are speaking to its aspirations. I think the government side is getting carried away with the aspirations of this bill, and the hopes and dreams it has put into these words and this piece of legislation.
We Conservatives often get called the “party of law and order”. It is said that we are tough on crime, and that we do not see both sides: of the offender and of the victim or victims involved. Often times what I have heard from the government side is an exclusive focus on the offender or accused. The provisions of this bill only apply to offenders once they have reached the part of the proceedings in court where they are found guilty of a crime and sentencing is involved. Where does it talk about the victims? That is what I do not see here. That is what many of my constituents would say, some of whom are victims of crime. I know some of these victims of crimes. Members of our caucus have family members who have been victims of crimes.
I will add that if members look at my voting record in my third Parliament now, I was one of the members who did not vote for the life means life private member's bill. The member for also voted against it. I also voted for, and can name him now because he is no longer a member, Larry Bagnell's bill. He was a great chair of the PROC committee and had to live through my 13-hour filibuster at committee. I promise not to do that here.
Mr. Kevin Lamoureux: Never again, right?
Mr. Tom Kmiec: Never again? Never say never again here, from the other side.
Madam Speaker, that was on Bill , which Mr. Bagnell tabled in the House. We had a second reading vote on his private member's bill. Fifteen Conservatives voted with him. I was one of them, because I thought an assessment order for those with fetal alcohol syndrome should get them some type of special treatment in the courts and judges should be directed to look at that during sentencing. It was an assessment in that case that I thought was perfectly reasonable.
If we look at my voting record on other bills, members will realize that I am willing to look at bills as they come forward and judge them on the merits of their content, not the aspirations placed behind them. Judges do not look at the aspirational language we use in this place to describe bills.
I have heard members say this bill would help indigenous or Black Canadians get the type of treatment they deserve in the court system so they are not overly given harsh criminal sentences, but the words “race”, "racism" and "systemic racism" are not in this bill. Another member mentioned, aspirationally, that the bill would help to stop minorities from being overly sentenced harshly by the judicial system, but I do not see those words. The Liberals could have introduced an assessment order and a requirement for judges to consider that.
On that point, Liberal members have asked several times if we do not trust judges. Of course we trust judges. The government appoints them to sit on the bench and render decisions on behalf of Canadians. They are supposed to look at both sides, those of the offender and the victim, and determine what outcome would be fair and just for society while including an opportunity for rehabilitation and a punishment that would fit the crime, to ensure that victims also feel that justice has been served in their case.
The Liberals talk about judicial discretion. How do they feel about the discretion of the or those of the provinces? I wonder how Jody Wilson-Raybould would feel right now when we are talking about the discretion of judges. It was the current government, on the opposite side, that got itself involved in a criminal proceeding for favouring a particular party, so how does it feel about attorney generals using their discretion in the pursuit of justice?
I think it is hypocritical of government members to be talking about judicial discretion and the ability of judges to determine a proper sentence. We do not talk about attorneys general who give direction to prosecutors. In this caucus, we have several prosecutors on our side who have actually gone through this and used these sections of the Criminal Code to sentence people.
Many of our comments probably echo the member for 's terrific verbal dissertation on the merits of the bill's contents. However, I thought it remarkable that one of the offences that is being rolled back in the bill is the production and manufacturing of schedule I drugs, including hard drugs such as cocaine, heroin, fentanyl and crystal meth.
I live in a suburban community that is made up entirely of single-family detached homes, mostly next to a hospital. Just a few years ago, a fentanyl lab was found in my own community in one of the homes closest to Deerfoot Trail. I think two million or three million pills were found, including pill presses. This has been a common story in Calgary. These pill press mills are being found in residential neighbourhoods. In the past six years, this sleepy, suburban community also had two murders committed in it. One of these, if I remember correctly, was connected to the drug trade. Again, this is happening in all of our communities across Canada. We see the daily numbers of opioid deaths, and I entirely agree that it is a crisis.
However, again, the way in which the bill is being framed does not match the contents of the bill. What I see in the bill is a kind of softening of the minimum we can set for people who commit crimes such as robbery with a firearm or kidnapping, which are things that most of my constituents think is absolutely wrong.
Before I get accused of not caring about those who wind up in the prison system, in my riding we have the historic Ogden Hotel, which has been there for almost a century. A CP is located right next to it, and it is one of Calgary's original hotels. This is where Pastor Delaney runs the Victory Foundation for the church: It helps men who are getting out of the prison system to get back on their feet, find jobs and get some training and education.
I have had coffee there with people out of the prison system who are trying to get their lives back on track. I have a beautiful painting in my house from a gentleman who was homeless. He wound up in the judicial system and was charged, but I call him an expert painter from Calgary. He made a beautiful painting of an elk being attacked by a cougar, and he was helped by the Victory Foundation. I have met and interacted with these men and tried to better understand what they go through. Many of them will tell us that they wronged someone and that they have to right the wrong at some point.
There are two sides to the debate we are having here. Where is the voice of the victims who want to see fairness in the judicial system? If we are going to talk about judicial discretion, we have to talk about attorneys general being able to direct prosecutors to actually pursue these cases as well. Also, we set the box within which judges are supposed to rule, and the box shows what the minimum is, what the maximum is and what is reasonable in between.
A member on our side mentioned that it is an expectation of Canadians that a crime committed in eastern Canada, for example in Montreal on the south shore in beautiful Brossard, in the B section where I lived for part of my life, would be treated the same way if it was committed in downtown Calgary. The same crime would be looked at by judges in the same way and would be given a similar type of sentence. We say that every case is different and every case has particular circumstances to it, but that is what we are asked to do here. I am not a lawyer by profession, so I am unburdened by a legal education and can just give a layman's interpretation of what the judicial system should look like. I consider that a bonus, but maybe some lawyers do not.
Before I forget, I have a Yiddish proverb for members to consider: “When you sweep the house, you find everything.” As I have gone through the bill, I have mentioned the fundamental aspects of the judicial system here. As I am sweeping across the bill, I look for those terms that have been mentioned by members aspirationally hoping that it would achieve the goals of not having offenders judged solely by immutable characteristics such as race, but only on the merits of their particular cases. That is a concept that I agree with, but it is not in the bill. There is no assessment order. The government could have taken an idea from our former colleague Larry Bagnell and applied it to the particular thing that they truly care about.
I cannot see how I can support this type of bill. This is the same thing as Bill in the last Parliament, and government members knew we would not support this type of legislation. They had an opportunity to fix it, but they chose not to take it. Between tabling Bill and the return of this Parliament, they lost the opportunity to find some type of consensus in the House on producing a bill to help Canadians and to help victims of serious crimes.
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise to discuss Bill .
It proposes important reforms to reduce the over-incarceration of indigenous people, Black Canadians and members of marginalized communities.
I am going to spend my time primarily talking about conditional sentence orders. I would like to bring to this conversation today my experience as the Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services and the Attorney General of Ontario. As we all know, responsibilities in the administration of justice lie at the provincial level. In my comments, I will share some of the frustrations I felt, when I was in my provincial roles, with some of the changes that were made during the Harper government that are trying to be undone by Bill .
As we all know, a fair and effective criminal justice system is critical to ensuring that Canadians feel safe in their communities, have confidence in their justice system and trust that offenders are being held accountable in a manner that is equitable and transparent and that promotes public safety in Canada. The unfortunate reality is that far too many people face discrimination and systemic racism at all stages of our criminal justice system. This problem has been exacerbated by tough-on-crime sentencing policies, including the indiscriminate and broad use of mandatory minimum penalties of imprisonment, generally known as MMPs, and added restrictions placed on the availability of conditional sentence orders, or CSOs. These restrictions were meant to keep Canadians safe, so to speak, but this missed the point because conditional sentences are never permitted in cases where public safety is put at risk.
These restrictions have prevented judges from imposing non-custodial, community-based sentences, even in cases where these sentences would otherwise be appropriate under the circumstances. This one-size-fits-all approach to sentencing denies the reality that offences can be committed in a broad range of circumstances with varying degrees of seriousness. Someone who steals to feed their family is less blameworthy than someone who steals goods to sell on the black market. One-size-fits-all sentencing has too often used the latter example as the baseline for sentencing laws and this has created problems in our justice system. MMPs also run counter to the fundamental principle of sentencing, namely that sentences must be individually tailored to the particular circumstances of the offence and the degree of responsibility of the offender before the court.
Bill is an important step forward to provide alternatives to incarceration where appropriate, including for indigenous people and Black Canadians. One important component of the proposed reforms is a series of amendments to the conditional sentencing regime that would allow the regime to fulfill its original purpose, namely to address the overreliance on incarceration for less serious crimes.
To better explain the importance of Bill 's amendments in this area, let me take a moment to speak about their original legislative purpose. CSOs were enacted in 1996, and I believe Allan Rock was the Minister of Justice in the House at that time. They were enacted as part of a comprehensive set of reforms that recognized the need to address Canada's inflated incarceration rate, particularly as it related to indigenous people.
A CSO allows an offender who does not pose a threat to public safety to serve a prison term of less than two years in the community under strict conditions, including house arrest and curfew. The law governing CSOs provides judges with the ability to impose a broad range of conditions that balance public safety against other important objectives, including rehabilitation. For example, a judge can require an offender to attend an approved treatment program, which can help address the underlying reasons that led to offending in the first place. This makes good sense to me. As Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services and the Attorney General of Ontario, I addressed this, because if an inmate or offender is sentenced two years less a day, that person goes to a provincial prison.
In my previous roles, I visited enough jails in Ontario to know they are not the best places to be. For someone who is facing an addiction or mental health issue, jail is not a place where they will get the right care, as opposed to being in a community. Evidence shows that allowing offenders who do not pose a risk to public safety to serve their sentences in the community under strict conditions, while maintaining access to employment and community and health-related support systems, is far more effective at reducing future criminality than harsh penalties such as incarceration.
Indeed, evidence gathered after the original enactment of CSOs supports this finding. Within the first few years of the implementation of CSOs, recidivism rates declined and the incarceration rate decreased by 13%. Criminal Code amendments enacted by the Conservative governments in 2007, with former Bill , and in 2012, with former Bill , have since severely restricted the availability of CSOs. These amendments made CSOs unavailable for all offences prosecuted by way of indictment that are punishable by a maximum term of imprisonment of 14 years or life, as well as those punishable by a maximum term of imprisonment of 10 years if the offences resulted in bodily harm or involved drugs or the use of a weapon. The reforms also introduced a list of ineligible offences to the CSO regime, including for non-violent property crime.
Because of these restrictions, the use of CSOs was significantly diminished. Statistics Canada data shows that the number of cases resulting in a CSO decreased from 11,545 cases in 2004 to 7,022 cases in 2018. Studies have further shown that these restrictions have had a disproportionately negative impact on indigenous people. These restrictions have also resulted in an increased number of charter challenges and calls for reform.
Bill would return the CSO regime to what existed prior to the 2007 amendments while ensuring that CSOs are unavailable for offences of advocating genocide, torture and attempted murder, as well as terrorism and criminal-organization offences that are prosecuted by way of indictment and for which the maximum term of imprisonment is 10 years or more. They would also continue to be unavailable for any offence carrying a mandatory minimum penalty. CSOs would thus become accessible for all other offences where the sentencing judge determines that a custodial sentence of under two years is appropriate, provided that the court is also satisfied that imposing a CSO would not endanger public safety and would be in keeping with the fundamental purpose and principles of sentencing.
This approach would allow sentencing judges to consider all available sanctions other than imprisonment for all offenders, consistent with the sentencing principle of restraint, which requires sentencing courts to take into consideration all available sanctions other than imprisonment that are reasonable in the circumstances, with particular attention to the circumstances of indigenous offenders. These amendments strike the right balance between ensuring the availability of alternatives to incarceration where appropriate and recognizing the importance of public safety where serious offending is at issue.
This legislation is a key milestone in our government's ongoing efforts to transform the criminal justice system. I applaud our government for proposing reforms that would realign CSOs with Parliament's original intent, an approach that evidence shows would directly contribute to reducing the overrepresentation of indigenous people, Black Canadians and members of marginalized communities in our criminal justice system, and would afford more opportunity for rehabilitation and better reintegration in appropriate cases.
These are the kinds of things that, when I was the Attorney General of Ontario, we were asking the federal government to undertake. I am thrilled to see that this is taking place through Bill . I am also quite thrilled that in my new role as a member of Parliament, I am able to speak to this bill and will be supporting it. I encourage other members to vote in favour of it as well.
Madam Speaker, this is the first time that I have been able to rise in debate in the House of Commons in the 44th Parliament and I would like to begin by thanking a few people.
Throughout my career I have been a public servant and I am honoured to once again be serving the good people of Kootenay—Columbia. The past 20 months have been a difficult time. Many have answered the call to assist fellow Canadians, and have done so quietly and without acknowledgement. Today, I want to acknowledge one of those groups. My sincere gratitude to the constituency and Hill staff employees who have worked tirelessly under difficult circumstances to diligently support every member of this House and the constituents we serve.
There is no elected path to this House, this chamber, that does not involve the tremendous support of family. Today I would like to take a moment to thank my wife, Heather, for her commitment to our family and democracy, and for her unwavering support for the work I do here on behalf of Kootenay—Columbians and, indeed, all Canadians. Pursuit of the greater good always comes with sacrifice. I am so proud to be the beneficiary of her love and support.
Today we will be talking about mandatory minimum sentences as part of the Bill discussion. I would like to begin by setting the record straight. Colleagues across the aisle have once again taken serious legislation and are using it as a tool for political division. They have created a nice narrative for themselves, suggesting they are hard at work undoing the Conservative mandatory minimum penalties, when in fact the majority of mandatory minimum penalties that Bill C-5 stands to eliminate are applicable to firearms offences that were actually introduced by previous Liberal governments.
For those listening at home, Bill , presented by the government, includes the removal of mandatory minimum penalties for criminals who commit firearm offences, including but not limited to using a firearm in commission of offences, weapons trafficking and robbery with a firearm. The government would rather send criminals who commit these offences home.
Bill hits close to home both personally and, of course, professionally, as I served on the front lines of the war on drugs and have dealt with violent offenders throughout my career. What I know to be the absolute truth is that it is difficult to come up with solutions to big problems like the ones we are addressing today without hearing from the victims. I have been in the room with parents who have lost a child to an overdose and I have investigated and arrested the most violent criminals. I have first-hand experience with the front lines of these issues and see a clear and widening gap between where this bill currently sits and where we need to get to in order to make changes.
While we come to this House from different perspectives, I do believe that everyone in this chamber has a desire to do right by Canadians. Let me be clear to my colleagues across the aisle. If they want change, this bill will not get them there. In fact, based on my first-hand experience, Bill will move us further away from where we need to be in our collective pursuit of safer communities.
Canadians need to know and I want to be crystal clear on what the Conservative position is. Convicted violent predators, those individuals who prey on the innocence of our daughters and sons, deserve to go to prison, not to the comforts of their own home, yet the government seems politically determined, at the cost of safe communities, to send these criminals on a backyard vacation.
Through Bill , the government also seeks to eliminate six mandatory minimums in the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act that target drug dealers. They include trafficking or possession for the purpose of trafficking; importing, exporting or possession for the purpose of exporting; and the production of heroin, cocaine, fentanyl and crystal meth. The government's own messaging leads Canadians to believe they are simply helping those who struggle with addictions. The minister fails to point out that the mandatory minimums being eliminated are in place for those who target criminals who prey on those with addictions. There are far too many Canadians struggling with addiction. Instead of being focused on removing and reducing consequences for criminals, Bill should instead be focused on offering the help that is so desperately needed for those who suffer from addiction.
My Conservative colleagues and I believe strongly that those struggling with addictions should be the priority and receive the help that is needed. We have an opioid epidemic across this country and in British Columbia the situation is pronounced. Far too many parents and loved ones are receiving that dreaded phone call, where they are left to process the brutal reality that their child has suffered an overdose.
I would like to take a moment to address the issue of drug use and recovery. The road to recovery, of which I have both professional and personal experience, is very difficult and a long-term commitment. Successful crime prevention starts with our youth and must continue throughout their lives. Education programs can be successful if delivered at the appropriate time. However, with addiction to opioids, for example, the effort and success takes years. We do know the present system is not successful and that it does require change, but we need an approach that is a positive solution for rehabilitation, one that is configured to help those who are addicted, instead of helping those who are profiting from the addiction.
Given the decline in mental health and its connectivity to the issue we are talking about today, I would like to take this opportunity to join my colleagues in calling on the government to commit to an implementation date of funding the national three-digit helpline in this House, unanimously passed in the 43rd Parliament. The government owes it to Canadians to activate that line and create meaningful legislation that will actually serve to make our communities safe. We asked yesterday for a date for 988 to be activated and there was no response.
Contrary to what the claims, this is not about reducing mandatory minimum penalties for simple possession. Mandatory minimum sentences for simple possession do not exist. Bill would do nothing to address that. Instead, it would eliminate mandatory prison time for drug traffickers who commit acts of violence. It would allow criminals who have committed violent acts to serve their sentences on house arrest rather than in prison and puts our communities at risk. I would really like to know who the government consulted. Did they talk to the victims?
Organized crime and gangs prey on our youth. A friend of mine had a 12-year-old daughter who was approached in an elementary school playground by a gang member and was tricked into using crystal meth. By the time the girl was 13, she had stolen most of her family's valuables to support her addiction. The organized crime gang forced her into prostitution. To consider reducing minimum sentences for these gang members is not a solution.
The says the purpose of the bill is to tackle overrepresentation of indigenous people and Black Canadians in our prisons. According to a recent article in The Globe and Mail, the bill would not meet that objective. The article states that for “a bill that is ostensibly about racial justice, every single provision in this bill is entirely race neutral.” For nearly a year, the government has asserted that the selected mandatory minimum penalties disproportionately affect Black and indigenous people, but has offered no evidence to suggest they will meaningfully redress overrepresentation.
Bill leaves in place the harshest mandatory minimum penalties and their brutal effects for indigenous women, in particular. According to the 2019 Corrections and Conditional Release Statistical Overview, a report released by then , almost half of the women sentenced to mandatory life sentences are indigenous and most acted in the self-defence context of lifetimes of abuse and trauma. Clearly these women are victims and not the greatest risk to public safety in Canada, yet Bill C-5 would continue to serve Canada's harshest penalties. All Canadians deserve a more fair and just criminal legal system. Nanaimo, B.C. has a very successful restorative justice program. This is where we need to focus our path forward.
We are left to wonder who the government consulted on this legislation and whether those voices are present in this bill's current form. I am also left to wonder about its understanding of enforcement, as the bill adds to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act a set of principles that peace officers and prosecutors should use for determining whether to lay charges for possession. Surely the knew that police officers already had the flexibility to do this.
Conservatives have serious concerns with the government's proposal to allow criminals to serve house arrest rather than jail time for a number of offences, including sexual assault, human trafficking and kidnapping. This bill would put communities and victims at risk.
In closing, I ask all colleagues in this House consider the real-life outcome that they will be enacting by choosing to make life easier for violent offenders and drug traffickers. It seems apparent that we should instead be holding these criminals accountable for their actions and focus instead on creating meaningful legislation that will help victims and those with addictions to make our communities safer.
Madam Speaker, this being my first time rising to give a speech of this length, I wanted to pause to give some thanks. First of all, I thank my neighbours across Kitchener Centre for placing their trust in me to be our community's voice in this place, as well as the hundreds of people who joined to knock on doors and make phone calls. In particular, there was a core group: Jackie, Devon, Ros, Joanna, Janet, Zoe, Scott, Wayne, Noah, Greg, Brenden and Jenna. As well, I give a special thanks to Mats for all the work over the last three years leading up this point, and of course to Asha, who managed both campaigns. I would not be here without them.
I give a final thanks to my mom, my dad, my brothers Brad and Rob, and my sister Emily. They have been there alongside me every step of the way, including knocking on doors and making calls, all of which has led me to having the privilege to speak in moments like these, in this place, on our community's priorities.
This brings me to Bill . I would like to start with what I appreciate about this proposed legislation, which is the stated goal of addressing systemic racism in Canada's criminal justice system. By targeting mandatory minimum penalties, I appreciate that the government is seeking to address the fact that in 2020, despite representing 5% of the Canadian adult population, indigenous adults accounted for 30% of federally incarcerated inmates; that the proportion of indigenous offenders admitted with an offence punishable by a mandatory minimum penalty has almost doubled between 2007-08 and 2016-17, from 14% to 26%; and, finally, that in 2018-19, Black inmates represented 7% of the federal offender population but only 3% of the Canadian population.
By removing the mandatory minimum penalties included in this bill, I appreciate the government’s intent to address these injustices. That being said, we need to be honest with ourselves. Mandatory minimum penalties do not deter crime, and all mandatory minimum penalties contribute to systemic racism. However, Bill , as currently proposed, targets less than one in five of all mandatory minimum penalties in full. That is just 13 out of 73, less than one-third in full or in part, or 20 out of 73, and only 10 of the 28 that courts have already found unconstitutional.
In this way, it seems reasonable to assess this bill as one of half measures. I have been in this place for only just over three weeks, and I often hear the word “reconciliation” used. On this topic, I would like to read call to action 32 of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which states the following:
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.
I note, particularly for the members in this place who purport to support every single one of the calls to action, including, I assume, call to action 32, that this does not say one in five.
I would also like to read call to justice 5.14 of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, which states the following:
We call upon federal, provincial and territorial governments to thoroughly evaluate the impact of mandatory minimum sentences as it relates to the sentencing and over-incarceration of Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA people and to take appropriate action to address their over-incarceration.
I have heard the members who are concerned about crime, including the most recent speaker in this House. To be clear: Removing mandatory minimum penalties is really about placing our trust where it should be, which is in the judiciary.
In place of mandatory minimum penalties, sentencing judges would still be required to impose a sentence that is proportionate to the degree of responsibility of the offender and the seriousness of the offence, taking into account all aggravating and mitigating factors. This includes the risk to public safety. It also includes the individual and all relevant circumstances of the case in front of them, including acknowledging and redressing the realities of colonialism and systemic racism in the lives of indigenous people, Black Canadians and other racialized groups.
A final point I would like to make is that this bill misses a significant opportunity, which is that even with mandatory minimum penalties removed, people across the country would still be going to jail for simple possession of illicit drugs and would continue to die from addiction and from a dangerous supply. We would continue to be applying an outdated understanding of drug use from the 1980s instead of applying the very clear public health advice from experts, including the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, which we have in front of us. That advice is to decriminalize illicit drugs, to offer a regulated safe supply, and to treat this like the mental health and addictions crisis that we know it to be.
So far this year, in my community alone, we have lost 120 community members to a poisoned drug supply. Since January 2016, across the country, over 25,000 lives have been lost, each one a preventable death. For this reason, I support the calls made by others in this House, encouraging the minister to move this bill to committee before second reading so its scope can be expanded to include decriminalization.
In closing, I would like to offer two considerations to the government. The first is to consider expanding the list of mandatory minimum penalties to be repealed by this bill to address the government's stated intent of addressing systemic racism. The second is to consider offering clear evidence that the small fraction of mandatory minimum penalties currently included to be repealed by Bill would in fact reduce the overrepresentation of Black and indigenous people in federal prisons.
Madam Speaker, it truly is a pleasure for me to speak to this bill today. It is unfortunate that we are already seeing the government's soft-on-crime approach come up at the first available opportunity.
Bill is the unfortunate perfect example of this approach. This bill would do nothing to make our communities safer for Canadians. Instead, it would reduce punishments and accountability for drug dealers and for those who commit violent gun crimes. This bill would see the individuals responsible for harming our communities serve their time in our communities alongside victims, rather than in prisons where they truly belong.
Bill would be responsible for eliminating a large number of mandatory minimum sentences for some of our most serious crimes, like robbery with a firearm, weapons trafficking, discharging a firearm with intent and extortion using a firearm. These are just a few of the crimes that would no longer be served with mandatory minimum sentences. If this bill is passed, it clearly would not achieve the result of making Canadian communities safer.
The crimes this bill would affect are incredibly serious offences. Canadians would be alarmed to learn that the mandatory minimum jail time for the 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 the purpose of weapons trafficking would all be reduced by this bill.
The government must assume Canadians lack common sense if it thinks this bill would stop gun crimes by reducing the mandatory minimum prison sentences for criminals. The Liberals propose that this bill would help those struggling with addiction to find the treatment they so desperately need. Canadians who are struggling with addiction should be able to access treatment. Instead, this bill would eliminate mandatory prison time for the criminals who traffic and import or export these deadly substances under schedule 1 or 2.
To be clear, the Liberals are proposing to let drug traffickers and manufacturers off the hook, while at the same time claiming this would help people suffering from addiction. This pandemic has shown us just how serious the opioid crisis is in parts of our country. Now is the time we should be cracking down on those who are poisoning our communities. The Liberal solution is to take away the mandatory prison sentences those fuelling this crisis should face.
We have heard a representative of the government state that it would be getting rid of the minimum penalties put in place by those nasty Conservatives. Many of those laws were put in place during the mid-90s, when Pierre Elliott Trudeau was prime minister, by the Liberal government of the day. The Liberals blaming Conservatives for the laws of a previous Liberal government is a little steep.
The Liberals try to convince Canadians they are helping addicts and communities, but what they are actually attempting to do is reduce the sentences and eliminate accountability for those who traffic and manufacture the drugs that fuel crime, addiction and death in this crisis that we are seeing in communities across our country. Instead of punishing gangs, they are attempting to crack down on law-abiding firearms owners.
We have a very thorough system in place in our country for law-abiding firearms owners. The firearms community, hunters and sport shooters are all in agreement that we need a robust system. Background checks are already in place. They are proven to be very effective. It should be no surprise that we do not understand how this bill would tackle firearms offences by eliminating mandatory prison sentences for the gangs and criminals who do not follow the already robust system.
It should not be a surprise that during the last Parliament, the government had its members vote against a Conservative private member's bill that would have seen punishment for those who traffic weapons strengthened. Now we see the government proposing to weaken the punishments. The disconnect could not be more obvious.
I have seen what these types of offences can do in my own community of Oxford. Canadians are seriously concerned about the rise of violent and drug-related crimes in their communities. It is extremely concerning to see the government taking a soft-on-crime stance and not one that stands up for victims and their communities.
As a former police chief in my community, I have witnessed the struggle that officers have had to continue to go through in keeping our communities safe. Instead of providing officers with the expansion of resources, the Liberal government would like to see fewer protections for our victims and softer punishments for criminals. We are talking about criminals. These are people who have been convicted in our courts, convicted of crimes such as robbery with a firearm, trafficking firearms, and the production of schedule 1 or 2 substances, such as heroin, cocaine or fentanyl. These are the people the government would like to see let out of their sentences earlier.
Further, the government would like to see the expansion of the use of conditional sentences. Kidnapping, sexual assault, human trafficking or the abduction of a minor are all crimes the government would like to see criminals serve on house arrest in the communities where these crimes were committed.
We keep hearing the government say that it wants to help those struggling with drug addiction. We know the justice system and police in our country already have the ability to utilize discretion in dealing with folks who are struggling with addiction, such as for a simple possession. The government needs to get serious about the expansion of support for people who are struggling with addiction and their mental health.
Canadians have elected all of us to the House to take action. Where is the action on the call that was passed in the House for the institution of a national three-digit suicide prevention hotline? This would be an example of concrete action. It is unfortunate that it seems the only reason the government is dragging its feet on this action is because it was one of my Conservative colleagues who proposed it.
We heard the state that one of his reasons for calling a $600 million election in the middle of a pandemic was because of a lack of co-operation with the opposition parties in the House. Where is that co-operation from the Prime Minister's government? It took two full months, after what the Prime Minister called our most important election in Canadian history, to get the House back to sitting. Now that we have reconvened, the government takes one of its first opportunities to introduce a bill that is seriously concerning to Canadians. Drug and gun traffickers and manufacturers belong in prisons, not in our communities.
This bill is what sport fishermen would call a “catch and release”. It really is not going to help our communities.
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House to speak to Bill .
This bill was introduced during the previous Parliament. It is very important for all Canadians, but especially for Black Canadians and indigenous people. It is also important for the safety of Canadians in general, because Bill C-5 seeks to address two problems with our system.
First, it is important to do away with minimum mandatory penalties in the penitentiary system. Second, the bill provides for more flexibility, more latitude, which is a good thing when it comes to conditional sentencing.
I therefore hope that all members will not only support the bill, but also add measures that are in keeping with the spirit of the bill, so that we can do even more. In my opinion, it is extremely important that my colleagues support this bill.
I want to begin by talking about mandatory minimum penalties.
It makes no sense to keep incarcerating people and eliminating the flexibility that every judge and court needs.
Judges have a responsibility to judge a situation and enhance Canadians' safety. They also propose a sentence that reflect the severity of the crime that was committed.
Removing flexibility and having parliamentarians set an arbitrary duration makes no sense. This does not help keep Canadians safe and, in many cases, it also punishes people because they receive the wrong sentence.
Members of the House of Commons enjoy two remarkable benefits. The first is that we have the right to visit any Canadian Armed Forces unit; the second is that we have the right to visit prisons or penitentiaries.
In 2015, after my election, I did that very thing. I would not say it was a pleasure, but I can say that it completely changed the way I look at Canada's penitentiary system. I had the chance to visit institutions where the incarcerated were serving maximum, minimum or medium sentences.
It was remarkable and it really opened my eyes. I saw the conditions people were living in. I must say, in all sincerity, that I do not think those conditions are conducive to rehabilitating incarcerated people. I soon came to the conclusion that we have to leave prisons for people who truly pose a risk to Canadians.
People may have mental health or addiction issues for any number of reasons: not having been able to keep a job, learning survival of the fittest on the streets of Canadian cities. These people do not need to be incarcerated. They need access to other options, such as addiction treatment. These are people who may never have felt a sense of belonging.
As a father of three and grandfather of two, I know just how crucial that sense of security and belonging is to young people. Some never have that with their family, so they find it with a gang because there are no other options.
I feel it is our duty as parliamentarians to find and fund ways to make sure that these people have other options before throwing them in jail. As I said, prison is the worst possible place to put people if we are hoping to mould them into model citizens. That is not how it works. I would encourage my colleagues to visit a prison during their time in politics. They should see how it works with their own eyes.
I am hearing some people say that because handgun use is skyrocketing in my hometown of Montreal and other Canadian cities, this is not the right time to introduce a bill like this. They are saying that they do not want to lighten the penalties in place, that it is not the right time. I have to ask, though, when will it be the right time?
Let us look at the situation logically. In the current environment, where these minimum sentences exist, we are seeing an increase in the use of handguns. Nothing has changed. For a generation, we have been tightening up and toughening up penalties, but the result has been the skyrocketing use of handguns. Let us then try something different. We cannot keep doing the same thing and expecting different results. That does not make sense.
I think we need to start looking for a new model, a new way to respond to the current situation. We have to trust that judges will use their judgment. We need to invest money to give these young people options other than street gangs. Bill is a step in the right direction.
I hope we will be bold enough to do things differently and provide a solution that can finally keep Canadians safe.
Madam Speaker, I welcome this opportunity to speak today on Bill , a seriously flawed and dangerous piece of proposed legislation. My commentary and opinion on this are shaped by my experience as a lawyer for almost 30 years, the last 18 years as a Crown attorney for the Province of Ontario.
A week ago today, members in the House stood in solidarity to honour and remember the victims of the Montreal massacre. Fourteen women were murdered, and 10 women and four men were injured. That day was an opportunity for the House, and especially the and his government, to stand strong against all forms of gun violence and to inform Canadians in very clear terms that they would take immediate steps to curb the ever-increasing tide of this criminal behaviour. What is most disturbing is that, less than 24 hours removed from this commemoration, the introduced Bill , which was a tone-deaf and ill-timed response from this government.
The in the last election promised peace, order and good government. He said that Canada needs leadership that would not back down in the face of rising extremism and that he would take action to put an end to gun violence in our communities. Bill is the complete opposite of this pledge and proves to be another example of virtue signalling to all Canadians.
Bill is identical to Bill , which was first introduced in the last Parliament. That bill never made it past the second reading before the unnecessary federal election was called. The bill would eliminate mandatory minimum penalties for 14 of the 67 offences in the code, 13 for firearm offences and one for a tobacco offence. Notwithstanding what we have heard over the last week by the and his government, this dangerous bill is not targeted at less serious gun crime.
As an example, let us take a look at section 244(1) of the code, which reads:
Every person commits an offence who discharges a firearm at a person with intent to wound, maim or disfigure, to endanger the life of or to prevent the arrest or detention of any person
I would ask any member of the House to somehow convince me that that would constitute a less serious gun offence.
The bill would also eliminate all six mandatory minimums for offences under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. These include the very serious offences of trafficking, importing and exporting, and the production of controlled substances. I invite members to think about that for a moment. This soft-on-crime, ideologically driven Liberal government believes that those who traffic and produce fentanyl, the most deadly and lethal form of street drug, which is being sold to millions of addicts, is causing an opioid crisis, and results in daily overdoses and deaths, should not expect to receive a minimum period of incarceration. It is utterly shameful and dangerous.
As a rookie member and political aficionado in Ottawa, I have repeatedly heard a false narrative from the and his government that Prime Minister Harper is to blame for everything that has gone wrong in this country. Perhaps it is about time for this government to engage in some self-reflection.
Contrary to the talking points about the government “turning the page on a failed Conservative criminal justice policy”, the fact remains that it is keeping the other 53 mandatory minimums in the code intact and keeping most of the ones introduced by the Conservative Party. The justice minister needs to be reminded that it was former prime minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau in 1977 and prime minister Jean Chrétien in 1995 who introduced several mandatory minimums for firearm offences.
These penalties have been rooted in our criminal justice system since the early 1890s. Legislators, over the decades that followed, have relied upon mandatory sentencing tools to mitigate inconsistencies in the exercise of judicial discretion. A key feature of our system of government is that Parliament constantly reviews all legislation and passes new legislation to ensure its laws, including sentencing laws, properly align with the demands of justice. Those demands of justice speak very clearly that there is a tremendous increase in gun violence across this country.
Conservatives believe that serious violent offences committed with firearms deserve mandatory prison time. If government members will not take our word on this subject, then perhaps they will listen and reflect on what eloquent jurists have said about gun violence in our communities.
Firearm use and possession is not a momentary lapse in judgment. Heavy regulation of firearms and ammunition mean that those who possess them had to make a concerted effort to do so. A person does not stumble upon an illegal handgun. There is a process of purchasing from a trafficker and secreting the handgun to avoid detection and prosecution. There is a high degree of deliberation and contemplation. Loaded firearms, especially in public, add a dimension of heightened risk.
Hear the words of Justice D. E. Harris:
A person with a gun in their hands has a god-like power over life and death. Virtually all that is necessary is to point at another person and to apply a few pounds of pressure on the trigger in order to end a human life.... The ease of killing with a gun...is an exigent danger to us all.
He said, “Such immense power with so little reason must be opposed with everything at our disposal.”
Listen to these chilling words from Justice Molloy in the decision of Ferrigon:
A person who loads a handgun with bullets and then carries that handgun, concealed on his person, into a public place is by definition a dangerous person. Handguns are used to shoot people. A person who carries a loaded handgun in public has demonstrated his willingness to shoot another human being with it. Otherwise there would be no need to have loaded it. That person is dangerous. He is dangerous to those with whom he associates; he is dangerous to the police and other law enforcement personnel; he is dangerous to the members of his community; he is dangerous to innocent bystanders, including children, who may be killed or maimed by stray bullets.
According to Public Safety Canada, violent crime involving firearms is a growing threat to public safety in our communities. Gun violence is on the rise: an 81% increase in violent offences involving guns since 2009; one in three homicides in Canada are firearm related; and 47% of Canadians feel gun violence is a threat to their community. Gun violence impacts people and communities across Canada. It happens in urban, suburban and rural communities across every province and territory, in all age and socio-economic groups and, last, among those who own guns and those who do not.
This is a moment in time to strengthen our gun laws to emphasize the principles of denunciation and deterrence. This is not the time to advance a soft-on-crime bill that puts communities and victims at risk.
Mandatory minimum sentences are an important tool for ensuring, not inhibiting, justice in sentencing. Rather than eliminating a judge's ability to assess a proportionate sentence, mandatory minimums set a stable sentencing range for an offence, permitting citizens to understand in advance the severity of the consequences that attend the commission of that offence.
The stressed that Bill was not aimed at hardened criminals but at first-time low-risk offenders. He was quoted on December 8, stating:
Think about your own kids. Perhaps they got into trouble at some point with the law. I bet you would want to give them the benefit of the doubt or a second chance if they messed up. Well, it is a lot harder to get a second chance the way things are now...
That is such a disturbing message from the . I cannot think of any other example of being tone deaf to the obvious. We are indeed focusing on serious violent offenders and not misguided, mischievous youthful first offenders.
The Liberal government claims the bill is to address racism in Canada's criminal justice system. As noted by the Alberta minister for justice, Kaycee Madu:
While Ottawa’s new justice bill...contains some reasonable measures, I am deeply concerned about the decision to gut tough sentencing provisions for gun crimes....Removing tough, mandatory penalties for actual gun crimes undermines the very minority communities that are so often victimized by brazen gun violence. I also find it disingenuous for Ottawa to exploit a genuine issue like systemic racism to push through their soft-on-crime bills.
As a former Crown attorney, I am very much aware and wholeheartedly accept that there is a disproportionally higher rate of incarcerated indigenous and Black Canadians. We as parliamentarians have the tools necessary to put into place measures to address this problem. We already have principles that mandate jurists to consider the background of indigenous offenders.
The Liberal government last year committed $6.6 million to produce better informed sentencing decisions based on an understanding of the adversities and systemic inequalities that Black Canadians and members of other racialized groups faced.
Furthermore, Parliament has an opportunity to put into place a safety valve known as a constitutional exemption that would allow judges to exempt outliers for whom the mandatory minimum would constitute cruel and unusual punishment.
This flawed and dangerous bill would also substantially alter the conditional sentence regime, which would now allow such a sentence to be imposed for sex assaults, criminal harassment, kidnapping, human trafficking, arson and abduction.
What I found most ironic is that yesterday we heard from the that this legislation would reduce a significant amount of charter challenges and speed up the disposition of criminal cases. What he failed to address was how the changes to the conditional sentence regime would result in a plethora of increased litigation as the proposed amendments were lawfully unavailable.
A condition precedent to the availability of the conditional sentence is that a justice must be satisfied that serving a sentence at home would not endanger the safety of the community. Offenders convicted of sexual assault, criminal harassment, kidnapping and abduction are indeed dangerous.
Furthermore, section 752 defines the above offences as a serious personal injury offence, which the provincial appellate courts have consistently excluded from conditional sentence consideration.
The number one priority for the federal government is to keep Canadians safe. The Liberal government has been derelict in its responsibility. This soft-on-crime, ideologically driven bill needs to be defeated.