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44th PARLIAMENT, 1st SESSION

EDITED HANSARD • No. 017

CONTENTS

Tuesday, December 14, 2021




Emblem of the House of Commons

House of Commons Debates

Volume 151
No. 017
1st SESSION
44th PARLIAMENT

OFFICIAL REPORT (HANSARD)

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

Speaker: The Honourable Anthony Rota

    The House met at 10 a.m.

Prayer



ROUTINE PROCEEDINGS

[Routine Proceedings]

  (1000)  

[Translation]

Public Accounts of Canada

    Mr. Speaker, today, I have the great honour to table, in both official languages, the Public Accounts of Canada. The Auditor General of Canada has provided an unqualified audit opinion on the Canadian government's financial statements.

[English]

Auditor General of Canada

     It is my duty to lay upon the table, pursuant to subsection 8(2) of the Auditor General Act, a report of the Auditor General of Canada to the House of Commons entitled “Commentary on 2020-21 Financial Audits”.

[Translation]

    Pursuant to Standing Order 108(3)(g), this document is deemed to have been permanently referred to the Standing Committee on Public Accounts.

[English]

Foreign Affairs

    Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 32(2) and consistent with the current policy on the tabling of treaties in Parliament, I have the honour to table, in both official languages, five treaties this morning.
    The first is entitled “amendments to Annex I of the International Convention against Doping in Sport” notified on October 1, 2021.
    The second is the exchange of letters between the Government of Canada and the Government of the Republic of Colombia constituting an agreement to amend the free trade agreement between Canada and the Republic of Colombia, done at Lima on November 21, 2008, done at Ottawa on February 16, 2021, and done at Bogotá on August 4, 2021.
    The third is the “Coproduction Agreement in the areas of film, television and on-demand audiovisual media services between the Government of Canada and the Government of the French Republic” done at Paris on May 20, 2021, at Montreal on June 2, 2021, and at Paris and Montreal on July 28, 2021.
    The fourth is the “Resolution (88) 15 Setting Up a European Support Fund for the Co-production and Distribution of Creative Cinematographic and Audiovisual Works ('Eurimages')”, adopted by the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe on October 26, 1988, as amended.
    The last is the “Arrangement between the Government of Canada and the European Space Agency Concerning the Participation by the Government of Canada in the Advanced Research in Telecommunications Systems 4.0 (ARTES 4.0) Programme”, done at Paris on April 17, 2020, and on April 20, 2020. This last treaty is tabled for information purposes only.

  (1005)  

Committees of the House

Finance 

    Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present, in both official languages, the first report of the Standing Committee on Finance regarding Bill C-2, An Act to provide further support in response to COVID-19.
    I want to say a big thanks to the extraordinary and tireless clerks and staff who made this all happen: Alexandre Roger, Philippe Méla, Isabelle D'Souza and Émilie Thiverge. I thank them so much on behalf of the committee.

School Food Program for Children Act

    He said: Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to introduce my bill proposing the school food program for children act. I would like to thank the hon. member for Winnipeg Centre for seconding this bill and for her tireless advocacy and support of food security.
    This legislation would require the Minister of Health to develop a national school food program to ensure that all children in Canada have access to healthy food. The program would operate at little or no direct cost to children or their families; build on existing practices from other jurisdictions; and promote evidence-based, healthy food education.
    In a country as prosperous as Canada, no child should have to struggle through the school day on an empty stomach. Prior to COVID-19, more than 1.5 million children lived in families who struggled to put food on the table in this country. Food insecurity has grown dramatically through the pandemic. A national school food program would not only give every student in Canada access to nutritious food, but it would make healthy eating a daily lesson for our kids.
    I call on all parliamentarians to work together to support this important health and social justice initiative that so many other countries around the world are already doing.

    (Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)

Criminal Code

     He said: Mr. Speaker, it is very important to introduce this long overdue legislation to end predatory lending in Canada.
     I would like to thank my seconder, the member of Parliament for Nunavut, who has been a strong advocate for marginalized people, as well as organizations like ACORN across the country that have been pushing back against predatory lending practices.
    As members are well aware, legalized interest rates of up to 600% currently exist in Canada. This bill would end the loopholes that allow financial institutions and payday loan lenders to charge 500% or 600% and would cut in half the criminal interest rate that is currently permitted in the Criminal Code. I will provide just one of many examples. My constituent, who I will call Lisa, paid $13,000 in interest charges over a number of years. She struggled to put food on the table and keep a roof over her head for a $700 emergency loan and was unable to pay even one dollar of principal over that period.
    Other countries have put in place microcredit, lending circles and co-operative credit. Therefore, for the marginalized populations, who make up 40% of this country and who share no part of the wealth, it is vitally important to end these predatory lending practices.
     I hope all members of Parliament will support this long overdue and important legislation.

    (Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)

  (1010)  

Canadian Navigable Waters Act

     He said: Mr. Speaker, I am very happy to introduce my bill. I thank my colleague from Skeena—Bulkley Valley for seconding it.
    It is a bill that would restore protection to all the lakes and rivers in my riding that were protected under the Navigable Waters Protection Act, but were stripped of that by the Harper government. The Liberal government promised to fix this, but its half measures in Bill C-69 did not do that.
    The bill would restore protection to the Okanagan River, home of one of the greatest success stories of salmon restoration in Canada, the Kettle and Granby rivers that flow through Boundary Country, the Slocan River, one of the most beautiful rivers on the continent, and lakes such as Osoyoos, Skaha and Slocan, as well as Vaseux Lake, one of the first federal bird sanctuaries in the country. All of these waterways and more are at the heart of South Okanagan—West Kootenay and fully deserve the protection they once had.

    (Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)

International Mother Language Day Act

    He said: Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to sponsor Bill S-214, which is an act to establish February 21 each year as international mother language day in Canada. This bill recognizes that, in addition to Canada's official languages, French and English, there are over 60 different aboriginal languages spoken in our nation. It also recognizes the important cultural and societal values of the first languages of so many Canadians who have chosen this country as their home.
    Our thanks and congratulations to our champion, Aminul Islam in Surrey, and to Senator Jaffer, who sponsored this bill in the other place.

    (Motion agreed to and bill read the first time)

Parliament of Canada Act

    He said: Mr. Speaker, I rise today to present Bill S-202, an act to amend the Parliament of Canada Act (Parliamentary Visual Artist Laureate). It is seconded by the hon. member for Saskatoon—Grasswood, a long-time promoter of heritage in this country, especially if it involves sports, and a great member of the heritage committee. This bill intends to create the position of parliamentary visual artist laureate and corrects a reference to the Canada Council for the Arts in the English version of the Parliament of Canada Act.
    The mandate of the parliamentary visual artist laureate would be to promote the arts in Canada through Parliament, including by fostering knowledge, enjoyment, awareness and the development of arts. This position would highlight the importance of art in our culture and in our communities. It would serve as a method for historical preservation of Canadian arts. It will hopefully be studied soon by the heritage committee.

     (Motion agreed to and bill read the first time)

Criminal Code

    He said: Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to be the sponsor of Bill S-206, which passed in the Senate unanimously last week. This bill would implement a key recommendation of the unanimous 2018 justice committee report on juror supports initiated by the member for Cowichan—Malahat—Langford, who I am proud to have as the seconder.
    More specifically, this bill would carve out a narrow exception to the jury secrecy rule so that former jurors who are suffering from mental health issues arising from their jury service could disclose all aspects of that service, including the deliberation process, with a medical professional bound by confidentiality. It would protect the integrity of the rule while seeing that former jurors could get the help that they need and deserve.
    This bill is identical to Bill C-417 that I introduced, which passed this House unanimously in 2019. This is a common-sense, non-partisan bill that has enjoyed unanimous support. I urge its speedy passage.

     (Motion agreed to and bill read the first time)

  (1015)  

Petitions

Human Organ Trafficking   

    Mr. Speaker, it is an honour for me to present a petition today from citizens across Canada, looking to raise the issue of international human organ trafficking to the House of Commons.
    The petitioners are calling on Parliament to work quickly to support Bill S-223.

Farmers Market Nutrition Coupon Programs  

    Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to rise today to table a petition on behalf of residents from Cumberland, Courtenay and Royston in my riding.
    They have supported this petition because of their concerns around food security and tackling poverty. The petitioners highlight that farmers markets are really a key, important tool in terms of COVID-19 recovery, and in terms of supporting domestic food systems and food security, and the local economy.
    The petitioners are calling on the government to support a national matching program for all provincial farmers market nutrition coupon programs across Canada that would match provinces that already contribute to their farmers market nutrition coupon programs and encourage provinces that do not have such a program to implement one by offering matching funding.
    This is a very important program in British Columbia. It is an honour to table this petition calling on the federal government to match this program in British Columbia.

Human Organ Trafficking  

    Mr. Speaker, I am presenting a petition today on behalf of Canadians calling for the prevention of international organ harvesting. In particular, they call upon the Parliament of Canada to speedily pass Bill S-223, which would prohibit Canadians from travelling abroad to acquire human organs removed either without consent or as a result of a financial transaction. The bill would also render inadmissible to Canada any and all permanent residents or foreign nationals who have participated in this abhorrent trade.
    Mr. Speaker, I am presenting a petition from many Canadians today on the issue of organ harvesting, especially as it relates to Canadians travelling abroad to participate in it. It is terrible, and we need to stop it.
    Mr. Speaker, I have a number of petitions to present today.
     The first petition is with respect to Bill S-223. This is a bill on forced organ harvesting and trafficking, which a number of colleagues have tabled petitions on already. This is the same bill that was put forward in each of the last two Parliaments, and the bill has already passed the Senate.
    Petitioners are calling on the government and the House of Commons to work together to finally pass legislation to prohibit forced organ harvesting and trafficking, and to prohibit Canadians from going abroad to receive an organ taken without consent.

Ethiopia  

    Mr. Speaker, the next petition that I am tabling highlights concerns about the situation in Ethiopia. Some of the specific information in this petition is a bit dated, but the conflict, in particular in the Tigray region, continues to be a significant concern for many Canadians and people around the world.
    Petitioners note that Ethiopia is a large recipient of Canada's international development assistance, and they want to see more engagement from the government with respect to this situation, including working to end the conflict; supporting peace and mediation; and calling for full humanitarian access, independent monitoring and international investigation into the credible reports of war crimes and gross violations of human rights.

Conversion Therapy  

    Mr. Speaker, the next petition is from people who are concerned about the definition used for conversion therapy in a number of conversion therapy bills. Petitioners want to see efforts made to fix the definition. They support efforts to ban conversion therapy, but they want to clarify what is being referred to in the definition of “conversion therapy”.

Carbon Capture and Storage  

    Mr. Speaker, the next petition highlights an issue that is very important in my riding: carbon capture and storage technology. It is an important tool for fighting back against the challenges we face in terms of climate change.
     Petitioners note the government's commitments with respect to emission reductions and call on the government to introduce new tax incentives to attract investment in the area of carbon capture, utilization and storage technology.

Medical Assistance in Dying   

    Mr. Speaker, the next petition highlights the issue of Canadians struggling with mental health challenges and a bill that passed in the last Parliament allowing medically facilitated suicide for those facing mental health challenges.
     Petitioners note that the Canadian Mental Health Association has said that it is a recovery-oriented organization and does not believe that mental illnesses are irremediable. Therefore, the undersigned call on the government and on Parliament to oppose any effort to classify mental illness as irremediable, or to allow state-administered or supervised killings based on mental health challenges.

Human Rights  

    Mr. Speaker, the next petition highlights the persecution of Uighurs and other Turkic Muslims in China. It outlines a number of the abuses they have faced: birth suppression, political and religious indoctrination, arbitrary detention, separation of children from families, invasive surveillance, destruction of cultural sites, forced labour and forced organ harvesting.
    Petitioners want to see stronger engagement from Parliament, as well as from the government, in response to these issues. The House of Commons has recognized that Uighurs face genocide. However, the government has not been willing to take that step. Petitioners call on the government to formally recognize that Uighurs and other Turkic Muslims in China have been and are being subjected to genocide, and to use the Justice for Victims of Corrupt Foreign Officials Act, the Magnitsky act, to sanction those responsible for heinous crimes committed against the Uighur people.

Myanmar  

    Mr. Speaker, the next petition I am tabling highlights the human rights situation in Burma. It notes that in the coup earlier this year, there were a large number of people killed and detained. There is also the systematic killing, abducting and torturing of civilians by Myanmar security forces, and the fact that the Tatmadaw does not have a mandate to represent Myanmar and has been outlawed by the National Unity Government as terrorists responsible for gross human rights violations.
    The petitioners have a number of asks of the government: to recognize the National United Government as the only legitimate governing body of Myanmar; support its efforts to establish a federal democratic and pluralistic country that respects the rights of all ethnic communities, including the Rohingya; designate the Tatmadaw as a terrorist organization and cut all diplomatic ties with it; provide humanitarian aid for refugees displaced by countrywide crackdowns and the bombing of villages and towns, such as Karen, Kachin and Chin states; and provide financial support for detainees and civil workers who have joined the civil disobedience movement against the junta.

Foreign Affairs  

    Mr. Speaker, the next petition highlights another international challenge: the situation in the Republic of Artsakh, also known as the Nagorno-Karabakh region. Following the Armenian-Azerbaijan war a ceasefire was established, but there are continuing concerns related to the detention of prisoners of war.

  (1020)  

    Petitioners call on the government to condemn Azerbaijan's illegal detention of Armenian prisoners of war and call for their immediate release; to use all the diplomatic tools available to advocate for the release of those held captive; to condemn ongoing state-sponsored anti-Armenian hatred in Azerbaijan; to denounce all aggressive rhetoric from Turkey and Azerbaijan against Armenian Artsakh; to provide the necessary humanitarian assistance to ensure the safety and viability of the population of Artsakh; and facilitate the exchange of the remains of fatalities.

  (1025)  

Hazaras   

    Madam Speaker, the next petition highlights the situation of the Hazara people in Afghanistan. This particular petition was certified prior to the Taliban takeover, and there were significant human rights concerns about the violence against the Hazara community in Afghanistan, which goes back a very long time. The Hazara community has experienced successive waves of violence. The situation is particularly dire now for the Hazara community, as well as for Sikhs, Hindus, Christians and other minority communities in Afghanistan.
    This petition, in particular, is calling on the government to formally recognize the 1891-93 ethnic cleansing perpetuated against the Hazaras as genocide and to designate September 25 as a Hazara genocide memorial day. The petition also supports Bill C-287 from the last Parliament, which aimed at ensuring development assistance was always contributing to the advancement of peace and security and focusing on the well-being of all individuals, including minority communities.

Falun Gong  

    Madam Speaker, the next petition I am tabling is with respect to the persecution of Falun Gong practitioners in China. Petitioners note the ongoing persecution of Falun Gong practitioners, including organ harvesting as part of that persecution, and that extensive evidence points to 14 key officials and former officials of the Chinese Communist regime who demonstrate primary culpability in human rights atrocities committed against Falun Gong practitioners.
    Petitioners call on the government to deploy all legal sanctions, including freezing assets and barring entry to Canada, against perpetrators involved in these abuses. They want to see the government use the Magnitsky act to target those who have been involved in the persecution of Falun Gong practitioners.

Trans Mountain Pipeline  

    Madam Speaker, the final petition I am tabling today highlights the situation of the energy sector and the fact that the Trans Mountain expansion project would create many jobs and new opportunities for Canadians. It also highlights the benefit of Canadian energy and calls on the government to support the expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline.
    I commend all of these important petitions to the consideration of members.
    Madam Speaker, I rise on a point of order.
    As you know, Standing Order 36(6) gives a maximum of 15 minutes for petitions. There are 338 members of Parliament. If one member of Parliament is able to monopolize half of that time, which is what just happened, unfortunately other members of Parliament may not be able to present their petitions.
    I would ask you continue what has been our normal practice, which is to allow members of Parliament to present a handful of petitions, maybe two or three, and then move on to other members of Parliament in order to avoid one member of Parliament taking half of the 15 minutes allotted to petitions.
    Madam Speaker, I rise on the same point of order.
    Respectfully, I believe the NDP House leader may not have noticed, but I actually went last. All of the other members who wanted to table petitions went before me. Also, the member will also know the standing order prescribes a limited amount of time per petition, and I think I exercised a greater economy of words per petition than members of his own caucus have. I cannot help that I have an active constituency and many people who want me to raise issues in the House.
    We have another point of order from the hon. member for Vancouver Kingsway.
    I have heard enough, but I will allow the hon. member to speak to this. I will then add to it.
    Madam Speaker, speaking to this point of order, there was another member in the House who had risen to present petitions before the hon. member for Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan, and the Speaker did not see him.
    However, in 13 years in Parliament, I have never seen one member abuse a rule like this and dominate by taking 15 minutes to introduce 10 or 12 petitions. Other members of the House also have very active constituencies and also would like to introduce petitions. I would ask my hon. colleague to exercise some restraint and maybe show some respect for his colleagues.

  (1030)  

    Before I go to any other points of order, I will indicate that there is still some time remaining.
    There are 15 minutes allocated for petitions. The rules regarding petitions do not indicate whether one, two or 10 petitions can be tabled. The rules do specifically indicate that, when presenting petitions, the presentations be as short and succinct as possible, and that individuals do not read the whole petition to allow for others.
    There is still time for other individuals to present petitions. In my view, I would like to move on so that we can get on with the business of the day and recognize the next member who wishes to pose a petition.
    I have another point of order. If it is on the same point of order, I have just ruled on it. It would be best not to continue going there. I do not think it is wise for members to indicate that one member is taking up a lot of time. We know that individuals are very passionate about their petitions and so are Canadians. That is why we have tabling of petitions in the House.
    The hon. member for Prince George—Peace River—Northern Rockies.
    Madam Speaker, I really did not want to get up to speak, but after those comments from the NDP I would point out that petitions are not just from us as parliamentarians. We are representing our constituents, who are bringing their petitions to us to present to the House. It is their way to connect themselves to the House. I would just reiterate that and commend our member who brought that voice forward to the House this morning.
    I appreciate the added information, which is basically what I had just indicated.
    Presenting petitions, the hon. member for St. Albert—Edmonton.

Human Organ Trafficking  

    Madam Speaker, I am pleased to introduce a petition signed by Canadians who are concerned about forced human organ harvesting. In particular, the petitioners call upon Parliament to see the speedy passage of Bill S-223, which seeks to amend the Criminal Code as well as the Immigration, Refugee Protection Act to prevent Canadians from travelling abroad to acquire human organs that were removed without consent or as a result of a financial transaction.

Questions on the Order Paper

    Madam Speaker, I would ask that all questions be allowed to stand at this time.
    Some hon. members: Agreed.

Government Orders

[Government Orders]

[English]

Criminal Code and Controlled Drugs and Substances Act

    The House resumed from December 13 consideration of the motion that Bill C-5, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, 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.

  (1035)  

    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.

  (1040)  

    I don't even know what I'm saying.
    I know the hon. member wants to take off his mask to heckle. He is so upset by the discussion of this topic and—
    I want to remind members that when somebody has the floor, the member deserves the respect to be allowed to give his speech so hon. members are able to draft their questions when it is time for questions and comments. I would ask that there be no heckling or yelling across the floor.
    The hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage has three minutes remaining.
    Madam Speaker, it is disappointing that the hon. member for Prince George—Peace River—Northern Rockies would remove his mask to yell and heckle. It is not his opportunity.
    I do not know what the animosity is. We have failed. Liberal and Conservative governments have successively failed on this file. It is time to right the wrongs on this. It has not worked. It does not make us safer. Time after time it has been promised to Canadians that mandatory minimums will make us safer, and they have not. In the speeches I have heard from members of the Conservative Party, we have not heard the decisions by the Supreme Court of Canada that have struck down mandatory minimums along the way because they lead to a lack of judicial autonomy.
    We have a great deal of respect for the judiciary in this country. Even as a lawyer in St. Catharines, I commended the Harper government at the time for the quality of the judges it appointed in Niagara. I know there is some criticism of the types of people who get appointed to the bench, but I have never seen anyone stand in this place and say the individuals appointed by the minister of justice were unqualified. We have a high-quality bench, and judicial discretion needs to be at the heart of things. Things come up. We cannot focus on every aspect of an event or every likely outcome, so why do we not leave that trust in judges?
    All members of the House want their communities to be safe, and mandatory minimums seem counterintuitive. We think they have to work: I am a law-abiding citizen and I do not want to go to jail for a set period of time. They work. Study after study shows that they do not. There is a suggestion on the other side that Liberals do not want this, but I think every member of the House believes it. It is insulting to say we do not. If people commit serious offences under the changes that are proposed to the Criminal Code, they will receive serious penalties. That is fundamental and part of judicial discretion. Aggravating and mitigating factors are important parts of our sentencing structure, even when mandatory minimums do not exist. Though it may not seem like it, mandatory minimums actually reduce sentences. If we look at the studies, judges see them as a ceiling, not a floor.
    Madam Speaker, I am doing work on human trafficking, and the parliamentary secretary mentioned the mandatory minimum and states in which it seems to be working.
    We had a round table in Oshawa with representatives from Texas and the FBI, and one of the things that is very concerning with these perpetrators of human trafficking is that it is modern slavery. If we do not have similar types of penalties across the border, it actually seems to be attracting more bad “business” on this side of the border. I am very concerned that these penalties are being removed and we are going to be seeing more human trafficking.
    If they are going to be moving forward in this direction, what will be a deterrent against these international human traffickers, the slave traders?

  (1045)  

    Madam Speaker, once again we have a suggestion that human traffickers will get off and not receive a strong penalty. It is a serious offence, and the hon. members are suggesting our judiciary is stupid in terms of not seeing a serious offence like human trafficking and not providing a penalty that will fit the crime. This is about judicial discretion. We do not appoint stupid people to the bench. They will impose a serious penalty for a serious crime.

[Translation]

    Madam Speaker, mandatory minium penalties have clearly not proven to be effective over the years. As an ethicist, I worked with police officers and prisons. In both cases, I was able to observe two types of inmates: repeat offenders for whom not a lot can be done, and who are serving what is likely an appropriate sentence, and first-time offenders who are serving time because they made a mistake.
    If we vote in favour of doing away with mandatory minimum penalties, we still need to think about maintaining such penalties for firearm-related offences, including the trafficking and possession of firearms.
    Does the hon. member agree with me on that?

[English]

    Madam Speaker, I am not going to get into specific details and I look forward to the committee's study on this, but if we keep carving out issues, we are not addressing the serious problem.
    I take the member at his word that he was involved in the criminal justice system. He knows that if people commit serious offences, they receive serious penalties. This legislation would not stop that. Unfortunately, the questions I have heard consistently from the Conservatives do not address that systemic racism problem we are looking to address here. I look forward to the committee's study on it and making the bill better, and I hope this bill passes very quickly.
    Madam Speaker, I believe and hope all members of this House want to deal as effectively as we possibly can to save lives with regard to the opioid crisis we know is hitting very hard in Canada. While I appreciate that this bill would eliminate the mandatory minimum sentences for all drug offences, we have seen proof that we need a safe supply; we need decriminalization of possession of small amounts of drugs, and we need to expunge records to actually deal with the opioid drug crisis.
    Will the member speak to that and to the idea that the Liberals still have work to do to make sure we are dealing with the opioid crisis properly?
    Madam Speaker, we all have work to do at all orders of government. There is no silver bullet to solving the opioid crisis. This legislation will not solve it. Safe supply is another piece of the puzzle but will not solve it. We have to talk about things like housing and poverty reduction. We have to talk about so many things, because this is a crisis that has been decades in the making. We need significant, complex, real solutions to solve it.
    Madam Speaker, it is with pleasure that I speak to Bill C-5, 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 C-5'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.

  (1050)  

    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 C-5 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.

  (1055)  

[Translation]

    Madam Speaker, doing away with mandatory minimum penalties is a good first step, particularly when it comes to the possession of drugs. As to firearms, we still need to discuss what should be done.
    It is a good first step, but it is not enough, because it will not fully put an end to the overrepresentation of first nations and Black people in prisons. Once again, we need to be proactive. Providing judges and police officers with training to prevent racial prejudice is important. We also need to invest in social and support structures for these people.
    What does my colleague think about that?

[English]

    Madam Speaker, I must say that I agree with the hon. member in her assessment of the situation. It was not long ago that we were debating the notion of additional training for judges to deal with gender issues that might come up. Again, that was so the judgments were appropriate not only to the criminal justice system, but also for the unique circumstances that the individual before the court is presenting.
    Madam Speaker, one of the frustrations I hear from people in my riding, especially firearms owners in my riding, is that the government always seems to be making more hoops to jump through for law-abiding Canadians. It seems to be making things more difficult for hunters and sport shooters, but when it comes to fighting criminals and standing up against organized crime specifically, the government is looking at reducing mandatory minimums and making things easier for criminals.
    It is difficult for us on this side of the House to understand that approach. I am wondering if the member opposite could explain further how he feels that reducing minimum sentences would do anything to help stop organized crime.
    Madam Speaker, as the parliamentary secretary noted, minimum mandatory provisions somehow seemed to have become the ceiling rather than the bottom of the spectrum.
    Any suggestion that Bill C-5 would remove sentencing or make serious crimes less punishable is simply wrong. What it really does is to allow judges to exercise what their name implies. They judge things. They have the discretion to apply justice appropriately to the specific situation. In a serious situation such as the one the member was alluding to, I have no doubt they will do their job effectively.
    Madam Speaker, my colleague said this bill treats using substances for personal use as a health issue, but it actually does not do that, far from it. It is not even a half measure.
    We have heard from police chiefs and we have heard from medical health professionals. Our own shared province of British Columbia has been calling for decriminalization and safe supply as first steps to address the opioid crisis. This bill still criminalizes people. It may leave it in the hands of judges and police officers to decide whether they are going to move forward with charges, but it is not even close to what the Health Canada expert panel on substance use recommends, which is full decriminalization and expungement of all records.
    Do my colleague and his party support decriminalization? When will they honour the request from British Columbia for an exemption under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act for simple possession and allow decriminalization?

  (1100)  

    Madam Speaker, in practical terms, the police are not arresting people for simple possession. Certainly, in British Columbia, where Crown counsel has to approve all charges, they are not approving charges. For all practical purposes, that is not happening.
    Decriminalization, in my personal view, does not go far enough. We need to ensure there is a safe supply. We cannot leave the provision of dangerous drugs, the profits and the production in the hands of criminals. I would be prepared to work with my hon. colleague to see that come about.

[Translation]

    Madam Speaker, it brings me no great joy to rise in the House today to speak to Bill C‑5.
    The first thing I want to point out is that this bill is an exact copy of Bill C‑22, 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 Prime Minister'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.

  (1105)  

    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 St. Albert—Edmonton 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 Prime Minister 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.

  (1110)  

    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 C‑5, 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 Prime Minister'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 C-71 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.

  (1115)  

    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 C-71 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 C‑5 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.
    In my riding, many people are suffering due to the opioid crisis, and a lot of people are working hard to help these victims from a health perspective. Given a situation like the opioid crisis, would my colleague agree that we need to approach a crisis like this from a health perspective, not a Criminal Code perspective? Should we not try to find more solutions from that angle?
    Madam Speaker, that is precisely what I was saying at the beginning of my speech when I quoted my colleague from St. Albert—Edmonton.
    When we talk about opioids, we are talking about fentanyl. Let us not forget that there are criminal networks of dealers importing and selling these substances. Traffickers mix opioids, cocaine and other drugs, and the concentration becomes too high, which is why every day, 20 Canadians die from an opioid overdose. It is a major problem.
    In our view, in my view, we are not going to solve this problem by rolling back sentencing for drug traffickers. On the contrary, we have to deal with trafficking at the source and ensure that no opioids are sold to Canadians on the street.
    Madam Speaker, I will focus on some of the myths that my colleague stated as facts.
    The member for Charlesbourg—Haute‑Saint‑Charles may not identify with some of the positions taken by the Bloc Québécois, but I can assure the House that as Quebeckers, we do not identify whatsoever with the positions taken by the member for Charlesbourg—Haute‑Saint‑Charles.
    He claims in no uncertain terms that Bill C‑5 gives more rights to criminals. Firstly, I would like to know his definition of criminal. Does he make a distinction between a career criminal and an occasional criminal? Does he believe that occasional criminals can be rehabilitated?

  (1120)  

    Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague and I congratulate him on his election. We did not win his riding.
    I do believe in the concept of occasional criminals and career criminals. There is nothing to be done for some criminals, while others simply have bad luck.
    However, lighter sentences will work in favour of new criminals, youth, who will say to themselves that if they commit an offence, they will get off easier because the good old Liberal government reduced these sentences. This will spread the notion that crime can pay, and that is something we must not do.

[English]

    Madam Speaker, I listened with interest to the speech of my colleague from Charlesbourg. He talked a bit about how indigenous people did not see this as a solution. However, we know that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's call to action 32 recommends that minimum mandatory sentences be stopped.
     Therefore, I would like him to comment on the fact that the TRC has called for this. How can he stand in this place and say that is not accurate?

[Translation]

    Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague for her question. That is part of the ideological debate, the position we should take on matters of public safety.
    As I mentioned, being indigenous, Black, white or other is irrelevant. We are all human beings with two hands. When we decide to commit a crime with a gun, for example, we have to pay the price.
    I know that the notion of indigenous group or race was mentioned in the report. However, I believe that we must look at what has led to the problem and find solutions to help indigenous people not commit crimes. The notion of public safety must be the same for all human beings, no matter their race.

[English]

    Madam Speaker, in the last election, constituents in my riding of Prince Albert wanted to see us get tougher on gang crime, criminal activity and rural crime. It appears this legislation would do the opposite and would send the wrong signal. I am curious what the his constituents would say to him with respect to what the priority should be when dealing with criminals, illegal guns and things like that. Would the bill do that or would it send the wrong message?

[Translation]

    Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague for his question.
    Based on what I hear from my colleagues, rural areas in Alberta and Saskatchewan are experiencing serious problems with people breaking into isolated homes while the owners are present. These people show up drunk, high and armed. These offences happen often and are a huge problem. This type of breaking and entering in rural areas is a problem that we are trying to stop.
    However, by introducing a bill to reduce penalties, the government is sending the message that criminals can continue to commit crimes because even if they are caught, nothing will happen. That is the problem with Bill C‑5.
    Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague for his speech.
    I also thank him for congratulating our colleague from Trois-Rivières. Winning by just one vote is still a win. We are very happy to have him here.
    As far as I know, there are no studies showing that mandatory minimum penalties have any effect whatsoever on someone's decision to commit a crime. Since my colleague is claiming that mandatory minimums do have this effect, does he have some information that we do not? If so, could he share the sources with us?
    Madam Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for his question. Obviously, I do not have the information with me. However, one thing is certain: Law and order follow a certain basic logic in our society.
    Do we want a society where people know that, if they commit a crime, there are practically no consequences, or do we want a society that makes sure that people who decided to commit a crime, either once or repeatedly, will face suitable punishment?

  (1125)  

[English]

    Madam Speaker, the heart of this bill recognizes that our judges, who are independent and have the legal background and understanding of the circumstances surrounding a crime, are in a far greater position to deal with the circumstances for a sentence. Does the Conservative Party not have the confidence in our judicial system, that the dispositions of judges would be fair without having mandatory minimum sentences, which can cause other issues, such as systemic racism?

[Translation]

    Madam Speaker, every week, we hear from Canadians who do not understand why a certain judgment was handed down, why a person who committed a crime received a short sentence or a third of a sentence. We often hear questions about judgments.
    The most important part of our job is creating laws. The administration of justice is the purview of judges. Of course, we need to provide the justice system and judges with the best tools possible.
    However, when we start reducing sentences, when we remove criteria, judges will have to work with the tools Parliament has given them.
    As legislators, we need to decide how much we want to reorient our justice system and Criminal Code so that judges can do their job based on the decisions made by the people's representatives.

[English]

    Madam Speaker, we have heard from mayors, provincial governments, including British Columbia, health care professionals, frontline service workers, police chiefs and public health officials. They are calling for the decriminalization of the personal possession of drugs.
    The opioid crisis is happening. Will my colleague listen to health professionals and police chiefs and not let politics stand in the way of saving lives?

[Translation]

    Madam Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague. I actually did mention in my speech that I was not talking about drug users. Drug use is a problem that needs to be managed.
    In this case, we are talking about criminals like drug dealers and drug traffickers. That is where we think we need to continue to focus and step up our efforts, not the opposite.

[English]

    Madam Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Kings—Hants.

[Translation]

    I would like to thank the Chair for giving me time to talk about Bill C-5, 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.

[English]

     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 C-5 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.

  (1130)  

[Translation]

    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 C-5 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.

[English]

    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 C-5 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 C-5, 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.

[Translation]

    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.

[English]

    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.

  (1135)  

[Translation]

    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 Minister of Justice 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.

[English]

    Madam Speaker, I want to question my colleague on a few things, one of which is our absolute faith in judges, who are going to be wide open to give a bunch of good rules. The rules we set for our laws in Canada are very wide already, and judges have discretion, within a certain breadth, in how to deliver sentencing. The rules are not strict. However, judges do need a set of laws, rules and guidelines about how they apply sentencing. Regardless of the person in front of them at a point in time, there is a victim of crime as well, and all victims need to see there is crime and punishment and an outcome with a cost.
    Would you suggest there is an objective here that you are not looking at, as far as the outcome goes, that will lead to something worse in society as opposed to something less worse in prisons?
    I am not going to suggest it, so I would ask the hon. member to put his questions to the member through the Speaker.
    The hon. member for Saint-Laurent.
    Madam Speaker, obviously this bill will be worked on at committee in order to really look at all the different ways it will have impacts on society. Currently, our justice system does not necessarily work. There is an overrepresentation of certain communities, and that is because judges do not necessarily have the discretion they should have. As I mentioned in my speech, people can still go through an appeal process if ever the judge's decision is deemed not to be the right one.
    We do have faith in our judges, so we believe that this bill would only help improve the situation. Of course, when it comes to simple drug possession, nobody is really worse off except the person who has committed the crime, so a rehabilitation program is obviously a much better solution.

[Translation]

    Madam Speaker, actual research has shown that mandatory minimum penalties are not always useful. We all agree on that. We will talk about firearms later.
    That being said, I want to return to the matter of prevention. There are reasons why young people turn to crime. We need to be able to respond to these young people and their families from an early age, namely by investing in health and social services and social housing structures. I am not talking about affordable housing; there is a world of difference between the two.
    When will the government do something about prevention?
    Madam Speaker, I totally agree with the hon. member. I am a teacher, so I am well acquainted with the importance of prevention. I know how impressionable young people are and how important it is that they make the right choices.
    I think this bill is taking us in the right direction by eliminating the minimum two-year sentence. That could help us get young people on the right track and send them to rehab instead of prison.

  (1140)  

[English]

    Qujannamiik, Uqaqtittiji.
    I thank the member for mentioning that the Liberal government acknowledges indigenous people are over-incarcerated and has trust in the judicial system. However, removing mandatory minimums instead of decriminalizing the personal possession of drugs makes sure that people with addictions will still end up in the criminal justice system rather than the health care system.
    Why is the government only taking a half step toward reducing the overrepresentation of indigenous, Black and racialized Canadians in the criminal justice system?
    Madam Speaker, absolutely a lot more work needs to be done, and this is only a mall step in the right direction. It is, however, an important step in this direction. We want to make sure that we take all of the right steps without moving too quickly and endangering Canadians. For sure, there is a problem of overrepresentation of indigenous and racialized communities, and this is one of the reasons the bill is being presented.

[Translation]

    Madam Speaker, it is a privilege for me to rise in the House today and debate Bill C-5. 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.

[English]

    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 Minister of Justice 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 Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage, 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.

  (1145)  

[Translation]

    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.

[English]

    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.
    I want to remind members one more time that when somebody has the floor they deserve respect. If the hon. members who are not speaking wish to ask questions and make comments, then I would ask that they hold off until then.
    Resuming debate, the hon. member for Kings—Hants.
    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 Minister of Health and the Minister of Justice 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.

  (1150)  

    Madam Speaker, I just want to share the perspective of the constituents I represent in Lakeland.
    I come from a family of law-abiding firearms owners. I represent many law-abiding firearms owners: hunters and sports shooters of all nationalities and all backgrounds. They are confused about the Liberals' approach to gangs and gun crime, even while shootings increase in places like Toronto and Vancouver. Residents there deserve to have a government that will protect their safety and make their neighbourhoods and streets safe.
    I wonder why the member then does not agree that there should be prison time for robbery with a firearm, extortion with a firearm, weapons trafficking, importing or exporting unauthorized firearms, discharging a firearm with intent, all kinds of illegal possession of firearms and discharging firearms with recklessness. Law-abiding firearms owners—
    I will ask the hon. member to answer the question. I have other members with questions.
    Madam Speaker, nowhere in my speech did I ever mention that there should not be jail time or criminality for those types of behaviours. In fact, all I said is that we should not be imposing a mandatory minimum. We should allow the judiciary to make the decision on an appropriate sentence.
    With all due respect, this type of fearmongering is problematic for important debate on being able to reduce systemic barriers in our criminal justice system. I believe that serious crime deserves serious time, but I also believe that we should give that discretion to judges to make the choice; it does not belong to us as parliamentarians here in this place.
    I want to remind the member that she had a chance to ask her question. If she has other questions, she can attempt to be recognized again as opposed to talking over the hon. member while he is responding.
    Questions and comments, the hon. member for Beauport—Limoilou.

[Translation]

    Madam Speaker, allowing judges and police officers to make decisions is important, because they are the ones who are very familiar with the subjects and the people.
    Earlier I heard a colleague say that they were going to abolish all sentences. That is not at all true. As I understand it, sentences could be two years, as is currently the case, but they could also be five years, or six months with rehabilitation.
    Can my colleague tell us again about the importance of clarifying Bill C-5 with respect to prevention and rehabilitation measures for minor crimes?
    Madam Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for her question.
    I definitely agree with her when it comes to the discretion of judges and the courts. I think that it is important that both aggravating factors and mitigating factors be taken into account when examining a file. Rehabilitation and other measures can be considered as a solution to help the person move away from crime.

[English]

    Madam Speaker, the hon. colleague stated in his speech, and we know that the Liberal Party in government has said on many occasions, that he acknowledges that drug use and addiction have to be treated as health issues and not criminal ones. However, the bill before us would retain the criminalized attitude towards drug use; it would simply change the sentencing.
    Can the member perhaps explain to the House and help members understand how the bill, by keeping drug use and addiction in the criminal sphere, would honour the concept of treating addiction as a health issue and not a criminal one?

  (1155)  

    Madam Speaker, at the end of the day, we are moving in terms of our understanding in this country about how we treat these particular issues. I believe the member's riding covers the Lower Mainland, where the opioid crisis is quite severe. I would say that although it would retain the criminal powers, the bill would certainly give discretion to be able to treat this as a health issue, which is extremely important. We know there are other measures through the Minister of Health, whereby we can treat issues around the opioid crisis as a health crisis and be able to put measures in place.
    I look forward to working with the member in the days ahead.
    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.

  (1200)  

    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.

  (1205)  

    Madam Speaker, I appreciate the member's support, with a caveat, for this bill. I agree with him that, and I think we all know, mental health and addiction issues are health issues and as such we need to treat them in that manner.
    However, there is a fair bit of debate as to what those next steps would look like. We know that decriminalization of simple possession of drugs is one path forward, but it is important that there be enough supports in the communities around treatment, harm reduction and other sorts of things. There are models, like in Portugal and the Scandinavian countries, that, with certain debate, are effective in some manner.
    I would be interested to learn from the member his thoughts on what steps need to be taken beyond just decriminalizing simple possession of drugs.
    Madam Speaker, as I said, in terms of a mandate from Canadians, I fundamentally believe it is there. Most Canadians right now want their government to decriminalize drug use and to treat it authentically and comprehensively as a health issue.
    The government has said on many occasions that it is guided by evidence, as it should be. The Liberals say that quite consistently. They have said it throughout the COVID crisis. Why do they not follow the evidence when it comes to drug policy? There is a consensus, from public health officers to the Canadian chiefs of police to addictions experts to people with lived experience to drug researchers, that we must fully decriminalize drug use and provide a different approach to this.
    What we are asking for in the House is leadership.
    Madam Speaker, I noted that the member spoke primarily on mandatory minimums for drug possession as opposed to what this is. The bill would allow judges further discretion to deliver minimum sentences or define where they fit in that spectrum. The member is right on drug minimums, that we need to a law that decriminalizes a lot of these activities.
    However, the actual exhortation of the bill is to give more authority to legal people to determine what those are as opposed to Canadians who elect people to determine what those penalties should be or the breadth of those penalties. We are here to give that role, but we are usurping that role right now to somebody else.
    How will we represent Canadians on what they expect in the criminal justice—
    I have the give the hon. member for Vancouver Kingsway a chance to make a comment.
    Madam Speaker, again, I go back to what Canadians expect us to do here and I think they expect us to be guided by evidence, to be legislating with wisdom and passion, and to be coming up with good public policy.
     The fundamental question for us in the House is this. We either fundamentally believe that drug use and addiction are health issues or we do not. If we do believe it, then they have no place in the Criminal Code. On tinkering with the sentencing, it might be preferable to have non-mandatory sentences, but it is still in the Criminal Code and we still use the sanction of criminality on something that fundamentally is inappropriate to do so.
    As it says in the big book of AA, “Half measures availed us nothing.” This is a half measure and it will avail us nothing.

  (1210)  

[Translation]

    Madam Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague from Vancouver Kingsway for his sensible and measured speech. It is good to hear reasonable people speak in the House.
    I would like to hear what he has to say about a specific issue. We know that the Bloc Québécois is also amenable to the idea of doing away with mandatory minimum sentences in general. However, there are certain exceptions, including repeat offenders, violent crimes involving firearms, and illegal arms trafficking. That is a huge problem right now.
    What is the NDP's position? Is it prepared to examine these positions and adopt a more nuanced bill?

[English]

    The hon. member for Vancouver Kingsway, 15 seconds.
    Madam Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for his kind words. He is quite right that I focused my entire remarks on the aim of the bill to eliminate mandatory minimums when it comes to drug sentences. I am aware that there are other sections of the Criminal Code where mandatory minimums may be taken away.
    When the bill goes to committee, those sections deserve closer scrutiny. I am sure I speak for my colleagues when I say that they will give every consideration to make wiser—
    Resuming debate, the hon. member for Ottawa South.
    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 C-5, 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 C-5 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%.

  (1215)  

    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 C-5 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 C-5, 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 justice minister 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 C-5. 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 C-5.

  (1220)  

    Madam Speaker, I congratulate my colleague on his re-election. He began his speech talking about how certain historically marginalized communities, for instance Black and indigenous Canadians, are disproportionately represented in the prison population.
    It seems clear one possible cause of that overrepresentation is that members of certain communities are receiving disproportionately long sentences relative to others for the same crime. It would seem that one way of combatting racism in the justice system is to ensure consistent sentencing. People, regardless of their background or race, for instance, receiving similar kinds of sentences for the same crimes in the same circumstances.
    One way of reducing racism would be to have clear sentencing guidelines. Perhaps it is with mandatory minimums, or perhaps it is with sentencing starting points. This legislation, by removing mandatory minimums and widening the range for judicial discretion, does not seem to be combatting discrimination on that basis. Rather, it creates more space for the inconsistent application of penalties for the same crime. I wonder if the member has a comment on that.
    Madam Speaker, although I am desirous of seeing the kind of consistency the member alludes to, one size does not fit all. When there is a crime being adjudicated in a court, judges have a specific responsibility to adduce and hear all of the evidence; to consider it; and to take into consideration background, mental health and addiction. We have heard repeatedly on the floor of the House that this question of addiction is, on some sides of the House, considered to be a weakness, perhaps even a choice. Addiction is the antithesis of being free. When one is addicted, one is not free to make rational choices.
    The answer to the question the member poses is that one size does not fit all. We now see that trying to force fit every case into a box, as the previous government did, has led to evidence of what we know to be the case, which is a small percentage of a population, for example, indigenous Canadians, being widely overrepresented in the prison system.

[Translation]

    Madam Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for his speech.
    I would like to hear more about the importance of maintaining discretion and flexibility for people qualified to determine appropriate sentences. A number of factors come into play, such as the circumstances, the individual before them and whether this person is a repeat offender or a young person who was led astray.
    I would like to hear more from him on this subject and what he thinks about sentences for illegal arms trafficking. Right now, illegal arms trafficking is one of our biggest concerns.

[English]

    Madam Speaker, I want to pick up, if I could, where I left off, and that is the role and purpose of judges and the difficult role they fulfill when they sit as triers of fact.
    I remember when I began my career as a young articling student with a criminal law firm, and I was struck by the difficulty judges face when these cases are presented to them. I was also struck by the connection between criminal activity and mental health and addiction. We know this to be true. We have seen the kinds of complexity which is put before courts and calls for the kind of judicial freedom to be able to assess meaningfully and find other opportunities to deal with a serious situation.
    This bill would not do away with all mandatory minimum sentences. I said that in my remarks. There are occasions when that is the case, but we need to make sure that judges maintain that flexibility.

  (1225)  

    Madam Speaker, over 25,000 lives have been lost due to a poisoned drug supply since the Liberal government came into power. Liberals have heard from health professionals, police chiefs, addiction specialists and experts. Even their own expert panel from Health Canada on substance use is giving them clear direction and guidance to decriminalize the use of drugs and provide a safe supply as the first steps, yet they have not responded. Vancouver and B.C. are waiting on their exemption.
    I truly believe, and maybe my colleague can indicate if he also agrees, that politics is getting in the way of politicians by not taking bold and courageous action. If the Liberals truly believe this is a health issue, will they treat this as a health issue and listen to the—
    We have time for a very short answer from the hon. member for Ottawa South.
    Madam Speaker, the answer is yes, we are treating this as a health issue. Yes, this government remains open to the concept of decriminalization based on evidence and comparative experience, and I would encourage the member to bring that evidence forward to committee when this bill is being studied.
    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 Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan 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 C-235, 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 Attorney General of Canada 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?

  (1230)  

    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 St. Albert—Edmonton'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 C-22 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 C-22 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.

  (1235)  

    Madam Speaker, I am always happy to hear Yiddish proverbs in this place as a Jewish person. There are not very many of us in the House. It is a language that is close to being lost, so it is always nice to hear some of it.
    First, I will make a clarification. In fact, sentences are not being removed. Mandatory sentences are being removed in this bill. Going forward, it proposes to actually confront the opioid crisis from a health perspective. I know that in my community, we have lost many people to the opioid crisis.
    Does the member not support safe supply and treating the opioid crisis from a health perspective?
    Madam Speaker, I am glad the member enjoys my Yiddish proverbs. It is a disappearing language, which is why I refer to them. I will save the member me trying to pronounce it in Yiddish. My Yiddish pronunciation is not very good.
    The member mentioned that part of the bill deals with the very serious crisis of people who are addicted to opioids. It is a health crisis, not a criminal crisis. I know people in my community and I have friends who are impacted by it. They became addicted to things like OxyContin and other opioid narcotics. It has a huge impact.
     However, this bill also contains things like eliminating the mandatory minimum for offences such as robbery with a firearm, extortion with a firearm, weapons trafficking, importing or exporting or knowing of it when it is unauthorized, and discharging a firearm with intent. Why mix the two in one bill?

[Translation]

    Madam Speaker, does my Conservative colleague realize that Bill C‑5 does not do away with sentences, but simply eliminates the obligation to impose a specific sentence for a specific crime? Does he realize that in committee, we could determine which mandatory sentences should remain in effect?
    There are things that we and the Conservatives agree on, including the treatment of violent crimes involving firearms and repeat offenders. However, does my colleague not realize that there are people who are qualified to judge the seriousness of a crime and the level of punishment warranted? A court's duty is more to protect society than to punish perpetrators.
    Does my colleague recognize that the sentences can be just as harsh, even if they are not—
    The hon. member for Calgary Shepard.
    Madam Speaker, of course I realize that Bill C‑5 will not eliminate all sentences, only mandatory minimum sentences.
    However, for serious sentences, it is up to us, the members of Parliament, to determine what the judge should consider for each offence. That is our decision. We can set the minimum and maximum sentences, but the judge will decide how they will be applied based on the specific circumstances of each case.
    I would also like to say that I totally agree with the Bloc Québécois concerning offences involving firearms and minimum sentences. The hon. member is absolutely right, and I am certain that we can take that into account in committee.
    However, I would like to see a bill that is properly written from the outset, that the committee will not need to revise.

[English]

    Madam Speaker, I have appreciated working with the member for Calgary Shepard in the past.
    Perhaps he could answer a question for me. At the same time as the former Harper government put in place legislation a few years back, it gutted the network of crime prevention centres across the country. Members will recall that $100 million in funding for crime prevention was slashed by the Harper government.
    As we know, $1 invested in crime prevention saves $6 in policing costs, court costs and prison costs. It did not make sense that the Harper government eliminated crime prevention across the country, including centres such as the B.C. Centre for Crime Prevention.
    Could the member explain why the Harper government gutted one of the most effective tools in combatting crime?

  (1240)  

    Madam Speaker, I think we have hit the twilight zone in this chamber. The Harper government has not been in power in six years. It has been the government of the member for Papineau for the last six, so we should ask questions about that. This bill has nothing to do with financial decisions or spending decisions, so I cannot answer the member's question.
    Madam Speaker, the hon. member spoke about an excellent piece of legislation in a previous Parliament that sought to take into consideration the circumstances of people with fetal alcohol syndrome. I note that some of the members from the government who have spoken, the justice minister and the member for Ottawa South, opposed that bill.
     Could the member share more about why he supported this excellent private member's bill and why we need to see something like it passed into law?
    We have time for a five-second answer from the member for Calgary Shepard.
    Madam Speaker, five seconds is not enough. I will have to find another Yiddish proverb.
    The member is correct. It was Bill C-235, proposed by Mr. Bagnell from the Yukon. He will forgive me for saying “from the Yukon”. I understand we are not supposed to say that, as it is the Yukon territory. It was an excellent piece of legislation because it carved out special treatment for offenders who have fetal alcohol syndrome. They should be treated differently in the judicial system.

[Translation]

[English]

    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 C-5.
    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 C-5 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 C-5'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.

  (1245)  

    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 C-9, and in 2012, with former Bill C-10, 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 C-5 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 C-5. 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.

  (1250)  

    Madam Speaker, it is evident that many members of the government are trying to set up a sort of straw person to argue against in the context of this bill.
    The member talked about issues of racism in the justice system. Lowering sentences overall across the board would not address the particular impacts on people from certain communities who get longer sentences. We all agree that judicial discretion is important, but mandatory minimums do not set a one-size-fits-all penalty. They set a minimum that expresses society's moral condemnation and say that at least the minimum for certain kinds of offences should be at a certain level.
    I do not think anyone in the House is proposing that people who have addictions problems or who have engaged in personal possession offences should be spending time in prison. I think we can all agree that people in those situations should not be sent to prison. However, let us talk about the core controversy of this bill, which is removing mandatory minimum penalties for violent crime.
    Does the member think that mandatory minimum penalties are appropriate for serious violent crimes, yes or no?
    Madam Speaker, the member has read the bill and knows that serious violent crimes are not included in our removal of mandatory minimum sentences. What is interesting here is that the Conservatives, in their opposition, are the ones who continue to create this straw man argument that somehow, by taking away mandatory minimums, we would be weakening the criminal justice system. No two offences are alike and no two offenders are alike, and the best person to determine what sentence should be allowed for a particular offence is a judge, who has the benefit of all the evidence and all the facts before them, and not parliamentarians of this House.
    Qujannamiik, Uqaqtittiji. I would like to congratulate the member on his election.
    There have been two great reports: the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's report and the MMIWG report. Both of them make a call to address mandatory minimums.
    Why is the government only taking a half step toward reducing the overrepresentation of indigenous, Black and other racialized Canadians in the criminal justice system?
    Madam Speaker, it is a very valid point the member opposite is making. As I said in my remarks, this is a first and important step forward, but there is far more work that needs to be done. I agree with the member, and I support her and look forward to working with her.
    When it comes to the entire implementation of the calls to action in the report by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the calls for justice in the report on murdered and missing indigenous women and girls, more work needs to be done. However, I think the bill would set a new baseline for us to work with. By repealing some of the most regressive changes that were made by the previous government, we can move forward and fully implement the recommendations outlined in the reports she mentioned.

  (1255)  

    Madam Speaker, I listened intently to the comments by the member across the way, and he said that he has visited jails and they are not very nice places. Well, people are in jail for a reason, and that is why we trust judges' opinions, because they were sent to jail.
    I will follow up on the comments by the member for Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan. Does the member not think there should be jail sentences for some of the crimes for which he is now trying to take away the mandatory minimum sentences, such as human trafficking, crimes committed with a firearm and firing a firearm with the intent to harm someone? Are those not some of the crimes that people should be uncomfortably put in jail for?
    Madam Speaker, I was not advocating at all that everybody be released into the community. I think we have to look at the circumstances of individuals.
    I encourage and invite members to go visit jails in their local communities. The reason our jails are not fulfilling the purpose they are supposed to is that we have filled them up beyond capacity. We have put people in them who may have mental health and addiction issues. These are health conditions. Let us get them out into a community setting, where they can get appropriate services, not just put them in jail. Yes, serious offenders should be in jail—
    Resuming debate, the hon. member for Kootenay—Columbia.
    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 C-5 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 C-5, 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 C-5 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 C-5 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 C-5, 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 C-5 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.

  (1300)  

    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 minister claims, this is not about reducing mandatory minimum penalties for simple possession. Mandatory minimum sentences for simple possession do not exist. Bill C-5 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 minister 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 C-5 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 Minister of Public Safety, 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 minister 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.

  (1305)  

    I want to pick up on a couple of his comments, especially with respect to evidence of the disproportional impact of MMPs on racialized communities, particularly indigenous and Black communities. There is overwhelming social science research and a number of court cases that have indicated that this does have a disproportional impact. Also, when I was part of developing the national anti-racism strategy in 2019, we heard from so many different communities across Canada on this.
    I am wondering where the member is picking up the evidence that there is no impact in removing MMPs on these particular offences that he cited from The Globe and Mail. The overwhelming evidence is that there is a disproportional impact because of MMPs to racialized communities.
    Madam Speaker, that is not exactly what I said. Just to clarify, it was a comment in The Globe and Mail. I am an evidence-based individual and believe in following the evidence as to how we move forward. I would ask the member to show me the evidence on how this bill would help people who are marginalized right now.

[Translation]

    Madam Speaker, a very long time ago, a man named Thomas More wrote a book called Utopia. In the book, he basically says that a society's customs and habits can end up supporting crime.
    Here is my question today. In some cases, is our society not supporting crime by failing to invest in social systems, by failing to provide support and supervision for young criminals, who could turn away from crime if they received the necessary support instead of being locked up for long periods of time with far more hardened criminals?

[English]

    Madam Speaker, yes, absolutely we do need to help our youth. The opioid crisis is a great example. If we were to have a program that could help them and get them on the right track, a rehabilitation program that would get them through this so that they were being helped rather than continuing in the criminal justice system that would be a huge bonus.
    Madam Speaker, I want to thank my colleague for talking about the opioid and overdose crisis. Chief James Ramer from the Toronto Police Department wrote in a letter to Dr. de Villa, Toronto's medical health officer, that the force supports a new approach to decriminalization. He said:
     We agree that the current approach to managing drug use does not support safe communities or advance the health of people who use drugs.
    He cited that:
     Decriminalization of the simple possession of all drugs - combined with the scale-up of prevention, harm reduction, and treatment services - is a more effective way to address the public health and public safety harms associated with substance use.
    He said that a decriminalization model should include a safe supply of drugs, something health care workers have demanded for years.
    Does my colleague support the Association of Chiefs of Police, medical health officers across this country and experts in their call to action to end the poison drug supply crisis and save lives?

  (1310)  

    Madam Speaker, having been a former member of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, I am very familiar with where they are going and I agree that right now we are in decriminalization of most drugs because the courts cannot handle that. That is at the discretion of the members and that is where they are working right now.
    I believe that we need to do a lot of work to support people with addictions and that criminal prosecution is not the answer in many cases, especially for those who are addicted to opioids, for example.
    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 C-5. 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 C-5, 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.

  (1315)  

    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 C-5 would in fact reduce the overrepresentation of Black and indigenous people in federal prisons.
    Madam Speaker, I would like to welcome our new colleague from Kitchener Centre to the House. I congratulate him on his election.
    With respect to the bill itself and to conditional sentencing orders, what does he think the overall impact of that will be on ensuring that we have off-ramps for those who are just getting involved in the criminal justice system? Could he comment on its potential impact on the overall incarceration of racialized people?
    Madam Speaker, I congratulate the parliamentary secretary on his re-election.
    We heard a significant amount from a previous member on CSOs. I would rather focus the commentary, whether it is now or in committee, on expanding the number of mandatory minimum penalties that should be repealed. Doing so would be the effective way. We have seen in the research that it is by repealing the mandatory minimum penalties that we have the best chance of reducing the overrepresentation of Black, indigenous and racialized inmates in incarceration.
    Madam Speaker, with respect to the offences of possession of a controlled substance under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, where in section 4 of that act does it speak to any mandatory minimum penalties? You spoke about automatic jail sentences. I would like clarification—
    I remind members that they are to speak through me, please. I did not say anything. The member may complete his question, but just speak through me and not directly to the member.
    Madam Speaker, I would like the hon. member to inform me where in section 4 of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act it speaks to mandatory minimum penalties.

  (1320)  

    Madam Speaker, again, the point I was making is that for all mandatory minimum penalties, when they are repealed, sentencing judges would still be required to impose a sentence proportionate to the degree of responsibility, and I trust in the judiciary to follow through appropriately.
    Madam Speaker, what people know of St. Anne's Residential School is that it was where children were tortured in an electric chair. What they know is that the justice department suppressed thousands of pages of police evidence.
    We just had a new report by a justice, a total whitewash, in which it says that the adjudicators who rejected claims of survivors who were tortured in the electric chair were right because, at the time, torturing indigenous children in an electric chair was considered a form of entertainment by the priests.
    If we have that view in 2021, that justice is the right of the government to suppress evidence when it comes to indigenous rights, and that it is okay, how can we expect that anyone in this system who is indigenous will ever get justice in Canada?
    Madam Speaker, that is why I am so glad to have members like the hon. member for Nunavut in this place, so that the voices of indigenous peoples are increasingly being heard directly in this place. I included citations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the national inquiry, because this place is better served when the voices of indigenous people are heard directly and their calls are answered appropriately, as they should be.
    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 C-5 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 C-5 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.

  (1325)  

    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 Prime Minister 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, the member touched on the fact that he was a former police chief in his community, and I would like to thank him for his service. I suspect in the lead up to becoming the chief of police, he would have served on the front lines. He has mentioned, of course, some of the diversion elements of the bill that try to treat individuals who have an addiction to drugs and who have simple possession and to pursue other means.
    When he was on the front lines and dealing with individuals who had addictions, did he see that through a criminality lens or did he see that as people who had health issues and perhaps have different ways to help solve their challenges?
    Madam Speaker, police officers see it from a variety of lenses. The biggest single lens they see it through is the individuals before them. It may be someone who has committed a criminal act, but needs help and will not go to prison. It is also trying to help the victims to see that justice is being served by having help provided to the individual. The member is absolutely right. There are a variety of resources in our communities, but we need a lot more of those resources. Letting the traffickers and people who manufacture drugs get a one-way ticket to freedom is not right.

  (1330)  

    Uqaqtittiji, I have been concerned today hearing the Conservatives' view about their labelling criminals, and criminals being criminals. I do not think criminals are born criminals. They become criminals because of the system in which they live.
    Does the member recognize that criminal records for personal possession of drugs is a significant barrier to employment and housing? Both are necessary for recovery from addictions based on the situations they have been forced to live in many for years, decades and maybe even generations, especially given the communities in which they live. All we have heard today is that most over-incarceration rates are racialized communities. Qujannamiik.
    Madam Speaker, in actual fact, there are so many reasons crime occurs, but getting a record for simple possession is not one. Police officers have not been laying those charges for an awfully long time. It goes back into the sixties perhaps, but I do not think we will find those charges being laid in the last 30 years.
    Madam Speaker, in the province of Ontario, where the hon. member is also from, we had a very unfortunate circumstance a few years ago. An indigenous inmate who was 24 years old was held for four years in solitary confinement in a prison in Thunder Bay, Ontario. My colleague spoke about various mental health conditions, supports and considerations that must be taken into account when we deal with legislation that is put forward.
    Could the member comment on that from his perspective as a former police chief? Could he also comment about the irony of the fact that we have a Liberal government introducing this legislation when it was the Liberal government under which this unfortunate circumstance in Thunder Bay took place?
    Madam Speaker, I am not familiar with that situation, but it sounds horrendous. It should never have occurred. That is a mental health issue, but this bill would not help that situation. It is abominable that someone would serve four years in solitary confinement in any institution.
    Madam Speaker, I know my colleague spent time as a police chief. His time in the House has been extensive and he has a lot of experience to share. Does he see anything in the legislation that would actually prevent, restrict or reduce crime?
    Madam Speaker, absolutely not. One factor missing in all of this are the victims. Nobody is asking who the victims are and where they are getting their help from. One thing we need to do as a society is to help victims, and we are not doing that.

[Translation]

    Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House to speak to Bill C-5.
    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.

  (1335)  

    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 C‑5 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.

  (1340)  

[English]

    Madam Speaker, it is always a pleasure to rise on behalf of the citizens of Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo.
    I was struck by the hon. parliamentary secretary's comments when he said that sentences are getting stiffer. I would first ask him what empirical evidence he has to back up that proposition.
    In my experience as somebody who worked in the correctional system in penitentiaries, and in the community in the federal correctional system, I would agree with him that rehabilitation can be challenging. One of the comments he made was that these types of penalties should be restricted for the most serious of offences and those people, as I understood his comments through translation, who are a danger to the public. Would he agree that people who target other people with shootings are a danger to the public as well?

[Translation]

    Madam Speaker, first I would like to congratulate my colleague for being elected to the House of Commons.
    From the comfort of our living room at home, wherever we might be in Canada, we believe that incarcerating people and toughening sentences will magically make Canadians safer. However, that is just not true, as the data collected over a generation has shown us.
    We need to focus on another approach, specifically helping people, giving them the chance to be part of a community, and working in every way possible with community groups in each region to ensure that people see there are alternatives to violence.

  (1345)  

    Madam Speaker, I agree with my colleague's comments about providing funding for support and rehabilitation. This could be accomplished in Quebec and elsewhere in Canada through a health transfer for support and social programs.
    The government could do both. It could eliminate mandatory minimum penalties, which do nothing to reduce crime, and let judges decide, while also transferring 35% of total health care costs to Quebec and the Canadian provinces, as they are calling for. Why will the government not do that?
    Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague from Beauport—Limoilou. We had the opportunity to work together before this past election and I truly appreciate her wisdom.
    We agree on the basic premise of her question. We want to reduce mandatory minimum penalties, so I commend her on that. We also want to increase funding for the community groups that help these people; we do not want to needlessly incarcerate them. We do share the same values.

[English]

    Madam Speaker, I have struggled today to listen to the debate in the House and hear many members talk with the assumption that this is a level playing field and that people come to be involved in crime from a place of equality. I appreciated that the member took some time today to talk about that not being accurate. There is uniqueness to each story and each individual, and that needs to be accounted for.
    I also appreciated that he said today that Bill C-5 is part of the solution. The problem is that it is only a part of it. We know that individuals who are suffering from the opioid crisis need access to a safe supply and that decriminalization is the best way to move forward. This is keeping people in the criminal system.
    Would the member not agree that decriminalizing possession of small amounts of drugs for personal use is a better strategy?
    Madam Speaker, first of all, let me thank the member from Edmonton for her work and support on these files. I certainly have heard her throughout the last Parliament advocating for this.
    I will be very, very quick. We do not all start off with an equal playing field. We do need to make sure that we invest in ways that can respond to the individual needs of the people and not a cookie-cutter approach, which we have tried for the last 30 years, and which has clearly failed on any measure. I will not let—
    We have to resume debate.
    The hon. member for Brantford—Brant.
    Madam Speaker, I welcome this opportunity to speak today on Bill C-5, 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 Prime Minister 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 justice minister introduced Bill C-5, which was a tone-deaf and ill-timed response from this government.
    The Prime Minister 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 C-5 is the complete opposite of this pledge and proves to be another example of virtue signalling to all Canadians.
    Bill C-5 is identical to Bill C-22, 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 justice minister 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 Prime Minister 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 justice minister's 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.

  (1350)  

    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 justice minister stressed that Bill C-5 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 Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada. 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.

  (1355)  

    What I found most ironic is that yesterday we heard from the justice minister 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.

  (1400)  

    The hon. member will have five minutes for questions and comments after Oral Questions.

Statements by Members

[Statements by Members]

[English]

Community Support

    Madam Speaker, this holiday season, I would like to highlight the importance of supporting all those who support others during this time of year.
     Organizations and volunteer groups across the riding of Sackville—Preston—Chezzetcook are stepping up to help less fortunate people during the holiday season. Organizations like Freedom Kitchen in Lower Sackville, the Lions Christmas Express in Fall River, the Eastern Passage-Cow Bay Community Food Bank and community groups across the Eastern Shore are stepping up to make a difference and help others.
    I encourage Nova Scotians and Canadians to find ways to donate time or money to different organizations in our communities that work tirelessly to help support individuals in communities across my riding and across Canada.

Employment Insurance

    Madam Speaker, I rise today on a matter of great concern involving workers in my region.
     I thank the workers and Unifor representatives for alerting me to a brewing EI crisis. This crisis has many faces. It impacts expectant moms, who have had to use their regular EI at the expense of their maternity benefits. One mom was eligible for only one week of maternity benefits, one week of what should have been several months to bond with her baby.
    I am thinking of the 450 assembly plant workers on extended layoffs due to a global chip shortage; the laid off workers in the feeder plants, seven for each one in the assembly plant; and the 854 active on-layoff Local 444 casino workers who have exhausted their EI benefits.
    Some workers in our region have only worked nine weeks this year. Facing an anxious Christmas and uncertain future, they need a compassionate and swift response from the government.

Sault Ste. Marie

    Madam Speaker, I stand here today in this the first session of the 44th Parliament, and once again humbled and honoured to continue to serve my constituents of Sault Ste. Marie for a third term.
    With that, I am incredibly grateful and thank my family, and many volunteers and supporters of my team who worked tirelessly in every possible way to get out the vote. I thank them for the profound trust bestowed on me.
    From my family to everyone's family, may beautiful moments and happy memories fill our hearts and home with joy this holiday season. We wish everybody peace, love and blessings always, and best wishes for the New Year. May Santa Claus bring joy to everyone's heart that will last all year.
    I would like to give a special shout-out to my mom and dad, who have been supporting me now for the past 25 years in local politics. I love them both.

[Translation]

Sister Jeanne Vanasse

    Mr. Speaker, I would like to invite all art lovers to visit the Musée des cultures du monde in Nicolet to see the work of Sister Jeanne Vanasse who, at the age of 100, is presenting an exhibition called “La Genèse, un début sans fin”.
    Sister Vanasse studied at the École des beaux-arts de Québec for four years, in the class of the famous painter Jean Paul Lemieux. In the 1960s, she began exhibiting her paintings and prints in all the major exhibitions in Quebec.
    In 1967, she submitted her famous thesis on the visual arts to the minister of education. As a teacher at the Cégep de Trois-Rivières, she also participated in study trips to France, Spain and Italy.
    As she is nearing the end of her journey on this earth, the artist wanted to delve into the beginnings of the world, as if the end and the beginning were one and the same phenomenon. She approaches the entire process with works that express surprising serenity.
    I applaud her. Many of us will go to visit her exhibition and wish her a happy 100th birthday.

[English]

Noelville

    Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate the community of Noelville from the French River region. This year, Noelville was chosen as part of Canada Post’s limited-edition holiday commemorative stamp set. This gesture honours this special town and Noel Desmarais, who was the first merchant in the community.

[Translation]

    I want to thank Canada Post for spreading holiday cheer. I also thank its employees for the long hours they put in so that everyone can receive their deliveries in time for the holidays.
    We are grateful to all the frontline workers, and I would like to sincerely thank all the volunteers who support Nickel Belt's most vulnerable people, as well as its seniors and food banks.
    I wish everyone a wonderful Christmas and good health, and to paraphrase the lyrics of a little tune my father used to play on the fiddle, I hope that is how it goes in the new year.

  (1405)  

[English]

Global Polio Eradication Initiative

    Mr. Speaker, polio is a horrible disease. It affects one's central nervous system, creating paralysis and even death. While Canada is now 20 years polio-free, the disease remains endemic in the countries of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Fortunately, organizations like Rotary International have raised over a billion dollars in their mission to eradicate polio.
    I would like to highlight the efforts of one particular Rotarian from my riding, Dr. Robert Scott, who has dedicated over 40 years of his life to the eradication of polio. For 10 years he was the chairman of the Polio Plus international committee, a committee dedicated to the eradication of polio. He travelled the world, rallying global leaders behind the cause of eradicating polio.
    I thank Rotary International, all Rotarians and Dr. Bob.

Child Care

    Mr. Speaker, this government understands the need to support people. We have done that through the pandemic, where we saw programs that supported real people, such as CERB for over nine million Canadians, small business supports, the wage subsidy, loan supports and rent subsidies.
    However, today I rise to emphasize the importance of two programs that are dear to my constituents and that provide the type of support that is so essential. I am talking about the child care program of millions of dollars, along with the guaranteed income supplement, which takes people out of poverty and provides millions of dollars of support to Winnipeg North every month. Now the child care program, a true national care program, is going to help families.
    As a government, we understand the importance of supporting real people.

Beverley Wood

    Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to be in the House today to recognize the legacy of a long-time community builder in my riding of Aurora—Oak Ridges—Richmond Hill: Beverley Wood.
    In 2006, Beverly founded Welcoming Arms, a program that provides warm meals and essential goods to low-income families. It also spearheaded the creation of a community garden, a financial literacy program and holiday dinners. Beverley was an angel to all those in our community who felt they could turn to her in challenging times. She responded to everyone's concerns with a listening heart. During the pandemic, Beverley responded to requests from the mayor of Aurora and created a task force to identify the needs of the most vulnerable.
    Beverly passed away earlier this year, but the impact of her tireless service to the riding will carry on for years to come. Welcoming Arms continues its work with families in need, and during this holiday season the continuing work is so appreciated, as need is experienced more acutely during these times. May we all respond to those in need this holiday season with welcoming arms and a listening heart. Joyeuses fêtes, and happy holidays to all.

Prince Albert

    Mr. Speaker, I rise today to thank the constituents of my riding of Prince Albert for giving me the honour of serving as their member in Canada's 44th Parliament.
    As we all know, no one gets elected by themselves: it takes a team, and I had a great team. My success is a result of their hard work. I thank my EDA president and campaign manager, Ralph Boychuk, for his tireless work and solid advice. He is a true friend. I thank all the volunteers, too many to name, and EDA board members who took on a variety of roles across our riding. Their help was tremendous. I thank my staff, who have provided such a high level of service throughout the years. As well, I thank my wife Jerri and my family. They have sacrificed the most, and I could not do this job without their love and support.
    Christmas is now just days away. I want to wish everyone a merry Christmas and a safe festive season. Merry Christmas and good health to all, and may we have a prosperous new year and a Conservative government in 2022.

[Translation]

Antonine Maillet

    Mr. Speaker, on November 24, a grand dame of Acadian literature, the author and playwright Antonine Maillet, was honoured at the Élysée Palace in Paris.
    On that day, President Macron promoted her to the rank of commander of the Legion of Honour, the highest honour that can be awarded to a person outside France.
    In Acadia, we all know the woman who, in 1979, was the first non-European to be awarded the Goncourt literary prize. Her works, including La Sagouine and Pélagie‑la‑Charrette, were among the first to focus on Acadia and its history, challenges and resilience.
    Over and over agin, her characters continue to make us laugh and cry and to give pause to an entire people.
    On behalf of the Acadian diaspora and on my own behalf, I want to thank Ms. Maillet from the bottom of my heart. Her writing and her passion for Acadia keep inspiring us and encouraging us to continue the never-ending battle so that future generations continue to speak the language of Antonine.

  (1410)  

[English]

Leeds—Grenville—Thousand Islands and Rideau Lakes

    Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise today to thank the people of Leeds—Grenville—Thousand Islands and Rideau Lakes for their continued trust and confidence in returning me to Parliament with a clear mandate. The people have been very busy over the last three years with federal elections. They continue to demand strong representation in Ottawa with a focus on securing funding for infrastructure, lowering taxes and making life more affordable. Of course, none of this would have been possible without the hard work of my many volunteers. There are too many to name, but I give special shout-outs to Joan Lahey, Barb O'Reilly and Heidi Piper-Ward for their tireless work on my campaign. Of course, I thank my wife Amanda and our children Luke, Ama, James, Nathan and Michaela for their enthusiastic door-knocking and for being the best sign installers in the last election.
    I will say to the people of Leeds—Grenville—Thousand Islands and Rideau Lakes that I will continue to advocate for them, their families and our community. I thank them and wish them a merry Christmas.

Mel Lastman

    Mr. Speaker, he was the first politician who ever got my attention, and not because we almost share a name, although the confusion has always been beneficial for me. Former Toronto mayor and businessman Mel Lastman will always be remembered as a larger-than-life politician whose love for his family, community and city was infectious. With little in the way of education, he started, like so many of his generation, with nothing but a dream. A man who sold sofas, tables and chairs shifted his focus to the biggest chair in North York for 25 years before amalgamation.
    His popularity soared as the megacity's mayor for six years after that. In Toronto he will not be remembered for lowering taxes or for picking up garbage. He will forever be known as the guy who was just like us.
    Mayor Mel passed away this Saturday. He lived his last years in Thornhill. We extend our condolences to his children and grandchildren. I hope they find comfort in the memories of a life well lived.
    There is one thing we will never forget: “Who's better than Bad Boy? Nobody!”

Mental Health

    Mr. Speaker, around the world, including in my home of Yukon, this is a time of festivals and celebrations, yet despite the brightness and joy this time of year can bring these are also the darkest days of the year. Not everyone has family, friends and loved ones to share the time with, and due to COVID‑19 not everyone is able to gather. This time of year can often exacerbate mental distress and illness. Thanks to the pandemic, this is being felt more acutely than ever. I want to recognize in particular the mental stress and exhaustion faced by our front-line health care and public health workers.
    I came to Ottawa to help build a better future for all Yukoners. I want to take part in improving supports for mental health in Canada, supporting our health care workforce and moving forward urgently on the opioid epidemic, which Yukon is tragically leading in deaths per capita.
    As the new year approaches, I ask my colleagues to join me in committing to work together to build a better Canada for all. May all Canadians find solace, peace and joy this holiday season no matter where they are or what life has brought them.

Ocean Protection

    Mr. Speaker, the international seabed covers 50% of the planet and is considered the common heritage of humankind. The International Seabed Authority is tasked with protecting the seabed in international waters, but Canada has been missing in action as a member until recently by only sending one delegate to International Seabed Authority meetings and missing six opportunities in the last six years to comment on its work.
    The international seabed is the last untouched region of the world. It supports much of the Earth's biodiversity as well as critical fishery resources. It is now at risk of being mined as early as 2024, as mining regulations are being rushed through at the International Seabed Authority.
     Canada must step up and show leadership in ocean protection. Many countries, including the EU Parliament and hundreds of international NGOs, are calling for a moratorium on seabed mining to allow for the advancement of critical scientific research so we can better understand the deep ecosystems of the sea.

  (1415)  

[Translation]

Gilbert Pigeon

    Mr. Speaker, last month, a chapter in the history of Saint‑Eugène-de-Ladrière came to a close, as a distinguished regional politician, Gilbert Pigeon, retired after 38 years of service on city council.
    A paragon of dedication and community service, Mr. Pigeon has had a most inspiring career. His accomplishments included being mayor of his municipality for 34 years, director of the Fédération québécoise des municipalités for 20 years, president of the Fonds de défense des intérêts des municipalités du Québec for 10 years, and reeve of the Rimouski-Neigette RCM for six years. In recognition of his life's work, he was awarded the Quebec Lieutenant Governor's Medal in July 2020.
    I would like to thank Mr. Pigeon for the time, energy and heart he has put into our community over the past four decades. His hard work and convictions have brought more vibrancy and vitality to our beautiful region. I wish him success in his new endeavours, and I thank him from the bottom of my heart.

Volunteer Home Care

    Mr. Speaker, I would like to take the opportunity to thank voters in Beauce for re-electing me to serve a second mandate and be their voice here in the House. I would also like to thank my family for their invaluable support, and my team, who worked so hard during my campaign and are still working hard to this day.
    I would like to tell everyone about an organization in my riding called Lien Partage. For the past 45 years, its mission has been to provide volunteer home support services to people who need assistance and to make health promotion services available to those over the age of 50.
    It is so easy to forget how lucky we are to be healthy and independent. Anyone can lose their independence, and not everyone is lucky enough to have loved ones to look after them.
    I am grateful to all the organization's volunteers, past and present, for their dedication to serving our communities. I thank them for focusing on others for a few hours a week, making sure they get food to eat and helping them feel less lonely. Their actions make all the difference, and I want to thank them from the bottom of my heart.

Raïs Zaidi

     Mr. Speaker, the holiday season is upon us, and I would like to take a moment to thank the organizations and volunteers in Hochelaga who continue to be there for our communities, year after year.
    Today, I especially want to highlight the exceptional contribution of Raïs Zaidi, a resident of Hochelaga, who is better known as the “food pirate”. For several years now, he has been distributing free food to those most in need, all on a volunteer basis.
    I congratulate him on his incredible generosity, his dedication and his local engagement. He fights food waste and distributes food three times a week in the neighbourhood, simply on a table set up in front of his house on Dézéry Street. Thanks to him, many families in our riding and beyond will be able to spend the holiday season with a better-stocked fridge.
    I invite everyone here to give generously, following the example of the “food pirate”, and I wish everyone a very happy holiday season.

ORAL QUESTIONS

[Oral Questions]

[English]

Natural Resources

    Mr. Speaker, amid the global energy shortage and soaring prices, American President Joe Biden has begged countries like Iran and Saudi Arabia, places with no commitment to climate action, where women are not seen as people and gay men face the death penalty, to increase their oil production for the Americans. However, the U.S. cancelled the Keystone pipeline and is challenging Line 5.
    Can the Minister of International Trade explain why the Americans want Saudi and Iranian oil over lower-carbon Canadian energy?
    Mr. Speaker, as the member opposite well knows, the world of energy is changing all around the world. We are seeing record levels of investment in clean technologies and renewable energy.
    In fact, if we look at which part of Canada is receiving the most investment in renewable energy, it is not my home province of Quebec, and it is not Ontario or British Columbia. It is in Alberta that we are seeing record levels of investment in renewable energy. This is what the future will look like.

  (1420)  

    Mr. Speaker, the minister is right about one thing, which is that global demand for energy is changing. The Americans want more Saudi oil as opposed to Canadian low-carbon energy.
     The Americans probably want this type of energy because they know Canada's Liberals will roll over on human rights-abusing oil cartel countries; they could care less about energy prices, and they love offshoring Canadian jobs.
    Can the Minister of International Trade, as opposed to letting a man stand and answer her question, tell Canadians what she has done and who she has met with to promote Canadian energy to the American government?
    Mr. Speaker, I take exception to the way the hon. member has framed this. I am perfectly happy to stand up in this House and respond to questions raised.
    I will always stand up for Canadian industries. I will stand up for Canadian workers. Every single day, that is what we do on this side of the House, and we have been successful.
    I do not know what is in the water today, but I just want to remind everyone that questions are being asked and they are being responded to. I just want to make sure everybody has the opportunity to hear the question and the answer.
    Mr. Speaker, there is one thing that minister will not stand up for, and that is Canadian energy and Canadian energy worker jobs.
    Let me translate what she just said. She says she has not once promoted Canadian energy to the Americans. At a time when we need continental energy security, cheap energy bills and climate actions, the Liberals have offshored our jobs and increased energy prices, and they are happy about it.
    Will the Minister of International Trade commit clearly to promoting Canadian energy to the Americans, or will she give more word salad and keep offshoring Canadian jobs to climate-destroying countries?
    Mr. Speaker, we will take no lessons from the Conservatives when it comes to promoting the energy sector in Canada.
    The member on the other side knows well that not only do we promote the energy sector, but we landed the first blue hydrogen project in Canada, in Edmonton, Alberta. On this side of the House, we know how to stand up for the energy sector. We know how to stand up for workers. We know how to stand up for Canada.

[Translation]

Automotive Industry

    Mr. Speaker, as everyone knows, Canada and the United States have had an integrated automotive industry for 60 years.
    Everyone also knows that electrification is the future of the industry, in light of the billions of dollars being invested by private businesses. Now President Biden's tax credit is threatening jobs in Canada. What is the Liberal government doing? It is doing absolutely nothing.
    When will the government stand up for Canada's auto workers?

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, we have made it very clear to the Americans that the protectionist and discriminatory provisions for electric vehicle credits are discriminatory to Canada. We have been building automobiles together for 50 years and integrating our supply chains for over 50 years, and Canada will be prepared to stand up for its national interest.
    We want to work towards a solution. We are working very hard at that. Canada will stand up for its interest. Canadians have seen this government do it, and it will do it again.

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, that is right. If the Liberals do the exact same thing they did with steel, aluminum and softwood lumber, Canada's auto workers run the risk of losing well-paying jobs, because the government talks a good game but takes no action.
    Why is the minister not at the U.S. Congress right now, working directly with U.S. senators and representatives to convince them that protecting Canada's industry is a win-win situation?

  (1425)  

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, this is precisely why I was in Washington, D.C., working with the American government and working with congressional leaders to make the case for Canada. The Deputy Prime Minister and I just released a letter last week to the congressional leadership indicating that we would stand up and introduce retaliatory measures should we need to do that.
    Members have seen this government work. When we were faced with section 232 tariffs, we stood up for Canadian jobs. We will always stand up for Canadian jobs.
    Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
    I will have to start asking everyone to put an earpiece on if that is what it takes to keep everybody quiet. It seemed to work so well.
    The hon. minister has about 15 seconds left, if she wants to finish up.
    Mr. Speaker, we are not going to take any lessons from the Conservatives. We stood up against section 232 tariffs on steel and aluminum. We were successful then. We are prepared to stand up for national interests now, and we will be successful this time too.

[Translation]

Justice

    Mr. Speaker, yesterday the Prime Minister revealed his strategy for the Bill 21 dispute: in the early stages, let the opponents duke it out without getting too involved, so as not to give the Government of Quebec the chance to claim federal interference.
    For now, the Prime Minister is not interfering at the federal level because he knows full well that this is Quebec's jurisdiction. We know it and he knows it. Knowing that, will the Prime Minister promise not to interfere in legislative disputes that do not fall under his jurisdiction? In other words, will he mind his own business?
    Mr. Speaker, our position has always been clear: No one should lose their job because of what they wear or their religious beliefs.
    What is happening in Chelsea is that a community is rallying to defend one of its members, a teacher. Obviously, there are some difficult discussions ahead. We are continuing to monitor the situation closely. Quebeckers are defending their interests in the courts.
    Mr. Speaker, the Prime Minister can say whatever he wants about Bill 21. Honestly, we are used to it, but at least it does not go beyond this place.
    However, Bob Rae, the Canadian ambassador to the United Nations, went too far in sullying Quebec's international reputation. He claims that Bill 21 quite simply violates the Universal Declaration on Human Rights.
    Quebec will not allow itself to be insulted by Canada's representative to the UN, especially given that Quebeckers pay for that representation. Will the Prime Minister call on Bob Rae to explain his completely unacceptable comments?
    Mr. Speaker, the Prime Minister and our government have always been clear: We will allow this to play out in the courts. Some Quebeckers are defending their rights before the courts and our position is clear. This bill was adopted by the Quebec National Assembly and we will leave it up to the courts.

[English]

Seniors

    Mr. Speaker, today's fiscal update is an opportunity for the government to respond to inflation, which is driving up the cost of living and making it harder and harder for Canadians to make ends meet. In particular, vulnerable seniors are feeling the impact of inflation because of the government's clawback of their GIS. We have heard stories from seniors who are struggling to put food on the table and who are struggling to stay in their homes, many of whom have already lost their homes.
    We have been fighting the government since August. When will the government commit to fixing the clawback and ending it so that seniors are no longer put in this vulnerable position?
    Mr. Speaker, when the pandemic began, our government acted very quickly to help millions of Canadians, including seniors, especially the most vulnerable. We have stepped up to support them with payments and historic investments, on top of the other boosts we delivered for seniors.
    When it comes to the CERB and GIS, we know it has been challenging for some seniors this year. However, as I have said before in the House, we are committed to finding the right solution to support those affected. We will have more to share with the House soon. We will always have their backs.

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, the economic update is an opportunity for the government to address inflation, which continues to drive up the cost of living. In particular, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find affordable housing. The government has tools to address this crisis.
    Will the Prime Minister commit to responding to the crisis with appropriate measures?

  (1430)  

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, our government is committed to making life more affordable for Canadians. That is why we have invested in child care agreements around the country, it is why we support our seniors and it is why we made a historic investment of $72 billion in the national housing strategy. We will continue to make housing affordable and ensure that housing affordability is a priority for our government and for all Canadians.

Canada-U.S. Relations

    Mr. Speaker, the Liberals' failed relationship with the United States continues to go backward. The Conservatives have been warning about trade challenges for years, yet the Liberals called an election instead of spending time in the U.S. building relationships and standing up for Canada. The trade minister is now warning that Canada should “prepare for the worst”. The Conservatives had a Canadian buy American exemption and a softwood lumber agreement. Despite photo ops and feel-good words, the trade minister comes back empty handed every time from the United States.
    How much worse does the trade minister expect it to get?
    Mr. Speaker, we are not going to take any lessons from the Conservatives on this. When we were negotiating NAFTA, the Leader of the Opposition said that we should just capitulate and take any agreement. On this side of the House, we will make sure that we get a good agreement for Canadian workers and for Canadian businesses. We have done that before and we are going to do it again.
    Mr. Speaker, we should not be surprised that the Canada-U.S. relationship is not a priority and is failing. It was not even mentioned once in the throne speech and the U.S. is our biggest trading partner. A small manufacturing business in my riding of Kelowna—Lake Country exports to the U.S. military and will be affected by the buy American policies. It is being failed by the Minister of Small Business and by the Minister of International Trade. That is right; it is the same minister.
    When will the minister get off her hands, do her job and stand up for Canadian businesses?
    Mr. Speaker, throughout the pandemic, as hard as it has been for Canadians all across this country, on this side of the House we have stood up for small businesses. We have provided unprecedented supports so they can continue to operate, keep their people on payroll and pay their bills. We have incredibly strong programs to help Canadian businesses start up, scale up and access new markets, including programs for women entrepreneurs and Black entrepreneurs.
    This is about helping the Canadian economy recover. We are doing it on this side of the House, and I challenge my colleagues to join us in supporting our small businesses.

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, facts are facts.
    The countervailing duties that the United States is imposing on Canadian softwood lumber are a slap in the face to our industry; they have doubled. The money is being collected at the border rather than being invested in our businesses. As is the case with inflation and the labour shortage, the government is not interested in this issue because it is not interested in the economy.
    Will the Prime Minister commit today to resolving this issue before the holidays?

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, we have been very clear: Canada's forestry sector and its workers are incredibly important to the Canadian economy. We have also been very clear that the tariffs the U.S. has levied against us are unjustified. We have defended our interests. We defended them in CUSMA, before the NAFTA panels and before the WTO. It has been ruled that Canada is a fair trading partner.
    We are going to continue to stand up for Canadian forestry workers and the industry, which employs so many incredible Canadians across the country.

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, the Prime Minister visited the United States.
    After his Minister of International Trade visited Washington and after the Minister of Finance talked about imposing retaliatory measures, nothing has been done to eliminate the U.S. countervailing duties. It has been one failure after another.
    I call on the Prime Minister to rise and tell the House what the next steps will be in resolving this issue.
    Mr. Speaker, I share my hon. colleague's concerns; we all do. The forestry workers in his riding and in ridings represented by all parties of the House are of primary concern to us.
    I want to reassure my hon. colleague that we are looking for an outcome that is acceptable to the industry and to workers. I encourage the member opposite to work with team Canada.

  (1435)  

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, it has been weeks since the U.S. jacked up softwood lumber tariffs on communities like those in my riding, yet the government seems to have given up, thrown in the towel. Workers in my riding cannot afford to give up.
    Why does the government not seem to care at all about fighting for forestry jobs?
    Mr. Speaker, Canada's forestry sector is incredibly important to the Canadian economy, and I understand the frustration from my colleague on the opposite side. While I was in the United States, I had an opportunity to meet with the National Association of Home Builders, which agrees with us that the high duties and tariffs on softwood lumber hurt its plan for building more affordable homes for Americans.
    We are going to keep doing the work here to ensure that we defend Canada's softwood lumber workers and our industry. That work continues.
    Mr. Speaker, workers in my riding cannot take the minister's statement to the bank. Communities in my region have been beset by fires, floods and now a government that has given up. They work hard and they deserve a government that works hard for them. Sadly, the Liberal government does not consider these families and these communities a priority.
    What do the forestry workers in my riding have to do to make the government care? Do they have to donate to the Liberal Party?
    Mr. Speaker, I think the hon. member will agree, as we all do and as he said, that the forestry sector and its workers are incredibly important. It has been a very, very difficult year for Canadians in that sector, and indeed in all sectors, living through this pandemic. I am very proud of the work we have been doing to support our forestry workers all across the country. We will continue to stand up to the United States on this very important issue around softwood lumber.

[Translation]

Public Services and Procurement

    Mr. Speaker, by renewing the lease for its temporary facilities on Roxham Road, the government is signalling its intention to let the problem get worse and worse for another five years. Who benefits from the federal government's inaction? It is human smugglers who sell refugees a fantasy.
    Thanks to the Liberal government, they just found out that they will be able to keep getting rich at refugees' expense for the next five years. This is also good news for Liberal donor Pierre Guay, who is leasing the temporary facilities to the Liberal government. He just secured another five years' worth of public funds.
    Does the Liberal minister really think this is good news for families that will continue to cross the border through the woods in the dead of winter?

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, transparency and accountability are critically important to our government. The rental agreement that was negotiated was based on fair market value at a competitive price. Given the location of the hotel and its proximity to the border, this was an ideal location to CBSA for use for this purpose. Our government is delivering open, fair and transparent procurement processes while obtaining the best value for Canadians.

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, that is a bunch of hooey.
    Now that we have identified who benefits from Roxham Road, let us talk about those who do not. This situation does not benefit families who pay smugglers a fortune so that they can risk their safety crossing the border. It does not benefit Quebec, which has to take on 97% of Canada's irregular claims, and it does not benefit Quebeckers, who pay for all the services provided to that 97% of claimants, which is far more than their fair share compared to the rest of Canada.
    Why is the Liberal government making Roxham Road permanent instead of suspending the safe third country agreement?

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, as I am sure the hon. member opposite will appreciate, Canada has both domestic and international legal obligations in how we need to treat irregular asylum seekers who cross the border into Canada. I am pleased to let the hon. member know that I am doing everything in collaboration with my counterparts in the province of Quebec, and I had the opportunity to have a productive conversation last week. I had a conversation with the ambassador to the United States this week so we can continue the effort to modernize the safe third country agreement.
    Adult problems require adult conversations. I invite the hon. member to join one.

  (1440)  

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, renewing the lease on the facility near Roxham Road is yet another Liberal ethical failure.
    The mere fact that the renewal was concluded in secret and untendered, and that it was awarded surely by chance to a Liberal donor, confirms this.
    Providing smuggling services at the border is illegal, and yet Ottawa is making it easy for people to cross. It is illegal and unsafe to cross the border anywhere other than at border crossings, but Ottawa facilitates it. To top it all off, this is an ethical failure because the government is facilitating something that is illegal.
    Why is the government making it easier for people to circumvent the law rather than controlling border crossings?

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, as I have said, transparency and accountability are critically important to our government. The rental agreement that is in question was negotiated based on fair market value to arrive at a competitive price, and that is the price that we did arrive at. Given the location of the hotel, this was important to CBSA for this purpose.
    Our government is going to continue to deliver and keep Canadians safe in a fair, open and transparent way.

Canada-U.S. Relations

    Mr. Speaker, last week, the government sent a strongly worded letter to U.S. senators about the electric vehicle tax credit and its devastating impact on the Ontario auto industry, but the same government has not contacted Democratic Senator Joe Manchin who, three weeks ago, called on President Biden to approve Keystone XL even though the Canadian oil and gas industry contributes six times more to the economy than does the auto sector. Is that because this government values the auto sector over the oil and gas sector?
    Mr. Speaker, this is a really important issue for our government. Of course, we are standing up for all sectors of the economy. The issue around the EV credits is before the Senate right now. It is why I was there last week. It is why we ensured that we communicated clearly to the American government that this issue is important to the hundreds of thousands of workers who are in this sector of the economy.
    Mr. Speaker, this government says that it stands up for all sectors, it says that a Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian, but it acts like a government of the Laurentians not a government of Canada.
    When Ontario's auto industry is threatened, it stands to attention, but the softwood lumber and Keystone XL issues languish for years. When is this government going to stand up for all Canadians and all economic sectors, not just those in the backyards of Liberal cabinet ministers from Ontario and Quebec?
    Mr. Speaker, let me be very clear. This government stands for all industries, all sectors, all across this country. We will do it every single day, and we will continue to do that for all sectors all across the country.
    Mr. Speaker, this government's relationship with the United States continues to deteriorate. The latest example is the American Beef Labeling Act in Congress. The act calls on U.S. trade representative Katherine Tai and U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack to make country-of-origin labelling WTO-compliant. If this does not happen, it automatically comes into force.
    This has a devastating impact on the cattle industry in Canada as well as North America.
    My question is to the Minister of International Trade. Will she act now or wait until it is a crisis?
    Mr. Speaker, Canada and the U.S. share one of the largest agricultural trading relationships. The WTO ruled in 2015 that the mandatory country-of-origin labelling measures in the U.S. discriminated against Canadian exporters, and we expect the U.S. to continue to abide by this ruling and the WTO obligations.
    Our government will continue to stand up for Canada's beef industry and its workers, and we are firmly opposed to any new proposals from the U.S. to resurrect mandatory country-of-origin labelling for beef or pork.
    Mr. Speaker, it sounds like they are just going to watch and listen and do nothing.
    The government has a terrible record with the Biden administration in responding to trade irritants with our most important trading partner, whether it be softwood lumber, electric vehicles, Keystone XL, aluminum, potatoes, Line 5 and now beef. This government's failure on trade relations continues to cost Canadians their jobs. Again, I ask the minister: Will she act now or is she going to wait until it is a crisis before doing something?

  (1445)  

    Mr. Speaker, the United States is Canada's largest trading partner. It is a relationship that has benefited workers on both sides of the border. Every day we work very hard to stand up for our industries and our workers, and to develop opportunities for businesses to grow and to export.
    I just had a wonderful meeting with the American ambassador yesterday. We agreed that we can absolutely work on helping our businesses start up, scale up and access that very important market, which is the United States of America.

Government Programs

    Mr. Speaker, in the last two months, food banks across Manitoba have seen a 70% increase in individuals accessing services compared to last year. Instead of the Liberal government choosing to help people, it continues to claw back GIS and CCB payments from individuals and families already living in precarious situations. We are in a food security crisis. When will the government implement a national food strategy and immediately end clawbacks to GIS and CCB?
    Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my hon. colleague for her important advocacy on this issue.
     Let us recall that it was this government that brought in the Canada child benefit that saw close to 400,000 children lifted out of poverty. Let us recall that it is this government that is committed to bringing forward a national food strategy to ensure that children around this country have access to healthy meals. We know that is one of the best ways to set our kids up for success and to make sure that they can learn everything that they need in school.

Health

    Mr. Speaker, Canada's Chief Public Officer just issued a dire warning. She said our public health system is stretched dangerously thin, our public health workforce is understaffed and burnt out. We were not prepared for COVID-19 and we are not prepared for the next emergency.
    Decades of underfunding under Liberal and Conservative governments are putting Canadians at risk. Dr. Tam is calling for transformational investments in Canada's public health system. Will the government finally listen and provide the resources needed to keep us all safe?
    Mr. Speaker, we are currently living through a very serious challenge caused by omicron. I would remind all Canadians listening and everyone in this House to be extremely careful. We must follow public health measures, get vaccinated and get boosters whenever they are available. Now is not the time to travel.

National Defence

    Mr. Speaker, the Canadian Armed Forces is one of Canada's most venerable institutions, but the reality is that it has not always lived up to the values that Canadians expect from the military. Many service members who have bravely come forward to serve their country have instead experienced sexual trauma at the hands of the very institution that is sworn to protect them.
    Could the minister update the House on the steps this government is taking to ensure that the Canadian Armed Forces finds restitution of survivors?
    Mr. Speaker, the Canadian Armed Forces have always had our backs, but far too many of them have suffered because of sexual harassment, sexual assault and discrimination. That is why yesterday, General Eyre and Deputy Minister Thomas and I offered an apology to all victims and survivors. An apology cannot mend deep wounds, but it is the right thing to do and we will now move to enact further reforms to address these behaviours.

[Translation]

International Trade

    Mr. Speaker, the last free trade agreement with the United States was devastating for Canadian dairy farmers. Now our American neighbours have gained market share on our Canadian dairy products because of that free trade agreement.
    Can the Minister of International Trade confirm that the Americans are respecting the agreement signed between the two countries?
    Mr. Speaker, I want to reassure my colleague. We are working closely with the Americans and making sure that the agreement is respected. There are procedures in place, and they will be followed if necessary.

  (1450)  

    Mr. Speaker, the minister is still not giving us straight answers about dairy products crossing the border and, more specifically, about measures to monitor compliance with our free trade agreements.
    What assurances can the minister offer Canadian dairy producers about measures being taken to make sure the quantity of dairy products crossing the border is in line with our trade agreements?
    Mr. Speaker, once again, I can assure my colleague that we are working with border services and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. We are doing what we need to do to ensure compliance with the free trade agreement with the United States and Mexico.

[English]

Justice

    Mr. Speaker, Canadians are calling for action on serious gun crimes, yet incredibly the government just introduced a bill that for serious crimes like robbery with a firearm, extortion with a firearm and weapons trafficking, it would eliminate mandatory jail time and, further, bring about house arrests for crimes like kidnapping and sexual assault. That is just the opposite of what Canadians are calling for.
    Will the minister not agree with most Canadians that, if a person commits a drive-by shooting or weapons trafficking, they deserve mandatory jail time?
    Mr. Speaker, if my hon. colleague had read the bill very carefully, he would have seen that in some instances we also propose to raise maximum sentences for serious firearms sentences. What I find ironic is that the party opposite, the Conservative Party, has flip-flopped so many times on firearms, on protecting Canadians that it just stretches credulity that it has any credibility whatsoever in this House.
    I am calling on Conservatives to join the Government of Canada and all members in this House to ensure that we stop gun violence and keep Canadians safe.
    Mr. Speaker, the soft-on-crime government is completely out of touch with what Canadians are calling for. It is the job of the Parliament to pass legislation that ensures that mandatory jail time is there for an individual who commits a crime like a drive-by shooting and gets them off the streets and into jail.
    Can the minister declare what crimes he does support mandatory jail time for? We know he does not support it for robbery, for weapons trafficking and for extortion with a firearm. Can the minister please tell us where he does believe a mandatory minimum sentence is appropriate?
    Mr. Speaker, I reject the premise of that question. I would ask the hon. member to read the bill.
    Serious crimes will always be punished seriously. All we are doing in this bill is selecting a number of crimes that have a serious impact on the overrepresentation of indigenous and Black people in the criminal justice system, in order to give back flexibility to judges by eliminating certain minimum mandatory penalties and by allowing for the possibility of conditional sentencing orders, and in order to attack systemic racism in our criminal justice system.

[Translation]

International Trade

    Mr. Speaker, trade with the United States is challenging these days. As members know, the Deputy Prime Minister wrote to American senators, threatening them with retaliatory actions if they go after Canada's electric vehicle sector. We agree.
    However, we have to wonder why Ottawa is not doing anything about softwood lumber. When the Americans announced that they were doubling their tariffs, there was no letter, no announcement and no retaliation.
    This is good for Ontario's automotive sector, but why does softwood lumber get a big fat zero like the one in Ottawa?

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, to the softwood lumber industry and the many workers who are in the member's riding and, in fact, in many, many ridings across the country, I want those workers and the industry to know that we are absolutely standing up for their interest. I raise this at every opportunity with the American administration.
    We have taken this issue to panels at CUSMA and the WTO. We will continue to defend the interests of the Canadian softwood lumber industry strongly. They can count on us to do that.

  (1455)  

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, I was part of the delegation that went to Washington, but the minister did not mention that in her answer just now. I went to Washington to defend our softwood lumber industry. I reminded the minister that it is important to stand up for Quebec's forestry industry. I did not get the impression that she really did her best to get the softwood lumber tariffs eliminated.
    The proof is that the government showed up in Washington with what it calls Team Canada to protect Ontario's automotive sector. Auto jobs are important, but what will it take to get Ottawa to stand up and protect forestry jobs in Quebec?
    Mr. Speaker, things cannot be good for the Bloc Québécois. They are looking for other talking points.
    First it was the Internet, and we fixed that. Then it was social housing, and we fixed that. Then it was day care, and we fixed that too.
    The Bloc Québécois spends its days looking for a fight and showing a lack of respect for the people of Ottawa. Ottawa has an “O”, not a zero.
    The Bloc should show some respect for the people of Ottawa and recognize that the Liberal Party, the Liberal government, is there for Quebec.

[English]

Public Services and Procurement

    Mr. Speaker, a sole-source contract to rent property as a welcoming centre at the illegal border crossing at Roxham Road was handed out to a Quebec businessman by the Liberals. The lucrative sole-source deal comes after $23,000 in donations was given to the Liberal Party. Now, before the Liberals stand up and say, “Yes, but he donated to the Conservative Party," I note the Conservative Party never greased this donor's palms with a lucrative sole-source contract.
     Would someone from the side opposite just stand up and admit that this was a kickback for donating to the Liberal Party?
    Mr. Speaker, transparency and accountability are critically important to this government. The rental agreement was negotiated based on fair market value. That was the agreement that we came to. It is about the location of this particular hotel and its proximity to the border. It was perfect for the CBSA's purposes, and that is why we secured this deal. Our government is delivering open, fair and transparent procurement processes while obtaining the best value for Canadians.
    Madam Speaker, in Quebec that is called graisser la patte.
    It has been an “all you can eat” buffet for connected Liberal insiders and cronies during the pandemic, who lined up to gorge on half a billion dollars in COVID spending, much of it untendered and sole source. With WE, Frank Baylis and SNC, the list is long, and here we have another example. The sponsorship scandal will look like a speck of sand in the desert compared with what has gone on.
    Yesterday the Liberals rejected my motion at the ethics committee to investigate COVID contracts, saying they did not want to stir the pot. I wonder why.
    Why do they not just get it off their chest and admit that this was payback for a Liberal donation?
    Mr. Speaker, the House has a lot of extraordinarily important matters in front of it. The question that has been posed by the member opposite, in my opinion, does not really have to do with the business of either this nation or this Parliament. If he wants to play politics and games, the space is right over there.

Ethics

    Mr. Speaker, I would not expect anything less from the Liberals.
    Last week, I asked the CRA to investigate a claim that the Liberal member for Calgary Skyview was directing people on how to fraudulently claim the CERB in his riding before he was elected as an MP. According to The Canadian Press, seven in 10 people over 15 in the riding received the CERB, one of the highest percentages in the country. When I asked the minister about this, she said that she takes all claims of CERB fraud seriously, even if it is against a member of the Liberal caucus, and will launch an investigation.
    Can the minister inform the House whether she has in fact started an investigation against the member for Calgary Skyview.
    Mr. Speaker, there are various places that we can spread allegations to see whether or not there is any truth to them. I would suggest that instead of using the privilege in this place to explore conspiracy theories, the member use the processes that are available to verify whether or not there is anything—
    Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
    Order, please. The hon. government House leader can continue. He was cut off.
    Mr. Speaker, I am ready to continue. Hopefully we will get a question about the business of this nation.

[Translation]

Small Businesses

     Mr. Speaker, our government announced the first-ever women entrepreneurship strategy, or WES, a $6‑billion program to advance women's economic empowerment.
    These investments are important social and economic measures that will be critical to building back better and promoting an inclusive economic recovery.
    Can the Minister of International Trade, Export Promotion, Small Business and Economic Development update us on the WES and how this program contributes to the success of women entrepreneurs?

  (1500)  

    Mr. Speaker, by unlocking the potential of women entrepreneurs, we add $150 billion to the economy. Through the WES ecosystem fund, our government is supporting major projects across the country. In budget 2021, we invested $147 million to provide women entrepreneurs with greater access to financing, mentorship and training.
    I look forward to announcing more good news soon.

[English]

Housing

    Mr. Speaker, as housing affordability spirals out of reach for young working Canadians, the Prime Minister continues to cite the first-time home buyer incentive as the signature policy for homebuyers. This program was ridiculed by industry and ignored by consumers, and has utterly failed to have any effect on access to home ownership.
    Will the Prime Minister admit that the first-time home buyer incentive was nothing more than a cheap pre-election gimmick that does nothing to increase housing supply?
    Mr. Speaker, the problem the Conservatives face is that before the election they had done nothing on affordable housing. They proposed no clear policy ideas. For nine years in government, they invested zero dollars in affordable housing. In fact, they downloaded affordable housing onto the provinces and municipalities. Now, when they have a chance to actually support policies that work, they do not propose anything. In fact, in the housing—
    I am going to stop the minister. I believe we have a technical problem.
    I will ask the minister to start over. Hopefully this time it will be quieter in the chamber and we will be able to hear the whole answer.
    Mr. Speaker, the problem the Conservatives face is that for nine years in power, they did not really invest in affordable housing. They did not have a program like the first-time home buyer incentive. In fact, they downloaded housing responsibility and investments in housing onto the provinces and municipalities. They did nothing to invest in the capacity of more Canadians to become homeowners, and they did not have the words “affordable housing” in their election platform. In fact, their recent housing motion did not have the words “affordable housing” in it.
    Now that they have a chance to support the throne speech commitments with respect to housing, they refuse to do so. They have no credibility on this issue.

Seniors

    Mr. Speaker, seniors living on a fixed income are among the hardest hit by the inflation crisis. There are quite a few seniors living in villages in my riding, often retired steelworkers from Hamilton. These are the seniors who built this country and made it strong. Recently I heard from Heinz in Flamborough, who had already been struggling with high heating costs and high grocery costs before this crisis. He has now been pushed to the brink.
    When will the government get serious about the inflation crisis so that seniors like Heinz will not go cold and hungry this winter?
    Mr. Speaker, on this side of the House, we have always supported seniors, especially the most vulnerable seniors. One of the first things we did as a government is restore the age of OAS and GIS from 67 to 65. We have enhanced the CPP, we have raised the GIS for single seniors and we have invested $6 billion in home care.
    We have an ambitious agenda for seniors. We have always had their backs and we will continue to make sure we do just that to support them.

Veterans Affairs

    Mr. Speaker, inflation is the highest it has been in 20 years. It is making everything more expensive, like the essentials: groceries, gas and heat. This is especially hard on people living on a fixed income like veterans. Our nation's heroes are watching their pensions lose buying power by the day, and they are being asked to get by with less and less.
    Why is the minister forcing our heroes to use food banks during this inflation crisis?

  (1505)  

    Mr. Speaker, this is a bit rich from a party that did nothing but slice veterans' funds. My hon. colleague—
    Son hon. members: Oh, oh!
    I will stop the minister. He is standing right next to me and I can barely hear him.
    The hon. minister.
    Mr. Speaker, I appreciate that my hon. colleague is giving me a chance to indicate what had happened and what has happened since we formed government.
    The fact is that we have invested billions of dollars in veterans to make sure they receive the appropriate funding they deserve. When the previous CPC government was in place, it slashed funding, fired Veterans Affairs employees and cut funding to veterans. We, as a government, have supplied more funding for veterans to make sure they have the appropriate funds they need. There is more to do and we will do more.

Health

    Mr. Speaker, over the past 18 months, our government has made historic investments in Canada's biomanufacturing sector to quickly reverse years of neglect under Conservative governments. Earlier this month, the Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry announced an exciting new agreement with Merck to manufacture life-saving COVID-19 therapies right here in Canada, in my riding of Whitby.
    Could the minister please elaborate on how this agreement will help further ensure the health and safety of Canadians as we move forward?
    Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member for his leadership. As members in the House know, it has been my absolute priority to grow the biomanufacturing sector in this country to ensure the health and safety of Canadians for generations to come. Our agreement with Merck means that we will be manufacturing therapies against COVID-19 right here in Canada, in Whitby, Ontario. This project will help grow our biomanufacturing sector and will help make Canada's expertise recognized around the world.
    We will continue to invest in biomanufacturing. We will continue to attract investment in this country for our workers and our health and safety.

Regional Economic Development

    Mr. Speaker, within the most recent supplementary estimates, the Liberal government has allocated no money to the regional economic development agency that supports small businesses, arts, tourism and community organizations in Alberta and the Prairies. This is outrageous at a time when the omicron variant is surging and Alberta's economy is suffering. The Prime Minister said he would have Canadians' backs, but clearly that is not the case.
    Will the Liberals immediately reverse this unfair decision and make sure all Canadians are supported through another long winter of COVID?
    Mr. Speaker, the regional development agencies have supported Canadians from coast to coast to coast from the beginning of the pandemic through the regional relief funds and now through the tourism relief fund. There was $15 billion for the tourism sector alone.
    The funding will continue. The supports will continue. We have had Canadians' backs and we will continue to do so.

The Environment

    Mr. Speaker, a new report from the Canada Energy Regulator says that oil production in 2050 will be pretty much what it is today. It is no wonder Canada is at the bottom of the G7 when it comes to climate action. We also have the Prime Minister's promise to plant two billion trees. That was a failure because what has he actually planted? It is only 0.5%. The only net zero that the government has actually delivered on is the Prime Minister's environmental credibility.
    Earth to the environment minister. The planet is on fire. When is he going to start showing up to help Canadians?
    Mr. Speaker, if my hon. colleague knew anything about tree planting, he would know that we need to grow the seedlings for between two and three years. I have planted trees—
    Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
    The hon. Minister of Environment, go ahead, from the top.

  (1510)  

    Mr. Speaker, as I was saying, anyone who has planted trees would know that it takes between two to three years to grow them so they can be safely planted. I have planted trees. I have even been known to hug trees from time to time.
    Our government is engaged in fighting climate change. We have invested $100 billion in the last six years, with more than 100 measures, and we will keep going.
    Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I was very concerned with the comments that were being made during extreme heckling from my Conservative colleagues. Could the environment minister tell us how long it takes to actually make a tree?
    I thank the hon. member, but that is not a point of order. The member will have to ask that question at the next question period.

Government Orders

[Government Orders]

[English]

Criminal Code and Controlled Drugs and Substances Act

    The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-5, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
    Mr. Speaker, the Liberal government understands that judges play a very important role in providing additional discretion when looking at the circumstances while sentencing. Why does the Conservative Party not have faith in our judges in Canada?
    Mr. Speaker, if the hon. member had actually listened to my speech, he would know that at no point in time did I indicate that we, as the Conservative caucus, have no faith in judicial discretion in levelling appropriate sentences.
    As a Crown attorney for the last 18 years, I was in front of judges every single day. My point was that sufficient tools already exist within the Criminal Code for judges to exercise that discretion. They certainly do not need any further assistance from the Liberal government.
    Mr. Speaker, I certainly listened intently to the member's speech. His experience as a Crown prosecutor in Ontario excellently lends itself to the debate.
    There are changes in the bill to conditional sentencing. Obviously, if any mother were to see that someone who is charged with kidnapping could be given a conditional sentence, as in house arrest, they would find it egregious and wrong. Are there other offences that the member believes should not be subject to a conditional arrest?
    Mr. Speaker, that is a very important question. In my respectful opinion, everything in Bill C-5 concerned with removing those offences, which are currently delineated under section 742, the conditional sentence regime, all relate to serious violent offences.
    To the member's point, kidnapping, sexual assault, criminal harassment and abduction are all serious personal injury offences. In my speech, I was trying to indicate that there are absolutely zero references to amending section 742 to highlight that those offences the bill is delineating can still be substantiated by way of a conditional sentence.
    A condition precedent to section 742 is that justice must be satisfied that an offender serving that sentence in the community does not pose a risk. Those offenders convicted of a sexual assault, criminal harassment or kidnapping most definitely pose a community risk. Moreover, section 752 of the Criminal Code talks about excluding any offences where there is a serious personal injury offence. Kidnapping certainly qualifies for this, as do sexual assault, criminal harassment and abduction.

  (1515)  

    Mr. Speaker, we heard a lot of people talk about what is missing in this bill and the shortfalls in this bill, especially when it comes to dealing with the health crisis of the overdose and opioid crisis. We have heard many people calling for decriminalization.
    As a judge, does the member agree with the police chiefs association, medical health officers, social workers, those in science and those leading experts in dealing with the overdose crisis that we need to decriminalize personal possession and ensure that everybody has a safe supply.
    I would love to hear his perspective as a former judge, given that this is becoming a well-rounded support from right across the country, including the requests from Toronto, British Columbia and Vancouver for an exemption under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.
    Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my hon. colleague personally for the elevation of my past career. I was not a judge of the Ontario provincial court or Superior Court. Rather, I was a Crown attorney.
    To address the important issue the member raised, there already exists a regime that vests federal prosecutors, as it does with provincial prosecutors, in exercising their discretion appropriately to deal with individuals struggling with substance abuse, and to be very creative in how they wish to prosecute or what sort of representations they make to a justice to deal with the rehabilitation issue.
    Mr. Speaker, it is a huge privilege and honour to rise today to speak to Bill C-5.
    I also want to take the opportunity to thank the people of Courtenay—Alberni for re-electing me for the third time. I am deeply honoured. I also want to extend my thanks not just to my supporters but to my family as well, especially my three children, who have been there supporting me on this incredible journey to fight for our country and for their future.
    When it comes to Bill C-5, we are hearing a lot from the Liberals that this is a silver-bullet approach to addressing racial injustice and the overdose crisis by eliminating mandatory minimum sentences for drug offences and a few other firearms and tobacco offences. This is naive, and it is misplaced.
    As New Democrats, we support removing mandatory minimum penalties for all but the most serious offences. This means that we support the removal of mandatory minimums for all drug offences, expanding access to alternative incentives for personal possession and diversion programs. Decriminalization of personal possession remains the preferred option for minor offences, as it would remove police, prosecutors and courts as barriers to addiction treatment.
    When it comes to the crisis we are dealing with, we need to ensure that we are taking action quickly. The idea of making conditional sentencing more widely available for court sentences for minor drug cases is just not enough to address the runaway public health emergency, this opioid crisis, that is taking place, which is in parallel to the COVID crisis.
    A simpler and less costly approach is the full decriminalization of possession of drugs for personal use and the expungement of previous criminal records for personal possession, combined with access for drug users to get a regular safe supply, treatment and supportive housing. We are talking about a comprehensive strategy to address the overdose emergency and save lives. This needs to happen urgently.
    We could be debating a more comprehensive strategy, but instead the government has put very little effort in the bill before us, choosing instead to reintroduce almost exactly the same bill from the 43rd Parliament, which could have been passed. Instead, they held an unnecessary and costly election. The Liberals have failed.
    Canadians who use drugs must be free from the threat of criminalization and the fear of losing their liberty and access to substances on which they depend. Criminal records for personal possession must be expunged to remove an often insurmountable barrier to employment and housing. We must assure the right of users to a safe supply of low-barrier, regulated drugs as an alternative to the poisoned substances, which are resulting in an epidemic of overdose deaths. Access to treatment therapies that address the root causes of drug use must be available as a component of public health in our system, and supportive housing, complete with the wraparound services essential for maintaining healthy lifestyle balance, must be made available.
    New Democrats are not alone in calling for a comprehensive approach to addressing the overdose crisis and the implementation of these measures. We are in good company.
    First and foremost, Canadians across the country support the overall decriminalization of possession for personal use. With every passing month, the calls for decriminalization become louder, as Canadians are confronted with the evidence of the overdose public health emergency in their communities.
    Every one of us in the House dreads the call from a constituent who has lost a son, daughter, parent or friend to an overdose from a poisoned drug supply. I have received this call far too often over my six years in the House, and it is not an exaggeration to say that the majority of my constituents know a family affected by the tragedy of overdose.
    I hear from them about drug users hiding in the shadows in fear of apprehension and criminal prosecution. In fact, my daughter was just at the funeral a week and a half ago of her friend, an 18-year-old young woman who died from a poisoned drug supply. Sadly, this situation is not uncommon to hear about in the House.
    In addition to hearing from everyday Canadians, we have heard from public health experts from across the country. Dr. Bonnie Henry, the B.C. provincial health officer in my province, continues to call for decriminalization. Most recently, Dr. de Villa, the medical officer of health for the City of Toronto, as well as the former medical officer of health for Yukon, who now sits in the House, and their colleagues from one municipality and provincial jurisdiction to another, from coast to coast to coast, are pleading for simple possession to be decriminalized.

  (1520)  

    It is not a matter for the criminal justice system. It is a health issue. We keep hearing the government say it is a health issue, but it is still treating it as a criminal issue. In this bill, the government is continuing to do that.
    These are the same public health experts that I just mentioned, who guided our response in the COVID-19 pandemic. We listened to them and heeded their professional advice often, and now we are ignoring them when it comes to the opioid crisis. They are saying the same thing, that we need evidence-based science to lead us out of this terrible crisis, and they are being ignored by the government. They are calling for decriminalization of possession of illicit drugs. This bill could have done that.
    Standing with the public health community are Canada's police chiefs, who also called for decriminalization. They know first-hand the failure of the criminalization of drug use. They know first-hand the deadly consequences of exposure to an increasingly toxic supply of street drugs across this country. Increasingly, we are hearing the same message from local and national media across the country. It is like Groundhog Day. Every day we read another editorial by journalists who are hearing from their readers and seeing the evidence of a public health emergency that requires the decriminalization of personal possession, the expungement of criminal records, access to a safe supply of low-barrier regulated drugs, therapeutic support through treatment programs, and supportive housing for those in need.
    We are in good company in calling for these measures. Public health experts, law enforcement officials, the media and everyday Canadians across the country, persuaded by overwhelming evidence, have determined that exposure to death by overdose must stop now.
    The evidence that is underpinning this call for a comprehensive approach is an 87% increase in opioid overdose deaths in Manitoba last year over the previous year. In British Columbia, as we just heard, there were over 200 deaths in one month. That is the most on record. The COVID-19 pandemic has made it worse, forcing the closure of harm reduction locations and driving users further underground. Currently it is estimated that eight people are dying every day in Ontario, over six in B.C., and 20 across our country. In fact, the overdoses have increased in all regions of this country. We are seeing how it is disproportionately impacting Black, indigenous and racialized Canadians.
    In October, B.C. chief coroner Lisa Lapointe noted that illicit drug toxicity killed 201 people, the same number as an entire year of deaths 10 years ago. She is calling for a regulated safer supply and decriminalized possession of small amounts for personal use. Just last week, she said that a comprehensive plan to ensure access to safe supply is essential. Shifting from a punishment and stigmatizing regime to a decriminalized, health-focused model is a critical step in reducing suffering and saving lives.
    Again, we keep hearing from the Liberals that they are treating this as a health issue. We have heard the overwhelming advice from police chiefs and health officials that we need to take the first steps, which are decriminalization of personal possession and providing a safe supply.
    Why has the Liberal government chosen not to listen to its own health professionals? To end the stigma, the government needs to act, but the stigma starts with the Prime Minister. He has not taken action. He is ignoring his own health experts. He is ignoring parents. He is ignoring the moms and the dads, the parents who have lost loved ones.
    I am going to go straight to Gary Mason, who wrote this in The Globe and Mail:
     I feel a sense of hopelessness. Giving out free drugs such as heroin to “addicts” just seems to be too big a leap for governments and society generally. Allowing people to die from their addictions is easier to accept. Which is just crazy when you think about it. Imagine seeing more than 8,500 people die from a drug overdose in just over five years as easier to accept than making a courageous effort to do something that could really make a difference.
     At this point, what is there to lose?
    I guess the answer is votes.
    It is true that politicians are in the way of saving lives right now, and people are dying as a result of the inaction.

  (1525)  

    Mr. Speaker, I want to ask the member opposite about the conditional sentencing orders that are being introduced here in Bill C-5, to see how that will impact his community and ensure that there is more fairness in the criminal justice system.
    Mr. Speaker, I had a hard time hearing the question, but I will say that this bill does not even come close to going far enough. Right now they are talking about leaving it in the hands of judges and police. This is not going to prevent people from coming out of the shadows and from using small amounts of drugs.
    We heard the evidence. The government's own expert panel on substance use from its own department suggested decriminalization and safe supply as first steps. Why is it ignoring its own expert panel? Why is it taking so long? Every day it does not take action, lives are lost in this country, over 20 a day. Why? Why is it taking so long?
    Mr. Speaker, as a member of Parliament from British Columbia, I will also just recognize the impact that the opioid crisis is having. We are seeing a record number of people dying. I presented a motion in the last Parliament regarding steps we could take, including recovery programs, investments and so on.
    Some of the debate here seems to be a little off as far as debating Bill C-5. I am thinking about mandatory minimums. I think of a girl called Heather Thomas, who died. She was suffocated and killed when she was 10 years old, and her body was thrown into a lake not far from where I live. The criminal was also stalking someone I love.
    I wonder about mandatory minimums for people who do these sex crimes against young people. Can the member comment?

  (1530)  

    Mr. Speaker, we have made it absolutely clear that we are not talking about supporting or removing mandatory minimum penalties for the most serious offences. Judicial discretion gives judges the ability to ensure that those who have committed heinous crimes pay the price. The member is very wrong to say that I am delineating away from the bill. The bill is talking about still criminalizing people for personal possession of drugs.
    I wonder why the Conservatives are going to sit on the sidelines. They have not brought any comprehensive ideas forward that will save lives right now. They are part of the problem. They are failing to take the bold and courageous action that is necessary, to listen to the science and to listen to the experts across this country, including the police chiefs and medical health officers. They are failing.
    We need to do more. We need to work collaboratively together. We need to let science, our health officials and our police chiefs guide us through this terrible tragedy that is taking place in our country.

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, I share my colleague's concerns about diversion. Obviously, drug use is a health issue that we must do more to address, and it is not a legal issue. We are not going to heal people by sending them to prison.
    That being said, I have already expressed my discomfort with the fact that the government is proposing to reduce or abolish minimum sentences for firearms offences while these firearms are circulating illegally on our streets in Montreal.
    Would my colleague agree that the government should address the problem of the illegal circulation and importation of firearms before proposing to reduce or abolish these minimum sentences, if not at the same time?

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the question from my colleague and good friend. That was a good question.
    Right now in the Criminal Code, section 718.2 allows judges to increase or decrease sentencing depending on aggravating circumstances, so it still does give judges the discretion to ensure that they are taking action on these serious offences.
    In terms of the conversation I have been having a lot around decriminalization, safe supply and taking action on the opioid crisis, I hope my colleague and the Bloc will support the work we are doing in this House, so we can all work collectively together to listen to those experts, especially the expert panel on substance use here in Canada.

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise to debate Bill C-5. I have to say that this is not a straightforward subject; it is extremely complex.
    As I am not a lawyer, I, too, have to make sense of it all. I want to thank the office staff of the leader of the Bloc Québécois, who have really helped clarify this issue. Bill C-5 addresses two extremely important issues. I believe it would be worthwhile to have two separate debates, and I will move a motion about that a little later.
    Debating both issues at the same time is complicated because we might be against abolishing mandatory minimum sentences and in favour of decriminalization. This complicates the debate a little. In the case of mandatory minimums for offences committed with a firearm, we are looking at 20 specific mandatory minimums. In the case of simple drug possession, we are looking at decriminalization. I think we need to look at these two issues separately.
    As I said, I am not a lawyer. However, I have heard lawyers on the same team debate this subject and it is hard to have a simple opinion. It is hard to choose black or white, because there are several grey areas in all of this. We will try to untangle it all together and weigh the various arguments.
    There are several arguments in favour of eliminating mandatory minimum sentences, and there are several against it. In my opinion, it is important that we consider all the arguments.
    The Liberal government promised to quickly reintroduce Bill C‑22 from the last Parliament. It also promised to reintroduce what we referred to as Bill C‑236. By merging these two items into one bill, the government is giving the impression that it wants to act hastily. However, when we try to move too fast, we often make mistakes or do things wrong. I think the impression we give people is important.
    In the current context, Bill C-5 sends out a peculiar message. Let me explain: Canada is in the midst of a gun violence crisis. My colleagues have likely heard me talk about firearms and the situation in Montreal and other major urban centres during the various question periods. Almost every day, we hear about a new firearm death.
    The circumstances and timing are therefore not really appropriate. We have been calling on the minister for three weeks to take the first real step to combat the trafficking of illegal firearms, and to tighten gun control and border measures. Ultimately, the first step the government took was to introduce this bill, which proposes eliminating mandatory minimum sentences for certain firearms offences.
    The message that sends is a bit odd. It does not really reassure anyone. Montreal families are worried, especially mothers who have lost a son and are waiting for gun control measures to be tightened. People are afraid to go out in the evening and take a walk in their own neighbourhood, which used to be safe. I doubt that these people feel reassured when they are told that the only thing the Liberal government has done so far to combat gun trafficking is to abolish the mandatory minimum sentences related to such offences.
    The context is different and we, as parliamentarians, have to consider that. Everything is changing. The context is changing. When Bill C‑22 was introduced, the context was different, even though this was a problem across the country. I think that we have no choice but to take that into consideration.
    I am talking specifically about firearms because I am very familiar with this file. It should be noted that some mandatory minimum sentences that are set to be eliminated have to do with drug possession while the opioid crisis is raging both in Quebec and in the rest of Canada. It is rather odd to be introducing this bill at this stage.
    That being said, the Bloc Québécois is usually in favour of the principle of rehabilitation and crime reduction in a different context.

  (1535)  

    There is a tendency to have a fairly high degree of trust in judges, and I think they should be given the benefit of the doubt and the flexibility needed to decide what sentence to impose for an offence.
    It is important to keep in mind that if certain mandatory minimum sentences were to be abolished overnight, that does not mean that someone who has committed offences will not be charged. It means that we are leaving it up to the judge to decide the best way to ensure public safety.
    If a mandatory minimum sentence exists, the judge can impose a harsher sentence if they feel that that is the right thing to do. However, the judge cannot go below the mandatory minimum. That is my concern. If individuals can be punished for their offences, but rehabilitated in ways other than being sent to prison, I think that can be beneficial. People often become more criminalized as a result of entering this cycle. Other options need to be considered. That is a pretty strong argument, I think, for abolishing mandatory minimum sentences.
    Another argument is that it has long been accepted that mandatory minimum sentences do not deter certain kinds of targeted crimes. For example, it is a well-known fact that mandatory minimum sentences have virtually no effect on drug trafficking. Research in the United States and Malaysia has proven this. Both countries have strict minimum sentences for drug trafficking. However, this has not led to any change in drug use within the population. Rather, this only puts more small dealers in prison. Unfortunately, the focus is on the bottom of the ladder, when these individuals are often not irrevocably on that path. We could remedy all that and not necessarily send them directly to prison.
    As for the effects of mandatory minimum sentences on firearms, no credible study has established that sentences have a deterrent effect on firearms offences. I think that someone who is planning to commit a crime or who commits a crime that is not premeditated does not say to themselves that they will not do it because there is a mandatory minimum sentence for that offence. Those who commit gun crime are either not aware of the consequences or they do not care about them and will commit the crime anyway.
    I believe that even though the context is problematic, we agree that abolishing mandatory minimum sentences can be a good thing. However, it is not just about the context. Some details warrant further study.
    In this case, Bill C-5 abolishes several mandatory minimum sentences for second and third offences. As I was saying, mandatory minimum sentences for a first offence may impact social reintegration, but keeping certain mandatory minimum sentences for second or even third offences could be justified to uphold the credibility of our legal system.
    For example, the use of a firearm or imitation firearm to commit an offence is currently punishable by a mandatory minimum sentence of three years, which also applies to a second or subsequent offence. Under Bill C‑5, this would be scrapped.
    However, an individual who uses a firearm or imitation firearm for a second or third offence deserves to be held accountable for that, in my view. It is worth considering.
    My time is running out, so I will not have time to go into the second item that this bill addresses, diversion. What I would suggest to the government is that it simply split the bill. The government should withdraw Bill C‑5 and introduce two new separate bills. I think that would be a good solution.
    The first bill would deal with diversion, which is represented by the part entitled “Evidence-based Diversion Measures” in the current Bill C‑5. The House could vote on the principle of the bill at second reading.
    The second bill would deal with mandatory minimum sentences and would be sent to committee before second reading. That would give members a chance to examine the principle of the bill prior to second reading and propose amendments that would change its scope. Immediate referral to committee before second reading would allow for a full study on the subject.
    That is the Bloc Québécois' proposal to the government. I hope it will be well received.

  (1540)  

    Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for her speech.
    First, I would like to say that on the issue of gun violence, nothing in Bill C‑5 removes penalties for those involved in serious gun crimes.
    My question is simple. With respect to the discretion that judges have to assess the specific circumstances of a case, does my colleague agree with me that judges are in a better position to have that discussion than members of the House?
    Mr. Speaker, I wholeheartedly agree with my colleague, and I did talk about that.
    Judges are best equipped to do that, and they need the flexibility to decide what penalty best fits the crime. The good thing about mandatory minimum sentences is that sentences can be greater; unfortunately, they cannot be lesser. That is the problem.
    There has to be a way to offer another solution, such as reintegration or other alternatives that would enable us to get incarcerated individuals out of the cycle of crime.

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask my hon. friend a couple of questions. First, does the Bloc Québécois stand for the proposition that all mandatory minimums under the Criminal Code and CDSA ought to be eliminated?
    If her response is yes, I would ask her this. Because she feels that judges are best equipped to render appropriate sentences, does she feel all judges across this great country all think alike and will all deliver sentencing to appropriately deal with all of the sentencing principles with respect to gun offences, such as denunciation and deterrence?

  (1545)  

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, I would not go so far as to say it is a panacea. We cannot lump everything together because every case is different, as evidenced by the fact that Bill C‑5 covers 20 specific mandatory minimum sentences. I have expressed reservations about some of them, especially gun crimes, so I think we need to keep things in perspective.
    Judges have all the skills to determine which response to a given offence will keep people safe. Two different people commit the same offence, but the response to each can be very different.
    We cannot lump everything together and say that all mandatory minimum sentences should be abolished tomorrow morning. I think it has been shown that they can be beneficial in some cases.

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, I listened with great care to the speech by the member for Avignon—La Mitis—Matane—Matapédia because I am trying to understand the Bloc's position on this bill. She very eloquently laid out the arguments against mandatory minimums and talked about how they in fact do not accomplish what people think they do.
    Then she said the timing was awkward. I cannot imagine why there would be bad timing for anything that would take away one of the main measures that results in more indigenous people, Black people and people living poverty ending up in prison, so I am confused. Why is that an objection to the bill?

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, I would say to my colleague that it is fairly simple. We support abolishing certain mandatory minimum sentences. However, there are shootings practically every week in Quebec and Canada.
    We have asked the ministers and the government to take a first step to show that they are serious about this issue and that they can tighten gun control. However, the government's first step was to introduce Bill C-5, which will eliminate certain mandatory minimums for firearms offences. That sends a peculiar message.
    I understand that there is never a right time to introduce any legislation, but we have to move forward with this type of bill. The proposal to split the bill would make it possible to take the time to better study each element.
    We should remember that the situation in Montreal is difficult right now. We are asking the government to take action to control gun trafficking, but Bill C‑5 does not seem to be the appropriate response.

[English]