The House resumed consideration of Bill , as reported (with amendments) from the committee, and of the motions in Group No. 1.
Madam Speaker, today we are debating Bill at report stage. It is actually hard to believe that a bill this reckless with the safety and security of Canadians has even gotten this far in the legislative process.
This bill seeks to make changes to the Criminal Code in order to make life easier for criminals charged with violent firearm offences and criminals who are fuelling the opioid crisis in Canada. The Liberals have made themselves dizzy by the amount of spin they put on Bill , but today I want Canadians to hear just the facts about this dangerous piece of legislation.
Most of the offences we are discussing today, for which the Liberals want to get rid of mandatory jail time, are crimes that involve firearms. However, the Liberal government has chosen to leave in the Criminal Code many of the mandatory minimum penalties, particularly some escalating ones around gun violence that came in under the previous Conservative government.
I want to make another point before I get too far into my speech. The charges for which the government is removing mandatory jail time are not for an otherwise innocent individual who was in the wrong place at the wrong time. This bill specifically allows repeat offenders to avoid mandatory jail sentences. These are hardened criminals who have already made the choice to live outside the law and have not made an effort to change their behaviour. These are the people the Liberals are helping with Bill .
In the government press release announcing Bill , there was not a single mention of guns or gun violence. How, then, would the average Canadian know that this bill would eliminate mandatory jail time for criminals charged with robbery with a firearm; extortion with a firearm; weapons trafficking; importing or exporting knowing that a firearm is unauthorized; discharging a firearm with intent; using a firearm in the commission of an offence; possession of a prohibited or restricted firearm with ammunition; possession of a weapon obtained by the commission of an offence; and possession for the purpose of weapons trafficking, just to name a few? These are the very offences that are ripped from the headlines today, the stories that we are hearing in many of our large cities of gang crimes and drive-by shootings. These are the types of offences for which mandatory jail time would be removed in Bill .
Why would the Liberals keep Canadians in the dark about getting rid of mandatory jail time for these serious offences? I am sure they are familiar with these mandatory prison sentences, as most of them were actually introduced by previous Liberal governments. The Liberal Party used to recognize that public safety should be a key factor.
In 2007, Roy Cullen, the former parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Public Safety, said that the Liberals “support mandatory minimums for gun related crimes because the research shows they work.” It was Marlene Jennings, the former parliamentary secretary to the Solicitor General of Canada, who correctly stated, “It was a Liberal government that recognized minimum mandatory penalties in very targeted areas could send a clear message and could be effective in the sense of removing the offender from the community and ensuring that the victim and the community were not re-victimized.” In the 2006 election campaign, the Liberal Party of Canada, under the Right Hon. Paul Martin, ran on a promise to increase mandatory minimum sentences.
The version of the Liberal Party that we see today is not using Bill to reverse Conservative policies. The Liberals are using Bill to turn away from their own party's long-established values.
Unfortunately, Canadians are seeing the same disregard for foundational beliefs among the members of the NDP as well. It was not so long ago that the former NDP leader, the late Jack Layton, ran on a platform that promised to increase the mandatory minimum penalty for the possession, sale and importation of illegal arms such as handguns, assault rifles and automatic weapons. He also promised to add mandatory minimum sentences to other weapons offences. It is hard to believe how in such a short time, the Liberals and the NDP have turned their backs on the principles and values that were deeply held by their predecessors.
I want to be very clear: The changes to the Criminal Code imposed by Bill are a radical shift away from long-standing and bipartisan values and principles held by members of this House when it comes to public safety.
The Liberal members and the government across the way cannot pretend that they have not recognized the rising rate of violence in Canadian communities. They have seen it first-hand in their own ridings. While support for this bill would indicate otherwise, I am sure many of the Liberal members are aware of the tragic firearms incidents that are happening weekly in their own ridings. We are talking about gun violence on the streets of Canada's big cities every day.
The member for would be aware of the increasingly bold behaviour of violent firearm offenders. In April, a young person was rushed to a hospital in life-threatening condition following a shooting at a townhouse complex in her riding in the middle of the afternoon. The member for is well aware that in his riding, less than a month ago, a young man was shot just after 1 o'clock in the afternoon. Just a few weeks ago, on May 11, the Montreal police announced that the city's ninth homicide this year had taken place shortly after 4 o'clock in the afternoon. That shooting occurred in the riding of Papineau.
Criminals carrying firearms are become more brazen, and it is happening right in the Liberal members' own backyards. Instead of coming down hard on these violent offenders, the Liberals are rewarding their behaviour by giving them changes to the Criminal Code as proposed in Bill .
André Gélinas is a retired detective sergeant with the Montreal police service with years of experience, particularly with gang violence in Montreal. We have all seen the headlines out of big urban centres like Montreal and the rising gun and gang violence terrorizing communities within Canadian cities. The retired sergeant told the justice committee, in no uncertain terms, that “anything remotely related to firearms trafficking must continue to be subject to mandatory minimum sentences.” He called Bill “a race to the bottom.”
Anie Samson is a former municipal councillor and mayor whose jurisdiction included the most multicultural neighbourhood in Montreal. Unfortunately, this neighbourhood had a very high crime rate. It was also in the top 10 of the poorest neighbourhoods in Canada. Ms. Samson has shared heartbreaking stories about youth and even young children being victimized and targeted by organized crime in her community.
When Ms. Samson spoke to our committee last month, she told us that not only would Bill fail to protect the young people in her community from getting involved in criminal activity, but abolishing certain mandatory minimum penalties would actually increase the feeling of impunity for criminal behaviour that we are seeing every day in the headlines.
She went on to say that criminal organizations are becoming more bold in our communities and have less regard for the law and for the implications of getting caught and facing some kind of consequence. Bill makes that stark reality even worse. In other words, Bill gives gang members licence to continue to terrorize her community, a community that already faces a multitude of hardships.
I should also mention that the borough of Montreal that Ms. Samson represented as mayor also happens to be in the home riding of the . Over the past seven years, it has become increasingly obvious that the Prime Minister does not prioritize the safety and security of Canadians in general, but it is particularly disappointing and even cruel that he would disregard the safety and security of his own constituents.
In contrast, justice committee members were privileged to hear from individuals and organizations who care very deeply about the safety and security of all Canadians, in particular those who have been victimized by violent crime or have lost a loved one due to some of the offences where punishment will be reduced by Bill .
In this bill, the Liberals are making more criminal charges eligible to receive conditional sentences, also known as house arrest. There may be cases where house arrest is acceptable, but house arrest should never be made available to dangerous offenders and criminals whose actions have victimized an innocent person or family.
The fact of the matter is this: The crimes that would become eligible for house arrest under the Liberals' Bill are not victimless crimes and are, in fact, dangerous. Should a criminal who abducted a child under the age of 14 be eligible for house arrest? The Liberal government says yes. Should a criminal who benefits financially from the scourge of human trafficking be eligible for house arrest? The Liberal government says yes. Should someone convicted of kidnapping get house arrest? The Liberal government says yes. Should criminals charged with sexual assault be able to serve their time back in the same community of their victims? I would argue absolutely not, but the Liberal government says that it is absolutely appropriate.
The Liberals are trying to expand house arrest for those charged with prison breach. In what world does one reward people for trying to break out of jail by offering them a sentence of house arrest? This is just one example of how the Liberal government is trying to make a complete mockery of the Canadian justice system.
I will wrap up my remarks. I will be very strongly voting against Bill , and I encourage all members of this House to do the same.
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to participate in the third reading debate of Bill , an act to amend the Criminal Code and the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. Let me begin by acknowledging that I am speaking from the traditional unceded lands of the Algonquin peoples.
At the outset, I would like to thank my colleagues at the justice committee for their diligent work in improving this bill and moving it forward and the many witnesses who came forward to speak about their lived experiences.
Bill addresses systemic racism and discrimination in the criminal justice system by promoting a fairer and more effective justice system that, among other things, would provide courts with increased judicial discretion at sentencing through the elimination of some mandatory minimum penalties of imprisonments and of restrictions on the imposition of conditional sentences of imprisonment. Further, the bill promotes alternatives to charging and prosecuting individuals in cases involving simple possession of drugs.
We see again here the opposition attempting to reinstate mandatory minimum penalties in the legislation when we have clearly seen that MMPs do not work. I am proud of the announcement our government made Monday to crack down on illegal and dangerous firearms in Canada, including raising maximum penalties for many firearm offences. Together with this bill, we would be restoring discretion to judges, ensuring that their fair sentences can be applied and that serious crimes would still receive serious sentences.
The Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights has now concluded its study of the bill and has decided to report the bill back to the House of Commons with four amendments, which I believe strengthen the bill.
Bill 's amendments would provide space to treat the simple possession of drugs as a health issue rather than a criminal one, as it should be, and is consistent with the announcement made by the Minister of Mental Health and Addictions for British Columbia yesterday. The bill requires police and prosecutors to consider alternative measures, including diverting individuals to treatment programs, giving a warning or taking no further action, instead of laying charges or prosecuting individuals for simple possession of an illegal drug. Further, it would provide a declaration of principles to guide police and Crown prosecutors in the exercise of their discretion.
Among other principles, the bill would recognize that scarce judicial resources should be reserved for offences that pose a risk to public safety and that criminal sanctions imposed in respect of the possession of drugs for personal use are not consistent with established public health evidence.
The principles enacted under Bill do not condone the sale of drugs, as that may result in the death of the purchasers, including purchasers who may be youths and first-time users and who are at greater health risks from consuming highly concentrated drugs. Condoning the sale of drugs would be contrary to the government's ongoing efforts to combat the opioid crisis and deaths. Further, such an approach would also be contrary to the harm reduction and prevention pillar of the Canadian drugs and substances strategy.
Let me be clear that Bill is only one part of a larger government strategy to fight the ongoing opioid crisis. On May 31, 2022, the announced the granting of a time-limited exemption, under subsection 56(1) of the CDSA, to exempt the application of the simple possession offence to the personal possession of small amounts of controlled substances, which is commonly involved in overdose deaths by adults 18 years or older in the province of British Columbia. The exemption is part of the province's comprehensive approach to address the overdose crisis and is intended to reduce harm for people who use drugs and promote better access to life-saving health services in the territory.
Before I go into the other parts of the amendment, I do want to highlight the report by the Auditor General of Canada to Parliament from yesterday. When I speak about the need to avoid prison sentences for those who pose virtually no threat to the public, particularly from racialized communities, and indigenous and Black communities, it is because we know that systemic racism is prevalent within many parts of the criminal justice system.
The report by the Auditor General from yesterday makes it crystal clear that there is a disparity in the manner in which we treat indigenous and Black offenders. For example, and I would like to read parts of the report, it says, “Indigenous and Black offenders...faced greater barriers to a safe and gradual reintegration into society” than other incarcerated groups.
The report goes on to say, “Indigenous and Black offenders remained in custody longer and at higher levels of security before release.” Essentially, Correctional Services categorizes offenders based on low, medium and high risk, and it is clear that there is a disparity in the manner in which it classifies indigenous and Black offenders. For example, the report continues, “We found that Indigenous and Black offenders were placed at higher security levels on admission into custody at twice the average rate of other offenders.”
The report then says:
We found that, although the majority of offenders were released on parole before the end of their sentences, fewer Indigenous offenders were released when first eligible. In fact, more Indigenous offenders remained in custody until their statutory release and were released directly into the community from higher levels of security.
This means that they did not obtain the right level of support for them to go into the community and integrate. The report continues, “Indigenous offenders served longer portions of their sentences in custody than the average, placing them at a disadvantage to access early release or parole.”
I believe this report is important to the discussion today because, when we speak about ensuring that we minimize those going into the criminal justice system, we are not saying that we treat everyone the same. We are saying that, if a person poses no risk and is a low-risk offender who does not belong in jail, then they have other alternatives. As a government bill, Bill would address some of the root causes of both mandatory minimum penalties and avoiding jail sentences, which we know from the Auditor General's report does have adverse impacts on indigenous and Black Canadians, particularly indigenous women and young Black men.
I will now talk about the amendments that Bill would make.
The first amendment would be to clarify the kind of information to be kept in the police record on warnings or referrals, the use of such records and to whom they may be disclosed. For instance, once amended, any information contained in the record of warning or referral may be made available to a judge or a court for any purpose relating to offence proceedings for the preparation of a pre-sentence report but limited to circumstances to which the record relates. These changes address the concerns raised by several witnesses that records could be improperly applied, which would frustrate the objectives of the bill to promote diversion while recognizing that police officers are legally and ethically bound to keep notes to facilitate various operational requirements of the criminal justice system.
To address these concerns, a second amendment would provide a mechanism to reduce the stigma associated with convictions for simple possession of drugs by specifying that past and future convictions must be kept separate and apart from other criminal convictions after a certain period of time. These new measures would need to be implemented two years after the coming into force of the bill in the case of convictions that occurred before the bill came into force, two years after the conviction or completion of an offender's sentence, or in the case of conviction after Bill is enforced.
The third amendment would provide an express provision to clarify that no social worker, medical professional or service provider would be committing the offence of simple possession when they come into possession of a controlled substance in the course of their duties when they have the intent to, within a reasonable period, lawfully dispose of it. We believe that this particular amendment is covered in the “innocent possession” common law defence, and we were able to work with the opposition in order to strengthen the bill to have a bit more clarity, which is incorporated herein.
The last amendment from Bill would require a comprehensive review of the provisions and operations of the bill to be undertaken by the House on the fourth anniversary of the bill coming into force.
In conclusion, Bill is a very important step forward in addressing common sense criminal law reform. Mandatory minimum penalties, in many cases, have not had a positive impact on communities, particularly indigenous, Black and other racialized communities, and this bill is a very important step forward in addressing the systemic racism that we have within the criminal justice system.
Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak to Bill . I find this bill important but disheartening at the same time. The way in which the bill was presented is deplorable, and that is very sad. Bill C‑5 is really two bills in one. The first decriminalizes certain offences, and the second establishes diversion measures while also abolishing minimum sentences. These are two very different issues.
We are comfortable with the elimination of certain minimum sentences. Generally speaking, the Bloc Québécois believes that minimum sentences are not a cure-all. We think that they can actually be harmful in many cases and that we should trust the judges overseeing criminal trials. However, we believe that minimum sentences can be useful in some circumstances.
It would be especially unfortunate to eliminate them at the wrong time. Right now, gun violence is on the rise in Montreal and many other Canadian cities, and people want the government to do something. The government proposed Bill in an effort to control the circulation of legal weapons. However, the bill does nothing about the illegal weapons being used by street gangs to commit crimes and shoot people in the streets.
The Bloc says that this problem needs to be addressed, and we have some suggestions. For months now, we have been standing up in the House and talking about the need to identify organized criminal gangs and include targeted measures against members of criminal gangs in the Criminal Code. We have proposed a joint task force to stem the trafficking of illegal guns through indigenous reserves. People on the reserves have agreed to work with us on this plan. We have proposed more funding for border controls, to no avail. All of these measures would help curtail shootings, but the government has done nothing in this respect.
Now we have Bill , which not only does nothing to fight gun violence committed with illegal weapons, but which also eliminates mandatory minimum sentences for crimes that I believe are pretty serious. I hardly consider armed robbery to be a trivial matter. Armed extortion is not a trivial matter either, nor is discharging a firearm with intent to wound, maim or disfigure. The government wants to eliminate the minimum sentences for these crimes just as the public is expressing concern. People want the government to do something to reassure them. Not only is the government responding by doing nothing, but it is eliminating the minimum sentences for these crimes. I am appalled.
At the same time, the government is establishing diversion measures for certain offences involving illicit substances. It is offering diversion for possession of substances for personal use. Rather than sending a person with drug addiction to prison, we will provide treatment. We will help the person regain control of their life and become a useful member of society again. That is a good thing.
However, these are two completely different subjects. The government is taking Parliament hostage by saying this is a package deal. Members are being forced to decide whether they are totally for it or totally against it. I find that appalling. In my opinion, that is a way of muzzling democracy.
I would have liked to hear my colleague from the governing party speak to this aspect of the issue. Why did his party refuse to split the bill from the beginning, as we requested? That would have made it a lot easier to work on. In any case, we have to live with it now. It is what it is.
Getting back to what I was saying about minimum sentences, there is a major problem with some of the offences. We tried to find solutions. The Bloc Québécois is against many things, but we are also in favour of certain things. Above all, we try to improve the bills that come through the House. Whenever we can make them acceptable and make sure they reflect the values and interests of the people we represent, we are happy to do so.
In this spirit, we made a suggestion. Now is not the time to abolish minimum sentences, because this would send the wrong message. Not only would it not reassure the public, but it would worry them even more. We therefore suggested maintaining the minimum sentences and adding clauses stating that the court could override them under exceptional circumstances.
That is the system used in other jurisdictions, and it works, as an expert told the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. We proposed adding a clause requiring judges to state, if applicable, that the case they are trying is an exceptional case and that, under the circumstances, they will override the mandatory minimum sentence for such and such a reason. The clause would provide guidelines and ensure that justice is taken seriously.
Our proposal was so good that the Liberals changed two or three words and proposed it themselves. I was very happy about that, since I feel no need to take credit for the amendments to Bill . However, when the time came to put the Liberals' amendment to a vote, none of them rose to present it, so I did it for them. I am dismayed by these sorts of games, because I think they are anti-democratic. They do not serve the interest of voters, either in Quebec or elsewhere in Canada. I am appalled by these tactics, and I would like to hear what my colleague across the aisle has to say about this.
That being said, there is also the whole diversion component, which is important to us, as I mentioned earlier. That is why I feel torn today. I do not know what to do. We will have to live with our decision, and it feels a bit like choosing between the plague and cholera. Whichever way we vote, we will be partly disappointed and partly happy.
However, we could have been completely happy if everyone here could have come to an agreement, because we basically want the same thing. I do not think that the members across the aisle, or my Conservative and NDP colleagues, are acting in bad faith. I simply think that we have different ways of looking at things and that, if we work together, we can find solutions that will satisfy our interests, our prerogatives and our respective voters. Unfortunately, we were unable to find common ground.
The opioid crisis is affecting Rivière‑du‑Nord, and it is a major problem. We have a great many other problems that we would like to solve using rehabilitation.
The Quebec government has already adopted diversion measures for criminal offences. It tries to rehabilitate people rather than make them stand trial and send them to prison. We try to help them reintegrate into society and become active contributors again, as most of them used to be. For whatever reason, these people had experiences that set them on a path they would not otherwise have chosen, any more than we would have. In Quebec, we believe that we can help them and rehabilitate them.
I applaud diversion efforts, and so does the Bloc. I think that it is the right solution, for the same reason that we previously voted in favour of the NDP's Bill along the same lines. We need to work with these people and help them. They do not need jail time, they need help. Drug addiction is a health issue, not a criminal justice issue. We therefore applaud this measure.
However, we are torn over the idea of abolishing minimum sentences. This would send a message that I dare not describe in the House. I will say just that it is completely out of touch with reality because, day after day, people are shooting up day cares and apartment buildings. Just this morning, I read in the news that a stray bullet found its way into a senior's apartment. Fortunately, she was not hit.
Members will recall that someone shot up a day care last week. That is not even organized crime. It is just delinquency. I am not a criminologist, and I cannot say any more on this subject, but we need to address this problem. Gun control falls under the federal Criminal Code, but the federal government is not doing anything. On top of that inaction, it wants to abolish the minimum sentences for these offences. I think that is just terrible.
We will see how we vote on the bill, but I will admit that we are torn. This is not a good day for democracy.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for his question. I am happy to address this aspect, which I did not have time to talk about in my initial presentation.
First, with respect to Bill , let us forget that. We need to fix this quickly, since there is not a single street gang that buys their guns at Canadian Tire. That does not happen.
With respect to systemic racism, what kind of twisted idea is it to claim that if there are indigenous or racialized people in our prisons, it is because the penalties are too harsh? What kind of an argument is that?
This population needs help, that is what we heard in committee. Yes, there are more people in prison; those are the statistics, and I will not change them. It is true that there are more indigenous and Black people in prison, but we need money, we need to work with these people and help their communities. It takes more than social workers, health care, education and all that to help them not commit crimes. To argue that society will lower its standards, that people from the Black or indigenous communities commit crimes and therefore we will reduce penalties so they do not go to prison, is just mind-blowing. I could not believe it when I read that.
When I saw my colleagues defend that in committee, I was happy I was not in their shoes. I imagine that the caucus forces them to defend these views, but if I were in their shoes I think I would have left the caucus.
Mr. Speaker, I am really pleased to rise to speak on Bill today.
Sometimes the debate strays away from what is actually in the bill and goes into a lot of other things. I would just like to remind everybody what the bill is doing.
It is attempting to attack systemic racism in our criminal justice system by eliminating 20 mandatory minimum penalties, all of those in the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act and a few relating to firearms and tobacco offences. It also expands access to conditional sentences through things like house arrest and serving time on weekends, which is important in rehabilitating people who, for whatever reason, became involved with the criminal justice system. The third thing it does is provide more discretion for police to provide warnings and diversion instead of charging people, who then end up in jail. All of these three things are key steps in reducing the impact of systemic racism.
In our corrections system, nearly 35% of those who are imprisoned are indigenous, but indigenous people make up less than 5% of our population. We know that about 7.5% of those in prison are Black Canadians, but they only represent 3.5% of the population. Something is clearly going on here in a systematic manner that produces these much worse outcomes for racialized and indigenous people.
Who is in favour of this bill? This is something nobody else has really been talking about here. I know why some people do not raise this point. Most important to me is that the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police is in favour of this legislation, because they know that mandatory minimums do nothing to make communities safer.
Two other organizations I want to mention that are very much in favour are the John Howard Society and the Elizabeth Fry Society. These are two very valuable non-profits that work with those who have served time to help re-integrate them back into the community. They gave very powerful testimony at committee about the impacts of mandatory minimums.
Who is opposed to them? The Conservatives and the Bloc are clearly opposed to this bill that would reduce mandatory minimums. They often fly off into what I would call a fantasy world, where the idea is that if we take away mandatory minimums, somehow people would not get prison sentences and somehow serious criminals would not end up in jail. That is not what would happen with mandatory minimums or their removal. Judges would still assign serious time for serious crime. That is not what we are talking about here.
The fact is that mandatory minimums—and most of those that would be removed are of less than two years—would result in people going into provincial corrections systems, which have very limited rehabilitation programs. It also means, when we take into time served for good behaviour and other facets of our criminal justice system, that people would serve only a few months. Even if there was an addiction treatment program, even if there was a skills training program, the time is too short for those to be successful.
However, the time is not too short to make sure that people lose their housing. The time is not too short to make sure that people lose their job. The time is not too short to make sure that people's families are put at risk. Often the people who go under mandatory minimums are the sole providers for their families, so their kids are at risk of apprehension while they are in prison. All of this contributes to huge social problems that are not necessary.
If we do not have a mandatory minimum, we could use conditional sentences. Someone could stay in their own home, maintain their job, serve their time on weekends, and actually become a productive member of society again, rather than having their whole life turned upside down, which would put them on a path that only leads to further addiction and further crime.
We know that is the record of mandatory minimums. The academic studies all show the same thing: Mandatory minimums, if they do anything at all, actually make recidivism worse, because people have fewer options as a result of serving those mandatory minimums. The evidence is quite clear: They do not work.
Should the government have done more? Yes; as a New Democrat, I agree it should have done more. The government should have done more earlier today when it had the chance to vote on our bill, Bill , which would have decriminalized personal possession of drugs. That would have helped to address systemic racism, because we know that Black Canadians and indigenous Canadians are overcharged and charged at much higher rates for personal possession of drugs when their rates of drug use are not in fact higher. It would have helped tackle that.
I do not think it is enough to say that we are going to reduce mandatory minimums; the government should have voted for Bill . We should have made better progress.
I am happy to see the government grant an exemption to British Columbia under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act and I think it will lead to great success in tackling the opioid crisis, but I just do not understand why the government was not prepared to do that for the more than 70% of Canadians who live outside of British Columbia. I was glad to hear the say, in answer to a question, that the Liberals are prepared to consider other exemptions, and certainly New Democrats will be asking them to step up when that time comes.
What was in Bill , as I said, was modest, and so I wish the Liberals had done more on Bill , but I also wish they had done more on the bill, and that is why I proposed two amendments at committee, which I thank the government for accepting.
The first of those, to me, is the most important. It is an amendment that says not only do mandatory minimums cause problems in racial injustice, but the resulting criminal records make things much worse.
There are 250,000 Canadians who have a record for personal possession of drugs. What does this mean? It means that sometimes this record affects someone's hiring. Very often it affects their housing, whether it is social housing, which does not allow people with criminal records, or whether it is landlords who refuse to rent to them. It prevents people from getting bank loans and mortgages. It forces them into the hands of what I call loan sharks, otherwise called payday lenders. It prevents people from travelling.
However, the one I have heard the most in my community is that a criminal record prevents someone from volunteering with kids or seniors, even though it may have been a personal possession charge from 20 years ago and has nothing to do with the way the person has turned their life around. In fact, some of those people might be the perfect people to volunteer with youth and show them a positive way forward.
I thank the government for agreeing. What we agreed on is what it calls a sequestration of records, meaning they will be held separate and apart and will not show up in criminal records. Within two years, we will be wiping out the records of 250,000 people, and I think that is enormously important for rehabilitation and building safer communities.
The second amendment I moved had to do with the expanded discretion for police. Here, New Democrats had a worry that was shared by many in the community, because discretion by the police is often subject to that very same systemic racism. The bill originally did not require record-keeping at all for the use of discretion; my amendment suggests that the police have to keep records on who they grant diversion to and who they warn. Then we will be able to see if this discretion happens just to privileged white folks or is being used fairly among all Canadians.
The second part of that amendment says we will keep records, but those records cannot be used in future proceedings against individuals. Why say that? It may seem counterintuitive. If it is really a warning, then it is a warning, not a conviction, and so it should not be used in future criminal processes. It will make warnings much more powerful for people who get them and diversions much more powerful for people who get them.
If someone successfully stays out of trouble with a warning or they successfully complete drug and alcohol counselling as part of their diversion, then this will never come back to haunt them again. It will encourage success in those programs. I thank the government for supporting those two measures. I fail to understand why the Conservatives and Bloc oppose those two amendments, but I also fail to understand why they are opposing this bill altogether.
I know time is running short, but I want to go back to what I think is most important here.
I have to say that I know people like to put forward their records as prosecutors and as police when they are talking about these things. I taught criminal justice for 20 years and I worked very closely with the John Howard Society and the Elizabeth Fry Society on the question of rehabilitation of people, and we know what works.
We know that when people can stay with their family and when people can have a job and maintain their employment, all of those things push them out of the criminal lifestyle and into the community. This is an important initiative in making all communities safer.
Despite people saying that the bill removes mandatory minimums on serious crimes, I say no, the judges will still give out serious time for serious crime. What it does is take away the injustice of those mandatory minimums falling most heavily on indigenous people and racialized Canadians.
Mr. Speaker, I rise to join the debate on Bill . I will spare members the suspense and say from the outset that I do not support the bill.
The bill sends exactly the wrong message from this Parliament to the judiciary. It sends the wrong message from the government to criminals. It sends the wrong message to Canada's victims of serious and violent crimes. It also represents a missed opportunity to send a message that might help address a serious and growing problem, which is fraud, a crime that the current government has taken no meaningful action to address since it was first elected nearly seven years ago, but I will not have time to talk about that today.
Thankfully, in recent decades there has been a steep reduction in most violent offences and property crimes. Experts and pundits have theories to explain this, but the most recent years show that this overall trend may now be in reverse. It is against this backdrop that the government has chosen to undo a series of minimum sentences for offences that successive Liberal and Conservative governments have passed over a very long time.
Offences for which the government wishes to reduce minimum sentences include some of the most grievous offences on the books. One is left to wonder why.
Who are the Canadians crying out for lighter sentences on, for example, firearms offences? Are there Canadians who think that the Criminal Code is too harsh on gun traffickers or those who smuggle guns illegally from the United States into Canada? Do Canadians think that the judicial system is too harsh on people convicted of robbery with a firearm? Is there really anyone in Canada who thinks that robbery with a firearm should result in anything other than a custodial sentence? Does any Canadian think that if a person uses a firearm to rob someone, they should not do so with full knowledge that if caught they will go to prison? Is there anyone in Canada who thinks extortion with a firearm or discharging a firearm with intent is not a serious criminal offence?
I listened to the 's speech when this bill was first tabled and debated at second reading. He spoke of the need for greater flexibility in sentencing and he used a hypothetical example. He spoke of a 19-year-old man residing in a remote northern community who, after having too much to drink and maybe on a dare from his buddies, discharged a firearm. He fired a gun into a building.
The suggested in this example that the current Criminal Code would force this young man into the prison system and into the company of other criminals, destroying his potential for life-long employment and setting him on a life-long trajectory of career criminality. The justice minister's hypothetical critique of a mandatory sentence for this hypothetical crime is riddled with a series of false premises.
First, the falsely assumed that in this hypothetical case the police, the prosecutor and the judge would have no other choice but to charge, prosecute and convict this young man of discharging a firearm with intent and sending him to a mandatory sentence.
Second, the , in choosing this example, deliberately chose to characterize drunkenly shooting up a building as a minor offence. There was a certain amount of arrogance in assuming that a drunken late-night shooting was somehow more acceptable in a northern community than perhaps in his Montreal riding.
I disagree with the minister. Discharging a firearm is a serious crime with potentially life-altering consequences for victims that ought to carry life-altering consequences for the shooter, such as a custodial sentence should their actions actually meet the high bar for conviction that firing with intent would carry.
Gun crimes are not the only offence for which this bill would reduce floor sentences. Bill would reduce the penalties for kidnapping and human trafficking, and it would allow for conditional sentences of house arrest instead of prison for those who abduct vulnerable Canadians and force them into unpaid labour or into the sex trade.
I ask again, who wants lighter sentences for human trafficking? Do we live in a country where normal people, even legal experts, would say that the Criminal Code is too strong and inflexible in the way that it robs judges of the flexibility to allow human traffickers and rapists to serve their sentences in their own homes?
Allowing offenders convicted of sexual assault, kidnapping or human trafficking to serve sentences in their homes in their communities would be the ultimate insult to their victims. We all know that the majority of these crimes go unreported, and that is exactly why. Most victims of sexual assault have no confidence, as it is now, that justice will be done if they come forward. The very knowledge that the perpetrators of sexual assault could receive a community sentence is a disincentive to victims of sexual assault to report the crime.
Bill would also weaken sentencing for criminals at the very top of criminal enterprises: the deadly opioid epidemic. This bill would reduce minimum penalties for the production and trafficking of schedule 1 drugs. We are not talking about simple possession, and we are not talking about street-level addicts who are selling drugs to finance their habit. We are talking about producers and importers of fentanyl and heroin. Every day, these drugs kill Canadians, and every day these drugs create misery and deprivation that rip families apart, yet this bill would reduce the minimum penalties for criminals who illegally manufacture these drugs to be sold to the most desperate and vulnerable members of our society.
If someone manufactures the illegal opioids that are killing Canadians, they belong in prison.
As we have heard, this bill would eliminate the necessity of a custodial sentence for those convicted of crimes that include armed robbery, kidnapping, sexual assault, gun trafficking, opioid production and a bunch of others. What about the administration of justice? The has argued that the existence of mandatory prison sentences clogs up the system. Setting aside the question of whether mandatory penalties cause delays within the courts, let us instead ask whether this is relevant in the context of serious violent crime.
The reason for floor sentences for criminals who commit serious and violent crimes is to protect the public from dangerous offenders, to allow communities time to recover from victimization, to address issues such as witness intimidation and, most importantly, to ensure that punishment is proportionate to crime.
If the argument against floor sentences for these crimes is simply to relieve congestion in the courts and reduce the number of people in prison, then I must disagree with proponents of this bill. If our courts are congested, and delay is denying the public, the accused and the victims of justice, the should get serious about timely judicial appointments, instead of trying to blame those who disagree with him on the necessity of floor sentence requirements for serious, violent offences.
The member for raised an important point when he pointed out that peace officers, prosecutors and judges already do what they can to divert non-violent offenders away from prison into other programs. I agree that prison is not the only, nor even the most suitable, option for non-violent offenders when other programs can adequately punish their crimes, contribute to public safety and increase the chances of successful reintegration. One can recognize this fact and still object to this bill.
The point of floor sentences is not to railroad the judiciary into certain decisions or to unduly diminish judges' discretion. It is to ensure that justice is done and the public is protected from violent offenders.
Finally, legislating effective sentencing would not pit the legislature against the judiciary, as the would frame it. It is an example of Parliament exercising its legitimate authority over defining criminal offences and setting floors and ceilings on penalties. Setting reasonable parameters for sentencing is part of Parliament's job.
In conclusion, Bill sends the wrong signals to criminals and society at large about the severity of certain crimes. It risks increasing crime rates and victimization, it continues to miss the mark on addressing gun crime and the opioid crisis, and it goes soft on sexual assault, kidnapping and modern-day slavery.
As such, I cannot support the bill.