The House resumed from June 1 consideration of Bill , as reported (with amendment) from the committee, and of the motions in Group No. 1.
Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to be here today and certainly, it is a pleasure to speak in the House of Commons. It is nice to see you again, as well.
I stand today to speak to the utter hypocrisy of the Liberal government and to shine a light on the utter disrespect for law-abiding Canadians and victims of crime. The government, with the prop-up support of the NDP, is attempting to push through Bill , which would see the removal of mandatory minimum sentences for serious criminal offences in this country. Let me be clear on this. The Liberals are eliminating mandatory prison time for criminals who commit robbery with a firearm, weapons trafficking and drive-by shootings.
The Liberals' argument is that they are doing this because they feel these laws are unfair. I cannot make this up. What would the victims of these crimes consider unfair? I surely think they would feel that the person or persons who traumatized them through violent acts now being set free by the Liberal government is what is actually unfair.
Can members imagine being the victim of a drive-by shooting, losing a loved one or being robbed or held at gunpoint? Let us imagine this. These are the mandatory sentences that the government is trying to get rid of. The Liberals are more interested in standing up for criminals than actually defending our communities. The blatant hypocrisy is apparent with the fact that they willingly want to let gun crime perpetrators free sooner so that they can go out into our communities and wreak havoc again, and yet, they stand in righteous defence of enacting gun laws in this country that only serve to punish law-abiding citizens.
Let us look at some of the offences for which the Liberals feel the punishment is unfair. Bill would eliminate a number of mandatory minimums relating to gun crimes. Here they are: robbery with a firearm; extortion with a firearm; weapons trafficking; discharging a firearm with intent; using a firearm in commission of offences; and possession for the purpose of weapons trafficking.
When we hear the list out loud, as parliamentarians we must ask ourselves, is this seriously what the government wants for Canadians? Can a government seriously think that mandatory sentences are unfair for these types of crimes? We might ask ourselves if we are actually living in Canada or if any of this is real to begin with. Sadly, this is real and the members of this House have to stand and speak to this. Quite frankly, it is making our country unrecognizable.
The Liberal government believes the sentences are unfair. That is how it is putting it. The Liberals have no concern for the victims of these crimes. Their only concern is actually for the criminals who perpetrated the acts to begin with.
There are a few other examples of who the Liberal government feels are being mistreated by the justice system. The Liberals would eliminate six mandatory minimums in the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act that target drug dealers. Here they are: trafficking or possession for the purpose of trafficking; importing and exporting or possession for the purpose of exporting; production of a substance schedule I or II. Let me say that last one again: production of a substance schedule I or II. Examples here would be heroin, cocaine, fentanyl and crystal meth.
If I were not standing here as the member of Parliament for the great riding of Miramichi—Grand Lake and I was actually home in the community, maybe at Tim Hortons having a coffee, upon hearing this, I would think that it had to be wrong and there could be no way that any of this was true. What government could ever think that someone who produces a poison like crystal meth should be considered treated unfairly because they had to serve a mandatory sentence for their crime?
Crystal meth is pure poison. It is creating rot and decay in every community, including all across rural Canada. The problem is so vast in the region of Miramichi that the public is left scratching their heads on a good day. Law enforcement clearly does not have an answer for it at present. It is very complicated. This issue is really complicating life in Canada. How can we not give the people who produce it mandatory sentences? They are just going to keep doing it.
The members opposite who vote for this bill should be utterly ashamed when they go back to their home communities knowing the plague and rot of crystal meth abuse is rampant across the country. It would be in their backyards too, because it is everywhere in this country. The evil individuals who prey on their fellow man with the production of this drug should do every minute of time we can give them to keep them off our streets and hopefully keep them from enslaving more people with this highly addictive poison.
Canadians will have to try to mentally process how the government can feel that a meth producer is being treated unfairly. At the same time they also must process how the government feels about other criminals. Again, I want to say that as members of the opposition, we are obviously not supporting this. We want people who are going to produce these types of poison to be behind bars, because that is where they should be, and if you are going to commit crimes with weapons and firearms, then you need to have mandatory sentences as well.
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill , an act to amend the Criminal Code and the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, which returns to the House after having been studied by the House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights.
Today, I propose to focus my remarks on the very important changes that the bill proposes to make to the conditional sentence regime in the Criminal Code. What we have seen consistently throughout the debate on this bill is that there remain some significant misunderstandings about the important function served by conditional sentence orders, or CSOs, in our society. In order to explain the importance of Bill 's amendments in this area, I would like to take a moment to speak about how and why CSOs came to be.
CSOs allow an offender to serve a term of imprisonment of less than two years in the community under strict conditions, including house arrest, curfew and court-mandated treatment for offences that are not punishable by a mandatory term of imprisonment. They were enacted by Parliament in 1996 in response to the well-documented problem of the over-incarceration of indigenous people. The aim of the CSO regime was to promote the protection of the public by seeking to separate the most serious offenders from the community, while providing that less serious offenders could remain in the community if they adhered to important conditions.
Amendments to the Criminal Code over the subsequent 15 years, however, significantly restricted the availability of CSOs. They were made unavailable for all offences punishable by maximum terms of imprisonment of 14 years or more, as well as some offences prosecuted by indictment and punishable by a maximum term of 10 years of imprisonment. The reform also introduced a list of ineligible offences to the CSO regime, including such offences as non-violent property crime.
It is uncontroversial at this point to acknowledge that systemic racism and discrimination in the criminal justice system have resulted in the overrepresentation of indigenous people, Black persons and members of marginalized communities in the criminal justice system. One only needs to look at the country's track record to see the pressing need for change. Indeed, recent data from the Office of the Correctional Investigator demonstrates that indigenous people make up 32% of the federal prison population despite accounting for less than 5% of the total population. Indigenous women, meanwhile, account for 48% of the population in women's prisons.
Members of the community who are overrepresented in the criminal justice system have long called for reform to address the systemic racism and discrimination they face at all stages, from their first contact with law enforcement through to sentencing. Indeed, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the Parliamentary Black Caucus have specifically called on the government to revisit the restrictions placed on the conditional sentencing regime in the Criminal Code.
Bill would make more offences eligible for community-based sentences while maintaining the importance of public safety in all circumstances. Let me repeat that last statement, as this point is too frequently lost in discussions about the proposed amendments. Removing these restrictions on the availability of CSOs will not negatively impact public safety. This is because in order for a court to impose a CSO, it must first be satisfied that this sentence would not endanger the safety of the community. If the offender represents a danger to public safety, then the court is precluded from imposing a CSO.
In addition, a court must be satisfied that a sentence of less than two years is appropriate in the circumstances, and that the community-based sentence would be consistent with the purpose and principles of sentencing set out in the Criminal Code. That is the law, and the proposed amendments would not change that.
Moreover, the amendments proposed in Bill would not indiscriminately render all offences eligible for the CSOs. Currently, all offences that carry mandatory minimum prison sentences in the Criminal Code are ineligible for a conditional sentence, and that would not change. Similarly, all offences that are linked to terrorism or organized crime, for which the maximum penalty is 10 years of imprisonment or more when prosecuted by way of indictment, are ineligible for a CSO. This too will not change. The bill would also render the offences of torture, attempted murder and advocating genocide ineligible for a CSO.
The evidence shows us that allowing low-risk offenders who do not jeopardize public safety to serve their sentence in the community under strict conditions is more effective at reducing criminality than institutional incarceration. This is because serving a sentence that maintains an offender's access to employment, family, community and health-related support systems allows them to avoid the stigma and trauma of a prison sentence and provides them with a prosocial alternative to criminal offending once their sentence is complete. 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 incarceration rates decreased by 13%. During the bill's study at the justice committee, the committee heard from experts and stakeholders in the field of criminal justice in Canada. Many of these witnesses, including the Canadian Association of Black Lawyers, the HIV Legal Network, Dr. Julie Desrosiers of the faculty of law at Université Laval, the Criminal Lawyers' Association and the Canadian Bar Association, indicated that these reforms to the CSO regime represented a step in the right direction. I could not agree more. I firmly believe that these amendments strike the right balance between providing alternatives to incarceration where appropriate, while maintaining and prioritizing public safety where serious offending is at issue.
This legislation is an important component of the government's ongoing efforts to reduce the overrepresentation of indigenous people, Black persons and members of marginalized communities in our criminal justice system, and would afford more opportunities for rehabilitation in appropriate cases. I urge all members to support these important reforms.
Madam Speaker, it is my privilege to speak today to Bill .
In the same month the Liberal government introduces legislation that specifically targets law-abiding firearms owners, the House is now debating a bill that eliminates mandatory minimums for robbery with a firearm, extortion with a firearm, willfully importing or exporting illegal firearms, discharging a firearm with intent, using a firearm in the commission of offences, possession of an illegal firearm and possession of a firearm obtained illegally.
As people say, we cannot make this up. No one in my constituency has called me to tell me they want mandatory minimums repealed for these serious crimes. People are furious, and rightly so.
As Sergeant Michael Rowe of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police said at the justice committee, “The police in Canada support the primary objectives of mandatory minimum penalties to ensure consistency in sentencing, to protect the public and to discourage others from engaging in similar conduct.” He also mentioned that these mandatory minimums “hold significant value when addressing public safety and gang-related violence: the use of a firearm or imitation firearm in the commission of an offence”.
The government is not even listening to the recent report published by the public safety committee right here in Parliament. Recommendation 11 states:
That the Government of Canada recognize that serious crimes involving firearms and drug trafficking should bear serious penalties given the threat to public safety, and that violent offenders should be kept off our streets to protect the public, while a public health response should be adopted to deal with people suffering from substance abuse.
I have always believed that serious violent offences that are committed with firearms deserve mandatory prison time. It is astonishing that the Liberals want to weaken the punishment of these crimes in Canada. I also have grave concerns with the Liberals' proposal to allow criminals to serve house arrest rather than jail time for a number of offences, including those involving sexual assault, human trafficking and kidnapping.
This bill is soft on crime and puts communities and victims at risk. The sad irony of the Liberals' plan to make our streets safer is, in fact, going after trained Canadian firearms owners, while at the same time reducing penalties for those who commit violent gun crimes and sell hard drugs. Bill is sending the wrong message to criminals and organized crime.
I doubt any of these criminals are watching CPAC at this very moment, but I can assure members that law-abiding firearms owners are watching. The government is insulting hundreds of thousands of law-abiding firearms owners, who are being blamed for the government's lack of action to tackle gun smuggling and organized crime.
Gun violence has gone up significantly over the past seven years of the Liberal government. That is a fact. It is also a fact that most guns used in violent crime are smuggled in from the United States. According to CBSA's departmental results report, almost 20,000 illegal firearms and prohibited weapons were confiscated before coming into Canada. Those are just the ones that were confiscated, and just the illegal ones we know about. No one knows how many slipped through the cracks and were used in a violent crime. Gun smugglers and gun traffickers are directly responsible for the murder of too many innocent Canadians.
As the president of the National Police Federation said at the justice committee, “Bill C-5 strikes down some mandatory minimum penalties related to weapons trafficking and firearms offences. This is inconsistent with the expressed intent of the government to reduce firearms violence in Canada.” He went on to say that if the Liberals are going to repeal these mandatory minimums, they must provide “additional deterrence measures to address criminal activity, such as providing more resources to stop the import of illegal drugs and firearms at the border.”
Through Bill , the Liberals are proposing to eliminate mandatory minimum sentences for the very crimes that are putting illegal firearms on our streets in the first place. Tell me how the Liberals can justify placing heavy restrictions on law-abiding citizens while removing them for violent criminals on the streets. The short answer is they cannot. Let us not forget that last year, the same Liberals voted down a Conservative bill that proposed making the punishment harsher for criminals using smuggled guns.
I received an email from John Schneiderbanger the other day, who asked me to share his comments in the House of Commons. Before any of my Liberal colleagues start smearing John as some sort of firearm lobbyist, let me tell his story.
John proudly served in the Canadian Armed Forces and rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel. He was posted to CFB Shilo, which I am honoured to say is in my constituency, where he served as base commander. He is a firearms expert and has decades of experience and a wealth of knowledge of which we should take heed.
While Bill repeals mandatory minimums for actual criminals, the Liberals are going after sport shooters in his case. If the Liberals get their way, they will be impacting legitimate shooting sports such as Cowboy Shooting Action, International Practical Shooting Confederation, 3-Gun, IDPA and Cowboy Mounted Shooting.
Many of these competitors participate in high levels of competition, some of them around the world, and there are governing bodies at the provincial, national and world levels. They are legitimate and organized sports that are recognized around the world and would no longer exist in Canada due to the Liberal government's inability to focus on correct root causes of violent crime committed by criminals with illegal guns.
As John said, these shooting sports will wither away quickly as the current membership becomes older and leave the sport, as other sport shooters cannot replace the competition handguns over time. No new members will be able to join these activities, as there will be no legal handguns available to acquire.
If the Liberals will not take my advice, they will at least listen to one of Canada's finest, Mr. Schneiderbanger, who also knows the Firearms Act inside and out.
Along with eliminating sentences for gun crimes, this Liberal bill would eliminate mandatory prison time for serious drug-related offences. These include sentences for drug trafficking as well as importing, exporting and producing drugs such as heroin, fentanyl and crystal meth.
Canada is in the midst of an opioid crisis. We all know that. In 2020, the opioid crisis claimed the lives of 6,306 people. That is the equivalent of 17 opioid deaths per day. The volume of police calls related to suspected overdoses has also been increasing. As of right now, police services across the country are dealing with an average of 687 calls per month of suspected overdoses. One would think the Liberals would have proposed some solutions in the latest budget to help, but they did not offer a single new dollar to assist police services with this increased demand.
It gets worse. The Liberal platform promised $250 million in 2021-22 and $625 million in 2022-23 for a Canadian mental health transfer, but none of those dollars have materialized. While provinces and municipalities are in dire need of help, once again they were promised action but given platitudes. My Conservative colleague from has repeatedly asked why the Liberals did not keep this promise, and all he has heard back is useless talking points.
I know my Liberal colleagues care about this issue; I just do not know why they are not holding their own government's feet to the fire. Why are they letting the and the get away with this broken promise and then voting in favour of Bill , which is going to lessen the penalties for the gangs and organized crime that are peddling the opioids?
I want my Liberal colleagues to know how bad drug-related offences are under their watch. Cocaine trafficking is up 24% since 2016. Trafficking of drugs other than cocaine and cannabis is up 73% since 2016.
Contrary to Liberal talking points, Bill is not about reducing mandatory minimum sentences for simple possession. In fact, mandatory minimums for simple possession do not exist.
In closing, I want to say that it is unfortunate that the Liberals on the committee used their majority and turned the report into an one-page report that was void of any substance—
Madam Speaker, today we are debating Bill at report stage. I am profoundly disappointed as a parliamentarian and deeply ashamed as a former Crown attorney that this seriously flawed, reckless and dangerous bill has made it this far in the process.
I left behind a proud and rewarding legal career as a public servant for the Province of Ontario, a career defined by holding criminals accountable for their actions, which ranged from mischief all the way through to and including first degree murder. It was a career further defined by advocating for victims' rights, which is a concept that is completely alien to this virtue-signalling government. Neither this bill nor Bill makes any reference to the rights and protection of victims.
I was frustrated as a Crown attorney that the judicial system was out of balance. The proverbial pendulum over my career was significantly shifting in favour of the accused at the expense of protecting victims of crime. There must be a balance.
The government will repeatedly make statements in the House that it cares deeply for victims and that their rights matter, but it is simply talk with no action. An example of this lip service is the fact the government has not replaced the federal ombudsman for victims of crime, a position left vacant since last October 1. It is shameful.
It is time to dispel the myths and misinformation coming from the government whenever its members speak about this bill.
Number one, this is not legislation targeted at low-risk offenders. Use of a firearm in the commission of an offence, possession of an unauthorized firearm, possession of a firearm with ammunition, weapons trafficking, importing and exporting of firearms, discharging a firearm with intent, reckless discharge of a firearm and robbery with a firearm are indeed extremely serious violent offences for which judges across this country routinely impose significant jail sentences and often prison on the offenders.
These are not the types of people described by our Attorney General when the bill was introduced. We all remember that story: We are to imagine a young man who has too many pops on a Saturday night and decides to pick up a loaded gun and shoot into a barn. According to our Attorney General, we should feel sorry for this individual, as it would be a cruel and unusual punishment to impose a mandatory minimum penalty.
Number two, this is not legislation that would reverse former PM Harper's Safe Streets and Communities Act. Several of the charges outlined in Bill include mandatory minimum penalties that were introduced by Pierre Elliott Trudeau in 1977 and Jean Chrétien in 1995, two Liberal majority governments.
Third, according to the government and supported by its NDP partners and Green Party members, mandatory minimums are ineffective in reducing crime or keeping our communities safe. The simple fact is that if they actually believed this, instead of virtue signalling to Canadians, they would table legislation to remove all mandatory minimums. There are 53 offences that would remain in the Criminal Code if this bill passes. This includes impaired operation of a vehicle. Apparently it is important to hold drunk drivers accountable while allowing criminals and thugs to terrorize our communities by shooting up our streets.
The fourth point is that according to the government, courts from across this country, including appellate courts and the Supreme Court of Canada, are striking down mandatory minimum penalties as being contrary to the charter. For reasons previously described, mandatory minimums introduced by previous Liberal governments have been upheld by various courts for over 40 years.
Five, this is not legislation targeting people charged with simple possession. Bill would eliminate six mandatory minimums under the CDSA, the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. These include the very serious offences of trafficking, importing, exporting and production of controlled substances. Drugs such as fentanyl and carfentanil are the most deadly and lethal form of street drugs, and an amount the size of a grain of salt is capable of killing an elephant. These drugs are not serious enough for the government. These are the same drugs that are causing an opioid crisis that results in daily overdoses and deaths. Do these killer criminals deserve mercy from the Liberal government? What has this country become?
Finally, this legislation is supposed to address racism and reduce the over-incarceration of Black Canadians and indigenous offenders.
The Alberta minister of justice, Kaycee Madu, a Black Canadian, noted:
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.
I have prosecuted in the trenches for close two decades, unlike the Attorney General and members of the Liberal government. I can state on authority that the overriding sentencing consideration associated with the crimes relating to Bill are denunciation, deterrence and separation from society. In other words, it does not matter one's gender, ethnicity or race. Upon conviction, criminals are going to jail, period. It is time for the government to be honest with Canadians and accept that Bill will not substantially address the over-incarceration issue.
Throughout the entire time this bill has been debated, I and other colleagues, most notably the member for , have argued that there is a compromise for the government to consider. A constitutional exemption to all the charges outlined in the bill would give trial judges the legal authority to exempt criminals from a mandatory minimum penalty if they belong to a vulnerable population that is overrepresented in the criminal justice system and who are disadvantaged with regard to sentencing. This exemption would preserve the mandatory minimum penalties, but give judges the flexibility to craft an appropriate sentence. My amendment to this bill at committee was summarily dismissed by the Liberal chair as outside the scope of the study, which is shameful.
Brantford police chief Rob Davis, the only indigenous leader of a municipal police service in Ontario, testified at committee: “With Bill C-5 and the proposed changes now, we are going to see sentencing become a joke”. He continued, “With...turning sentences into conditional sentences...the justice system is being brought into disrepute. People will operate with impunity and the victims' rights are going to be given away [for] the rights of the criminal.”
Chief Davis also said, “Victims of communities will live in fear of gun violence and fearful of retaliation by armed criminals, and people will continue to overdose”.
The committee also heard from Chief Darren Montour from the Six Nations Police Service, whose testimony was clear. He stated:
...proposed conditional sentences for violent offences will not deter offenders from committing further crimes. We are not in a position to continuously monitor sentenced offenders to ensure their compliance with...restrictions handed down by the courts. Police services across the country, and especially those within indigenous communities, are significantly understaffed. We are continuously asked to do more with less, and we cannot sustain this workload.
He also stated that he can appreciate the statistics regarding the over-incarceration issue, “but along with the rights of offenders, victims and victims' families deserve rights as well.”
Hundreds of Canadians from coast to coast signed the petition on my website, which I recently presented in the House. They called on the government to immediately withdraw Bill . Here is a news release for the Liberal government: Canadians are terrified at the prospect that criminals convicted of sex assault and kidnapping will also enjoy serving that sentence in the comfort of their homes, the very same homes in which they committed their crimes. It is deeply shameful.
The number one priority for the federal government is to keep Canadians safe. The government has been derelict in its responsibility.
I, together with my Conservative caucus members, will always stand on the side of victims and keeping our communities safe by holding criminals accountable for their actions. I will be very strongly voting against this bill, and I encourage all members in the House to do the same.
Madam Speaker, today we are discussing Bill , at report stage. It is sponsored by the hon. member for , the current Minister of Justice.
Bill C-5 acts simultaneously on two complementary fronts: It repeals mandatory minimum penalties, or MMPs, for certain offences in the Criminal Code and establishes diversion measures for simple drug possession offences. Indirectly, Bill C-5 also seeks to counter systemic racism by addressing the overrepresentation of Black and indigenous people in the prison system.
My colleagues may know from my background that I was a criminologist. Far from me to claim I am an expert in the matter, but I can say that establishing diversion measures for these offences and repealing mandatory minimum penalties is fully consistent with many of my views and opinions.
Before I get into the substance of my remarks, let us define the important terms we are using today. Too many people, including most of us, confuse decriminalization, legalization and diversion. First, mandatory minimum penalties are legislated sentencing floors where the minimum punishment is predetermined by law. I am reiterating this because I believe that there is some confusion in our colleagues’ remarks. Second, decriminalization is the act of removing from the Criminal Code an action or omission that was considered a criminal offence, or the act of reducing the seriousness of an offence or removing from it any of its so-called criminal or penal nature. Diversion means the suspension, in the normal course of events, of criminal justice mechanisms at every step of the decision-making process. These can include incidents settled within the community, cases not referred to the justice system by the police, conciliation before reaching trial, and so on.
Overall, the Bloc Québécois supports the provisions proposed in Bill . However, there are a few points about which we have serious reservations, but I will get to that later.
First, with respect to mandatory minimum penalties, the Bloc Québécois advocates an approach that involves rehabilitating offenders, a term our Conservative colleagues do not appear to be familiar with, reducing crime and easing the burden on our penal and justice systems.
MMPs, which became harsher under the Harper Conservative government, are totally useless. No empirical study has ever shown that these penalties reduce crime. First, they increase the burden on the criminal justice and correctional systems. Second, they cost taxpayers a fortune. Third, they undermine any chances of reintegration for many minor offenders after their first offence for a minor crime, such as simple drug possession.
Although we agree with the principle, we must point out this is not the right time to eliminate MMPs for firearms offences. As I stand here addressing the House, a number of cities in Canada and Quebec are experiencing a veritable epidemic of firearms, mainly because of the government’s inaction when it comes to border control. Without the firm and concerted action of the federal government to stem the illegal importation of firearms across the border, repealing MMPs for firearms offences is sending the wrong message.
With respect to diversion, obviously the Bloc Québécois supports it, and I am personally very eager to see it happen, because I firmly believe in the concept of rehabilitation. Diversion considers drug problems to be mental health and public health issues. That is important. Diversion measures are intended for persons with addictions, those who would normally be prosecuted for simple drug possession under Canada's Criminal Code.
The aim of diversion is to remove individuals struggling with problematic substance use, and who do not pose a risk to society, from the justice system.
It is important to understand that diversion is not inconsistent with criminal prosecution. Diversion simply offers offenders the choice of a different path, an alternative to prison. Options for diversion include treatment information sessions, fines, community service and many more. Diversion is therefore not a solution to the criminality associated with the sale of illicit drugs; it is a solution to social and public health problems.
Earlier, my colleague referred to Portugal, which gives us one of the best examples of the benefits of diversion. Faced with a serious drug problem in 2001, that is the path Portugal opted for.
Diversion led to a decline in drug use. Incarceration rates for drug-related offences decreased as well, and the number of fatal overdoses like those we are seeing in British Columbia, for example, fell sharply. Another benefit was that the incidence of HIV-AIDS among drug users also plummeted.
I think it is crucial to point out this achievement, which is attributable to a combination of diversion measures and Portugal’s massive investment in health care. The current bill does not contain anything about this second component, namely investment in health care.
I would like to remind members that every Canadian province, including Quebec, is asking the federal level to cover 35% of their health spending so that they can support their health care systems, which are in dire need of funding. Another good reason to increase health transfers, as Quebec wants and is calling for, is to again move towards adopting an approach that would closely follow Portugal’s.
In short, the Bloc Québécois supports Bill C-5. We support the introduction of the principle of diversion for simple drug possession offences. We also support the repeal of some mandatory minimum penalties. I say “some” mandatory minimum penalties to avoid falling into demagoguery.
However, I will reiterate that the government is making a mistake when it proposes to repeal mandatory minimum penalties for firearms offences without doing anything about the source of the problem, namely the free movement of thousands of illegal firearms across our porous border with the United States.
I will therefore vote for Bill C-5, but if the government really wants to make a difference, if it wants to ensure that repealing mandatory minimum penalties and establishing diversion measures will yield all the benefits we can expect, it must do two things. First, it must immediately implement all of the measures proposed by my colleague from to reduce firearms violence. Then, it must immediately increase health transfers to the provinces to cover at least 35% of their spending.
If it does that, I can guarantee the Liberal Party that Bill C-5 will have an extremely positive impact. If it continues to turn a deaf ear to the Bloc Québécois’s proposals, it will once again have missed a great opportunity.
Madam Speaker, it is an honour to stand and speak to Bill at report stage. I would like to start by thanking all members of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights for the work they did in reviewing this bill and reporting it back to the House. As a former member of that committee, I know it is no easy task. I used to be a member, back in 2017. The bills that come before the justice committee are usually quite serious in nature. They demand a certain amount of responsibility to take up the task and make sure that the amendments we are making to the Criminal Code have in fact been vetted and that all of the implications of their passage are fully understood.
This being Bill , my remarks today, of course, are going to concentrate on two themes. One is on the question of mandatory minimums and whether they still serve any kind of useful purpose in our criminal justice system. The second theme is on the incredible harm that is a result of Canada's current federal drug policy, and not only the harm that is meted out to people who are arrested and have criminal records that they have to deal with for the rest of their lives, but also the lack of action in tackling the root causes of the opioid crisis that I have heard members from every political party and every region in Canada speak so passionately about.
Bill , like any piece of legislation, is not going to solve those problems by itself and I would argue that much more needs to be done. This is one small step on the path that we need to take, but it is nonetheless a step forward. That is why I will be supporting this bill and ensuring that the Senate receives it so that it can one day make its way to the Governor General's desk and be signed into law.
It is important to set up the context, especially when we are speaking about mandatory minimums. I do not need to argue about the harms that they cause our society. It has been well documented by many, including none other than the Correctional Investigator. The statistics are there, for indigenous, Black and racialized Canadians, on their share of the population in Canada and their extreme overrepresentation in our criminal justice system.
What is more is that there is simply no credible evidence that mandatory minimums work in any way to deter crime. That is a fact. I have had to sit in this place through question period after question period, listening to colleagues from the Conservative Party talk and deliberately misstate what is going on with this piece of legislation. The Conservatives are trying to weave a story for Canadians and trying to infect them with fear that with the passage of Bill , somehow every person who is charged with a serious criminal offence is suddenly going to be placed on house arrest or released on the streets. Nothing could be further from the truth. What it speaks to is a distrust, among members of that party, in judges having the ability to make the right decisions for the cases that come before them. Mandatory minimums are a blunt instrument of justice. They do not allow a judge to take in the circumstances of a case and to look at the circumstances of the individual who has been charged with a crime.
Furthermore, in all of the arguments I have heard from Conservatives on this bill, the part they leave out is that even though these sections in the Criminal Code are being amended, the maximum penalties are still in force. While the mandatory minimum penalties are being taken away, many of these serious offences carry prison terms of up to 10 years and of up to 14 years. There is no doubt in my mind that if a repeat offender has committed very serious criminal acts under the sections of the Criminal Code covered by Bill C-5, that person will receive jail time.
A judge's solemn responsibility to society is public safety and ensuring there is justice for the victims of crime. Judges are always balancing society's best interests when a case comes before them. We have to trust them in that process. There is a reason that our legislative branch is separate from the judicial branch.
We have to trust in these men and women who are so very learned in law and who can appreciate all of the fine differences in each case that comes before them. We have to trust that they will always make the right decision. There are ways we can hold our judges to account. There are courts of appeal, and we can continue going up the judicial ladder until we reach the Supreme Court of Canada. I cannot accept the arguments that are being made against mandatory minimums in this place, because they are being made in bad faith.
I want to turn to the main part I really want to hammer out here, which is the important amendments that are being made to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.
I was very honoured to stand in this place with my friend, colleague and neighbour, the member for , and vote in favour of his bill, Bill . It would have essentially decriminalized personal possession. It would have set up a process of expungement. It would have set our country forward on a path of setting up a national strategy to deal with the opioids crisis.
Unfortunately, there were only a few members who were brave enough to stand up for that bold, game-changing policy and trying to put this country on a path forward. Even though we lost that battle, I think that vote and the conversation we had have been important milestones for this country's evolving laws toward drug policy. I am certain that in the years ahead we are going to see some fundamental reform in this area.
The main thing Bill would do with respect to our drug laws is set up a declaration of principles. We are at report stage now, but important work was done at committee. I have to take a moment to recognize the amazing and incredible work of my colleague and neighbour to the south, the member for . His knowledge of law, his expertise in that area and the diligent and hard work he has done at committee resulted in some very substantive amendments to Bill C-5. One of them in particular, although it is not going to be called expungement, is expungement by a different name.
One of the main harms we have had to people who have have criminal records for personal possession amounts is that those records follow them throughout life. They can affect one's ability to get into certain lines of work, affect one's ability to rent a home and very severely affect one's ability to travel. The amendments that were made by the member for and accepted by a majority of the committee are essentially going to make sure that Bill C-5 would ensure that after two years those records are sequestered from the main records of that person, and no longer will anyone be able to find those records and hold them against that person.
It is important, and it is certainly not as bold of a step as we would have wanted, but I think it goes to show that this small caucus of New Democrats has been able to make monumental reform to a pretty important government justice bill. I think this is going to leave a lasting mark for people who have been negatively affected by this.
I will conclude by saying that when it comes to mandatory minimums, it is important for us to remember that the Criminal Code is a massive piece of legislation. There are already sections within the Criminal Code, specifically section 718.2, the sentencing principles, that allow a judge to increase or decrease a sentence based on aggravating factors. The sentences that are spelled out in the Criminal Code for the specific sections of Bill , in fact, could be lengthened, if there were aggravating factors. If a crime was committed against a person with a disability or if racial hatred and bias were involved in a crime, judges could take that into account.
I could say much more, but 10 minutes goes by very quickly. I will end by saying that Bill is a small step. We did our job to make it better. I will be pleased to vote in favour of this bill to send it to the Senate and hopefully into law in the very near future.
Madam Speaker, this past December, the Liberal government revived Bill .
The government has claimed that the purpose of this act is to root out systemic racism in the criminal justice system and address the root causes of substance abuse in light of the worsening opioid crisis. Conservatives have another view. We have outlined the dangers in the government's Bill with regard to violent criminals, lessening sentences for gun crimes and the removal of mandatory minimum penalties, among other concerns.
The Liberals are eliminating mandatory prison time for criminals who commit robbery with a firearm, weapons trafficking and drive-by shootings. They are doing this because they feel these laws are unfair. They are more interested in standing up for criminals than defending our communities. Tell that to the families of victims in my own riding of South Surrey—White Rock. As a member of Parliament from British Columbia and as a mother, I know illegal drugs are a scourge in our society.
This enactment amends the Criminal Code and the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act to repeal too many mandatory minimum penalties, allowing for a greater use of conditional sentences and establishing diversion measures for simple and first-time drug offences that are already in place. B.C. already has drug courts.
Mandatory minimum sentences are not used for simple possession now; they do not exist. Despite what the Liberal government has said about Bill , the Supreme Court did not declare all mandatory minimums unconstitutional. The courts have struck down some, but these punishments have been on the books for decades. In fact, a majority of the mandatory minimums were introduced under previous Liberal governments. For example, the mandatory minimum penalty repeal for using firearms in the commission of an offence dates back to the Liberal government of 1976.
While the government claims to be undoing the work of the former Conservative government, it would truly be undoing the work of many former Liberal governments as well. This Liberal government is maintaining many of the mandatory minimums were introduced or strengthened by the former Conservative government.
In Bill , the government is eliminating six mandatory minimums under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act that target drug dealers: trafficking or possession for the purpose of trafficking; importing and exporting, or possession for the purpose of exporting; and production of a substance schedule I or II, like heroin, cocaine, fentanyl, crystal meth. The government is claiming this is solely to help those who struggle with addictions, but instead, the government is removing the mandatory minimums for those criminals who prey on those with addictions.
Imagine what parents go through when their child is addicted to fentanyl. It is so addictive that it is only a matter of time before the person overdoses. With carfentanil, young people take it once; their first hit is their last, and their heart stops before they hit the floor.
The bill allows for greater use of conditional sentence orders, such as house arrest, for a number of offences where the offender faces a term of less than two years' imprisonment. The offences now eligible include trafficking in, or exporting or importing schedule III drugs. That includes mescaline, LSD and others.
What exactly is being done right now by the government to crack down on the drug trade? Why is the government not tackling the massive issue of supply in Canada?
According to Criminal Intelligence Service Canada, which has strategically allocated resources to investigate organized crime groups with a higher threat level, there are over 1,800 OCGs in Canada. Larger OCGs do not generally restrict themselves to one illicit substance and are importing an array of illicit substances.
Around 75% of OCGs analyzed by Criminal Intelligence Service Canada are involved in cocaine trafficking. The legalization of cannabis has done little to disrupt or displace OCGs due to the fact that 97% of them involved with importing cannabis are also involved in multi-commodity trafficking.
It was noted that organized crime in Canada has grown due to an increase in criminal entrepreneurs who have harnessed the anonymity of the Internet to perpetrate crime. In addition, the dark web has given rise to an increasing number of criminals who are operating independently to implicate themselves in the fentanyl market and rapidly growing meth market due to the relative ease of obtaining precursor chemicals used in their production and synthesis.
In addition to OCGs, there have been increasing threats observed from outlaw motorcycle gangs. For instance, the Hells Angels is an outlaw motorcycle gang with global ties to other active OCGs in Canada.
The organization has expanded across the country, and 50% of organized crime can be attributed to its operations. Hells Angels has increased the number of its support clubs from 40 to 120. This expansion has resulted in approximately double the amount of criminal activity. Hells Angels uses that coordination to ship fentanyl and methamphetamine together, contributing to the trend of polydrug trafficking.
Their operations vary in terms of sophistication but pose a threat to public safety nonetheless. Violence surrounding OCGs is increasing and is commensurate with the increase in firearms-related crime in Canada, the expansion of illicit handguns westward from Ontario and the escalating use of social media to facilitate the illicit drug trade. It was noted that many key players from the largest OCGs have been killed in the past 18 months, both domestically and while brokering drug deals abroad.
With respect to importation of illicit substances in Canada, existing OCGs with networks and smuggling routes for cocaine and heroin from Mexico are shifting focus. There has been a large increase in fentanyl and methamphetamine smuggling from Mexico. Favouring profitability, OCGs are moving away from heroin and toward fentanyl. As meth becomes less expensive to produce, its street value is declining, leading to increased demand for meth, as people who use drugs shift away from more expensive drugs to meth. Notably, Canada has been identified as a global transshipment country for fentanyl. Currently, there is a five-to-one import-export ratio, with 300 different OCGs involved in importation.
The government has this woke view of criminal justice, that if people are kept out of prison, they will reform and all will be okay. I think drug dealers need to be in prison, not on house arrest where they can continue to ruin children’s lives and families' lives and devastate communities. Those most vulnerable in our society must be protected. I believe that is not in question.
In my home province, according to preliminary data released by the B.C. coroners service, the toxic illicit drug supply claimed the lives of at least 2,224 British Columbians in 2021. Lisa Lapointe, the chief coroner, stated, “Over the past seven years, our province has experienced a devastating loss of life due to a toxic illicit drug supply. This public health emergency has impacted families and communities across the province and shows no sign of abating.” In 2021 alone, more than 2,200 families experienced the devastating loss of a loved one.
In the past seven years, the rate of death due to illicit drug toxicity in our province has risen more than 400%. Drug toxicity is now second only to cancer in B.C. for potential years of life lost. Fentanyl was detected in 83% of samples tested in 2021. Carfentanil was present in 187 results, almost triple the number recorded in 2020. Illicit drug poisoning is now the leading cause of death among B.C. people aged 19 to 39, people in the prime of their lives. For men, the toxic drug crisis has been so severe that overall life expectancy at birth for males has declined in recent years in B.C.
The townships that experienced the highest number of illicit drug toxicity deaths in 2021 were Vancouver, Surrey and Victoria. For me, representing and living in South Surrey—White Rock, these are not just statistics. We live it every day in B.C.
I feel for those families that have lost loved ones to drugs. For that reason, I cannot support this government bill. Members can characterize me as they will, but six lives will be lost in British Columbia to drug overdose today, and I do not think Bill does a thing to deter drug dealers from killing my constituents. It makes their lives easier while they destroy those around them.
Madam Speaker, the government's Bill would amend the Criminal Code and the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act to repeal certain minimum penalties, allow for a greater use of conditional sentences and establish diversion measures for simple drug possession offences. There are two parts to the bill. The first repeals 20 mandatory minimum sentences for offences involving firearms and drugs, and the second introduces the principle of diversion for simple drug possession.
First, I must say that the Liberals' bill is certainly well intentioned. However, the timing of its introduction is rather odd, given that gun violence is spiking and the federal government, which is responsible for managing our borders, is being criticized for doing nothing to stem imports of illegal firearms. Not a day goes by without this issue being mentioned during question period in the House. The number of gun crimes has increased considerably over time. Between 2019 and 2020, the number of gun crimes committed in Montreal rose by 15%, and the number of firearms seized increased by 24%.
In addition, the goal is to repeal certain mandatory minimum sentences for drug production, yet the opioid crisis is claiming more and more lives in Quebec and Canada. If I put myself in the shoes of the families who have lost a loved one to a shooting or to the use of drugs laced with fentanyl by a unscrupulous dealer, I am not sure this is the response they were hoping for from the government at this point.
The bill repeals several minimum penalties for second and third offences. While it is true that mandatory minimum sentences for a first offence may impact social reintegration, keeping certain mandatory minimum sentences for second or even third offences could be justified as a way of upholding the credibility of our legal system. Maintaining public confidence in our justice institutions is also a concern that should not be dismissed out of hand.
Let us remember that, under the Harper government in 2006, a number of mandatory minimum sentences were challenged. Section 12 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which protects individuals from cruel and unusual punishment in Canada, is often used as an argument against mandatory minimum sentences. Over 210 constitutional challenges have been filed. According to the , 69% of the constitutional challenges involving mandatory minimum sentences for drug offences and 48% of those for firearms offences were successful. To be honest, we cannot call that a success.
That said, we are supporting Bill despite being somewhat dissatisfied with it. My esteemed colleagues from and repeatedly asked the government to split the bill in two, because we believe that tackling substance addiction and abolishing mandatory minimum sentences are two fundamentally different issues. Unfortunately, the government rejected our request, so here we are now.
We are disappointed with the part about mandatory minimum sentences, but we agree on the principle of establishing diversion measures as introduced in Bill C‑5. With respect to mandatory minimum sentences, the Bloc Québécois wants the legal system to adopt an approach that enables rehabilitation and reduces crime.
Considering that mandatory minimums have few benefits and introduce many problems, such as the overrepresentation of indigenous and Black communities in prison, in addition to increasing system costs and failing to deter crime, the Bloc Québécois supports the idea of repealing certain mandatory minimum sentences.
However, we believe this is a bad time to repeal mandatory minimums for firearms offences, because many Quebec and Canadian cities are seeing a firearms epidemic, due in part to the Liberal government's failure to implement border controls.
Repealing mandatory minimums without strong action by the federal government to counter the illegal importation of firearms at the border sends the wrong message. Although the Bloc Québécois can get behind repealing mandatory minimums for a first offence, we believe that keeping these sentences for second and even third offences can be justified, as this would maintain the public's trust in their justice institutions and the rehabilitation process.
Believing in second chances does not mean that people's actions do not have consequences. It is a question of common sense.
Although we think it is defensible to repeal mandatory minimum sentences for firearms possession, the fact that the bill repeals mandatory minimums for certain offences involving firearms, such as discharging a weapon with intent and robbery or extortion with a firearm, seems to contradict the government's claim that they are being maintained for certain categories of serious crimes.
During the last election campaign and during the debate on Bill , we expressed support for the introduction of the principle of diversion for simple drug possession. However, I would remind the House that such a measure will only be effective if investments are made in health care through transfers to support health care systems and community organizations, which need ways to support people grappling with addiction and mental health problems. They are doing amazing work on the ground, and they need resources to carry out their mission.
We have said it before, but it bears repeating: The Bloc Québécois and the Quebec government demand health care funding. I think we have said this 572 times, but we want health transfers to cover 35% of the system costs. Unfortunately, the government has failed to respond. It is silent in the face of the unanimous demands of Quebec and the provinces. Those demands have been reiterated every year since the Liberals came to power, in 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021 and today in 2022.
Will they have the audacity to keep saying no until 2023? I hope not.