Mr. Speaker, it is good to see you back in your seat.
I appreciate the opportunity to speak on Bill , An act to amend the Criminal Code and the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, which proposes to consider alternatives to incarceration in appropriate cases while reducing recidivism and keeping society safe.
I want to acknowledge that I am speaking on the traditional unceded lands of the Algonquin people.
Bill is an important step forward in addressing systemic racism and discrimination. It puts forth an approach that promotes fairer sentencing outcomes for everyone, notably indigenous peoples, Black persons and members of marginalized communities who are disproportionately and negatively impacted by inflexible sentencing laws. These changes would continue to denounce and hold offenders accountable.
The bill advances three broad categories of reforms. I will speak on the specifics later on. I want to speak today about what it means to be incarcerated. I know that the Conservative approach to crime is about locking people up and throwing away the key. The reality is that many jurisdictions where this was tried have realized its innate failures. I want to note that Newt Gingrich, one of the early proponents of mandatory minimum penalties, has now recanted and suggested that mandatory minimum penalties do not work. All across the United States, this realization is coming into the public discourse.
Incarceration is not the answer to all people. There is a need for us to use incarceration only for crimes that are of a serious nature and that pose risks to individuals. We need to provide off-ramps. Systemic racism in the criminal justice system is real. While we may think that our justice system is blind, the outcomes tells us a different story. Indigenous and Black Canadians who go to prison are treated differently; that is, they are mistreated. Their lives are devalued. I would invite anyone who still doubts that to look at the latest Auditor General's report on our correctional system.
I want to give members some snippets of her findings. For example, indigenous and Black offenders faced greater barriers to safe and gradual reintegration into society than other incarcerated groups.
The process of assigning security classifications, including the use of the Custody Rating Scale, and frequent overrides of the scale by corrections staff, result in disproportionately higher numbers of indigenous and Black offenders being placed in maximum security institutions. I quote:
We noted Indigenous representation gaps among correctional officers across institutions, Black representation gaps among program and parole officers at institutions with a high number of Black offenders, and gender representation gaps among correctional officers at women’s institutions.
Indigenous and Black offenders, for example, were placed at a higher security level on admission into custody at twice the average rate of other offenders. Indigenous and Black men were placed at maximum security institutions at twice the rate of other offenders and made up 51% of maximum security placements.
The report added:
We also found that Indigenous women were placed at maximum security at more than 3 times the rate of non‑Indigenous women and made up almost 70% of maximum-security placements.
Corrections staff can override classifications, which means that once a classification is completed, corrections staff have the discretion, at times, to override them. In this case, corrections staff overrode up to 53% of minimum security placements, compared with 27% for non-indigenous women. Indigenous women were classified upwards by 53%, while the average was 27% for non-indigenous women.
For indigenous men, correctional staff overrode up to 46% of minimum security placements to higher levels compared with 33% for non-indigenous offenders. The report said:
...more Indigenous offenders remained in custody until their statutory release and were released directly into the community from higher levels of security.
This essentially means that once somebody is classified, the higher the security classification, the harder it is for them to get the programs of support necessary for them to reintegrate into society.
It also means that they serve a longer period of their sentence in custody, while those who were maybe classified at the lower levels are able to spend less time in custody and more time in bridging programs that will allow them to integrate within the community. This essentially leads to higher levels of recidivism.
For me the most profound thing about the Auditor General's report is that, for the first time, it has quantified systemic racism within our criminal justice system. As we look at reducing mandatory minimum penalties, a very important takeaway is for us to reflect on what that means. We know the offences that are the subject of Bill , for which we are repealing many of the mandatory minimum penalties, directly have an impact on indigenous and Black offenders. It is so critical that we keep that in mind as we look at this bill.
I do want to talk about my personal experience working with young people in the criminal justice system. I used to run an organization called the Canadian Tamil Youth Development Centre back in the late 1990s, early 2000s, before going to law school. I dealt with a number of young people who were involved in the criminal justice system as young offenders and even young adult offenders. I was able to work with them for many years. I still continue to call many of those people my friends because of the relationships we built during that time.
Some of these young people were involved in violence. Some of them were involved in petty theft or other mishaps within the community. What I realized during that time was that they needed support. It is very easy for us, as a society, to incarcerate someone. It is the easiest thing we can do. The harder thing for us to do is to support young people as they redeem themselves as they come out and reintegrate into society.
One of the things I realized is that the more support that we were able to give young people, the more off-ramps we provide to those who may engage, for the first time or second time, in the criminal justice system, the better off society is in the long term. I have consistently seen, in a number of cases, these young people who have come out of the system, and they are now very active and contributing members of our society. That is not always the case, but based on the vast majority of the people I have worked with, that continues to be what I have seen.
During the deliberations at committee, we heard from a number of important stakeholders. I want to highlight the testimony of Raphael Tachie, who is the president of the Canadian Association of Black Lawyers and who obviously supports the repeal of many of the mandatory minimum penalties that are here.
He spoke about what his lived experience was as a young Black man growing up in British Columbia. He talked about the first time he was at a theatre and there was some commotion going on outside of the movie theatre. He was there on a date. He found himself, with many other young Black men, surrounded by police and essentially questioned. Luckily for him, he had a great support system that allowed him to really defend himself because he did nothing wrong.
However, the reality for many is that over-policing oftentimes leads to over-arresting and subsequent convictions because, once one is within the cycle of the criminal justice system, it often just perpetuates. The safeguards are limited.
When Mr. Tachie spoke, his words resonated with me and my personal life, considering the number of times, as someone who is racialized and who grew up in Scarborough, I have been stopped by the police. I continue to be stopped, and this is not something that unique to me. It is the same for many people who may have grown up in my community. They get randomly stopped and questioned. This happens to me even as an MP. It did not stop when I became an MP, a parliamentary secretary or the candidate for the Liberal Party. It continued.
Especially for young people, this means that oftentimes they are without the right supports, without the right legal advocacy and without parents who are able to support them, perhaps because they have multiple jobs or have jobs where they cannot take time off. It really does put young people at an enormous disadvantage.
I often reflect on what Mr. Tachie spoke about and on what my life might be like today if, during one of those half a dozen or dozen times when I had been pulled over or subjected to this type of inquiry, I had given the wrong answer or had been with the wrong people. This is the story for so many people, not only within my community of Scarborough—Rouge Park, but also in many other parts across Canada. It is so profound.
The incident that occurred with George Floyd two years ago really tells a story of the disparity we see in the U.S., but it is not unique. We know there have been a number of times in Canada where indigenous men and women have oftentimes been arbitrarily arrested or arbitrarily beaten up. We have seen where discrimination does not really stop, even with chiefs and people who have a national or local profile, because of who they are, and we see that particularly with young Black men.
In 2019, just before or around the election, I remember the current came to my riding on his way to the GTA, and we were able to meet with a whole bunch of stakeholders, most of whom work with youth in our communities. The overwhelming message was that we need to ensure that mandatory minimum penalties are addressed. They have disadvantaged many indigenous and Black Canadians. It is a system that does not work. They are failed policies of the past and something we need to address. Louis March, who many members may know is the leader of the Zero Gun Violence Movement, was one of the people there. His entire life has been devoted to fighting gun violence. He profoundly stated that the system of mandatory minimum penalties does not work and asked that our government address it, so here we are.
First, we are here to repeal all MMPs for drug offences, tobacco-related offences and 13 firearm-related offences. I know that when we say we want to reduce the mandatory minimum penalties for firearms there are many in the House who may legitimately ask why we are reducing the penalties when the use of firearms is on the rise. It is a question that is very pertinent here because Bill , which was introduced by the , addresses that issue as it would increase the maximum penalty for gun-related offences from 10 to 14 years. We are saying there is a need for judicial discretion. That is what that bill would do, it would ensure judicial discretion. It would give discretion to the judge to look at the individual and the circumstances of the case and increase the penalty up to 14 years. I think that is a very important point that is sometimes missed in this debate.
Second, it would remove certain restrictions that would prevent a sentencing court from considering the imposition of conditional sentencing orders. That is a very important issue. It is important to note that our criminal justice system is an unfair system, and I have outlined the issues of systemic racism, particularly as they relate to indigenous and Black Canadians, which not only results in over-incarceration, but also unfairly misclassifies people.
What conditional sentencing orders do is allow the judge to impose conditional sentences, which may be out of custody, on individuals who do not pose a risk to society. This is a very important point again. Oftentimes it is not about giving every offender a conditional sentence. It is about smart policy that says, when we put someone in institutions, we criminalize them even further. We do not give them the right supports. We take them away from their families, and we take them away from the addiction treatment they may need. We also take them away from their responsibilities of going to work, doing work in the community, being a member of their church or being part of the local community, which would give them the support they need to get out of the criminal justice system.
It is a very smart policy. Oftentimes it is mischaracterized, but this would not be available to everyone. It would be available to those who are deemed to not pose a risk to society.
If we look at the numbers over the years, prior to many of these mandatory minimum penalties coming in, there were over 11,000 conditional sentencing orders in Canada. That number is now down to about 6,000.
I know many colleagues who are very progressive would also say that this bill does not go far enough. I would tell them that this is an important bill because it would allow conditional sentencing orders to be expanded in a very smart way, which would allow judges the judicial discretion to place individuals who do not pose a risk and allow them to pay their debt to society while allowing them to continue their lives at the same time. This is about 5,000 Canadians, as per the statistics we have seen.
The final part of this is that we are looking to encourage alternate approaches at an early stage for responding to persons in possession of illicit drugs. I know the recently supported the call from British Columbia and allowed British Columbia to take more control over issues around drugs. We know that the right supports are essential to ensuring that addictions and mental health are supported. This bill allows that.
Unfortunately, I do not have sufficient time to complete my speech. I do want to emphasize that this is smart public policy. This is smart criminal justice policy. I look forward to the support of all members here.
Madam Speaker, one man is dead and at least seven people were injured in a rash of bloody attacks on the weekend as tensions reportedly escalate among drug dealers and gang members in a city already troubled by recent violence. At least two people were shot and five stabbed Friday evening to early Monday morning in addition to a slaying Sunday at West Broadway Commons, an apartment building in Winnipeg. Winnipeg police spokesperson Constable Dani McKinnon said on Monday that there have been 60 shootings so far this year. Tragically, a man named Austin Mark Chief, 24, later died in hospital. The death is being investigated as the city's 24th homicide of the year.
Mitch Bourbonniere, a community social worker whom we also had at the public safety and national security committee for our guns and gangs study, gave a comment to the Winnipeg Free Press for the story, where he said of the violence:
“It's intensified...meth and the opiates and fentanyl and the poisonings [have increased]...It's really violent out there right now...I've come to the conclusion that we are undeniably in a violent spike right now in our city.”
“It's ongoing, but it's escalated. People are more desperate, more violent, there's more competition, it's more serious street drugs, there's more guns—there's just more of everything,” he said. “Drugs, gangs and guns—those three words.”
That was the top story in the Winnipeg Free Press just this morning.
Just last week, there was yet another story. This is almost weekly now in Montreal. The police are investigating three shootings in various areas of Montreal. Drive-by shootings have also increased in Montreal and cities like Toronto. Another story from just last week, June 6, 2022, in Winnipeg was told about an adult female with her infant child being robbed at gunpoint and having her car stolen in front of her. She was robbed at gunpoint with her infant child.
These stories are becoming a weekly occurrence in Winnipeg and cities like Toronto, Montreal, Regina, Edmonton and Vancouver, so much so that I think the public is starting to become desensitized to the rising violent crime in our cities under the Liberal government's watch. It is fact that violent crime has increased steadily in the seven years the Liberals have been in power. It is fact that our streets are less safe under the so-called leadership of the Liberal government and the .
Today, we are debating third reading of Bill , which would remove mandatory minimum sentences for a number of serious crimes. I am going to go through them for the House.
The bill would remove mandatory prison time for firearm offences. From my recent discourse, I cannot wrap my head around how the government can claim it is getting tough on guns while Bill would remove mandatory prison time for dangerous gun crimes, for example, robbery with a firearm. In the story I just told, where a woman with her infant child in Winnipeg was robbed at gunpoint and her car was stolen from her, no longer would that individual who terrorized that woman with her baby face mandatory prison time under Bill C-5.
Other crimes are extortion with a firearm, weapons trafficking, importing or exporting knowing it is unauthorized and discharging a firearm with the intent to injure, which is firing a gun at someone with the intention to hit the person with the bullet. These would no longer have mandatory prison time in Canada if Bill comes into place.
Other such crimes are using a firearm in the commission of an offence and possession of firearms knowing their possession is unauthorized. Someone who is not allowed to have a firearm but has one would no longer have to face mandatory prison time. Meanwhile, we well know the stats show that firearm violence in Canada is by those who are not legally allowed to possess a firearm. Under Bill , no longer would those individuals who would terrorize our communities be absolutely going to prison.
Other charges include possession of a prohibited or restricted firearm with ammunition, possession of a weapon obtained by commission of an offence, possession for the purpose of weapons trafficking, and discharging a firearm recklessly. These are very serious gun violence crimes that would not longer face mandatory prison time because of Bill .
I consistently hear from Liberal members that they are repealing these bad Conservative policies, but the fact is that many of these mandatory minimums were instituted by Liberal governments. In fact, one of them in particular, the use of a firearm in the commission of an offence, was instituted by Pierre Elliott Trudeau's government back in 1976. The Liberals are actually keeping a number of mandatory minimum sentences that the Conservatives did bring in, so their argument does not stand.
To be clear, the Liberals would be eliminating mandatory prison time for criminals who commit robbery with a firearm, weapons trafficking and drive-by shootings. They make the argument that it is soft on crime and say, “Let us go easy on criminals.” They seem to be more interested in defending criminals than the victims being terrorized with guns.
For example, the Liberals would expand conditional sentencing and would allow house arrest for crimes such as sexual assault. If a person sexually assaults someone, they could be serving house arrest in the neighbourhood of the individual they sexually assaulted. Conditional sentencing, house arrest and others would become more commonplace and more easily accessed by the courts because of Bill .
Then there is kidnapping and abduction of a person under the age of 14. Abducting a child could mean house arrest. Arson for fraudulent purposes, so setting fire to things, could mean house arrest too, as could assault causing bodily harm or with a weapon, assaulting a peace officer causing bodily harm or with a weapon and trafficking in or exporting/importing schedule III drugs.
Let us talk a bit more about the drug offences, because this is really interesting. The bill would also eliminate mandatory prison time for drug dealers. Last year, over 7,000 Canadians died as a result of opioid overdoses from things like fentanyl and carfentanil. Addiction to drugs should be treated as a health care issue. The Conservatives believe that someone addicted to drugs needs to be treated. We need to have more access. It is why in the last election we proposed building more treatment beds. That is very clear.
However, the individuals responsible for pushing deadly drugs on Canadians, killing 7,000 people last year, deserve to go to prison, full stop. This bill would eliminate mandatory prison time for trafficking or possession for the purpose of trafficking drugs. That is drug pushers and drug dealers. It also includes importing or exporting or possession for the purpose of exporting. People who smuggle drugs into Canada that kill thousands of Canadians would no longer have mandatory prison time.
Consider the production of substances in schedule I or schedule II, which are drugs such as heroin, cocaine, fentanyl and crystal meth. The people who create these drugs, who kill thousands of Canadians, particularly young people in B.C. and Ontario, would no longer face mandatory prison time as a result of Bill .
This comes in light of the controversial decision in B.C. to decriminalize 2.5 grams of opioids and other hard drugs. For carfentanil, for example, 2.5 grams is capable of killing 1,250 people. What message does it send that we are decriminalizing at the same time as Bill is coming out? On one side, we are decriminalizing deadly drugs that killed 7,000 Canadians last year, and on the other side, we are saying there is no more mandatory prison time for the people who are responsible for making those drugs, smuggling those drugs or trafficking those drugs and preying upon vulnerable Canadians. What kind of message is that sending? Drug dealers are rubbing their hands at how much money they are going to make because of these actions.
It is devastating for families. I know there are different approaches for how to deal with the drug epidemic in Canada, but I firmly believe, as do other Conservatives, that anyone responsible for dealing these dangerous drugs that kill thousands of Canadians deserves to go to prison. It is over 7,000 people. Opioids are more deadly to Canadian young people than COVID was. That is how serious the drug epidemic is.
The Liberals are letting those responsible for taking advantage of vulnerable Canadians off the hook. This is unacceptable. It is unacceptable to the 7,000 families that lost young people last year to opioid deaths.
This is all coming in light of violent crime stats going up significantly in Canada in the last seven years. For example, across the country, police reported 743 homicides in 2020, which is the highest number of homicides recorded in Canada since 1991. There were also 56 more homicides in 2020 than in 2019, a hike that pushed Canada's rate up 7% to almost two homicides per every 100,000 people in Canada in 2020. That is up from the year prior. Violent crime is increasing and the Liberal government is bringing in Bill , which would let individuals who use firearms in very dangerous crimes off the hook.
There was also a recent Statistics Canada report released just a few weeks ago that said, per The Globe and Mail, “since 2009, the per capita rate of firearms being pointed at someone in the commission of a crime has nearly tripled, and the rate at which guns are fired with intent to kill or wound is up fivefold.” Again, as I said, these crimes, such as firing a gun with the intent to injure someone, are up fivefold, but no longer would those individuals face mandatory prison time.
The Toronto Police Service has proposed a number of solutions. It said that the federal government should look at requiring bail hearings for people charged with the most serious firearm offences to be heard by judges instead of by a justice of the peace. It is a move the police said would “clearly convey Parliament's view of the seriousness of these offences.”
Again, the things we do in this place have important symbolism as well. The message we send to criminals and victims alike is very important. I think I have outlined quite clearly the message the Liberal government is sending to criminals who endanger the lives of individuals, especially in our vulnerable communities.
The police are also proposing bail reform, and I recently spoke to a number of police in southern Ontario and got their thoughts on bail reform. Members may remember that a few years ago, in June 2019, Bill , a Liberal bill, updated the bail provisions in Canada's Criminal Code for the first time since 1972. There are varying opinions on this. Police will say that some aspects were good and that some aspects were very bad.
In a story from last year, Victoria Police Chief Del Manak was asked, “Why are violent, prolific and repeat offenders being released from custody with little or nothing to prevent them from reoffending?” We hear this from police all the time. It is the revolving door. Police put themselves in danger to catch criminals who are terrorizing neighbourhoods and put them in jail, but they are out the next week. It is a revolving door of essentially 100 to 200 offenders in cities, particularly in vulnerable neighbourhoods. They are the cause of the vast majority of the violence. The police catch and released them every week, putting police lives in danger to secure the safety of vulnerable communities.
The police are catching these guys over and over again, so I have asked them about this. Last year, the Victoria police chief was asked about this too. Of course, we know that in Victoria and Vancouver, it is unbelievable to walk the streets and see the crime that is going on, but as the Victoria police chief said, per the Victoria Times Colonist:
The answer to that...lies in recent extensive changes to the country's bail system that were intended to address clogged courts and the over-representation of vulnerable populations....
The law makes it clear, said Manak, that police are to give primary consideration to the release of the accused at the earliest opportunity and under the least onerous conditions.
I asked police about this. Now, this was a couple of years ago, in 2019, and bail reforms had a bit of time to come into place. However, many in the police forces, the ones who see this more than anyone in the House, believe those bail reforms have further quickened the catch-and-release policies that we have seen. I bring this up to outline that we are seeing a rise in gun violence and violent crime in our cities, and many believe it is tied to the bail reforms from a few years ago, which are coming home to roost now.
We now have Bill . Do members think it is going to get any better when we do not put violent criminals in jail for firing guns at people with the intent to injure them with a bullet, for robbing them at gunpoint or for pushing drugs on vulnerable Canadians and killing 7,000 people last year? What do we think is going to happen to the crime statistics when the bill comes in? Do we really think they are going to go down? I do not think so. Based on the recent policies on bail reform and the feedback I am getting from frontline police officers, I would guess that in a couple of years, we are going to be seeing increased violence in our streets and less safe streets than we have now because of Bill .
House arrest is very interesting. If someone fires a gun at someone, they would not be serving mandatory prison time but would maybe get house arrest. What does that mean? I was not even sure what “house arrest” meant. I kind of thought it meant that a police officer would be stationed outside the house of a dangerous offender who shot a gun at someone, robbed someone at gunpoint or extorted them with a firearm, as they must be watched. It does not mean that exactly. This individual is put in their home in the community, often the one they terrorized, and is in essence left to their own devices.
Can members imagine what is going happen when a vulnerable community has been terrorized by a criminal with a gun, and rather than being removed from the situation and put in prison to serve time for the crime they did to their community, they would be serving a sentence surrounded by the gang influences that led them to a life of crime? How do we think that is going to work?
There were some comments from the members opposite, and I would ask them to consider sexual assault. I went through this already. A person can sexually assault someone and then serve house arrest in the community of the individual they sexually assaulted. It is in the bill. It really does not make a lot of sense to me.
We heard the speech before me by the . I am sure he was very sincere in his speech, and I have a lot of respect for the member. However, whenever he and the Liberals are pushed on this and asked why they go easy on criminals who use guns in dangerous crimes, they say they are also increasing mandatory sentences for them. The argument does not follow. We ask why they are going easy on criminals with guns and they say they are increasing sentencing. It does not make sense. They say they are increasing sentencing, but they are also letting them off the hook to serve house arrest in the communities they have terrorized.
I just went over a situation where a woman with her child was robbed at gunpoint. Robbery with a firearm will no longer get mandatory prison time. That may be something members opposite are uncomfortable with, but that is in their bill. The individual who robbed that woman at gunpoint with her baby deserves to go to prison, no excuses. There is no other way to see it. It is unbelievable. That individual, who the police did catch, was charged with robbery with a firearm and violating his prohibition order for possessing a firearm. He had already been caught before, charged with something and then released. Now he has terrorized the community again and robbed a woman with a baby at gunpoint and will likely be out again.
Recently, I was in Grand Bend, a lovely community on Lake Huron, with the member for . I was speaking to police on the ground there and they told me what has happened as a result of the Liberals' soft-on-crime policy on bail reform. An individual was stabbed to death outside a bar at 2 a.m. in this beautiful little tourist town. It is a very rare occurrence in this otherwise very safe, wonderful community. Two weeks later, when that individual was released on bail, he went into a gas station and threatened the lives of two teenage girls at the cash. This man murdered someone with a knife, an innocent man who was outside of the bar at the wrong time. He murdered him and was out on the streets two weeks later threatening the lives of two teenage girls. That is a result of bail reform and what the Liberals have done with their soft-on-crime policies.
If the Liberals would just take time to talk to the police in their communities, they would hear the same things I am hearing. It is unbelievable. It is as if parts of our communities are becoming lawless.
When we think of police, what do members think it feels like for police officers to endanger their lives and run after the guy I just talked about who robbed a woman at gunpoint? What do members think it is like for them? They are putting their lives on the line and he is back on the street three days later. What kind of incentive do they have to rush to the scene of a crime when they see the same guy they have been apprehending week over week? It is unbelievable.
I would like to move an amendment with my remaining time. I move:
That the motion be amended by deleting all the words after the word “That” and substituting the following:
Bill C-5, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, be not now read a third time, but be referred back to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights for the purpose of reconsidering clauses 5, 6, 7, 8, 10 & 12 with a view to remove the provisions in the Bill that would eliminate a number of mandatory minimum sentences for very serious crimes, namely robbery with a firearm, weapons trafficking and discharging a firearm with intent, possession of a weapon obtained by commission of an offence and possession for purpose of weapons trafficking.
The purpose of this amendment is to take out the most insane parts of Bill so that individuals—
Madam Speaker, I will start where I left off.
The bill summary reads as follows:
This enactment amends the Criminal Code and the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act to, among other things, repeal certain mandatory minimum penalties, allow for a greater use of conditional sentences and establish diversion measures for simple drug possession offences.
For the Bloc Québécois, which has consistently advocated for diversion, rehabilitation and giving judges the discretion to determine appropriate sentences, this looks like motherhood and apple pie at first glance. However, as is often the case in the House, that pie was made with rotten apples that no one wants to eat. I am very pleased with the diversion measures. Too many people who need health care more than anything are unnecessarily crowding our courthouses and prisons. As unfortunate as addictions are, they need to be treated, not punished. This flawed and harmful paradigm needs to be set aside.
The same is true for conditional sentence orders. They are not a magic bullet, far from it. If they are used appropriately, and I have no reason to believe that our courts would be incapable of making sound decisions, they too will lead to better rehabilitation.
Most of the minimum sentences slated for repeal should be, and I applaud this expression of confidence in our courts. Judges who preside over trials hear very detailed adjudicative fact evidence, so they are in a better position than anyone else to determine the appropriate sentence for any given situation. I have faith in them.
That said, Bill is overly broad. Quebec and Canada are experiencing a widespread gun crime crisis, but the government's only solution is to abolish minimum penalties for some of these offences. I will go through some of them.
Section 244(1) of the Criminal Code states the following with respect to discharging a firearm with intent:
Every person commits an offence who discharges a firearm at a person with intent to wound, maim or disfigure, to endanger the life of or to prevent the arrest or detention of any person — whether or not that person is the one at whom the firearm is discharged.
That is pretty serious. The Criminal Code currently provides for a minimum penalty of five to seven years for these crimes if they are committed in association with or at the direction of a criminal organization.
Armed robbery is liable to a minimum penalty of four years pursuant to section 344 of the Criminal Code.
Subsection 346(1) of the Criminal Code defines extortion with a firearm as follows:
Every one commits extortion who, without reasonable justification or excuse and with intent to obtain anything, by threats, accusations, menaces or violence induces or attempts to induce any person, whether or not he is the person threatened, accused or menaced or to whom violence is shown, to do anything or cause anything to be done.
If a firearm is used in those offences, the minimum sentence is four years.
There are others, including robbery with a firearm, discharging a firearm with intent to wound, maim or disfigure and extortion with a firearm, but for those three examples, the Criminal Code currently sets out minimum sentences.
Are judges capable of applying the appropriate penalties for these offences? Honestly, I think so. I think our courts are quite capable of hearing the evidence and determining what is appropriate in these and other cases. However, at a time when gun violence is on the rise, especially in the Montreal area, but also elsewhere in Quebec and Canada, I think this sends the wrong message.
That is certainly not what I would call wise use of the power to legislate. The government could have proposed diversion and rehabilitation measures, as well as the repeal of certain minimum sentences, with the exclusion of crimes as serious as those committed with firearms. It could have done that.
At the start of the study of Bill , the Bloc Québécois asked that the bill be split in two so we could study diversion in one bill and then the minimum penalties issue in another bill. We could have passed one bill quickly and worked on the other, perhaps crafting it to reflect what Quebeckers and Canadians would want it to include. Unfortunately, the government is being obstinate, which I do not quite understand. In fact, I would say I do not understand it at all.
It seems that we will unfortunately also have to accept the rotten apples if we want to have the remedies of diversion and conditional sentencing and the elimination of certain minimum mandatory sentences for very specific offences. It is very disappointing to see the democratic process being taken hostage, and one day it is going to backfire. In the meantime, let us hope that the government will become a little wiser. Whether the government is Liberal or Conservative, let us hope that it will happen, and that one day it will accept the opposition's arguments. Even when the opposition parties disagree and their position may seem unfounded, it is often well-founded and represents the opinion of a large part of the population. Let us hope that the government will one day accept the opposition's arguments and split this type of bill so we can discuss each provision objectively and effectively in the best interests of the people of Quebec and Canada.
For now, given the circumstances, the Bloc Québécois will have to vote in favour of Bill C-5. We will support it because, once again, we believe that diversion is essential for the entire justice system. We need it. We will vote in favour of Bill C-5 because we believe that conditional sentences are judicious and essential to the proper functioning of our courts, to the proper functioning of the entire justice system and to the rehabilitation of many offenders. We will vote in favour of Bill C-5 because eliminating some of these minimum penalties is also essential to the justice system and to rehabilitation.
While we will vote in favour of Bill C-5, we will be holding our noses over this denial of democracy that the government is perpetuating by refusing to remove from Bill C-5 the provisions that will undermine the fight against organized crime, the fight against the daily and rampant shootings on our streets.
Madam Speaker, as I rise today to speak at third reading of Bill , my mind is once again filled with questions and confusion.
As critic for status of women and gender equality, I have observed an uptick in the number of femicides and incidents involving gender-based violence. Like my colleague from , whom I commend for his speech and for sharing his time with me, I wonder about the odd message the government is sending with this bill.
I will therefore address the delicate question of mandatory minimum penalties by starting with my experience in the community sector. Next, I will address the bill's shortcomings. I will end with a few suggestions for countering violence and sending a strong message to end the acrimony currently surrounding the bill and, in particular, the disinformation we have been hearing, as my colleague from mentioned.
I have a background in community work, more specifically with an alternative justice and mediation organization. I sincerely believe in restorative justice. I am entirely in agreement with the Bloc's traditional position, which mirrors Quebec's position on mandatory minimum penalties.
When it comes to justice, the Bloc Québécois advocates for an approach that promotes rehabilitation and crime reduction. We believe that mandatory minimum penalties, or MMPs, have few benefits, that they do not deter crime and that they introduce many problems, including the overrepresentation of indigenous and Black communities in prisons, as well as additional costs to the system. The Bloc Québécois is therefore more favourable to the principle of repealing certain MMPs.
However, the Bloc also believes in timing, since life is all about timing. Now is not the right time to repeal MMPs for firearms offences, seeing as a number of cities in Quebec and Canada are plagued by a rash of gun violence, mainly because of the Liberal government's inaction when it comes to border controls.
Many women's groups are particularly concerned about this and would like to see better gun control measures to help reduce the number of femicides. Repealing MMPs without doing anything to stop the illegal flow of firearms across the border sends a mixed message.
Conversely, Bill would strengthen certain maximum penalties, but we must be careful not to mix up these two bills. Although we believe that repealing MMPs for firearms possession is defensible, the proposed repeal of MMPs for certain gun crimes, including discharging a firearm with intent and armed robbery or extortion, appears to contradict the government's claim that it will maintain MMPs for certain categories of serious crime.
We need to monitor this aspect of the bill closely, as well as the possibility of maintaining MMPs for second or third offences. As the Bloc Québécois suggested, the courts could be given the power to depart from the MMPs in cases of serious crime where justified by exceptional circumstances.
I would like to clarify that the Bloc Québécois expressed support for the introduction of the principle of diversion for simple drug possession during the last election campaign and the debates on Bill . Let me remind my colleagues that some of the MMPs that are to be repealed involve drug production, at a time when the opioid crisis is claiming more and more lives in Quebec and Canada.
During the last election campaign, I was approached about this topic by community groups that work with the homeless and whose street outreach workers are doing an excellent job, like those in Granby. However, the Bloc Québécois would like to point out that such a measure will be effective only if investments are made in health care, to support health care systems and community organizations. These institutions need resources so they can help people struggling with addiction and mental health issues, another subject that voters broached with me during the last election campaign.
The Bloc Québécois would like to note that we have still not gotten a response from the Liberal government on the issue of increasing health care funding to cover 35% of system costs, despite unanimous calls from Quebec and the provinces. Obviously, without that level of investment, it is hard for community organizations to meet the growing needs created by increased homelessness in municipalities like Granby. The pandemic only exacerbated the problem. Also, as critic for status of women, I see that homeless women are especially vulnerable.
Once again, the Bloc Québécois speaks for Quebec, where diversion is a well-recognized principle that has been integrated into several areas of the justice system. For example, in children's law, extrajudicial alternatives have been offered to young offenders since the 1970s thanks to Claude Castonguay's reform of the Youth Protection Act. There is also the alternative measures program for adults in indigenous communities, which allows individuals to opt for measures other than judicial proceedings.
There is the justice and mental health support program, which allows individuals who have committed a crime and are fit to stand trial to obtain a reduced sentence or, in some cases, benefit from diversion. There is also the general alternative measures program for adults, which is currently being implemented and which gives adults accused of certain crimes the opportunity to take responsibility for their actions and resolve their conflict with the law in ways other than the usual judicial proceedings provided for in the Criminal Code.
For all of these reasons, I would like to salute the organization Justice alternative et médiation, for which I used to work. I would like to apologize for missing the general meeting, but I know that the organization's work on all the issues I mentioned is crucial.
Lastly, with regard to drugs, there is the Court of Quebec's addiction treatment program, which makes it possible to postpone sentencing to allow the offender to undergo court-supervised treatment for addiction. It also provides for close collaboration between the court and drug addiction resources to establish treatment methods, including therapy, rehabilitation and social integration. Unfortunately, this program is offered only in Montreal and Puvirnituq. It would be good if it could be expanded.
In short, as the previous examples show, the principle of diversion is not new in Quebec's judicial ecosystem. Quebec's Bill 32 was studied and also involved diversion. The CAQ government concentrated on securing the passage of this bill, which aims to promote the efficiency of penal justice. The bill introduced the concept of an adaptation program, which will give municipalities another option for administering statements of offence to vulnerable individuals, such as those experiencing homelessness or mental health or addiction issues.
As critic for status of women, I am always rather appalled to observe the overrepresentation of indigenous individuals in prisons and to note that the problem is more pronounced among women than men. Some 38% of women incarcerated in provincial and territorial prisons after sentencing are indigenous, while the corresponding rate of incarceration among men identifying as indigenous is 26%, so this affects far more women than men. In federal prisons, indigenous women account for 31% of offenders sentenced to prison, while indigenous men account for only 2%. These are huge numbers. Given these figures, could MMPs be contributing to increasing the overrepresentation of Black and indigenous people in the prison system? Certain signs point to yes.
Diversion is also beneficial for individuals. It reduces the stigma associated with drug use, as well as the negative consequences of a criminal record, which are disproportionate to the crime of simple possession. One last thing I should mention is that MMPs are expensive, because they generate long-term correctional service costs and court costs. MMPs have a major social cost because the money invested in putting people in prison is not devoted to social reintegration.
In conclusion, because of my background in community work, I am sensitive to many considerations associated with this bill. One thing is certain: It should not relieve us of our responsibility as members of Parliament, especially since gun crime is an important issue, given recent events where many innocent victims were killed by guns. Although we agree with the repeal of MMPs, we should not minimize gun crime or the importance of making the public feel safe and considering better gun control measures. That will be debated in another bill. Let us focus on the bill at hand.
I can say one thing. On the one side, we have the NDP saying that this bill does not go far enough. On the other, we have the Conservatives clinging to their “tough on crime” approach. Is that the way to go? I do not know.
Then there are the Liberals, who, as I mentioned, are playing both sides of the fence, especially in the case of crimes against women. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada's call to action 32 sought to allow judges to depart from MMPs under certain circumstances, by which I mean serious crimes against women. The idea is to allow judges to decide whether getting rid of the MMP is a good idea. This is meant to send a strong message, especially in the case of serious crimes against women. The Liberals managed to do this in response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's recommendation.
Once again, this bill reflects the Liberals' penchant for catch-all bills. Minimum penalties, maximum penalties, diversion: Everything is lumped together. In short, once again, the Bloc Québécois is acting like the adult in the room, trying to adopt the most well-reasoned and reasonable approach.
Madam Speaker, I am happy to rise virtually to speak to Bill at third reading, but I have to say that I look forward to the day when circumstances do not force me to give speeches through pinhole cameras, with all the technical problems that go with it.
I want to start today by talking about what Bill is and what it is not. I want to say clearly, as we approach third reading of this bill, that I am happy to speak in support of it because of what is actually in it.
Though modest, Bill C-5 is an important contribution to tackling the systemic racism in our justice system. All we have to do is take a brief look at the statistics, which show that despite no more involvement with drugs by certain communities and no more involvement in criminal activities, certain members of Canadian society, indigenous people and racialized Canadians, end up in prison far more often, far out of proportion to other Canadians.
The correctional investigator pointed out that indigenous people make up less than 5% of the population, but over 30% of the people in Canadian prisons. Canadians who identify as Black are about 3.5% of the population and over 7% of those who are in prison. The situation is worse when it comes to indigenous women and women who live in poverty. These women make up over 50% of the population in women's prisons. Again, if we look at Black Canadian women, they are about 3% of the population but make up over 9% of the inmates in correctional institutions. Clearly, we have a problem with systemic racism in our justice system.
Bill would also make a modest contribution to the fight against the toxic drug poisoning crisis in our country. Removing mandatory minimums for drug offences and increasing the ability of police and of judges to divert those who are struggling with addiction from prison to treatment will obviously help.
Is there more we can do on both systemic racism and the opioid crisis? Clearly there is.
Let me talk at the outset about what Bill does not do, because we have heard many outrageous claims, from the Conservatives in particular but sometimes also from the Bloc, about what the bill does. The bill does not in any way reduce sentences that judges will hand out for serious crimes. Removing mandatory minimums does exactly what it sounds like: It removes the minimum penalty for an offence, not the maximum, not the average, not the normal penalty, but the minimum.
The evidence we heard at committee, as well as the evidence in criminal justice, is quite clear. The mandatory minimums do not deter crimes. There are very few criminals who thumb through the Criminal Code to decide which offence offers them the best deal, obviously. We know from research what the real deterrent is, and that is getting caught. All criminals tend to think that they are the smartest in the bunch and will not get caught, but it is that fear of enforcement that is actually a deterrent to crime.
The evidence shows us that mandatory minimums, if anything, actually increase the likelihood of recidivism and that in fact their existence makes the public, if anything, less safe rather than more safe. We should pay no attention to those who tell us that Bill is soft on crime. Instead, let us look for a moment at what it actually does.
It removes 20 mandatory minimum penalties: 14 from the Criminal Code and six from the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. There are many more mandatory minimum penalties that could be removed, but we heard from experts that these 20 will make a significant difference when it comes to the overrepresentation of racialized and indigenous people in our correction system.
New Democrats do support maintaining mandatory minimums for the most serious, violent crimes, where there is evidence that longer times of supervision may make a difference and may be necessary for public safety, but we acknowledge that all mandatory minimums can and do have disproportionate impacts on indigenous people and racialized Canadians.
That is why we attempted to amend Bill at committee to add a waiver restoring judicial discretion in offences with mandatory minimums when it would be manifestly unjust to apply those mandatory minimums. This is in line with the Gladue principles, which require judges to consider the circumstances of aboriginal people when it comes to sentencing. Unfortunately, in the laws that exist right now, the Gladue principles do not apply where there is a mandatory minimum.
I do have to point out that I think the member for , from the Bloc, misremembered what happened at committee. There were several attempts by several MPs and parties to add this kind of waiver to Bill , but due to the narrow drafting of the bill, unfortunately, they were ruled out of order, outside the scope of the bill, so no one voted against adding this waiver.
Again, New Democrats do support adding a parallel provision to the Gladue principles requiring judges to take into account the circumstances when it comes to sentencing racialized Canadians as well. This kind of waiver would be a further improvement to our attempts to attack the systemic racism that exists in our justice system.
Again, what is actually there? There are 20 mandatory minimums, most of which specify terms of imprisonment of less than two years, that would be removed. What this means is that if there is a mandatory minimum of less than two years, generally not much time would end up being served. When we take into account time that may have been served before the trial process, and when we take into account provisions for earlier release for good behaviour, which is essential for maintaining discipline within our corrections system, then the time served under these mandatory minimums would be very, very short in most cases.
It also means that the time would be served in provincial institutions, and those provincial institutions generally do not have extensive rehabilitation programs, due to the short time most offenders spend there. Obviously, if people are in custody only for a few months, they cannot really complete an addictions treatment program. They cannot really get training that might allow them to get a better job when they leave the corrections system. They cannot even complete literacy training, which is often important for those who have come into the criminal justice system, in that very short period of time. There is not enough time spent in custody, under these mandatory minimums, to get any real help that would allow people to be rehabilitated back into society and make them less of a threat to public safety.
What there is under these mandatory minimums is a guarantee that the offenders would serve just enough time to lose their job, their housing and often the custody of their children. These are pretty heavy additional penalties that I do not think were ever intended for things like personal possession of drugs. It is just enough time to make it more likely that the offenders would return to the behaviour that got them into trouble in the first place, rather than become successfully reintegrated into their community.
Instead of mandatory minimums, Bill , and this is important, would grant additional access to conditional sentences, so judges may choose conditional sentences over those mandatory minimums right now. This means that judges may assign penalties like serving time on weekends or serving time under house arrest. This is important, because the Conservatives are again distorting what the bill would do. Judges are allowed to use conditional sentences only in those cases where the penalty being assigned is less than two years in custody. The kind of extreme examples the Conservatives are giving of things that would be subject to conditional sentences simply are not in this bill.
What a conditional sentence might do, if people serve time on weekends, is allow them to keep their job and be able to continue supporting their family. Time served under conditional sentence in house arrest might allow people to be the primary caregiver of their children and remain in the home so their kids do not go into custody. It could allow them to keep their family together. We have all seen the terrible impacts on both indigenous Canadians and racialized communities of kids ending up in care in a system that has just as many problems with systemic racism as our justice system does.
Again, Bill does nothing that would reduce the amount of time judges hand out for serious crimes, nothing at all. Judges' discretion and sentencing guidelines mean that serious crimes would continue to get serious time in custody even after Bill C-5 passes.
The third aspect of Bill , the third major thing it would do that is actually in the bill, is that it would increase the ability of police and prosecutors to use warnings and diversions instead of charges when it comes to drug possession offences. The use of alternative measures, like warnings and referrals to counselling for low-level criminal offences, not only avoids wasting expensive court time and evades further delays in our court system, but there is the obvious connection made to diversion and avoiding future involvement in criminal activities. The obvious benefit of diversion is that it allows people to get drug treatment and get out of the addiction problems that led them into conflict with the criminal justice system.
All of these aspects of Bill would increase public safety and not, as opponents of the bill would have us believe, put public safety further at risk. No one denies that there are many crises in public safety we need to address, but what Bill does is create room in our criminal justice system to address the most serious crimes by taking the less serious crimes out of the justice system and allowing judges to apply penalties that would be the most appropriate, not just for the offender, but for making sure that offenders do not reoffend, thus helping defend or protect public safety in the community.
These three things, the elimination of 20 mandatory minimum penalties, increasing access to conditional sentences and increasing access to diversion, are why New Democrats said we would support the bill at second reading. Frankly, we were not that excited about this bill, because we had hoped the Liberals would be bolder when it came to tackling the problem of systemic racism in the criminal justice system. People may often hear that Parliament is dysfunctional and that we do not co-operate, but what we proved at the justice committee is that there can be co-operation to improve bills. At committee, we proposed four amendments, two of which were adopted, and I can say that personally I am now a lot more excited about the bill.
The first amendment adopted requires that records be kept on the use of discretion when it comes to diversion. That is important because keeping records on diversion will open up the use of police discretion to study and accountability. It will ensure that we can check that discretion is not just being used to favour those who are already the most privileged in society, but is being used fairly when it comes to indigenous people and racialized Canadians. The amendment also guarantees that warnings and diversions cannot be used in further court proceedings. That is an important factor in that it guarantees there is a real incentive to complete things like diversion.
The final amendment that was adopted tackles the question of criminal records for the personal possession of drugs. Bill would now guarantee that within two years all of these records will disappear, so that those who are often denied housing, employment, the ability to travel, bank loans and mortgages or the ability to volunteer with seniors or children will actually have those criminal records removed and be able to pursue rehabilitation into society that would allow them to make their way forward in life, just like other Canadians.
The Liberals previously set up a record suspension process for marijuana when it was legalized, but I have to point out that that process cleared the records of only 484 of the hundreds of thousands of people with records for simple possession. Bill will now clear them all. It will clear them all without an application process and without a fee.
Our amendment also dealt with future conditions for the personal possession of drugs, which is still possible after the government ensured the defeat of Bill , the private member's bill of the member for , which would have decriminalized the personal possession of drugs completely. Since those convictions are still possible, what Bill now does, with our amendment, is guarantee that any new convictions will disappear from criminal records two years after the end of any sentence resulting from those convictions, and not result in a lifelong criminal record that has all those negative impacts I just talked about. This process, which the government is calling the “sequestering of records”, will make sure those criminal records do not show up in criminal record checks, and 250,000 Canadians will benefit directly.
Let us not listen to the naysayers who are trying to stir up public safety fears about Bill . It is more than a little frustrating, when the bill will actually do so much more to help make our communities safer. It is frankly maddening to see opponents of this bill ignore its real impact in beginning to address the systemic racism that afflicts our justice system and makes the lives of so many indigenous and racialized Canadians that much harder.
Is this bill everything that community advocates hoped to see? No, it is not. The Liberals could have been bolder, as I said before, in addressing both systemic racism and the opioid crisis, but is Bill a significant step forward in addressing these concerns? I believe it is, and that is why New Democrats are happy to support Bill C-5 at third reading today.
Madam Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for .
I am pleased to speak to Bill . Today I would like to address necessary amendments proposed in Bill C-5.
Our criminal justice system continues to perpetuate a cycle of systemic racism, a system which is disproportionately overrepresented by indigenous peoples, Black Canadians and members of marginalized communities both as offenders and as victims. Sentencing laws within the Canadian criminal justice system have historically focused on punishment through imprisonment rather than ensuring that the responses to criminal conduct are fair, effective and prioritize public safety.
Adopting the proposed amendments to Bill are imperative to stop the cycle of systemic racism and overrepresentation in the criminal justice system, while taking steps towards addressing the disparities experienced by vulnerable groups. The proposed amendments maintain the courts’ ability to impose serious penalties in appropriate cases for firearms offences, ensuring that sentencing is proportionate to the crime.
I have the privilege of serving as the chair of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. Our committee recently completed a study on this bill. We heard from experts, law enforcement, legal representatives, and those who are marginalized and who have interacted with the criminal justice system. The testimony encompassed the diverse experiences of those who have encountered the consequences of Bill from across the country. The testimony recounted racialized and marginalized individuals’ intergenerational experiences with racism in policing and sentencing, arguing that a colonial system of incarceration is not encompassing of the needs of Canadians.
Bill would address the concerns raised by the witness testimony we heard around racism and overrepresentation in the justice system by promoting judicial discretion and prioritizing individualized sentencing. This process ensures that an individual who is found guilty is sentenced appropriately to the degree of responsibility of the offender and the seriousness of the offence. A sentencing court must look at all mitigating and aggravating factors specific to the case, including the offender’s risk to public safety, circumstances specific to the offender and instances of systemic racism experienced by the offender.
When it comes to crimes, specifically gun crimes and youth violence, I have been working hard with groups for over decades. I can tell colleagues that minimum mandatory penalties have not deterred or reduced gun crime. Prevention, intervention or tough enforcement at borders have been effective. Most of these young folks need help and jail is not the answer.
A criminal justice system which utilizes a mandatory minimum penalty as a model of reform is not reflective of Canadian values or the needs of racialized and marginalized communities within Canada. We can see from the statistics that the Canadian criminal justice system has historically been ill-equipped when considering individuals who are vulnerable, struggle with mental health and substance use, are experiencing homelessness, live in poverty or lack access to essential and social services. We must ensure that Canada does not use the criminal justice system to address social issues. Rather, we must ensure public safety, accountability and justice.
Research shows that in Canada indigenous people, Black Canadians and other racialized persons are more likely to come in contact with the criminal justice system, often due to systemic racism as well as other social and economic factors. These statistics are further exacerbated by the fact that members of these communities are overrepresented in correctional facilities.
Between 2007-08 and 2016-17, indigenous and Black offenders were more likely to be remanded to federal custody for an offence punishable by a mandatory minimum in the last 10 years. The number of indigenous adults admitted to federal custody for a firearm-related offence punishable by a mandatory minimum penalty increased by 23%.
Despite representing only 5% of the Canadian adult population in 2020, indigenous adults accounted for 30% of federally incarcerated inmates. In 2018-19, Black inmates represented 7% of the federal offender population, but only 3% of the Canadian population. If we continue to support a system which perpetuates systemic racism, the cycle of incarceration will continue to be the path for many marginalized communities.
There are 13 mandatory minimum penalties related to firearms offences that would be removed, empowering the courts’ ability to impose proportionate and individualized sentencing to offenders.
Bill would repeal the firearms-related mandatory minimum penalties for possession of a loaded firearm, prohibited or restricted firearm, possession of a weapon obtained by crime, possession of an unauthorized firearm, and importing a firearm knowing that it is not authorized.
Repealing mandatory minimums for these offences would allow for greater use of conditional sentence orders in cases where an offender faces a term of less than two years' imprisonment and does not pose a threat to public safety. It would also require police and prosecutors to consider measures aside from incarceration.
The reality is that the restricted availability of conditional sentencing has contributed to the disparities experienced by racialized and marginalized communities in Canada. Consistent with the government’s commitments, mandatory minimum penalties would remain in place for offences related to robbery, extortion, discharging a firearm with intention to cause bodily harm, firearm trafficking and importing, and making automatic weapons.
A justice system that unfairly targets indigenous peoples, Black and marginalized communities is not effective. It does not keep us safe and must be changed. For those who say that Bill is not tough enough on crime, those who commit serious offences will continue to receive serious sentences.
Our bill is about getting rid of the failed policies that filled our prisons with low-risk, first-time offenders. They do not need to be put in jail; they need support. These failed policies did not deter crime in the past. They did not keep us safe and they did not make our justice system more efficient. They target vulnerable and racialized Canadians.
Canadians see the devastating effects that come from firearms on a daily basis. I am no exception. However, I recognize that a one-size-fits-all system, where mandatory minimum penalties are considered just and fair, is not representative of those who are disproportionately impacted by the Canadian criminal justice system.
For those who are a danger to the public, or are serious or repeat offenders, a judge would be able to award stiff and harsh penalties in some cases higher than the minimum sentences. This is not a soft-on-crime approach. This is an approach that separates social issues from judicial issues, and allows the judiciary to make the appropriate sentence.
To end the cycle of overrepresentation, we require a tailored approach that encourages rehabilitation and acknowledges the historical and ongoing injustices faced by Canadians across the country. Repealing select mandatory minimum penalties does not mean that firearms offences are considered serious offences; rather, it provides the courts with the ability to impose appropriate and proportionate sentences.
The changes we make today to our criminal justice system will have an impact on current and future Canadians. It will change the way we engage with racialized and marginal communities. This includes providing meaningful support for victims, accused persons, offenders, their families and their communities.
Our government is committed to maintaining public safety, and has taken urgent and significant action to make Canada safer.
Madam Speaker, they are failed policies that did not keep Canadians safe or make our justice system more efficient. What they did was fill our prisons with low-risk first-time offenders who needed help.
Bill removes mandatory minimum penalties that target lower-risk and first-time offenders and have been shown to increase the over-incarceration of racialized and marginalized groups. Removing these mandatory minimum penalties does nothing to prevent serious penalties from being imposed on those who commit serious crimes. We are not preventing police from charging people with gun offences or prosecutors from pursuing convictions.
We are restoring judicial discretion so that sentencing judges can impose just sentences that are proportionate to the degree of responsibility of the offender, and the seriousness of the offence, and take into account all aggravating and mitigating factors, including the risk to public safety, the individual in front of them and their experience with systemic racism.
These could include terms of imprisonment that are lower or higher than the mandatory minimum penalties, which would be repealed. Mandatory minimum penalties would continue to exist for offences including murder, high treason, sexual offences, impaired driving offences and serious firearms offences.
Second, the bill would allow for greater use of conditional sentence orders in cases where an offender faces a term of less than two years’ imprisonment and does not pose a threat to public safety. Bill would restore greater availability of conditional sentences, so that judges would have the flexibility needed to allow offenders who do not pose any risk to the public to serve their sentences in their communities with strict conditions. These conditions would include a curfew, house arrest, abstaining from the consumption of drugs and alcohol, abstaining from owning, possessing or carrying a weapon, abstaining from communicating with victims, and attending a treatment program approved by the province.
As witness Michael Spratt pointed out:
Offenders can be required to take counselling, seek employment, perform community service and make reparations to the victims of their offences.
That is because, unlike other sanctions, CSOs allow courts to focus on rehabilitation. Less serious offenders who receive CSOs would have access to treatment programs and other supportive services while keeping their families together, having the benefit of community supports, and costing the system dramatically less money. This would help to promote the rehabilitation and reintegration of those who do not pose a risk to society, and by extension would deter crime and ensure our communities are safe. We know that locking up less serious offenders is a poor tool for supporting rehabilitation. I certainly saw that during my time as Attorney General in Nova Scotia.
I would like to quote Brandon Rolle of the African Nova Scotian Justice Institute, who testified in front of us at committee. He said:
...we know that when you go to jail as a Black person, you're not going to have culturally informed programming. You're going to be deemed a troublemaker more often. You're going to be classified at a higher risk. You're not going to come out of that situation in a place to successfully reintegrate into the community.
If there is an opportunity, then, to have less serious offenders serve their sentences in the community alongside their support systems, when there is no risk to public safety it behooves us to provide that option if we are truly interested in rehabilitating those who have been convicted of a crime. The way to do that is to restore judicial discretion to allow the flexibility. I have confidence in our judges and our witnesses, including Mme. Guerin Skalusat, from the Musqueam Indian Band and Manager of Indigenous Relations with British Columbia Infrastructure Benefits, who said exactly that. She said:
I would say that, yes, I have confidence in the judges. I think the implementation of Gladue went pretty well. I think it's something that our community members and those who are facing the criminal justice system are very familiar with. We have lots of resources to support that process. Yes, with that same level of support, I think it would be good.
I want to add that Bill would not make CSOs available for the offences of advocating genocide, torture, attempted murder, terrorism, serious criminal organization offences or any offence carrying a mandatory minimum penalty.
Third, this bill would require police and prosecutors to consider other measures for simple possession of a drug, such as diversion to addiction treatment programs, rather than laying charges or prosecuting individuals for simple possession of an illegal drug. The proposed amendment reinforces our government’s commitments to address the opioid crisis and to treat problematic substance use as a health issue rather than a criminal issue. This would prioritize getting people the help they need rather than further stigmatizing and punishing them. This is the additional benefit of avoiding the costs associated with an individual’s defence. If an individual is charged, they can still be diverted by the Crown prosecutor.
We understand that police and prosecutors will need tools and guidance to make this work, and we will be there as a government to provide that. As the exemption recently granted to British Columbia clearly demonstrates, we believe the opioid crisis is a public health crisis, and diversion is the better option for those struggling with addictions rather than locking them up. That is how, ultimately, we are going to make a difference in crime reduction.
Finally, for Canadians watching and seeing that the debate here has grown more polarized, I want to say to Halifax West residents, Nova Scotians and Canadians that we worked collaboratively on this bill in committee and have adopted a number of amendments. In conclusion, I cannot stress enough the significance of Bill . We have a serious over-incarceration problem in Canada.
As a final note, literally, in the middle of our committee’s study on the bill, we all read a troubling headline in the paper: “Indigenous women make up almost half the female prison population”. Indigenous women make up only 4.9% of Canada’s female population. If this does not call out for reform, I do not know what would. The trend and the trajectory cannot continue. We have to get serious about restorative justice and supporting communities impacted by poverty and intergenerational trauma. I call on all parliamentarians to join us in passing this bill and committing to work together to develop smart-on-crime policy solutions.
Madam Speaker, I will be splitting my time today with the member for .
I am pleased to rise in the House today to speak to Bill , an act that would amend the Criminal Code and the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. It is a bill being spun by the NDP-Liberal government as beneficial to Canadians, but it is far from it. This bill focuses on eliminating mandatory minimum sentencing for heinous offences. Thus, in a true NDP-Liberal fashion, it is prioritizing petty politics and the interests of offenders over the safety and security of the vulnerable and innocent in our communities.
Even after repackaging what was once Bill from the last Parliament, the government claims that Bill focuses on the fair treatment of offenders and some demographics' overrepresentation in our correctional facilities.
Upon closer inspection, the bill proves not only that the government will do anything to remain in power but also that it will also completely disregard the safety and security of Canadians in the meantime. The approach proposed by Bill is critically faulty and appalling. Quite frankly, it is a slap in the face for Canadians who have placed their trust and faith in the government to do what is right and advocate for common sense solutions to protect vulnerable Canadians’ sovereignty and security.
This bill suggests some highly concerning amendments to both the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act and the Criminal Code of Canada by removing mandatory minimum sentencing not only for offences relating to the consumption and distribution of illicit drugs and substances but also for offences involving firearms.
It does not stop there. Apart from pushing to loosen gun restrictions in Canada, the government is also advocating for the availability of conditional sentences such as house arrest on heinous crimes, which would substantially put lives at risk. These crimes include but are not limited to attempted murder, torture as inflicted on another person, advocating for genocide, sexual assault, kidnapping and abduction of a person under the age of 14, human trafficking for material benefit, and firearms smuggling.
What I just listed are just some of several offences that could qualify for conditional sentencing, such as house arrest, if mandatory minimum sentencing is lifted under Bill . The government seems to heavily rely on the theme of protecting the offenders and punishing Canadians, thus providing more opportunities for criminals to be emboldened to terrorize. They are now abetted by the government.
The NDP-Liberal government is turning a blind eye to illegally procured firearms by not cracking down on gang operations and activity. It is also sparing these criminals from incarceration at correctional facilities by removing mandatory minimum sentencing for serious offences, such as those involving firearms.
Furthermore, Bill would add to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act by highlighting a series of principles peace officers and prosecutors should use when determining whether or not to lay charges for drug possession. Again, the government is failing to address its alleged aim to lessen overrepresentation of under-represented communities in our penitentiaries, because peace officers, law enforcement and prosecutors already have the authority and flexibility to decide whether or not to lay charges for simple possession of drugs or illicit substances.
A directive from the Public Prosecution Service of Canada was also previously issued to direct prosecutors to limit their involvement in the prosecution of simple drug possession unless there were proven and immediate public safety concerns. Conservatives argue that offenders involved in serious, violent crimes committed with firearms, including substantially horrific offences, deserve prison time and most definitely not to be tucked away in their individual homes with a slap on the wrist.
Furthermore, drug offenders should be presented with mandatory participation in Canadian drug treatment courts to end the cycle of crime and drugs, and to provide them with rehabilitative, therapeutic opportunities in lieu of premature reintegration into communities or being subjected to correctional facilities and the criminal justice system.
To date, this rehabilitation program is critically limited through strict eligibility criteria and non-mandatory participation. The government’s proposal to lift mandatory minimums is a performative stunt that does nothing to address the root of the drug and crime crisis in our country. I also find it questionable how the government insists on conditional sentencing for alleged low-risk offenders, as if our police officers have the time and resources to continually monitor these people serving their conditional sentences in their respective communities and ensure their compliance.
Contrary to what the NDP-Liberal government claims that this bill suggests, the elimination of offenders’ mandatory time in correctional facilities will not alleviate the overrepresentation of Black and indigenous communities in our penitentiaries, but will only offer more opportunities for criminals to infiltrate and prey on the vulnerable and innocent.
In addition, the government claims to state that it will be removing mandatory minimum penalties for simple possession, but how can the Liberals do that when mandatory minimums for simple possession do not exist? Instead of pushing Bill , we Conservatives believe in establishing mandatory participation in support and rehabilitation centres for those struggling with addictions, reinforcing our borders to prevent firearms smuggling and abolishing conditional sentencing opportunities for crimes that threaten the safety and security of Canadians.
Why is the government weakening our gun laws, standing up for criminals, blatantly disregarding the grief and trauma experienced by victims and being lenient with the deterrence and punishment of offenders, instead of defending our communities? These actions only show that the NDP-Liberal government prioritizes the interests of offenders and is not serious about protecting the safety and security of Canadians.
With regard to drugs and illicit substances circulating in neighbourhoods, Conservatives believe that all mandatory minimum sentences should be sustained, not only as punitive damages for committing crimes outlined under the Criminal Code, but also to serve protection and justice for the vulnerable, the innocent and the victims of these abhorrent transgressions. How can the Liberals claim that they are doing what is best for Canadians when they are proposing to keep offenders under house arrest as opposed to having them placed in rehabilitation centres if their crimes were fuelled by substance abuse, or behind bars for serious transgressions?
The government claims that it would rescind mandatory minimum sentencing for simple possession, but it must be highlighted that our officers already have that discretion in place, offering offenders treatment programs or other support services as opposed to prison time.
Regardless, mandatory minimums for simple possession do not exist. It is simply time the government gave up the act of performative activism and actually invested in the rehabilitation of offenders and put the security of victims and the vulnerable first.
Considering the questionable tactics that the government has advocated for in the past, this is simply a missed opportunity to prove that the Liberals are here for Canadians, for survivors and the appropriate rehabilitation of offenders while protecting the security of our communities. It is time for the government to go back to the drawing board with Bill and sustain mandatory minimum penalties for the offences aforementioned and all others outlined under the bill.
In conclusion, I recommend that the government closely reconsider its advocacy for Bill and prioritize the safety and security of all Canadians through the close reconsideration of lifting mandatory minimum sentencing, the consumption and distribution of drugs and illegal substances, and mandatory minimum penalties for serious offences.
I now welcome questions from my colleagues.
Madam Speaker, I am in the chamber often and I certainly hear from members on the other side of the House this constant refrain: “We listen to the experts.” When Conservatives talk about vaccine mandates, the Liberals say, “We listen to the experts.” When we ask where those experts are or to produce that expert report, of course, it never gets produced. “We listen to the experts” would be the Liberals' mantra, so let us talk about some experts.
The first thing we should talk about is that gun crimes in Canada have almost tripled over the last decade. We have an epidemic of gun violence. What do some of the experts have to say about the gun violence that is happening in Canada?
At the public safety committee, Toronto's deputy police chief said that 86% of gun crimes come from illegal guns and it is on the increase. He then went on to say, “Our problem in Toronto is handguns from the United States.” There is the expert and the expert's position on what is happening with gun crimes.
What does the government do in response to listening to the experts? It is going to eliminate mandatory minimum sentences for weapons trafficking. Yes, that is going to solve the problem of illegal guns coming into the country from the United States. We are going to eliminate a mandatory minimum sentence for gun trafficking. That will solve it.
When we eliminate a mandatory minimum sentence, the judge now has the discretion to give a lower sentence. We can bet dollars to doughnuts that is exactly what is going to happen. The government wraps itself in the shroud of experts and says that it listens to the experts, but where is it listening to the experts here?
If anything, we should be increasing penalties for weapons trafficking. The weapons traffickers are the ones who are directly responsible for the carnage that goes on in our streets, in cities like Toronto. It is getting worse. It is not just the fact of an increased number of guns. The chief also testified it is the increased number of rounds being discharged. Police recovered 2,405 shell casings in 2021. It is up 50% from 2020. Again, what is the response? Let us lower sentences for that.
It is for weapons trafficking and eliminating the mandatory minimum penalty. It is for importing and exporting knowing it is unauthorized. On both sides of the weapons trafficking, people are now getting a reduced sentence. How is that for an incentive to stop doing what someone is doing? I do not think that is going to work.
Where is the conversation about victims? When we stand here and talk about gun crimes, there is always a victim. Victims want to see justice done. There has to be an appearance of justice. When a weapons trafficker is going to get a lower sentence, the victims of crimes from these weapons certainly are not going to think that justice has been done.
We can talk about all kinds of ways to deal with sentencing for indigenous people and for people from racialized communities. Those can be actual factors that judges consider for reduced sentences when sentencing. We can put those in the sentencing guidelines. However, what we do not do is make broad changes to the sentencing for serious offences. Not everyone is going to be from an indigenous community or from a racialized community. This change will apply to everyone. Everyone will then get that reduced sentence.
I sat on the justice committee from 2011 to 2015, when we brought in increased sentences for trafficking in persons. This is a very serious crime, and the damage done to victims is extensive. They came to committee to tell horrifying stories that stick with people for the rest of their lives. This is an extraordinarily serious crime that has long-lasting impacts on victims, so why would the expansion of conditional sentencing be allowed for trafficking in persons?
I just heard the member opposite say that they would have to get a sentence of less than two years. Yes, that is true, but why let the option be there? Why let someone convicted of trafficking in persons have the possibility of getting a conditional sentence? If it has happened once, it has happened too much.
That is why this bill makes no sense. There might be some good aspects to the bill, but I am not here to talk about those. What I am going to talk about is the dangerous precedent being set here.
It is the same thing with sex assault. This is an incredibly serious crime, but there is a conditional sentence including house arrest for sex assault. Yes, someone would have to get sentenced to less than two years, but if they commit a sex assault and get house arrest, what is the victim going to think of the justice system? When we talk about the justice system, we have to think about the integrity of the system within the view of the public. If the public loses faith in the justice system because they see that it does not deliver justice, then we have a very serious problem.
The bill would allow conditional sentences to be brought in for crimes such as sexual assault, trafficking in persons and kidnapping, and that is just three. Imagine the victims of any of those crimes. They have to show up at court to testify. It is not an easy process for victims to testify in court. They often describe it as retraumatizing.
Then they have to do a victim impact statement. I have been in court to listen to victim impact statements. They can be absolutely devastating, because we know that the effect of crime on a victim's life is long term, long lasting and devastating. Then imagine they hear a verdict of house arrest for any of the things I just listed. That is the sentence. A person who committed a sex assault gets a conditional sentence with house arrest.
I think the government may have good intentions with this bill, but it is missing the mark in so many ways. This is going to have serious consequences. In its gun buyback program, it is making certain guns illegal, but that does not work. The Toronto deputy police chief just said at committee that 86% of guns used in the city of Toronto are illegal guns coming from the United States.
I can tell members that gun traffickers can see that the mandatory minimum penalty for trafficking in weapons is gone. Do members not think that will have an effect? Do members not think that is going to say to them that this is now even more advantageous for them? It is financially advantageous, of course, but now they do not have to worry about a mandatory minimum penalty.
These are the kinds of things the government thinks are going to make a difference. Maybe they sound good, but the practical reality of the bill is this. It is not going to reduce crime. It is not going to protect victims. It is going to have victims once again feel like the justice system has done them wrong.
I hope the government will study this bill in great detail and will bring in victims to talk about it. This bill should not proceed.
Madam Speaker, I will be sharing my time with my colleague from .
I am grateful for this opportunity to speak about our Bill and, especially, about the need to reform our justice system so that we can learn from the mistakes of the past and put an end to misguided policies, such as mandatory minimums.
Mandatory minimums do not help make our communities safer and have disproportionate and prejudicial consequences on racialized and marginalized communities. With Bill C‑5, our government is taking a new approach that turns the page on Harper-era policies.
I am pleased today to rise to discuss Bill and particularly why it is important, in my view, that we respond as a government to the many ways in which mandatory minimum sentencing in Canada has hindered rather than supported the administration of justice in Canada, and why it is so critical now, in light of the data, to do away with the policies introduced by the Harper government to expand mandatory minimums. Instead, let us allow our judicial system to do its job and allow our judges to assess the facts before them so they can apply the appropriate sentences in the circumstances.
The practice of imposing mandatory minimums has clearly resulted in the over-incarceration of marginalized and racialized Canadians. To give members just one example, indigenous women represent over half of the female prison population in federal prisons. That is absolutely egregious. The legislation would help reduce the overrepresentation of Black people, members of marginalized communities and indigenous people in our justice system and would afford more opportunities for rehabilitation, which is very much needed in our fight against the opioid crisis.
I would also like to discuss important amendments that were made to this bill at the justice committee. I think it is very relevant to note that in the spirit of collaboration, our government accepted amendments from all parties. Four amendments have been made to enhance the underlying objectives of this bill.
The first amendment would 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.
The amendment responds to concerns expressed by many of the witnesses who testified before the justice committee. They were worried that records of previous warnings or referrals would somehow negatively impact persons who came into contact with the Canadian judicial system after they had been diverted in the past.
The proposed amendment is based on the existing alternative measures regime set out in section 717(4) of the Criminal Code. It sets out the circumstances under which police records or warnings and referrals can be disclosed in order to limit the negative impact that a prior warning can have on an individual who is charged with simple drug possession.
This amendment would ensure that a record of a warning or referral could be made available to a department or agency of the Government of Canada that is engaged in the evaluation of the effectiveness of alternative measures, but would not permit the disclosure of the identity of the person. What is more, the information could be shared with a judge, a court or a peace officer for any purpose relating to the offence of simple possession or the administration of the case, but only for the offence to which the record relates.
The amendment would also limit the potential for improper use of such records, which could have lasting impacts on individuals who are trying to fight problematic substance use and may require more than one chance to achieve successful rehabilitation. Police officers have legal and ethical obligations to take notes, and this amendment would ensure that they will continue to support the operational needs of the Canadian judicial system without frustrating the objectives of the bill.
The 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.
Again, this subsequent amendment is consistent with the underlying objective of the bill to address the negative consequences associated with simple possession. The amendment acknowledges the calls from public health organizations and those who work with individuals with addictions. It helps address barriers to successful reintegration into society and also helps address a contributing cause of the ongoing opioid crisis, namely the stigmatization of people who use drugs.
As we all know, when people apply for a job or an apartment or have to have a background check done for any reason, any criminal record will surface. Criminal records have a lasting impact on the ability of rehabilitated individuals to successfully reintegrate into society after overcoming personal challenges in their lives. Treating simple possession of drugs as a health and social issue means eliminating the stigma associated with convictions for simple possession.
A third amendment in Bill would codify the innocent possession common law defence under specific circumstances. Social workers, medical professionals and service providers would not be subject to charges if they come into possession of drugs in the course of their duties, when they have the intent to lawfully dispose of them within a reasonable period, of course.
Lastly, Bill C‑5 includes a new clause 21 requiring a comprehensive review of the act on the fourth anniversary of its coming into force.
This four-year review period is consistent with our government's evidence-based policy-making and will provide us with an opportunity to evaluate the effect of the legislation in practice on the ground.
Finally, we know that Canada, like many countries around the world, is experiencing an overdose crisis and that this problem has been exacerbated and worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic.
As Bill recognizes, psychoactive substance use is a public health issue rooted in complex social factors. Bill C‑5 is just one part of our plan to reduce the number of drug-related deaths. Our government is also looking at every other option for preventing overdoses, improving health outcomes and saving lives.
To this end, I would like to draw everyone's attention to our government's announcement on May 31 of this year, just a few weeks ago, granting a time-limited exemption under section 56(1) of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act so that adults 18 years of age and older will not be subject to criminal charges for personal possession in British Columbia. This exemption will take effect from 2023 to 2026. This drug decriminalization pilot project in British Columbia is absolutely a step forward in the right direction to treating addiction for what it is: a health issue. It is also another step forward in allowing us to collect data and real-time information that will allow our government to better develop policies to address the opioid pandemic.
There is much more work to do, and I look forward to one day reaching a point where a national decriminalization framework could be developed and implemented and we would have the tools to provide this health-based response to the issue of drug addiction right across our country. The legislation before us, Bill , which changes our approach to sentencing, improves our judicial system, encourages rehabilitation and critically moves us forward in the fight against the overdose crisis in Canada, is of critical importance. I therefore urge all members of this House to support this important legislation, because we simply cannot wait any longer.
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak today about the important amendments that are proposed in Bill as part of our government's effort to address systemic racism and discrimination. These are realities that are faced by racialized Canadians and indigenous peoples who come into contact with the criminal justice system, from initial interactions with law enforcement through to sentencing, incarceration and release.
We have heard Conservatives in this place question whether their “tough-on-crime” approach of mandatory minimum penalties perpetuates systemic discrimination in the criminal justice system. It does.
In 2020, indigenous adults accounted for 5% of the Canadian adult population but represented 30% of federally incarcerated individuals. Indigenous women now account for half of all federally incarcerated women. Black people are also more likely than other Canadians to be admitted to federal custody for an offence punishable by a mandatory minimum penalty, an MMP. Data from the Correctional Service of Canada from 2007 to 2017 shows that 39% of Black people and 20% of indigenous people who were federally incarcerated between those years were there for offences carrying a mandatory minimum penalty. Repealing those mandatory minimums is expected to reduce the overall rates of incarceration of indigenous people, Black Canadians and marginalized people.
Bill includes three categories of reforms. First, it would repeal mandatory minimum penalties for all drug offences, some firearm offences and a tobacco-related offence. Second, it would allow for greater use of conditional sentence orders, also known as CSOs. The third and final category of reforms would encourage police and prosecutors to consider alternative measures, such as diverting individuals to treatment programs, when exercising their discretion in cases involving simple possession of a drug.
These measures brought in by the previous government, while claiming to reduce crime, have proven to be ineffective, expensive, harmful and racist. The reforms found in Bill respond to calls from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. More recently, the parliamentary Black caucus, in their June 2020 statement, also called for the elimination of mandatory minimum penalties.
Let me be clear: These reforms will not negatively impact public safety and they do not signal to courts that these offences are not serious. MMPs would remain for such serious offences as murder, sexual assault, all child sexual offences and certain offences involving restricted or prohibited firearms, or when the offence involves a firearm and is linked to organized crime.
Bill will also increase the availability of conditional sentence orders, or CSOs. A conditional sentence order is a sentence of incarceration of less than two years that is served in the community under strict conditions, such as a curfew, house arrest or abstaining from possessing, owning or carrying a weapon. This proposed reform would increase access to alternatives to incarceration for low-risk offenders. Evidence shows that allowing offenders who would not pose a risk to public safety to serve their sentences in the community under strict punitive conditions can be more effective in reducing future criminality.
I have told the story of Emily O’Brien before, but I think it is worth repeating. Emily was sent to federal prison for four years after her partner coaxed her into smuggling narcotics across the Canadian border. She was sent to Grand Valley Institution on a mandatory minimum penalty. During her four years there, she noticed how prison did not prepare women for integrating back into society. Once she was released, she knew she had to make it on her own because there were no supports, so she created her own popcorn company, Comeback Snacks, which not only makes delicious popcorn but has a mission to hire women who have been sentenced to prison so they will not re-enter the criminal justice system.
Emily’s story is the exception to the rule: Most women who come out of the criminal justice system after MMPs actually come out much worse. Emily knew the privilege she had as a white woman with a post-secondary education. She had more resources and support when leaving prison than most women do.
We know that mandatory minimum penalties impact indigenous women at a higher level. I saw this first-hand when I visited Grand Valley Institution for Women and talked to many indigenous women from the prairies who were sent to Ontario because women's prisons out west were too full.
It became clear to me that MMPs were one of the reasons for the overcrowding of women's prisons out west, which had caused indigenous women to be separated from their communities, their families and their homes to serve a prison sentence. I met a woman from Flin Flon, Manitoba who had not seen her children in years because she had been sent to Ontario. She was heartbroken. I cannot help but wonder how, if this woman and others like her had been given a conditional sentence in her community, this would have impacted her children's lives and her relationship with them. Grand Valley Institution for Women has seen the number of indigenous women grow from 13 to 60 over the past two years, which is a direct result of the current sentencing regime of MMPs.
Through testimony at the public safety committee on the study of guns and gangs, as well as through my own conversations with community leaders, it is clear to me that community-led gang diversion and rehabilitation can have a profound impact. In many cases, prisons in Canada are an avenue for gang recruitment. I just finished reading The Ballad of Danny Wolfe. In it, author Joe Friesen reinforces that Canadian prisons served as a key avenue for gang recruitment to this indigenous gang founded by Danny and his brother. They played a major role in the growth of the gang, which later became the largest street gang in Canada.
My conversations with a parole officer and dedicated community leader who has been working in corrections for decades reinforced that it is critical to differentiate between hard-core criminals and young men who are seeking a sense of community through gang involvement due to connections between family and friends. By forcing judges to apply MMPs, which have been repeatedly found to be unconstitutional, our justice system fails to acknowledge the mitigating factors in a case that heighten young people's susceptibility to gang recruitment.
Rather than sending people to prison and heightening the likelihood of them being recruited into gangs at alarming rates, it is important to support life-changing programs such as Liberty for Youth. Liberty for Youth is an amazing organization that advocates for second chances and assists at-risk youth in Hamilton, while providing a safe space where youth feel accepted regardless of their mistakes, struggles or life circumstances.
Funding community organizations such as Liberty for Youth, the Bear Clan Patrol and OPK in Manitoba, and Str8 Up in Saskatchewan, which are on the ground in our communities and supporting individuals' transition away from crime, would have a greater impact on our public safety than putting vulnerable people behind bars. Supporting these young people in their communities is the rationale behind CSOs. However, CSOs are currently unavailable for all offences prosecuted by way of an indictment that are punishable by a maximum term of imprisonment of 14 years or life. They are also unavailable for all offences punishable by a maximum term of 10 years' imprisonment if the offence resulted in bodily harm, involved drugs or involved the use of a weapon. The proposed reforms would remove many of these limitations on CSO eligibility.
Finally, while it is important to enact sentencing measures that aim to reduce recidivism and over-representation, it is equally essential to ensure that there are adequate off-ramps from the criminal justice system at the earliest stage of the criminal process, especially for conduct that could have been more appropriately treated as a health concern rather than a criminal one. To this end, Bill would require police and prosecutors to consider alternatives to laying or proceeding with charges for simple possession of drugs. Available alternatives would range from taking no action at all to issuing a warning or, if the individual agrees, diversion to an addiction treatment program. These measures are in line with a public health-centred approach to address substance use and the opioid epidemic in Canada.
It is time for us to take a new approach. We will ensure that serious criminals continue to receive serious sentences, but we will put control of this back in the hands of judges. The reforms in Bill C-5 would be transformational for those most impacted by the systemic racism built into our criminal justice system, and I hope that members of the House will support it.
Madam Speaker, it is always a pleasure to rise on behalf of the people of Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo. At the outset, I will note that I will be splitting my time with the member for .
Believe it or not, this is an area that is close to my heart as somebody who previously taught a sentencing class and somebody who worked in the criminal justice system, both in federal corrections as a defence lawyer and then as a Crown prosecutor. This is an area that I find a great deal of interest in. I have heard different perspectives, some more compelling than others today. What I find noteworthy is that most parliamentarians want to get to the same place when it comes to this debate. The question is: how do we get there?
I was quite struck by some of the commentary that we have heard today because it was talking about where we want to be. The question, in my view, is whether this bill actually gets us there. If we look at the issue, I believe everybody in the House would resoundingly and unanimously say that they want gun crime to go down. There is no doubt about it. Nobody wants to see any more people shot, especially innocent civilians caught in the proverbial crossfire. The question then is whether this is the right mechanism to do so. I note that not once does the word “victim” appear in Bill or Bill .
Gun crime, in my view, and I think in the view of a lot of people in the House, is out of control. No one here wants to see more gun crime. We have two different approaches in Bill and Bill . Bill C-5, with the elimination of mandatory minimums, has been a failed approach. I will note here something that is not brought up very often. The reality is that most mandatory minimums, when it comes to gun crimes, were actually struck down.
When we talk about a failed approach, if the approach failed, it has most recently been since the time that the mandatory minimums were struck down. We have essentially been operating in a time where mandatory minimums have been struck down for most gun crimes, but not for robbery with a firearm, extortion with a firearm or reckless discharge. Those minimums remain, but under section 95, for instance, that was struck down in the R. v. Nur decision many years ago. It is not as though we are talking about statistics as of last week, last month or last year when mandatory minimums were in effect. Most mandatory minimums have been struck down.
I want to now turn to what the said. When we look at the issue of overrepresentation, there will be no issue from me. I remember being a 22-year-old and a 23-year-old going to work in federal corrections for the first time and noting the overrepresentation of indigenous people, for instance, in the justice system. At that time, it was about six to one in terms of overrepresentation, so it was very substantial. As a young man, it was something that I had to learn about and, frankly, the decisions I made had to address. That is something I am quite proud of.
It is also something I had to address as a prosecutor. We have the R. v. Gladue decision, the Ipeelee decision, and we also have subsection 718.2(e), I believe, that address this specific issue of overrepresentation. I was bound by those ethical precepts to address Gladue considerations in sentencing, and I always took great pride in putting those considerations at the forefront of my decision-making.
Where the and I part company is where he notes, on behalf of the government, that we are looking at alternatives to incarceration while keeping the public safe. This argument might hold water, but for the fact that there are serious offences that are included in this bill. I am going to fast-forward to them. For reckless discharge with a firearm, section 244(1) reads that, “Every person commits an offence who discharges a firearm at a person with intent to wound, maim or disfigure, or endanger life”.
We are talking about public protection. We are talking about gun violence. We want to reduce gun violence overall, yet this provision was included in Bill . This allows what I would characterize commonly as a drive-by shooting. Rather than signal we are not going to allow a community-based sentence for such a serious offence, the question should be the length of incarceration. It is paradoxical.
I asked the parliamentary secretary about this, and I cannot remember his exact response, but essentially it was that I was using rhetoric. I am not using rhetoric. I am simply pointing out that a sentencing option now exists for drive-by shooters to serve their sentence in the community. I am not sure how we get here. I just do not know how the principles of sentencing in section 718 are enhanced and put forward by conditional sentence orders for drive-by shootings.
The hon. parliamentary secretary spoke about systemic racism, and he then spoke about corrections. My point is that I have no issue with targeting racism anywhere in Canada, none whatsoever. He talked about the custody ratings scale. As someone who has completed the custody ratings scale and who previously worked in corrections, I know that, if he wants to address the custody ratings scale and the overrepresentation of people in maximum security in federal custody itself, then he should do that. We would do that by amending the Corrections and Conditional Release Act, not by allowing conditional sentence orders for people who commit offences such as extortion with a firearm, robbery with a firearm, or most seriously, reckless discharge or discharge with intent.
The hon. parliamentary secretary talked about Conservatives wanting to lock people up and throw away the key. Nothing could be further from the truth. What we want is a safe society with just sentencing—