Madam Speaker, Bill C-75 is at report stage. The purpose of this bill, introduced by the Liberals, is to improve the compliance rate with the Jordan decision handed down by the Supreme Court in 2016 and to reduce the backlog in the justice system.
Unfortunately, we have heard many times that Bill C-75 was rushed. Some of the wording is very vague, and the bill does not meet the main objective, which is to improve the justice system so it works better for everyone.
One of the biggest disappointments, which was not addressed in committee, is the lack of bold reforms for the criminal justice system, such as abolishing the mandatory minimum sentences that proliferated under the Harper government. That is a major element, because unfortunately, although mandatory minimums are respected in most cases, there are many unusual cases for which judges would have liked to have some flexibility.
Unfortunately, judges' hands are often tied by mandatory minimum sentences, and they have no choice but to impose them, despite circumstances that can be extremely sad. I am thinking about the rise in “suicide by cop” attempts, which primarily involve police.
Some people reach a point in their lives where they are in extreme distress and feel suicidal. They sometimes threaten on-duty police officers with real guns or paintball guns, fake guns that look real, in order to get themselves shot. These situations are unfortunately known as “suicide by cop” and are a sign of someone who is suffering tremendously.
Gun crimes are often subject to mandatory minimum sentences. During the trial, if the judge recognizes that the problem is not a criminal issue, but an issue of mental illness or distress, and that the offender would be better off receiving treatment than being branded a criminal, this judge has very few legal options. I think it is especially important to give back some flexibility to judges by eliminating mandatory minimums. It is also important to understand that in cases where the accused truly committed the crime, the sentences go far beyond the mandatory minimums.
Mandatory minimum sentences often have a perverse effect on the justice system. They do not allow judges to consider the extenuating circumstances surrounding the events or the accused's past, experiences, personal situation or family responsibilities. Mandatory minimums allow for absolutely no flexibility.
Another problem this bill does not fix, a problem that impacts the justice system, is lack of financial support for victims and their families, as well as for the accused. The poverty threshold for access to legal aid is very low when the accused does not have a family or dependents. One must be very poor to get legal aid.
Some people simply cannot afford a lawyer. They cannot get legal aid because their income is too high. For example, a young man in his early twenties who earns $30,000 or $40,000 a year cannot get legal aid because his income is considered too high. There is no way he can afford $30,000 in legal fees, so he cannot get good legal advice. That young man will find himself caught up in a system that does not allow him access to legal advice.
The legal system also needs to take victims into consideration, because the whole process would go more smoothly if they had better support. In many cases, they get absolutely no support. Many a parent whose child was killed in a car accident, which is such a tragedy, says they have no access to resources of any kind, no financial support to attend court proceedings. They pay for everything out of pocket.
Lack of access to justice for financial reasons is a serious problem that hinders the effectiveness of our justice system. Bill C-75 does nothing to address that. In the case of both victims and the accused, we need to take a more logical approach and be able to support them. We must be able to ensure that they understand what is happening. For instance, when victims' families get completely lost in the procedures, they often have to pay for lawyers out of their own pockets in order to understand what is going on, get advice and figure out all the procedural rules. That is one particular aspect of the bill that could have been explored, or at least corrected, in committee. It still has not been corrected or addressed. I also have to say that, since it was not done at the outset, we were more limited.
Furthermore, if we want to make the judicial system more efficient, we absolutely must separate acts that genuinely criminally motivated from acts committed as a result of social problems. So many charges related to simple possession of any kind of drug wind up in court.
I think we will have to explore whether drug possession is actually more of a health problem. That is a very important issue that absolutely must be addressed.
In order to find a better solution, should we not consider drug possession and ultimately drug use as a health issue, rather than a criminal justice issue?
Would that not give us more time to focus on serious crimes and free up our judges who have to deal with offenders who have been charged with drug possession? I believe these offenders would be much better off if they were treated at a hospital and given quick access to detox services.
Would it not be better to treat these cases as health issues and save our resources to deal with cases involving serious sexual violence, human trafficking, sexual exploitation, and violence against indigenous women? Many such crimes are committed, and unfortunately, our justice system does not deal with them very effectively.
We could set better priorities by rethinking the way our justice system works. Many offences are related to social problems. People living in extreme poverty will commit small offences to try to survive. Is the solution to criminalize them or, on the contrary, is it to better address those social issues and dedicate our resources to people with truly sick criminal behaviour? I think we would all benefit from that.
Since my time is up, I now hope to provide thoughtful answers to my colleagues' questions.