Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to rise in the House today to speak to Bill C-75, an act to amend the Criminal Code, the Youth Criminal Justice Act and other acts and to make consequential amendments to other acts.
Before I begin my speech, I want to thank the hon. member for Victoria for the excellent work he did on this file in committee. He worked very hard. He proposed many amendments, asked witnesses questions, and made some insightful and very impressive remarks. That is what will fuel my remarks today.
Why are we voting against the bill? The purpose of the bill was to respond to the Jordan decision, but it does not respond to it correctly. That is one of the reasons we are voting against the bill. It does not go far enough, and it fails to achieve what it set out to do. That is the problem.
The stated objective of the bill was to comply with the Supreme Court's 2016 Jordan ruling and to clear the backlog in the justice system, which is very important.
The problem with the Jordan decision is that now the Charter guarantees the right to be tried within a reasonable time. That is fine. The Jordan decision set out a timeframe. The time limit between the laying of charges and the conclusion of the trial was set at 18 months, or 30 months in some cases.
If that deadline cannot be met, situations may arise—much like the notorious cases I mentioned earlier in my question—where real criminals who have committed very serious crimes can be let off without a trial. That is awful. That should never happen again. Our government should be ensuring that it never happens again.
That is why Bill C-75 was so highly anticipated. It should have corrected that situation, but unfortunately, it does not.
One of the major reforms in Bill C-75 is not based on sound evidence, and that is very problematic. The stated objective of the bill is to respond to the Jordan decision. However, we have serious doubts about whether the proposed amendments will actually help reduce case completion times in the criminal justice system.
Many of the proposed measures will likely have the opposite effect and could actually add to the delays.
The Liberals claim that this bill is a bold reform of the criminal justice system, but there is one problem, in addition to what I mentioned just now. The Minister of Justice's mandate letter has something very important in it, something we very strongly believe in: eliminating the mandatory minimum sentencing system. All of the leading legal minds and experts have told us repeatedly that mandatory minimum sentencing is bad for our justice system. It is bad for offender rehabilitation and reintegration, and it undermines judges' ability to exercise their judgment in unique cases.
What does Bill C-75 have to offer on that score? This was in the minister's mandate letter, so we expected the elimination of minimum sentencing to be a key component of the bill, but apparently it does not even bear mentioning.
The Liberals broke their promise, and that is a major disappointment. As I said, defence attorneys and legal academics agree that the reversal of this practice would have been a huge step toward unclogging the court system. Unfortunately, the Liberals chose not to tackle this key issue. That is inexplicable. I do not understand why they made that choice.
My first concern has to do with reducing the use of preliminary inquiries, which are essentially dress rehearsals for trials. They are used in only 3% of cases, so eliminating them in most cases, which is what Bill C-75 proposes to do, will not save a lot of time right away. One could argue that preliminary inquiries help narrow the issues to be presented at trial and that, in some cases, they completely eliminate the need for a trial if the Crown's evidence does not hold up. Eliminating preliminary inquiries is a solution that was proposed to reduce delays, but it will actually do the opposite.
My second concern is about the regressive change to summary offences. Imposing harsher sentences on those who commit less serious crimes, namely increasing the maximum sentence from 18 months to 24, is just one element of this reform. Many accused would be better helped by being given more social support, rather than being criminalized. This amendment would disproportionately affect members of racialized groups and indigenous communities, more specifically those with a low socioeconomic status and those struggling with addiction and mental health issues.
Another major shortcoming of this bill is that it does not propose any measures to address the root causes of crime, such as poverty. In fact, today is national anti-poverty day. Other root causes include addiction, mental health problems and marginalization. There is nothing concrete in the bill to address those factors. Unfortunately, many people end up in the legal system when their situation is actually a result of social problems that we should be addressing. Sometimes those problems are of long standing. Take, for example, the social problems in indigenous communities and mental health problems.
The government needs to sit down with the affected communities to come up with solutions to these problems and try to improve their situation. Unfortunately, this bill has no plan to that effect.
I also want to reiterate that appointing more judges to fill judicial vacancies is absolutely crucial. We can no longer tolerate all these judicial vacancies. This government has been in power for over three years now. These judicial vacancies must be filled.
Let me remind members of the Nick Chan case in Calgary. Everyone is still talking about it today. This notorious gang leader was accused of murder and other serious crimes, but he was let off because his right to be tried within a reasonable time, as laid out in the Jordan decision, had been violated due to the shortage of judges.
This is a very serious problem that the government must address as quickly as possible. Of course, we have an independent judicial appointments process, but that process needs to go a lot faster. The vacancies must be filled, because we simply cannot let other notorious criminals escape prosecution because of a lack of judges.