Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise, albeit at this hour, to discuss Bill C-75 and the Senate amendments that have been brought to this place from there.
I agree with the thrust of the Senate amendments on behalf of the New Democratic Party, which supports the thrust of those amendments, but reluctantly have to say that, as amended, we must oppose this bill for the reasons I will describe.
I agree with the Minister of Justice, who spoke earlier, about some of the positive changes in this initiative. The bail reform provisions are exemplary. The intimate partner violence provisions are also very good. I am pleased that the Senate had the opportunity to deal with some of the recommendations by Judge Marion Buller, who, of course, chaired the inquiry into murdered and missing indigenous women and girls. She had the benefit of testifying before the Senate committee and, in turn, it had the ability to reflect her wisdom. That finds its way into the amendments before us tonight.
This improves the bill quite significantly, as I will describe, but there are some very significant issues that remain. I want to commend our colleagues in the other place for the work they have done to improve this flawed bill. We need to thank them for some of the work they had the opportunity to do.
We too, on the NDP side, have done an enormous amount of research and consultation, with people from the criminal defence bar, academics, prosecutors, former deputy attorneys general and others. We have done our homework on Bill C-75. After all, it is a mammoth initiative, the most significant criminal justice reform bill in a very long time. Regrettably, as a result of those consultations, we concluded that we must continue to oppose the bill, for reasons I will describe in a moment.
To be clear, we are in support of the amendments made by the Senate, yet decry the government's inadequate response to those amendments and ultimately have to therefore oppose the final bill as amended.
To begin with, why was Bill C-75 initiated? The Minister of Justice was clear about that in his remarks earlier. He alluded to the Askov case in the Supreme Court of Canada, and then, of course, the Jordan decision. The court said that there has to be a trial within a timely period, and it set down very specific limits for both indictable and summary conviction cases.
The objective was one of efficiency. It was to try to make our courts more efficient to deal with the enormous and, quite frankly, embarrassing backlog we have with our court cases, and to deal with the consequence of the Jordan case. As we know, often people who are guilty of offences walk free because the courts are not able to give them a trial within a reasonable period. That has to be an embarrassment to all Canadians.
Efficiency was the goal of this bill. However, after the consultation I just described, the debate in the House, and the work I was part of on the justice committee, where we heard a great variety of presentations, we concluded it is simply not an adequate response to the Jordan problem.
As I alluded to earlier, there are some good things in this bill, which I will also refer to later. However, sadly some of the deeply problematic things continue in the bill. I want to talk, by way of giving illustrations, of the general concerns that the criminal justice bar has had with this bill. I will start Ms. Sayeh Hassan, who is a Toronto-based criminal defence lawyer. By way of summary, she said, “While there are parts of Bill C-75 that have the potential for improving the criminal justice system, many other parts will not only be unhelpful when it comes to reducing delay but will also wipe out numerous rights currently afforded to an accused person.”
The big ugly elephant in the room is the fact that the government chose to completely ignore what so many people have talked about, which is the need to get rid of mandatory minimum sentencing. We had a reasonable hope that it would do so. After all, the Prime Minister told the former minister of justice that it was part of her mandate. Nothing happened.
Sean Fine, of The Globe and Mail, wrote:
As far back as October, 2016, the [former attorney general] told the Criminal Lawyers' Association in a speech that she would change the minimum sentencing laws “in the near future.” Days later, she told The Globe that new legislation would be coming soon, “certainly in the early part of next year.”
It never happened.
Our colleagues in the other place made a similar observation. It is the fourth item on their list of formal observations. I think it is worth repeating what they summarized. Under “Mandatory Minimum Sentences”, it says:
In its Delaying Justice is Denying Justice report, the Committee recommended that the Minister of Justice undertake a thorough review of existing mandatory minimum sentences in order to: ensure a reasonable, evidence-based approach to when they are appropriate; and consider whether persons with mental health issues should be considered for alternative sentencing options or treatment when faced with mandatory minimum sentences.
During its study of Bill C-75, some witnesses expressed significant disappointment that it does not include any reforms to the mandatory minimum sentencing provisions in the Criminal Code. In the Mandate Letter to the Minister of Justice...of 12 November 2015, [the Prime Minister] stated that the Minister...was to “conduct a review of the changes in our criminal justice system and sentencing reforms over the past decade.” In the Minister’s letter to the Chair of the committee, he stated that the Government “is committed to advancing sentencing reform” and that it is “committed to reviewing the mandatory minimum penalties in the Criminal Code with an eye to eliminating many of them and restoring judicial discretion.”
The committee [of the Senate] observes that the Government of Canada has had four years to bring forward amendments to these provisions in the Criminal Code and that, to date, no legislative action has been taken.
I join with my colleagues in the other place in noting that the government's failure to address the often unconstitutional mandatory minimums cannot be understated. It is a serious problem.
This led the Criminal Lawyers' Association to write in its position paper that “[m]andatory minimum sentences frustrate the process of resolving cases by limiting the Crown’s discretion to offer a penalty that will limit the Crown's ability”—