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View Anthony Housefather Profile
Lib. (QC)
One of the joys of being the chairman of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights is the collegial way that we work together, which is the way we should work together when it comes to the justice system, because whether we are Liberals, Conservatives, New Democrats, or Green, we all want the same things: We want a system that moves quickly; we want a system under which the accused has the right to a fair trial and is presumed innocent; we want a system that protects the rights of victims and treats victims with respect; and we want a system that ensures that we are not soft on crime but that allows for rehabilitation of an offender.
These are all elements that we need to consider as we deal with Bill C-75, a very important bill that deals with not only the Jordan decision but a number of elements that need to be enhanced and improved within the justice system.
I want to talk about some of the elements of the bill, ones that we will need to study at the justice committee. I will start with the issue of preliminary inquiries.
Parliament was invited to look at the issue of preliminary inquiries by the Supreme Court in the Jordan case itself. Due to the vast disclosure requirements now required in preliminary inquiries, the court mentioned in Regina v. Jordan that Parliament may wish to revisit the issue of preliminary inquiries, and the bill would do away with preliminary inquiries for all those offences that do not carry life sentences.
In general, I do agree with the proposal to drastically reduce the number of preliminary inquiries. It is clear that there is no constitutional right to a preliminary inquiry. That does not mean, of course, that we do not need to consider arguments that may be made by defence counsel and those there to defend the rights of the accused, so one of the issues the justice committee will need to study is whether the list of offences for which there could be a preliminary inquiry should be expanded or should be left as it is in the bill.
Another issue that we will need to study is the issue of hybrid offences. I have heard the arguments made by my colleague from St. Albert—Edmonton on hybrid offences and on the possibility that sending offences to a provincial court with a shorter time frame under Jordan will clog up the justice system even more. I do not think it will. Doing away with certain administrative offences and reducing the volume for the court in that sense will not be problematic, but I hear that argument, and we will have to look at the list of offences that are now only indictable but that would become available for summary conviction as well, and we will need to determine whether any offences that are currently on the list to be hybridized should not be hybridized.
One of the issues that is very important for all Canadians is the over-incarceration of certain populations in this country. My colleague from Victoria, the NDP justice critic, today raised at our committee the fact that 25% of jailed people in Canada are indigenous, and among women in prison it is 33%. Since this community makes up approximately 5% of Canada's population, this is a shocking situation and it needs to be fixed. As for the other vulnerable populations that are overrepresented in the prison population, we need to diagnose why that is.
The hon. member for Saanich—Gulf Islands raised the issue of mandatory minimums. That is certainly an issue that we will need to look at in depth at some point in time, because clearly mandatory minimums are one of the reasons for overrepresentation. Another reason, though, that I do believe is dealt with by the bill in a way that I totally support is the issue of creating a new judicial referral hearing that allows people who miss a condition not to automatically be charged and sent before a court, which creates a vicious cycle in which people who, for example, miss a hearing because they do not have transportation to get to the bail hearing are then incarcerated again because they have breached a condition, and it happens over and over. I totally approve of the issue of modernizing and streamlining the bail system and legislating a principle of restraint.
Another issue we need to look at is reverse onus. I do support the presumption that those people who have already been convicted of intimate-partner violence should have a more difficult time making bail. However, I understand that there are charter issues to be raised in terms of any reverse onus of proof that we create, and that is another item that our justice committee will have to study when this bill comes before us after second reading and a vote by Parliament.
Another issue I want to talk about is amending the Youth Criminal Justice Act to reduce the rates at which youth are charged for administration of justice offences.
One of the things that has worked really well in Canada since the Young Offenders Act was revised in the early 2000s is the fact that we have drastically reduced the number of youth incarcerated in Canada. This is something we need to look at, not only for young offenders but for all offenders. We need to find a way to keep people out of the vicious cycle of prisons. We need to find a way to make sure people can stay in their communities and be rehabilitated, as much as possible.
While I have a minute, I also want to turn my attention to the sections that will be repealed in the Criminal Code.
Section 230 of the Criminal Code, which was originally dealt with in Bill C-39, is now present in Bill C-75. This is a very unfortunate section that the courts have struck down, and in the case of the McCanns, which my hon. colleague, the member for St. Albert—Edmonton, has raised on multiple occasions, the judge erroneously referenced this section, causing even more pain for the family. One of the items that we need to make sure of is that those provisions of the Criminal Code that are struck down by our courts are repealed from the Criminal Code so that nobody else could ever make that type of mistake.
I also want to draw attention to section 159 of the Criminal Code, which desperately needs to be removed. The stigmatization of the gay community through section 159, the distinction between anal sex and other types of sex, and the stigmatization of gay men by a different age of consent is totally unacceptable, totally out of date, and needs to be repealed.
One of the things that I am very proud of is that the government, in bringing forward Bill C-75, has talked to all of its provincial counterparts, has held round tables throughout the country, and has not come back with its own ideas but has come back with lots of good principles that were worked on by multiple parties.
Now it is up to us as a Parliament to further enhance the bill, and for the committee to do its good work in terms of carefully looking at each of the provisions. I am very gratified that my colleagues in the other parties have agreed that we will sit extra hours when needed to deal with these provisions and to hear all the witnesses. I want to encourage those witnesses across Canada who have comments on Bill C-75 to come forward, send their briefs to committee, and ask to appear before our committee should they have a reason to do so. The more people we hear from on these important issues, the better the law will be. The goal for all of us is to get this bill as right as possible.
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