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View Gary Anandasangaree Profile
Lib. (ON)
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with my good friend, the member for Beaches—East York.
I am speaking to members from the traditional lands of the Mississaugas of the Credit in Scarborough—Rouge Park. I want to, first and foremost, thank the Minister of Justice and his team for their hard work in bringing this bill together. I will be speaking in support of Bill C-22. There are three basic elements to it. First, it repeals mandatory minimum penalties of imprisonment for 14 such offences. Second, it allows for conditional sentence orders to be expanded and, third, it requires police and prosecutors to consider all other measures for simple possession of drugs, such as diversion and addiction treatment programs for those who may be charged.
I have worked extensively within the criminal justice system as a youth worker. I used to run a youth organization here in Scarborough called the Canadian Tamil Youth Development Centre. During my tenure there, I met with dozens of young people who had been charged both criminally and under the YCJA. My experience led me to believe that the criminal justice system has a profound impact, particularly on racialized youth, and in the case of Scarborough, particularly Black youth.
The experience goes beyond my work at the Canadian Tamil Youth Development Centre. It goes into my work as a lawyer when I started practising, as well as into when we developed the national anti-racism strategy in 2019. As I went across the country, community after community spoke to the disproportionate impact of the criminal justice system on young people, particularly Black, indigenous and racialized youth. I believe Bill C-22 addresses, in part, some of the concerns that stem from the imposition of mandatory minimum sentences, particularly since 2006 when it was brought forward by the previous Conservative government.
My experience with young people leads me to believe that they are often caught in a moment when they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. They may have been with the wrong set of friends or they may have just acted stupidly. This gets them into the criminal justice system. It is an on-ramp that eventually leads to greater charges, in part because they are also being surveilled by several police services.
I want to highlight the recent case of someone I know quite well now. His name is Rohan George. He was admitted to the bar of the Law Society of Ontario just last year. He served eight years for manslaughter. He talks about his life experiences as a young person who went to St. Mother Teresa school in my riding of Scarborough—Rouge Park.
It started when he was about 14 with a stolen bottle of alcohol and a failure to attend court. This eventually escalated into something much more serious. This speaks to the failure of the criminal justice system to ensure that there are adequate supports and off-ramps for these young people. This young man served his time. He served eight years, went to law school and did thousands of hours of community service. I know him because he was working at an organization called the South Asian Autism Awareness Centre. I never knew that he had a criminal conviction and he was finishing his time.
I want to quote a line from the Law Society panel. It said, “The concept of rehabilitation is based on the capacity in human nature for someone to recognize their mistakes, to make amends, to correct the course of their lives, and to become productive and positive members of their community.” I believe that young people, particularly those from racialized communities who have been charged, are often not given the support that they need to get out of the criminal justice system.
As a member of Parliament, I have seen many cases that have come to our office where there may have been criminality that has escalated to removal from Canada because of immigration status. I believe the supports were not there when young people were around and getting into trouble for them to get off on these off-ramps.
The work I did, particularly with young Tamil men in Scarborough, has proven to me the need for community intervention and investments into the community. At that time, the work we did stemmed from the national crime prevention strategy funding of $50,000. We were able to help hundreds of young people avoid the criminal justice system. Those who did enter into it were supported to get out, often through education.
Since being an MP, I had the chance to visit institutions such as Millhaven and Beaver Creek. One does not have to spend too much time there before one realizes there is a gross misrepresentation within these institutions. It is partly because when one goes in, the officers, those who help people enter the facility, are primarily white, but once one goes into the facility it is racialized Black and indigenous people who occupy the cells. Once one talks to people, and I think as MPs we have the prerogative to speak to these individuals, one soon finds out there is an incredible story, which is the failure of the system, when one digs deeper into each and every one of those cases.
In 2019, I had the opportunity to welcome the Minister of Justice to Scarborough—Rouge Park. There are many organizations in Scarborough as well as around the GTA that do a great amount of work supporting youth. I want to recognize their work. Fernie Youth Services is an organization that provides an off-ramp right here in Scarborough—Rouge Park, as well as the Canadian Association of Black Lawyers, which has been really vocal in its opposition to the impacts of mandatory minimum sentences, particularly on Black youth. TAIBU Community Health Centre, the Zero Gun Violence Movement, the Urban Rez Solutions, Urban Alliance on Race Relations are some of the organizations that were able to meet with the Minister of Justice and outline the disproportionate effects mandatory minimums and other measures have on young people within our community.
The numbers speak for themselves and I want to give members some highlights.
Between 2007 and 2008, 39% of all Black offenders and 20% of all indigenous offenders were admitted into federal custody for MMP offences. That is an astonishing number. When we look at the proportion of indigenous offenders admitted with an offence punishable by an MMP, it has increased from 14% in 2007-08 to 26%. It has essentially doubled in the decade from 2007 to 2017. Of the offenders convicted of a Controlled Drugs and Substances Act section 6 offence, 42% were Black. The proportion of Black offenders increased from 33% in 2007-08 to 43% in 2016-17.
In 1999-2000, indigenous people represented 2% of the Canadian adult population, but accounted for 17% of admissions to provincial and federal sentenced custody. In 2020, despite this population growing to 5% of the overall adult population, 30% of male inmates and 42% of female inmates were indigenous.
The numbers are quite clear and show that there is a need for this to be addressed. This is systemic racism that needs to be addressed. I believe—
View Alistair MacGregor Profile
Madam Speaker, I appreciate my hon. colleague's speech, but I am going to call the Liberals out on Bill C-22.
There are absolutely some helpful measures, and I appreciate that we are tackling some important reforms to the justice system, but let me be very clear, a declaration of principles is not a substitute for decriminalization. Warnings and referrals are not a substitute for decriminalization. The problem with giving police officers this kind of power is that their discretion varies, depending on what province and what city they are in.
Could the hon. member tell us why, despite all of the evidence from so many organizations, including the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, the Liberals are not being bold with this reform to our justice system and getting rid of section 4 in our Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, making it fully decriminalized?
View Gary Anandasangaree Profile
Lib. (ON)
Madam Speaker, I believe these are very important measures to address issues of systemic racism.
When I was going across the country to develop the national end to racism strategy, it was evident across the board that mandatory minimum sentences, in particular, had a disproportionate effect on indigenous and Black communities. I believe this is an important step in that direction.
Obviously there is more to do. There is more to do on, overall, addressing systemic racism, but in this particular case, I think this is a very important step that does take us in the right direction.
View Raquel Dancho Profile
View Raquel Dancho Profile
2021-04-13 10:43 [p.5477]
Madam Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for his work at the community level to support youth and recidivism rates.
I do have some concerns about this bill, however. My understanding is that it eliminates prison time if somebody robs someone with a gun or fires a gun at someone with the intent to harm them. Further, it eliminates mandatory minimums if a criminal sexually assaults someone or kidnaps someone, and it allows them to serve that time on house arrest.
I am very unsettled and think this would make communities very unsafe. It also does not adequately ensure punishment for someone who robs someone with a gun or intends to hurt them with a gun.
I would appreciate it if the member could comment on that.
View Gary Anandasangaree Profile
Lib. (ON)
Madam Speaker, the member's interpretation of this bill is incorrect.
There are 14 mandatory minimum sentences where the mandatory component would be taken out. It would still leave discretion with our highly qualified judges to make the determination. In terms of sexual offences, they are not included in this bill. As well, any serious offences that are highlighted would continue to have mandatory minimums.
The member's comments on this measure are incorrect. I would invite her to review the changes to the mandatory minimum provisions as outlined in the bill.
View Marie-Hélène Gaudreau Profile
Madam Speaker, I am concerned.
I have experience working with community organizations that focus on delinquency prevention. My concern is this: What ever happened to a change that would target basic prevention needs to avoid minimum sentencing?
I would like to hear my colleague's comments on that. When will there be a clear commitment to education, monitoring and prevention for these crimes that lend themselves to changing the bill?
View Gary Anandasangaree Profile
Lib. (ON)
Madam Speaker, the changes to the particular provisions of the criminal justice system are just one aspect of a broader set of measures that our government has introduced over the years, including the Canada child benefit. This has directly taken over 300,000 children out of poverty, which in my opinion is one of the major factors in reducing overall crime. In fact, the social determinants of health have impacted many communities, particularly the racialized communities.
I believe the measures taken by the government are an important step in addressing the systemic issues that my friend opposite has highlighted.
View Nathaniel Erskine-Smith Profile
Lib. (ON)
Madam Speaker, I am in support of Bill C-22. Bill C-22, for those interested in the subject, comes in three parts. It would address mandatory minimum sentences in a serious way; it would restore judicial discretion as it relates to conditional sentencing and an emphasis on restorative justice; and the third piece is an emphasis on treating drug use as a health issue, and I will have more to say about that in a bit.
I want to start by focusing on mandatory minimum sentences with a simple premise that is overwhelmingly supported by the evidence, which is that mandatory minimum sentences do not work. They are ineffective; they do not deter crime. I am the member of Parliament for Beaches—East York, and we were deeply impacted by the Danforth shooting a few years ago. If mandatory minimum sentences could prevent another Danforth shooting from happening, I would support them, but they would not, and instead they disproportionately and negatively impact racialized Canadians. We see the numbers. We see, of Black Canadians, who represent 3% of the population, 9% are imprisoned. We see, of indigenous people, who represent 5% of the population, 30% are imprisoned. There are obviously instances where crimes are so abhorrent that retribution demands a lifetime in prison, and that obviously accords with our sense of justice, but we have seen cases before our courts, and there are obviously any number of hypotheticals that lawyers will devise, where mandatory minimum sentences do not fit the crime and judicial discretion is important. We have seen courts render these mandatory minimums unconstitutional because of their unfairness. They are not only ineffective, but unfair.
It is the same with conditional sentencing, that notion of effectiveness but also fairness. Punishments and remedies need to take into account context. There are reasons of fairness, and I mentioned reasons of fairness as it relates to racial justice, but also I have already heard a question from a Conservative colleague emphasizing public safety, so let us talk about public safety. Unless offenders are sentenced to life or something close to it, they will, as a simple fact, be released into our community. If we do not focus on restorative justice, rehabilitation and reintegration, we put our communities at greater risk. The evidence is there. It is as simple as that. If we care about public safety first and foremost, we ought to care about restorative justice.
I want to move to, for the remainder of my comments, the third part of Bill C-22, which is the reform, in a more sensible way, of our drug policy laws. This is roundly accepted by anyone who has studied the issue, but the so-called “war on drugs” is an abject failure. I will read from the Global Commission on Drug Policy. They write, “the evidence overwhelmingly demonstrates that repressive strategies will not solve the drug problem, and that the war on drugs has not, and cannot, be won.” The long-term answer is regulation, that all drugs should be, in many cases, strictly regulated according to their respective harms. Caffeine is different from morphine and they should be regulated, of course, differently. Again, this is the view of the Global Commission on Drug Policy, a commission made up of experts and former world leaders who have been deeply impacted by the failings of the war on drugs. They write:
Regulation and management of risky products and behaviors is a key function of government authorities across the world. It is the norm in almost all areas of policy and law – except drug policy. ... In the field of public health, when compared with policy responses to other risky behaviors – such as dangerous sports, unhealthy diets or unsafe sex – it is punitive drug prohibitions that are the “radical” policy response, not regulation. Drugs should be regulated not because they are safe, but precisely because they are risky.
We are not going to get there tomorrow, so on the road to that goal, let us first take stock of where we are and where we will go from here, realistically. In taking stock, we can look over the last five or six years. We have as a government regulated cannabis, a real model for the world. We have expanded harm reduction options, including safe consumption sites across this country to save lives. We are in the midst of an opioid crisis, and we know that the benefits of safe consumption sites have been proven and that they save lives. We have also increased money for treatment options for the provinces.
We have implemented safer supply pilot initiatives, including here in the east end. South Riverdale just received funding to renew its safe supply pilot for another two years. Again, this will save lives.
We have established new guidelines for prosecutors in relation to the simple possession of drugs and the prosecution of simple possession of drugs. In practice, for those interested in the numbers, from 2014 to 2018 we saw drug possession prosecutions cut in half, from 13,678 to 6,374. Now, we unquestionably need to build on that progress, and that brings me to the third part of Bill C-22, which is nearly a cut-and-paste of a private member's bill I introduced in February of last year.
To go even further back to the fall of 2019, in the midst of an election I was at Hope United Church here in the east end of Toronto and I was asked this question: If you had the opportunity to introduce a private member's bill, what is the first private member's bill would I introduce? I very quickly said that I had had a bill in the last Parliament to reform our drug policy laws and to treat drug use as a health issue, and I would revisit that issue. Early in 2020, I introduced two bills in this Parliament to that end, and I never expected that one of those bills would be picked up so quickly as a government bill in an almost identical fashion.
Now, the bill is not perfect, and I said in the course of my speech on my private member's bill that I would like to see full decriminalization. I do not think that there should be any penalty. There should be no intervention other than a positive, voluntary health intervention for people who use drugs. These are the people we want to help, not the people we want to punish. However, I also recognize the reality of the ability to move a private member's bill forward, and I want to make difference in the law.
The elements in Bill C-22 as they relate to drug policy are not perfect either, but they unquestionably will make a significant difference. The bill would make it virtually impossible for a prosecution of simple possession to proceed successfully. It would not give discretion to police, as they have discretion already, and it would not give discretion to prosecutors, as they have discretion already, but it would significantly fetter their discretion in accordance with evidence-based principles, which are simply worth reading from the bill. These principles are:
(a) problematic substance use should be addressed primarily as a health and social issue;
(b) interventions should be founded on evidence-based best practices and should aim to protect the health, dignity and human rights of individuals who use drugs and to reduce harm to those individuals, their families and their communities;
(c) criminal sanctions imposed in respect of the possession of drugs for personal use can increase the stigma associated with drug use and are not consistent with established public health evidence;
(d) interventions should address the root causes of problematic substance use...; and
(e) judicial resources are more appropriately used in relation to offences that pose a risk to public safety.
Now, there are real challenges to police and prosecutorial discretion, but the proposed system, if implemented well, is not so far away from the Portugal model that we hear many advocates of decriminalization call for. In this model, police remain first responders in many cases, and dissuasion panels have significant discretion to mete out different remedies, including some that are quite punitive.
I have spoken with Bryan Larkin, chief of police for the Waterloo area, and he has helped to lead efforts. I want to credit the chiefs of police for really pushing for decriminalization and a more sensible drug policy. I can tell members that with prosecutors and chiefs of police on board, we now unquestionably need resources from the government to expand treatment options and health services for the provinces.
There is a real opportunity with Bill C-22 to make a meaningful difference and to effectively end the war on drugs. My preference would be to simply delete section 4 of the CDSA, which is the preference of the Global Commission on Drug Policy as well.
It is important to remember that of the 250 million people around the world who use drugs, 10% are problematic cases. Therefore, the idea of throwing the book at people and that people who use drugs ought to be criminalized is significantly divorced from the evidence. We need to replace the criminalization and punishment of people who use drugs with the offer of health and treatment services.
View Heather McPherson Profile
View Heather McPherson Profile
2021-04-13 10:56 [p.5479]
Madam Speaker, I appreciate my colleague's candour regarding his desire for full decriminalization. It is vital and important. However, he speaks about the fact that he wants full decriminalization and that this bill would fail to achieve that.
I would ask him again why the government does not support full decriminalization for the possession of small amounts of drugs for personal use and the automatic expungement of previous criminal records for personal use possession.
View Nathaniel Erskine-Smith Profile
Lib. (ON)
Madam Speaker, I have called for drug decriminalization since I was elected. I remember the then leader of the Conservative Party getting up in question period and saying that the member for Beaches—East York wants to do this and how dare he. He then asked the Prime Minister what he thought of it. I wondered if I had just indirectly asked the Prime Minister a question in the House of Commons around drug policy.
The answer to the member's question is politics. I am glad the member is calling for full decriminalization and treating drug use as a health issue. I remember when the leader of the NDP called for this in his leadership bid, and I have not heard him speak about this in a significant way since. I hope all leaders, whether they are individual members of Parliament or leaders of our parties, speak up, and speak up loudly, to change the narrative and educate Canadians, because that is the way we will move this forward.
View Jenica Atwin Profile
View Jenica Atwin Profile
2021-04-13 10:58 [p.5479]
Madam Speaker, I will ask a question around prosecutorial and police discretion because I still have concerns about the lack of understanding that still exists in Canada.
I am wondering what other additional measures the member would like to see. I am thinking about Bill C-3, which made it mandatory for judges to have training around sexual assault. What about trauma-informed care? What about information around residential school experiences, or about Canadians who continue to be oppressed in our country? Are there additional measures that the member would like to see in this bill?
View Nathaniel Erskine-Smith Profile
Lib. (ON)
Madam Speaker, I do not know that the measures need to be in this bill. It becomes about the implementation of the bill. I mentioned the need to implement it well, and we are lucky insofar as we have a situation right now where the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police recognizes that the status quo is ineffective and we need to reform our drug laws. Prosecutors and judges recognize this as well.
We are in a good place to move this forward and implement it well, but it does come down to resources, and I would say resources are twofold. One relates to health care and ensuring that, if there are referrals to health care providers, there are resources in the health care system so those treatment options exist. The second relates to training resources for police officers.
To the member's point, I do not think they need to be in the bill per se, but as we implement the bill, they absolutely need to be there. It is great for the chiefs of police to believe in decriminalization, but we need police officers on the ground to have training as well, and that will require resources. If we want to implement this well, the government will need to step up with financial resources to make it happen.
View Judy A. Sgro Profile
Lib. (ON)
Madam Speaker, my colleague and I do not always agree on things, clearly not on his desire for decriminalization, even though I very much support harm reduction in a variety of ways.
Since we have gone ahead with the legalization of marijuana, and we have certainly helped a tremendous number of young people avoid incarceration, what has he seen during this period as to the implications, negative or positive, of the legalization of marijuana?
View Nathaniel Erskine-Smith Profile
Lib. (ON)
Madam Speaker, I think of the legalization of cannabis in three ways. One is tackling organized crime and undercutting the profits of organized crime. It is not perfect yet, but as the system continues to develop, we will get there, just as we got there with alcohol. Two is that, as The Global Commission on Drug Policy makes clear, a legalized and strictly regulated framework can also reduce access for young people. We need greater education resources in this area, but this can do significant work as well. Three is treating responsible adults as responsible adults. That is what the framework does as well, and I would include myself in that category.
Not all of the policies as they relate to cannabis translate to other drugs. There are some that carry much more serious potential risks, but we need to learn the lessons and to be a world leader on this, not only in enacting real progressive policies domestically, but also in taking that message to the world stage to reform the narcotics control regime internationally.
View Shannon Stubbs Profile
View Shannon Stubbs Profile
2021-04-13 11:02 [p.5479]
Madam Speaker, I will split my time with the member for Battle River—Crowfoot.
Conservatives are the party of law and order that ardently stands with victims of crime and their loved ones, and that applies common sense and outcomes-based principles to protect innocent Canadians from violent criminals who would harm others. Conservatives also take a practical approach and acknowledge that, of course, many offenders will be released back into society. There is a real need to prepare those offenders for release so they do not fall back into a life of crime, as seen in the good work of the member for Tobique—Mactaquac in his Bill C-228, which aims to set a federal framework to reduce recidivism.
However, Canadians also do not want the justice system to be a constantly revolving door. Common sense must prevail for the common good. Canadians, victims of crime and their families deserve to live freely without fear in Canadian society. When violent criminals seek to take that away or revictimize them, the government has a role in ensuring the laws and systems in place are designed to prevent it. The only thing worse than a government that fails in this duty is a government that actually promotes conditions that will ultimately lead to, or frankly guarantee, that violent criminals will strike again.
Bill C-22 gives great consideration to the relief of criminals and offenders, but it is missing any substantive policy or action to care for, protect, or prevent victims of violent crime in Canada. In fact, Bill C-22 would reduce the penalties for many violent crimes, some of which disproportionately affect the most vulnerable in Canada.
The first thing Bill C-22 does is build on the Liberals' “guns for gangs only” bill, Bill C-21, which targets law-abiding licensed firearms owners, retailers and even hobbyists who play airsoft and paintball. What is missing from Bill C-21 is a strategy to deal with the root cause of shooting deaths in Canada cities, criminal gangs with illegally smuggled guns.
In fact, Bill C-21 does nothing to protect public safety or victims from violent gun crime and criminal gangs. It lays a heavy hand on law-abiding Canadians who already follow the rules, but takes a hands-off approach to the very criminals and gangs who should obviously be the targets of public safety policy.
Bill C-22 takes the hands-off approach even further. It reduces jail time for violent firearms offences and will not stop the flow of illegal firearms into criminal gangs in Canada. In Bill C-22, the Liberals are telling Canadians these offences are no big deal by reducing penalties for: weapons trafficking, possession for the purpose of weapons trafficking, importing or exporting a firearm knowing it is unauthorized, possession of a firearm knowing its possession is unauthorized, possession of a prohibited or restricted firearm with ammunition, possession of a weapon obtained by commission of an offence using firearms in the commission of offences, robbery with a firearm and extortion with a firearm. We should all think about how each of these offences ties into actual violent crime and deaths in Canada.
That is not all. Bill C-22 would also reduce penalties for discharging firearms where it is unsafe to do so, say, for example, in the streets of Toronto, and for discharging firearms with intent, such as in a drive-by shooting, like the one in Montreal two months ago that tragically and horribly killed 15-year-old Meriem Boundaoui.
In fact, Montreal police inspector David Bertrand says his city had a 10% rise in gun crimes between 2019 and 2020, despite the Liberal firearm ban at the time. He says that this is due to the “trivialization” of gun use by criminals and that criminals are “using more guns when committing infractions”.
Bill C-22 plays right into the wrong hands. If the Liberals listened to experts, they would know not to trivialize crimes for which consequences need to be strengthened in order to keep Canadians safe from criminals with guns.
It seems Conservatives are the only ones listening to experts on gun crimes, but we cannot take all the credit for tough sentences for these crimes. Most of the above examples are long-standing and were introduced under previous Liberal governments, so sentences for using firearms in the commission—
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