Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to add my voice to the rising opposition to Bill C-10, which is perhaps best characterized as the Conservatives' most recent piece of dumb on crime legislation.
Our understanding of crime and the appropriate way to handle those who transgress the rules of our society has evolved over the past 400 years. We have moved from a time when criminality was commonly associated with witchcraft to a society that far better understands the root causes of crime and better ways to handle criminals.
I am truly dismayed to see the government completely ignore the work being done on these important topics. It seems to be taking us back to the middle ages. That is not just empty rhetoric. Why do I say that they are taking us back to the middle ages?
First, it is obvious that the government cares not a whit about policies to fight the ultimate cause of crime. Second, it does not care about deterrence. If it did, it would have paid attention to a recent study by its own Department of Justice that was released a week or so ago, which provided evidence that longer sentences are not an effective deterrent to crime. Indeed, the results from that study are consistent with international evidence on the topic.
If the government does not care about fighting the ultimate cause of crime, if it does not care about deterrence, what is left? The only thing the government cares about is the principle of retribution or vengeance, and that is why I make the statement that it is taking us back to the middle ages.
The notion of fighting the underlying causes of crime is not at all important to the Conservatives. At the same time, for the reasons I just explained, the principle of deterrence also appears irrelevant to the Conservatives. All that matters to them is the principle of retribution or revenge. In that sense, this bill takes us back to the Middle Ages.
Nobody in the House would deny that protecting the citizens of Canada from harm is the most important objective of government. In fact, the government is granted a monopoly on the use of force for just that purpose, but with that power comes the responsibility to act in an appropriate manner that benefits society.
Our country was founded on the principles of peace, order and good government, and good government means examining all the facts and opinions. It means talking to experts and making public policy decisions that are based on evidence, not knee-jerk ideological desires. Good government also means respecting Parliament's role in public policy debates.
My opposition to this bill stems from its ineffective and ideological nature, and from the government's inability or unwillingness to work with Parliament on this major issue of public policy. I can already hear that familiar refrain from the other side, soft on crime, soft on victims' rights.
Victims' rights and crime are very important and I find the constant use of victims as a shield for this ideologically-driven agenda to be offensive. I believe nobody in the House is opposed to supporting victims of crime. To suggest otherwise is simply insulting to the intelligence of Canadians.
Indeed, I might mention the case earlier today regarding my colleague, the member for Mount Royal, when he presented amendments that would strengthen the provisions in this bill to support victims of terrorism and add to the remedies against those who commit terrorist acts. It seems the government is not going to accept that amendment, but that is a concrete example of Liberals supporting remedies for those who are victims of crime or terrorism.
What does it mean to support victims of crime? It must certainly mean doing our best to ensure that crime does not happen in the first place or that those who break our laws should be treated in a way that will minimize recidivism. That is how we stand up for victims, by working to ensure that we reduce crime as much as possible and also through measures such as proposed by my colleague from Mount Royal.
I have spoken about the Conservatives' crime agenda in general, but I also want to spend some time on this bill in particular. My primary concern with this bill is that it is fundamentally ineffective. According to Statistics Canada, crime is going down both in volume and severity. This should be trumpeted as a success. Crime is going down. Is that not our objective? When the government should be saying the evidence is saying its policies work, it instead says it does not believe the statistics. It claims the numbers do not matter, but they do matter. For the benefit of my colleagues on the other side of this place, I will go over a few of the facts that they choose to ignore.
As I said before, crime is down. Locking people up for longer does not necessarily make them less likely to reoffend, as I said just a few minutes ago. That is confirmed by a very recent study by the Department of Justice that was acquired through access to information. When we are dealing with young offenders, the negative effects of prison are only multiplied.
What the government needs to understand is that this is not just Liberal nonsense or lefty soft on crime rhetoric. Look at our neighbours to the south. The U.S. incarceration rate is 700% higher than ours. It has very nearly reached a point where fully 1% of the U.S. population is in prison. What does that mean for the U.S.? It means it continues to have higher crime rates than we do. It continues to spend billions more on prisons that we do. Some states, such as California, actually spend more on prisons than they spend on schools. Prisons are not the perfect solution to crime. That is simply outdated 18th century thought and nothing more.
For many criminals, prisons have not proven the palaces of reform that the Conservatives promise they will be. For many, it is simply a school for crime. Our prison system is already at its limit. This plan to dump thousands of new offenders into the system will simply break it. Low level offenders will enter the system after convictions for petty crimes and will leave having made new criminal connections and having learned the skills of the trade. That should never be the outcome of our justice system.
Despite all of this tough talk, one of the things we will not hear the Conservatives talking about during this debate is the mental health of our prisoners. It is widely understood by those who study crime that mental health issues are one of the biggest driving factors of criminal behaviour. Taking care of the mentally ill among us has been a failure of all levels of government for decades now.
As of 2007, 12% of the federal male prison population had a diagnosed mental illness. That is a 71% increase over 1997 and those figures are even worse for female inmates. Our prisons are not supposed to be substitute mental hospitals. In fact, I struggle to find a worse place for a mentally ill person.
Currently, aboriginals are incarcerated at a rate nine times that of non-aboriginal people. I believe that is simply unacceptable. Like most prisoners, they are in prison for non-violent property or drug offences. Time and time again we have seen that the solution to this vicious cycle is not more prisons.
I have covered some of the negative social costs of this dumb on crime agenda, but it is also important to talk about the fiscal costs.
The opposition has been asking the government for detailed cost estimates for its crime agenda. We have received nothing from the government except empty rhetoric. This is unacceptable. Parliamentarians are both policy-makers and the ultimate keepers of the public purse. We have a right to know the costs of the legislation that we are asked to support.
There is another consideration, and I will borrow a term from American politics: unfunded mandate. Yes, there will be significant federal costs, but we cannot ignore the impact these changes will have on provincial governments. These legislative changes, taken in concert with previous changes, will lead to many new provincial inmates at costs borne solely by the provinces.
The government has shown little respect for Parliament and its role, and it is also showing very little respect for provincial governments and their budgets.