Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to the Liberal government's justice reform bill, Bill C-75. If the parliamentary secretary was worked up during his presentation, I cannot wait until he hears what I have to say. Sadly, I cannot find a lot of good things to report about the bill, to report to my constituents or to Canadians at large.
Like a number of the Liberal government's legislative measures, the purpose of the bill does not always match to what the bill would actually do.
For example, recently in Bill C-71, the Minister of Public Safety used tragic shootings and a gun and gangs summit to suggest he was putting forward legislation that would tackle illegal guns, gangs and violent criminals. The sad reality was that the legislation he proposed never once mentioned gangs or organized crime. It had nothing to do with illegal weapons and crimes caused by them.
Prior to that, the Minister of Public Safety also introduced Bill C-59, a bill he claimed would strengthen our national security and protect Canadians. Again, the reality was very different, as the bill would move nearly $100 million from active security and intelligence work, which actually protects Canadians, to administrative and oversight mechanisms and functions. Worst of all, the Minister of Public Safety made full claim about moving Bill C-59 to committee before second reading to:
I would inform the House that, in the interests of transparency, we will be referring this bill to committee before second reading, which will allow for a broader scope of discussion and consideration and possible amendment of the bill in the committee when that deliberation begins.
When it came time to consider reasonable, bold or small amendments, the Liberals on that committee fought against everything to ensure the bill did not change at all its scope or scale. The results will place the security of Canadians at greater risk and for those who actually work in national security, more people will be looking over their shoulders, tougher rules, more paperwork and few, if any, benefits, as front-line efforts to protect Canadians only become more difficult.
Now, under Bill C-75, we see the same old story. The justice minister made bold claims that she would be helping address the backlog of cases created when the Supreme Court imposed a maximum time frame for them. Some of her claims included that this legislation would improve the efficiency of the criminal justice system and reduce court delays. She said that it would strengthen response to domestic violence. It would streamline bail hearings. It would provide more tools for judges. It would improve jury selection. It would free up court resources by reclassifying serious offences.
That sound fantastic. What a great bill. Streamlining the courts, strengthening the justice system, domestic violence, improving tools for judges, improving jury selection? Incredible. Sadly, the Liberals are not achieving any of these objectives according to the legal community or any of the knowledgeable leaders in the House.
Does it shorten trials and ensure that we deal with the backlog? The minister appears to make the claim that it will with the elimination of most preliminary hearings. Preliminary hearings, according to the legal community, account for just 3% of all court time. Therefore, with an overloaded court system, eliminating a huge number of these hearings will only have a minimal impact at best. Preliminary hearings often weed out the weakest cases, which means more cases will go to trial, thus increasing the court backlogs under the current legislation. What can also happen with preliminary hearings is that they create opportunity for the defence to recognize the need to seek early resolution without a trial.
Moreover, preliminary hearings can deal with issues up front and make trials more focused. Instead, under this new legislation, many cases would be longer with added procedural and legal arguments.
One member of the legal community called the bill “a solution to a problem that didn't exist”. High praise for this legislation indeed.
It is the changes to serious criminal offences that have many Canadians, not just the legal community, concerned. All members of the House could agree, or at least accept, that not all Criminal Code issues need to be treated in the same manner. Serious offences like homicide and minor offences like vandalism or property damage do not meet the same threshold for punishment. We can all agree with that.
Canadians expect that Ottawa, that government will create safe communities and that the law benefits all people, not slanted in favour of criminals.
Under Bill C-75, the Liberals have provided the option to proceed with a large number of violent offences by way of summary conviction rather than an indictable offence. This means that violent criminals may receive no more than the proposed 12 months in jail or a fine for their crimes, a slap on the wrist for things like impaired driving causing bodily harm, obstructing justice, assault with a weapon, forced marriages, abduction, participation in a criminal organization and human trafficking. There are many more, but it bears taking the time to look at these in particular. These are serious offences. Allowing these criminals back on the street, with little to no deterrents, makes even less sense. These serious criminal issues should have the full force and effect of the law.
None of these scenarios, victims or society are better served when those responsible for these offences serve only minimal jail sentences or receive fines.
The principle is that Canadians expect that their government and the courts will be there to ensure that criminals receive due punishment for their crimes and that law-abiding Canadians and those who have been victimized by these criminals are treated fairly and with respect. In short, the bill undermines the confidence of Canadians in our criminal justice system and makes it more difficult for law enforcement to ensure safe communities. As my colleagues have clearly pointed out already, there are other solutions, better solutions in fact. The minister could address the backlog with more judicial appointments, as an example.
As the former minister of justice said, there was never a shortage of qualified candidates in his six years as minister of justice. Therefore, it is not a failure of the judiciary. It is not that there are too many preliminary hearings. It is not that there are way more criminals, because crime rates overall have been declining. The problem resides almost entirely with the minister getting more people on the bench and in prosecution services.
As I have said in the House before, public safety and national security should be the top priority of the House. It should be above politics so the safety and security of Canadians are put ahead of political fortunes. While the Liberals have said that public safety is a priority, they have said that everything is their “top priority”. To have 300 top priorities, means they have no priorities at all.
Canadians expect that the government will make them its priority. Sadly, the bill fails the test to keep Canadians safe and deliver effective government. The legal community has said that the bill is deeply flawed and will hurt the legal system rather than help it. Police services will likely see themselves arresting the same people over and over again, even more so than they do today, as criminals get lighter sentences or fines. Therefore, the backlog will move from the courts to the policing community, back to the courts and then back to the policing community. How does that help the average Canadian?
Canada has been weakened by the Liberal government. Its wedge politics on the values test, pandering to terrorists, ignoring threats from China, targeting law-abiding guns owners, its lack of leadership on illegal border crossers and waffling on resource development continue to put Canadians at a disadvantage, weaken our public safety and national security and place undue strain on families and communities.
Canadians deserve better. In 2019, I suspect we will get a better justice minister, a better justice bill and a better government.