Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the wonderful member for Lac-Saint-Louis.
I am pleased to speak to Bill C-5. I have to reference the previous speaker's speech. All of us come to the House to make life better. We have different opinions on how we achieve that goal, but after listening to the previous speaker, so much of what is on this side of the House is on all sides of the House. We all care very much about trying to make a difference in the lives of so many people. In some areas we agree, and in other areas we do not agree, but clearly we all feel that some changes need to be made, and we are moving in a direction we hope will improve public safety and make life easier for people.
As parliamentarians, we have specific causes that we all want to champion, and one of the most important for me, of course, is public safety and how we can not only better protect Canadians but also prevent young people in our society from getting themselves into a complete downward spiral, going in the wrong direction. When mandatory minimum sentences of incarceration were initially introduced, I was here, and I thought they would help us and that they would deter crime. People would know that, if they were to commit a certain crime, they would end up with a minimum of two years, four years or 10 years. They knew that we would throw the book at them.
That was very much how I thought, but seeing how mandatory minimum sentences have played out since 2007, especially in ridings like mine, I see that it did not help. They proved to be unjust at the end of the day in the eyes of many, contributing to systemic racism, the overcrowding of correctional facilities, delays in the justice process and people reoffending. It is very different from what everybody thought it would be when they were initially brought in.
Since the introduction, the Supreme Court of Canada has seen an influx of charter challenges due to these mandatory minimum sentences. In fact, as of December 3, 2021, the Department of Justice indicated that 217 charter challenges exist due to mandatory minimums and account for 34% of all constitutional challenges to the Criminal Code. Of those challenges, 69% related to drug offences were successful and 48% of firearm-related challenges were successful.
As far as I am concerned, anybody who uses a firearm in the process of any kind of unlawful activity, should have the book thrown at them. When they use firearms, it is a very different thing than some of the other issues we are talking about today, so why are these challenges successful? It comes down to an inequality of justice. They subject those facing charges to a punishment that may not fit their crimes and take nothing into account for the situations that led to the committing of those crimes.
Removing mandatory minimums would allow judges to do their job. Going before a judge is not just about facing consequences; it is about allowing judges to use their judgment in a case. Mandatory minimums do not allow for this and, therefore, hinder judges from fulfilling the role they have been assigned.
Mandatory minimums also contribute to the overrepresentation of indigenous and Black Canadians, and other groups of colour. Of federal offenders, 23% are indigenous, even though only 4.3% of our population is indigenous, and 9% are Black or another group of colour, while they only represent 2.9% and 16.2% of the population. There is something clearly wrong with those numbers.
Mandatory minimums mean mandatory time in a correctional facility. We know that, and we have seen from past practices, as much I sometimes support the theory of locking them up and throwing away the key so they can never get out, this does not deter crime. Much to my disappointment, it actually increases the likelihood of someone reoffending.
A person going through the Canadian justice system, including correctional facilities, is at particular risk of reoffending, and we have seen it time and time again. It is very disappointing, but that is the reality of what happens. Once they are incarcerated, they do not come out better for it, they come out worse for it. The prevalence of recontact with the police is even higher with youth. A 2019 Statistics Canada study found that “62%...of individuals who went through the full justice system into correctional...had re-contact with the police”, and this rate was 77% for youths.
In my riding of Humber River—Black Creek, it is the youth numbers that are particularly troubling. They made me stop and question the whole issue of mandatory minimums, which I indicated earlier that I was very supportive of at the time, but I have seen that it is just does not work, much to my dismay and the dismay of others.
Many youth in my riding are considered part of the at-risk community and subject to guns, gangs and pressures that many youth outside of condensed urban settings do not necessarily face. Mandatory minimums put them at risk of having their future completely destroyed, and this is not just at-risk youth, those who would be charged as juveniles. I mean those age 12-25, half of whom would be considered adults in being charged.
Mandatory minimums can cause a mistake to ruin the rest of their lives and statistically send them on a completely different path. We still believe in serious consequences for serious crime, which is why some mandatory minimum sentences will remain in place, such as the ones for murder, high treason, sexual offences, impaired driving and serious firearm offences, as I indicated earlier.
However, we do believe that cases with a sentence of two years or less, and certain other offences, would be better suited to move from mandatory minimums to conditional sentencing orders, except for instances of advocating genocide, torture, attempted murder, terrorism and serious criminal organization offences.
Again, we are talking about continuing with the mandatory minimums for the very serious crimes and anything involving a firearm. These orders will allow judges to look at all aspects and assign a sentence that fits the crime, the person and the circumstances. These allow for those sentenced to remain in their communities, contributing via work, and to still be around their support systems. For some groups, such as indigenous people, remaining within that community is essential.
Conditional sentencing orders allow for the consideration of other measures for simple possession of drugs, such as diversion to an addiction treatment program. This means that, instead of facing prison, those suffering with addition can receive help, not punishment. We have seen how the opioid crisis is impacting Canadians. People of all demographics are struggling with it. In what way does putting them behind bars help them or society? The only way to help them is through addressing the trauma and addictions through treatment.
Conditional sentence orders would allow courts to focus on real rehabilitation and can ensure someone struggling with an addiction does not have their future destroyed by a criminal record. This is also vital for youth, as I have stated before. As mandatory minimums were introduced, our court systems became further backlogged. We saw fewer people taking plea deals and a forced an overreliance on correctional facilities.
Prisons were designed not as the only means of punishment for a crime, but as a way to keep communities safe. This is why we need to see reforms to our entire justice system, allowing for a more holistic and restorative approach. A 2018 report by the Ontario Ministry of the Attorney General says, “The criminal justice system in Ontario is struggling to address the high needs of vulnerable...individuals”.
I am thankful to say a few words on an issue that I know we all care about very much in the House. We are all trying to do the best that we can do.