Madam Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill S-4, an act to amend the Criminal Code and the Identification of Criminals Act and to make other related amendments. While I have much to say on this bill, I want to briefly talk about some the failures of the Liberal government on crime in general and crime specifically.
Rural crime is a serious issue, and one that has been ignored by the Liberal government for far too long. In my area, in Haliburton County for example, incidents increased from 526 back in 2017 to 758 in 2021. Police are now trying to keep up with more people charged than in any of the previous four years.
The crime severity index, or CSI, is a measure of police-reported crime in which more serious crimes are given a higher weight in the overall measurement of all crimes. The index provides a picture of regional crime trends. In the case of Kawartha Lakes, specifically in Lindsay, the picture is not as good. Like Haliburton County, the CSI numbers for Lindsay in 2021 showed a significant increase compared to previous years. Lindsay's overall CSI was 93.1 last year, which is a jump of more than 20% over 2020, and is significantly higher than the country's CSI of 73.7 and nearly double the province's CSI of 56.21 for the same period.
Kawartha Lakes Police Service Chief Mark Mitchell described the increase as “death by 1,000 cuts”, referring to the lack of murders but an overall increase in other non-violent crimes. He further added, “Our calls for service were up 20% in 2021, our criminal charges were up 25%, break and enters, frauds were all significantly higher, and our theft charges were up 80% compared to the year before and the current year.”
I have spoken with residents who are afraid to walk in their community. They are afraid to basically be inside their own homes. They are frustrated and angry. These concerns came to a boiling point about a year ago at a community meeting I attended that was hosted by the Kawartha Lakes Police Service.
At the meeting, residents learned that the Ross Memorial Hospital's mental health program had already received roughly 1,700 referrals just this year. Concerns were raised about the impact the Central East Correctional Centre is having on the community. The John Howard Society noted the challenge given the number of those who have come to the area to support the incarcerated and those who are released into the community on their own recognizance, bail or after completing their sentence.
The Kawartha Lakes Police Service is doing everything it can, but the government is sadly making its job harder. While it was distressing to hear the first-hand stories shared by many in attendance, it was evident to me that Canada's justice system has failed those law-abiding citizens. Lindsay resident Al Hussey raised concerns about the victims of crime, asking, “When does the support start flowing to us?” He was speaking of the victims of crime such as the residents living next to known drug houses, the business and property owners who are being robbed and the people who are afraid to walk near certain areas of town.
It is true a small number of people are creating a disproportionate amount of work for our law enforcement agencies, the court system, social services and not-for-profit organizations. However, those who continually refuse help and continue to reoffend should not be repeatedly returned to the streets in a revolving door justice system.
A big part of this is linked to the passage of Bill C-75. In 2017, the Liberal government's legislation watered down penalties for over 100 serious crimes, including the use of date rape drugs, human trafficking and impaired driving causing bodily harm. Sadly, the government severely underestimated the heartbreaking impact this decision would have on individuals, communities and families. It is unacceptable that taxpayers are once again being forced to pay more while at the same time receiving a lower quality of life.
Police officers I speak with say that Bill C-75 is the root of much of the issue regarding the catch and release bail concepts through the ladder principle, a principle that instructs justice system actors to release the accused at the earliest opportunity under the least restrictive conditions.
I firmly believe that serious crimes deserve serious penalties. Most importantly, the law should always put the rights of victims and law-abiding citizens above dangerous or reoffending criminals.
It is clear that Bill C-75 has hurt our community. To that end, I recognize that federal lawmakers must make bold changes to our criminal justice system. New methods, such as restorative justice, should be expanded, especially for those who show a desire to be rehabilitated and released as productive members of our society.
This brings me to Bill S-4. It may come as no surprise to anyone listening that the first thing I looked at was how much this bill would impact crime in the communities I represent and how it would impact those victims of crimes. The impetus for this bill is born from the increasing backlog facing the court system here in Canada. I believe we all have stories about that.
The judicial system has been facing a series of delays in cases proceeding to trial, which has been exacerbated by COVID. This is not lost on us here in the official opposition. We have continuously raised concerns about the delays and the potential for criminals to walk free due to the Supreme Court's Jordan decision, which said that no more than 18 months can pass between laying a charge and the end of the trial case in provincial courts or 30 months for cases in superior courts. We have raised our concerns in the House and in the media.
It was the Conservatives who called for a study into the impacts of COVID–19 on the judicial system at the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. Now Bill S-4 hopes to alleviate this backlog through several initiatives. It will amend the process for peace officers to obtain warrants without appearing in person, will expand the provisions to fingerprint the accused later should fingerprints not previously have been taken at the time of arrest, and will allow the courts to deal with administrative matters for accused persons not represented by lawyers.
Of these provisions I have no issue. Anything to move the process along that does not diminish the rights of the accused persons or victims or brings the justice system into disrepute is a good thing. I expect that these initiatives will be thoroughly examined at committee and perhaps even acted on.
However, I do have concerns, perhaps cautions is a better word, with the remaining provisions in the legislation, particularly around the expansion of the accused's ability to appear remotely by audio or video conference and to allow the participation of prospective jurors in the jury selection process by video conference. I would caution the members at committee to pay particular attention to the rights of victims and those citizens who are doing their duty as jurors.
We must ensure that the anonymity of jurors is protected. Technology has come a long way and the risk that recognition software might compromise jurors and risk the integrity of the trial is a real concern.
We must also take into consideration the impact of the expansion of telecommunication options, particularly when allowing accused persons to call in using a phone, which may impact the healing process for victims and their families. The bill will permit an offender to appear remotely for sentencing purposes. This measure would require the consent of the criminal prosecutor. The court would also weigh the rights of the offender to have a fair public hearing.
Nowhere is the victim asked or required to consent to the offender being allowed to call in for his or her sentence. The balance of rights in the court process is already heavily weighted in favour of the accused and I am afraid that Bill S-4 tips the scale even further.
That reminds me of another failure of the Liberal government, which is the delay in the filling of long vacancies, such as the federal ombudsman for victims of crime. Without that person in place, Bill S-4 will not be critically analyzed by a key advocate for victims to advise on how the bill will impact victims of crime.
Conservatives remain steadfast in our commitment to victims of crime and will ensure that legislation like Bill S-4 helps victims and their families in their pursuit of justice. We will stand up for law-abiding Canadians to ensure communities remain safe places to live and that delays in the court process do not allow criminals to walk free.
With that, I look forward to questions from my colleagues.