The Chair (Mr. Dave MacKenzie (Oxford, CPC)):
Seeing quorum, I note the clock is at 8:45. We'll begin meeting number four of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights.
We are meeting today pursuant to the order of reference of Wednesday, September 28, 2011, to discuss Bill C-10, an act to enact the Justice for Victims of Terrorism Act and to amend the State Immunity Act, the Criminal Code, the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, the Corrections and Conditional Release Act, the Youth Criminal Justice Act, the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, and other acts.
Appearing today is the Honourable Rob Nicholson, Minister of Justice, and the Honourable Vic Toews, Minister of Public Safety, along with their officials.
Ministers, the agreed process today is that each of you will be given five minutes for an opening address. Then we'll go to questions from the panel.
The Honourable Rob Nicholson (Minister of Justice):
Thank you very much. I'm pleased to be here with Catherine Kane, from the Department of Justice, who I think you know very well from all the different pieces of legislation we've had.
I'm pleased to address the members of the committee, as they begin their review of Bill C-10, Safe Streets and Communities Act.
The Safe Streets and Communities Act fulfills our government's commitment to quickly reintroduce legislation to combat crime and stand up for victims and law-abiding Canadians. As you know, Canadians gave us a strong mandate to bring forward measures that will better protect society and ensure criminals are held accountable for their actions.
Bill C-10 combines nine bills that were not passed in the previous Parliament. All of them have been debated in the House of Commons and/or the Senate.
I am pleased today to be joined by my colleague, the Honourable Vic Toews, the Minister of Safety, to outline the important measures contained in this bill. I will speak to parts 2 and 4 of the bill. Minister Toews will speak to parts 1 and 3 of the bill.
As I previously stated, while the text of Bill C-10 is certainly longer than most, the fact remains that these reforms have been debated, studied, and in some cases passed by at least one chamber. I encourage all members of the committee to consult the parliamentary record that exists for all of the previous bills.
I'll take a few moments to highlight a number of the measures.
Part 2 of the Safe Streets and Communities Act includes former Bill S-10, the Penalties for Organized Drug Crime Act. As you may know, it proposes to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act to impose mandatory penalties for the offences of production, trafficking, possession for the purpose of trafficking, importing and exporting, or possession for the purpose of exporting a schedule I drug, such as heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamine, and schedule II drugs such as marijuana.
As you may be aware, this is the fourth time the bill has been introduced. They've been passed by both chambers, but obviously never by both in the same session. This bill is in exactly the same form it was in at the dissolution of the last Parliament.
Part 2 also includes reforms previously proposed by the former Bill C-16, the Ending House Arrest for Property and Other Serious Crimes by Serious and Violent Offenders Act. The reforms would explicitly state that a conditional sentence is never available for offences punishable by a maximum of 14 years or life; offences prosecuted by indictment and punishable by a maximum penalty of 10 years that result in bodily harm, involve the import and/or export, trafficking, and production of drugs, or involve the use of a weapon; or the listed property and violent offences punishable by 10 years and prosecuted by indictment, such as criminal harassment, trafficking in persons, and theft over $5,000.
This is the third time these reforms have been introduced by our government. On each prior occasion, they received second reading approval in principle and scope.
I note there have been a few technical changes made to the list of excluded offences punishable by a maximum of 10 years. These include changes to include the recently enacted new offence of motor vehicle theft and to coordinate the proposed imposition of a mandatory sentence of imprisonment in section 172.1, the luring of a child, with the conditional sentences amendments.
The last component of part 2 is on the reforms previously proposed by Bill C-54, Protecting Children from Sexual Predators Act. These reforms seek to consistently and adequately condemn all forms of child sexual abuse through the imposition of new and higher mandatory penalties. They also seek to prevent the commission of sexual offences against children through the creation of two new offences. We also seek to require the courts to consider imposing conditions to prevent suspected or convicted child sex offenders from engaging in conduct that could facilitate or further a sexual offence against a child.
Bill C-54 had been passed by the House of Commons with all-party support. It was at debate on third reading in the Senate when the opposition parties unfortunately decided to force an election. I was very disappointed that this important bill then died on the order paper.
We've made some changes since that time, as you will see, to increase maximum penalties with a corresponding increase in mandatory minimum sentences to better reflect the nature of the offences, including making or distributing child pornography or a parent or guardian procuring his or her child for unlawful sexual activity.
These changes are consistent with the government's objectives for the former Bill C-54. As well, the two new sexual offences proposed by this part would be added to schedule 1 of the Criminal Records Act to ensure that persons convicted of either offence are subject to the same period of ineligibility for a record suspension, currently referred to as a pardon, as they are for other child sexual offences.
Finally, part IV of the bill proposes to amend the Youth Criminal Justice Act to strengthen the way the system deals with violent and repeat young offenders.
These measures include highlighting protection of the public as a principle, making it easier to detain youth charged with serious offences pending trial, ensuring that prosecutors consider seeking adult sentences for the most serious offences, requiring police to keep records of extra judicial measures, and requiring courts to lift the publication ban on the names of young offenders convicted of violent offences when a youth sentence is given. These reforms were previously proposed in Bill C-4 , Sebastien's Law.
The former Bill C-4 was extensively studied by the House of Commons standing committee through 16 meetings at the dissolution of the previous Parliament. The bill includes changes to address concerns that have been highlighted by the provinces regarding pretrial adult sentencing and deferred custody provisions in the bill. For example, changes to the pretrial detention provisions respond to the provinces' request for more flexibility to detain youth who are spiralling out of control and pose a risk to the public--by committing a serious offence if released--even if they have not been charged initially with a serious offence. The test for pretrial detention would now be self-contained in the act, without requiring reference to the Criminal Code, which is currently the case.
Other technical changes include removing the proposed test for adult sentences and deferred custody and supervision orders and returning to the current law's approach. For example, the former bill referred to the standard of “beyond a reasonable doubt”, which some provinces found more difficult to meet. That has been removed. The bill continues the current approach of leaving it up to the courts to determine the appropriate standard of proof.
Under Bill C-10, deferred custody and supervision orders will not be available if the youth has been found guilty of an offence involving or attempting to cause serious bodily harm.
In closing, most of Bill C-10's reforms have been debated and studied, and some have even passed. The few new elements I've outlined are consistent with the objectives of the former bills, as originally introduced, or make some needed technical changes. I urge the committee to work with the government to support the timely enactment of the Safe Streets and Communities Act.
We are taking action to protect families, stand up for victims, and hold individuals accountable. Canadians can count on our government's commitment to fulfill its promise to pass this comprehensive bill within the first 100 sitting days of this Parliament.
Thank you very much.
I would ask Minister Toews now to deliver his remarks.
The Honourable Vic Toews (Minister of Public Safety):
Thank you, Minister Nicholson.
Mr. Chairman, honourable members of the committee, I would like to thank you for the invitation to be here and for the opportunity to speak with you on Bill C-10, the Safe Streets and Communities Act.
With me is Mary Campbell of the department.
Today I would like to focus my opening remarks on components of the legislation that pertain to the public safety portfolio. These provisions will eliminate pardons for serious crimes, increase offender accountability, support victims of crime, provide justice for victims of terrorism, and ensure that public safety is the paramount consideration when considering offenders' requests for an international transfer.
Last year our government passed legislation to initiate reforms to the pardons system, and Bill C-10 contains further measures to eliminate pardons for serious crimes, including sexual offences against minors.
Bill C-10 will also replace the word "pardon" with the more appropriate term "record suspension". It further stipulates that an individual convicted of more than three indictable offences who has received a sentence of two or more years for each will be ineligible for a "record suspension."
These reforms to the pardons system will also apply to the equivalent service offences under the National Defence Act.
Bill C-10 would also enshrine in law a victim's right to attend and make statements at parole hearings. In addition, it would enable victims to request additional information about the offender, including the reason for the offender's transfer or temporary absence and the offender's participation in program activities.
This bill proposes that when offenders withdraw 14 days or less before the date of a hearing, the Parole Board may proceed as scheduled. Victims would also have the right to ask why the offender has waived a parole hearing. These measures would go a long way to preserving the peace of mind of victims.
Bill C-10 would also modernize the system of discipline in federal penitentiaries. It will address disrespectful, intimidating, or assaultive behaviour, including the throwing of bodily substances. It would also restrict visits for inmates who have been segregated for serious disciplinary offences.
Our frontline officers have asked for these measures, and we are proud to deliver them.
This government is committed to transforming our corrections system to ensure that it actually corrects. We have already taken major steps to address the recommendations contained in “A Roadmap to Strengthening Public Safety”. The bill before the House continues this vital work.
Canadians deserve to feel safe in their homes. Victims deserve to be treated with more respect, corrections officers need the tools to do their jobs, and offenders must be prepared to take more responsibility for their conduct and pay the price if they break the rules. Bill C-10 will do all that.
Bill C-10 will do a lot for victims, including victims of terrorist attacks. Specifically, Bill C-10 will allow victims of terrorism to sue, in a Canadian court, perpetrators of terrorist acts and their supporters if the victims can demonstrate a real and substantial connection between their actions and Canada. In addition, an action could be brought against individuals, entities, or listed states that have provided support to a listed entity.
These provisions have been made retroactive to January 1, 1985, in order to allow victims of terrorism to seek redress for loss and damage that occurred as a result of a terrorist act committed anywhere in the world on or after that date.
Finally, Bill C-10, by amending the International Transfer of Offenders Act, will further strengthen our efforts to build safer streets and communities for all Canadians.
These amendments would ensure in law a number of additional key factors that may be taken into account in decisions respecting whether or not an offender serving a sentence overseas, or south of the line, should be granted a transfer back to Canada. This would include consideration of the safety of any person in Canada who is a victim or a member of the offender's family.
Another consideration would be whether, following the transfer, the offender would continue to engage in criminal activities or endanger the safety of a child, particularly in cases of offenders who have been convicted of sexual abuse.
Our government believes that protection of society must be the paramount concern of our justice system, and with the Safe Streets and Communities Act we are ensuring that law-abiding citizens and families are protected, criminals are held accountable, victims are heard and respected, and we have a corrections system that actually corrects.
As you know, Canadians gave our government a strong mandate to keep our streets and communities safe. With the Safe Streets and Communities Act, that is exactly what we are continuing to do.
I would be happy to answer any questions you may wish to direct to me.
Hon. Rob Nicholson:
No. I appreciate our critics want to spin this to give that impression, and you'll hear this from people who don't want us to go after people who are in the business of trafficking, but the bill is very clear, that if you are in the grow-op business and you have between six and 199 plants, you will come within the provisions of this if you are in the business of trafficking. Again, our critics, for whatever reason—I suppose they can explain that themselves—generally forget to mention that, but that is an essential element of the offence.
Again, the whole problem with grow-ops--I hear about this everywhere I go in the country, from law enforcement agencies, from firefighters—is it is a growing health and safety problem, and again I've indicated to them that we are doing our very best to move forward in this direction, to send out the right message that this kind of activity for the purposes of trafficking is not tolerable.
That being said, for the individual who has either unfortunately become addicted or is experimenting, through the national anti-drug strategy we try to get the message out, encourage people not to get involved with this kind of activity, and certainly we want to help those individuals who have unfortunately become addicted.
That being said, this bill is very specific. It goes after those individuals who are in the business of selling and distributing and producing drugs. It takes aim at organized crime because law enforcement agencies tell me these are the people bringing drugs into this country, it's not some individual acting on his own. They tell me it's organized crime that moves drugs in and out of Canada, so this bill is very specific and it targets those individuals.
Hon. Vic Toews:
Perhaps I can try to answer part of that question.
Of course the American system is very different. The federal system in the United States doesn't even have a parole system. There is no mechanism to relieve any pressure through that, so the courts had to make a very arbitrary decision in that respect. I believe in the federal system in the United States you serve 85% of your sentence and you get 15% off for good behaviour, but there is no parole system.
The idea that somehow—and I can speak from the federal point of view—the legislation that we brought forward is causing overcrowding is mistaken. At the beginning of 2010 we had approximately 14,000 prisoners in the federal system, with a capacity of 15,000. Officials advised me there would be an increase of prisoners to 16,200 by September of this year. In fact the number is 14,800. They underestimated the number of prisoners coming into the system, or remaining in the system, by about two thirds.
At the same time, we authorized the construction of 2,500 new units in existing prisons to accommodate any additional prisoners that might come. To date, those have not been constructed and it has not been necessary to utilize them, although I can say that prison officials have to be creative in terms of moving individuals, because of the pressures of gangs and the like. So the 2,500 units that we have authorized that are coming online in the next couple of years will be necessary to ease some of those pressures and also to create flexibility in terms of some of the gang problems we have inside prisons.
Hon. Irwin Cotler:
Mr. Chairman, for reasons of time I'm going to turn to another issue. Since I am in dialogue with Mr. Toews, I'll put this question directly to him.
You've referenced an important piece of legislation that has not been taken particular note of in this bill, and I'm referring here to the amendments proposed respecting the State Immunity Act, which will give Canadians a civil remedy against their foreign terrorist perpetrators.
The legislation that you have proposed provides for a listing mechanism. The government—the Governor in Council—lists the countries against whom such a civil remedy can be invoked. As you know, there have been private members' bills that have offered other approaches as alternatives to a listing mechanism, for some of the reasons I think you know. In particular, a witness who the government called upon in earlier debates on this matter, Victor Comras, from the United States, supported the principle of a civil remedy, as I do, and said with respect to the listing mechanism, and I believe I am quoting him directly, “Don't go there. We made a mistake.”
I am asking whether you are you prepared to consider other alternatives, or could you give me the justification in that context for the listing mechanism?
Hon. Rob Nicholson:
One of the things you will notice is that the bill is comprehensive in the sense that it covers a wide range of sexual assaults or offences against children. It's designed, among other reasons, to make sure that an individual who is in the business of molesting children or abusing children does not escape the penalties that are within the Criminal Code.
In addition, it goes beyond the existing offences because we know that we have to continuously analyze what takes place in this type of activity. This is why we have included two new offences. While it is an offence for an individual to lure a child over the Internet to set that child up to be sexually exploited, it currently is not an offence in the Criminal Code for two adults to discuss among themselves how to do that. That is one of the changes that we have made.
The other change we have made, and again this is in response to problems we have heard about, is to make it an offence for somebody to give sexually explicit material to a child for the purpose of grooming that child, in essence setting that child up to be sexually molested because the child thinks that this is somehow normal behaviour.
Again, part of the challenge that we always have in the Criminal Code is to make sure it continues to respond to what takes place out there. As you know, this is an increasing problem. I hear in my conversations with attorneys general outside Canada about the increase in this kind of activity on computers, so our job as legislators is to try to make sure that our legislation is up to date and covers as much of this activity as we can possibly get within the Criminal Code. You will see it's very wide-ranging and comprehensive.
My colleague has a comment.
Mr. Stephen Woodworth (Kitchener Centre, CPC):
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Thank you to both of the ministers. You're both very articulate in explaining the provisions of these acts, and I want to thank you for that.
I had the privilege of serving on this committee in the last Parliament. I stand to be corrected, but if memory serves me, I think our committee spent something in the range of 18 meetings simply studying what was then Bill C-4 regarding young offenders. We heard from quite a number of witnesses over a great many hours of testimony. I was sometimes amazed at the things that witnesses who came in believed about this bill. For example, they seemed to think that we were taking out of the Youth Criminal Justice Act provisions regarding rehabilitation and reintegration and addressing circumstances underlying behaviour. Yet if you look at what we were doing and are still doing, I think all of those things are retained.
My question is for Minister Nicholson. Some of the criticisms were that the bill was focused more on punishing all young offenders rather than rehabilitating them. But my understanding is that Bill C-4 was responding and targeting and focusing on the 5% or so of young offenders who were violent and repeat young offenders and who really posed a threat to public safety. It was those people, that very small number of young and violent offenders, who were being targeted and focused on by Bill C-4, and the balance, the rehabilitation and so on, remained.
Minister Nicholson, does the new Bill C-10 maintain this same approach with respect to young offenders?
Hon. Rob Nicholson:
Thank you very much, Mr. Woodworth. You are very kind in saying that we were articulate, but I don't know that we could be any more articulate than you just were about the provisions of this bill. This was very impressive.
Again, you're very familiar with the sections we are proposing to change. You're quite correct. The bill focuses on a relatively small number of young people who are a danger to the public, but a danger to themselves as well. We have seen over the years reports that focus on individuals who need help, need some type of intervention. So the bill is very specific.
Again, we want to increase people's confidence in the youth criminal justice system. We want to make sure that those individuals who, as I say, are a danger to the public and a danger to themselves get the kind of treatment they need in order to protect themselves and the public. The bill is very targeted, very specific.
We have listened to what our provincial counterparts have said about clarifying certain areas. I hope that in your study of this over the next few days, you will have an opportunity to hear that.
We're not doing some of the things that people have accused us of in the past. We're making sure that there are provisions such as that young people are not detained in or sentenced to the same facilities as adults. This came up two elections ago, I think it was, from a party that is no longer here. That being said, we put in some clarification.
And these are very reasonable proposals. Thank you for the excellent job you did of articulating the principles behind them.
Hon. Vic Toews:
Just on the issue of transferring prisoners, I note the comments of the opposition in the House, saying how lenient the American system has become; that everyone now has done away with mandatory minimums in the United States and that it has become a virtual panacea to become a prisoner in the United States. This is always a surprise to me, given that every Canadian in an American prison wants to come home to a Canadian prison, and the reasons for that are very obvious.
It's unfortunate that the opposition continues to mislead Canadians about how the sentencing laws and the lack of parole, for example, in the United States, or the mandatories that they serve, the sentencing guidelines—all of those kinds of things.... We have a system that has been consistently focused on the interests of the criminal as opposed to those of the victims. What this law does in fact is create a number of criteria.
The first criterion is that of public safety: is the transfer of that individual from the United States back to Canada in the interest of public safety? As the minister, that is what I need to consider.
I have to say that the federal courts have given the Minister of Public Safety wide discretion in making that determination. A number of cases have been delivered by the Federal Court in the last while. In some, they have asked the minister to reconsider. I have reconsidered those, and ultimately the courts have upheld the decision I've made in those cases on a reconsideration.
What this in fact does is give legal definition to the types of criteria we have been applying. In terms of the rule of law, these criteria are very important both from an offender's point of view and from a decision maker's point of view. One of the things I like to stress is that if you want to cooperate with law enforcement officials, this will be a clearly recognized criterion that you can point to, saying “Look, I identified who the ring leaders in this drug crime are”, or who the ring leaders are in this child pornography crime, “and I have demonstrated my willingness to be rehabilitated.”
A Canadian incarcerated in a foreign prison shouldn't just be able to say “I demand to come back, and I'm not cooperating with law enforcement officials, and it's none of your business whether or not I'm considering being rehabilitated.”
This gives clear definition. It corresponds to the rule of law, which I think is very important.