Hon. Rob Nicholson (Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, CPC)
moved that 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, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
He said: Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to open debate on 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.
The bill, which is known as the Safe Streets and Communities Act, fulfills the commitment in the June 2011 Speech from the Throne to quickly reintroduce law and order legislation to combat crime and terrorism. This commitment, in turn, reflects the strong mandate that Canadians have given us to protect society and to hold criminals accountable.
We have bundled together crime bills that died on the Order Paper in the last Parliament into a comprehensive piece of legislation and it is our plan to pass it within the first 100 sitting days of Parliament.
As I met with victims of crime and their families yesterday in Brampton, I was once again struck by the importance of having this legislation passed in a timely manner. Both in Brampton and in Montreal yesterday, people such as Joe Wamback, Sharon Rosenfeldt, Sheldon Kennedy, Yvonne Harvey, Gary Lindfield, Maureen Basnicki and Line Lacasse spoke about the need for these changes to our laws.
We have a duty to stand up for these victims, which we are doing by bringing in this legislation.
The objective of our criminal law reform agenda over the past few years has been to build a stronger, safer and better Canada. This comprehensive legislation is another important step in the process to achieve this end.
As I travelled across the country holding round tables or meeting people on the street, the message was clear. People want to ensure their streets and communities are safer and they are relying on us to take the steps needed to achieve this.
There are five parts to Bill C-10.
Part 1 includes reforms to deter terrorism by supporting victims of terrorism and amending the State Immunity Act.
Part 2 includes sentencing reforms that will target sexual offences against children and serious drug offences, as well as prevent the use of conditional sentences for serious violent and property crimes.
Part 3 includes post-sentencing reforms to increase offender accountability, eliminate pardons for serious crimes and strengthen the international transfer of offenders regime.
Part 4 includes reforms to better protect Canadians from violent young offenders.
Lastly, part 5 includes immigration reforms to better protect vulnerable foreign workers against abuse and exploitation, including through human trafficking.
Some may say that this comprehensive bill makes it difficult to understand. In response I would note that these reforms should be very familiar to members of Parliament, indeed all Canadians, given that these reforms were before the previous Parliament when they died on the Order Paper with the dissolution of that Parliament.
Many of these reforms have been previously debated, studied and even passed by at least one of the two chambers of Parliament. For the most part, the comprehensive legislation reintroduces these reforms in the same form they were in previously, with technical changes that were needed to be able to reintroduce them in this Parliament in one bill.
A few additional changes have been made and I will describe them as I provide a summary of the individual areas of reform. However, I want to note that these additional changes remain consistent with the government's objectives when these reforms were originally introduced in the previous Parliament and, therefore, should also be supported today.
I will now take hon. members through some of the elements of Bill C-10.
Part 1 is comprised of clauses 2 through 9. These amendments seek to deter terrorism by enacting the justice for victims of terrorism act.
As reflected in the proposed preamble to the new act, these reforms recognize that, “terrorism is a matter of national concern that affects the security of the nation”, and that it is a “priority to deter and prevent acts of terrorism against Canada and Canadians”.
As Canadians recently marked the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on New York, Virginia and Pennsylvania, it was a stark reminder that the threat of terrorism remains and that we must continue to be vigilant.
Accordingly and with a view to deterring terrorism, part 1 proposes to create a cause of action for victims of terrorism to enable them to sue perpetrators and supporters of terrorism, including listed foreign states, for loss or damage that occurred as a result of an act of terrorism or omission committed anywhere in the world on or after January 1, 1985.
It also would amend the State Immunity Act to lift immunity of those states that the government has listed for support of terrorism.
Part 1's amendments were previously proposed and passed by the Senate in former Bill S-7, Justice for Victims of Terrorism Act, in the previous session of Parliament. They include technical changes to correct grammatical and cross-reference errors.
Part 2 is comprised of clauses 10 through 51. It proposes sentencing amendments to the Criminal Code and the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act to ensure that the sentences imposed for child sexual exploitation, serious drug offences, as well as for other serious violent and property crimes, adequately reflect the severity of these crimes.
The exploitation of children is a most serious crime, one that is incomprehensible and must be met with appropriate punishment. Bill C-10 proposals addressing child sexual exploitation were addressed in the previous bill. These reforms seek to consistently and adequately condemn all forms of child sexual abuse through the imposition of new and higher mandatory sentences of imprisonment, as well as some higher maximum penalties.
They also seek to prevent the commission of sexual offences against children through the creation of two new offences and by requiring courts to consider imposing conditions to prevent suspected or convicted child sex offenders from engaging in conduct that could facilitate or further their commission of sexual offences against children.
The bill's proposed reforms addressing child sexual exploitation are essentially the same as the bill we had in the previous Parliament, that was passed by the House of Commons and was before the Senate at third reading debate when it died on the Order Paper. Unfortunately, some members kept on talking so that the bill did not get passed.
The primary difference is that this bill also proposes to increase the maximum penalty for four offences, with a corresponding increase in their proposed mandatory minimum sentence of imprisonment to better reflect the heinous nature of these offences.
The bill proposes to increase the maximum penalty on summary conviction for a number of offences. All of these are consistent with the objectives of the former Bill C-54 as originally introduced.
It also proposes Criminal Code reforms to further restrict the use of a conditional sentence, or house arrest as it is often called.
Originally proposed in Bill C-16, ending house arrest for property and other serious crimes by serious and violent offenders act in the previous Parliament, these proposals seek to make it explicitly clear 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-export, trafficking and production of drugs or involve the use of a weapon; or listed serious property and violent offences punishable by 10 years and prosecuted by indictment, such as criminal harassment, trafficking in persons and theft over $5,000.
The bill's proposals are in the same form as previously proposed in Bill C-16 which had received second reading and had been referred to the justice committee but not yet studied when it died on the Order Paper.
It includes technical changes to the list of excluded offences punishable by a maximum of 10 years: to include the recently enacted new offence of motor vehicle theft; to coordinate the proposed imposition of a mandatory minimum sentence of imprisonment in section 172.1(1), luring a child; and to change the listed child abduction offence to section 281.
We are also addressing the serious issue of drug crimes in this country, particularly those involving organized crime and those that target youth because we all know the impact that such crimes have on our communities.
Part 2's proposals to address drug crime include amendments to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act to impose mandatory minimum sentences of imprisonment for the offences of production, trafficking or possession for the purposes of trafficking or importing, and exporting or possession for the purpose of exporting of schedule I drugs, such as heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine, and schedule II drugs, such as marijuana.
These mandatory minimum sentences would apply where there was an aggravating factor, including where the production of the drug constituted a potential security, health or safety hazard, or the offence was committed in or near a school.
As well, it would double the maximum penalty for the production of schedule II drugs, such as marijuana, from 7 to 14 years and it would reschedule GHB and flunitrazepam, most commonly known as the date rape drugs, from schedule III to schedule I.
As a result, these offences would now carry higher maximum penalties.
The bill would also allow a court to delay sentencing while the addicted offender completed a treatment program approved by the province under the supervision of the court or a drug treatment court approved program and to impose a penalty other than the minimum sentence if the offender successfully completes the treatment program.
These proposals are in the same form they were in when they were passed by the Senate as former Bill S-10
Part 3, which is comprised of clauses 52 through 166, proposes post-sentencing reforms to better support victims and to increase offender accountability.
Canadians have told us they expect their government to ensure that offenders are held accountable for their crimes because only then can they have complete confidence in our justice system.
Part 3 introduces reforms previously contained in bills in the previous Parliament. It includes proposals from the ending early release for criminals and increasing offender accountability act that would amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act to recognize the rights of victims, increase offender accountability and responsibility, and modernize the disciplinary system for inmates.
As now proposed in Bill C-10, it includes technical modifications that would delete provisions that were ultimately passed as part of the Abolition of Early Parole Act, as well as clarifications regarding, for example, sentence calculations, adding new offences recently enacted by other legislation, and proposes to change the name of the National Parole Board to the Parole Board of Canada.
It includes proposals previously contained in Bill C-5, the Keeping Canadians Safe (the International Transfer of Offenders) Act and which seek to enhance public safety by enshrining in law a number of additional key factors in deciding whether an offender would be granted a transfer back to Canada. The bill proposes these reforms as originally introduced.
It includes proposals included in the Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes Act in the previous Parliament and that propose to expand the period of ineligibility for a record suspension, currently referred to as a “pardon”, and to make record suspensions unavailable for certain offences and for persons who have been convicted of more than three offences, prosecuted by indictment, and for each of which the individual received a sentence of two years or more. This bill corrects inconsistencies that occurred in the former bills before Parliament.
One of the areas of criminal law I received an extensive number of letters, emails and calls about is that dealing with violent and repeat young offenders. I have been particularly interested in correspondence I have received from young students themselves and I am always pleased to hear everyone's views on this subject.
Part 4, which is found at clauses 167 through 204, proposes reforms to the Youth Criminal Justice Act to strengthen its handling of violent and repeat young offenders.
These reforms include: highlighting the 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; prohibiting youth under the age of 18 from serving a sentence in an adult facility; and requiring police to keep records of extrajudicial measures. These reforms were previously proposed in Sébastien's law, which had been extensively studied by the House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights when it died on the order paper in the previous Parliament.
The bill includes changes to address concerns that had been highlighted by the provinces regarding the pretrial adult sentencing and deferred custody provisions in the former bill. A number of the provinces requested a less restrictive regime for the pretrial detention provisions than that of Bill C-4, and therefore the changes found in this bill respond by providing more flexibility to detain youth who are spiralling out of control and who pose a risk to the public and to themselves.
The test for pretrial detention will be self-contained in the act without reference to other sections of the Criminal Code.
Other changes are more technical, if that is possible, and include removing Bill C-4's proposed amendments in two areas: deleting reference to the standard of proof for an adult sentence, and the expanded scope of deferred custody and supervision orders.
Last, part 5, which is found at clauses 205 through 207, proposes amendments to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act to authorize immigration officers to refuse work permits to foreign nationals and workers where it would protect them against humiliating and degrading treatment, including sexual exploitation and human trafficking. These proposals are in the same form they were in when they were previously proposed in former Bill C-56, the preventing trafficking, abuse and exploitation of vulnerable immigrants act.
I would point out as well that the proposed reforms would come into force in the same manner as originally proposed by the predecessor bills. Part 1 would come into force upon receiving royal assent, and the balance would come into force on a day to be fixed by the governor in council. This will enable us to consult with the provinces and territories on the time needed to enable them to prepare for the timely and effective implementation of these reforms.
I realize that I have taken some time to go through some of the details of this bill. We were very clear in the last election that this was a priority for this government. We have put these bills together and they better protect victims. As members know, in all the legislation that we have introduced, we always highlight how it better protects victims in this country and stand up for the interests of law-abiding Canadians.
I am pleased and proud to be associated, as are my colleagues, with this important piece of legislation.
Mr. Joe Comartin (Windsor—Tecumseh, NDP):
Madam Speaker, it is really a historic day with regard to this bill in terms of the debate that we will see in the House over the next number of days and weeks.
It is historic because we have had a government for the last five years that has attempted to reverse the approach to the criminal justice system that we have taken in our country for the better part of 40 years.
It was about 40 years ago when governments, and not just governments in the ideological centre or left of the political spectrum, but progressive Conservative governments as well, followed this pattern. Then we saw the advance of the Reform and the Alliance, the radical right wing ideology adopted mostly from the United States, which, incidentally, is now reversing itself and looking at Canada as an example of how to deal with crime, with anti-social behaviour and how to build a fair, just and effective criminal justice system.
The current government is driven entirely by ideology, never by fact, never by solid evidence.
It is interesting. I always think of the minister who was the minister of justice before the current one, now the Minister of Public Safety, being challenged by Dan Gardner, one of the reporters or commentators for one of the Ottawa papers, to send him studies that showed deterrence worked, so he did. He sent him five studies. Three of them, when Mr. Gardner looked at them, showed that in fact deterrence did not work. The other two were totally unequivocal and were very subjective in their analysis and were not valid studies based on normal methodology for sociological and criminology studies.
The Conservatives have never been able to do anything better than that.
We heard today again that expression. The Conservatives stand in the House and talk about victims with the assumption that the bill, and the kinds of bills they have passed in the last five years, will somehow deter crime, that they will reduce that $99 billion figure, which is highly suspect, as I keep repeating. They say they will do something to reduce crime by the use of punishment, by the use of deterrence, by the use of putting thousands and thousands more people into jail.
Not one study, not just in Canada, but any place in the developed world, any place in the democracy we can go to and find a study, says deterrence works. We are about to spend an additional, depending on whose estimates we want to use, anywhere from at least $2 billion to $11 billion, $12 billion and $13 billion over the next five years on a philosophy, on an ideology on criminal justice that does not work. The bill just repeats that.
This is me wearing my lawyer's hat to some degree. I have stood in the House over the last seven years as the critic for our party on both public safety and justice. I have advocated a number of times that we do need major reform to our Criminal Code and the methodology of doing that would be with omnibus bills. This is not the first omnibus bill we have had from the government; it actually is the second one. When I first heard the Conservatives would do that, I thought that they were finally listening to those of us who have advocated for the need for reform to the Criminal Code because of the duplication and contradictions in the Code, particularly around sentencing, but around offences as well.
However, the Conservatives are not doing that. All they are doing is lumping a whole bunch of bills together and sending them through, a number of bills that have no relevancy to each other. If they are to do an omnibus bill, if they are to do major reform to the Criminal Code, they have to do it systematically. For instance, even in the bill we are seeing conflict in terms of sentencing principles that they are going to use as an example. We saw it in one of the newspapers reports overnight.
The bill will have this kind of a consequence. We are going to have a mandatory minimum penalty for an offence of trafficking a drug that is double what the mandatory minimum is for the rape of a child. We have that kind of confusion and contradiction just in this bill, and we have huge numbers of those kinds of contradictions.
Therefore, if we were really intent on building an effective criminal justice system that did not have these kinds of contradictions, that make it difficult for our police, judges, defence lawyers and the prosecutors to enforce the law, we would have started reform a long time ago.
I am going to go to the bill itself. As opposed to what the minister said, the bill is actually a composition of nine bills from the past Parliament. Although it has five parts to it, it actually encompasses nine different bills, and I will not have enough time to address all of them. Therefore, I will concentrate my comments, because of the cost factor, on the drug part of the bill.
This will be the third time that the bill is before the House. It has had some changes since the first time, but it is essentially the same. When it came before the House at that time, both the Conservative government and the Liberal party supported the bill. They got it passed. I am quite sure it went to the Senate. We had an election and it failed and we started over again.
In the last Parliament, it was a bill that came out of the Senate. At that time because of a change in leadership for the Liberals, they flip-flopped and decided they would oppose it.
We have been opposed to the bill in its various incarnations for two reasons: the cost; and the reality that the cost is totally unjustifiable in terms of this bill doing anything to combat drug trafficking. It is easy for us to say that.
I live in the most southern part of our country. In fact, I live in an area of the country that is south of our neighbours to the north in the United States. I have watched the United States legislature try to deal with the problem of drug trafficking. Starting about two and a half years ago, the Americans began to repeal legislation that had mandatory minimums. It was simply that they were going bankrupt in terms of keeping that many people in jail.
There was a similar pattern in California that hit its epitome a year ago in the spring. In the jails, people were double and triple bunking and were in fact being housed in the cafeterias and the gyms, with no rehabilitation or treatment, or sense that these people were going to get out, with a large number of them with mental health problems as well, the usual pattern. California was going to be required by the courts to release 35,000 to 45,000 inmates in that year. A good number of these inmates had been convicted of serious violent crimes, had no treatment or rehabilitation while they were in and they were going back out onto the streets. That kind of crisis occurred in the United States when it passed these kinds of laws and proceeded to enforce them. Over a period of 10 to 15 years, the prison population doubled there.
We are following the same route. It is back to the government refusing to look at the facts and accept any hard evidence of what this kind of legislation does. It is going down the same route that the United States went down between 15 and 20 years ago, and is now reversing itself. Now the Conservative government is starting down the same path.
It is not just the United States. If we go around the globe very few other countries have attempted this, I am happy to say. No other government in our western democracies has attempted this successfully. It does not work, yet in the next five years we are about to spend between $10 billion to $13 billion just on this bill.
The drug part of the bill in particular is going to increase the prison population, mostly at the provincial level. We have provinces that are double-bunking now to the rate of 200%. They are over capacity by 200%. There is not a province or territory that is not in excess of its capacity.
Perhaps the House should also appreciate this fact: we have signed on to an international protocol that says we will not do double-bunking at either the provincial or the federal level. We are in complete contravention of that protocol and have been for a number of years, and it is going to get much worse.
I know I am emphasizing the drug part of the bill because it is where the costs primarily are. It is not the only area, but it is the overwhelmingly large one. The vast majority of the people who are going to be affected by the bill are not the Hells Angels, not the bikers, not the people we have seen historically as organized crime. Again, I say that because we have studied the situation in the United States when it passed bills identical to this one. It is the low-hanging fruit that gets caught. The vast majority of those people, the petty traffickers in marijuana in particular, are the ones who get caught, especially because they only have to have six plants, and they do not have to be six-foot-high plants. It just says more than five plants. Someone with six plants that are three inches high will be considered a trafficker, in spite of some of the comments we have heard from the minister.
I do not think the minister has ever done a drug trafficking trial. I have, and the way the act is worded, anyone who has six plants or more cannot justify that he or she is not a trafficker. We are going to have a huge number of young people who are now being convicted of simple possession going to jail, including some of the children of the people sitting across the aisle from me and some of the children of the people sitting on our side of the table. They will be going to jail for at least six months simply because they have six marijuana plants.
That is the consequence of the bill, and we are going to end up, as taxpayers, paying the toll.
I would like to deal in some detail as well with the bill that was Bill C-4 in the last Parliament, the bill that dealt with young offenders.
This one had a very interesting history. It was the attempt on the part of the government to return us to an old pattern of history, when we used to treat youth much more harshly than we have in the last 15 or 20 years. We heard from the minister again today that they are justifying it on the basis that they are going after the young offender who is already a serious violent offender. I say this from all of the parties that are sitting in the House and that were at the justice committee last time that we all accepted that as a reality. That is just a historical side note. We had major reform to the young offender law almost six years ago now. When the minister brought this bill forward, there was a lot of commentary from a number of sides that it was too soon to amend the bill. The committee as a whole, all political parties, said no. It was true generally, and some of the things they were trying to do--in particular, to reintroduce deterrence to young offenders--we rejected. We said no. We said we needed to look at whether there were mechanisms or enforcement tools or legislative tools that we could give our police and our prosecutors, and ultimately our judges, to be able to deal with that small percentage of young offenders who are already serious, violent risks to our society.
We all conceded that this group existed and we also felt that we could do something about it. Interestingly, three prosecutors came before the committee voluntarily. I and the other opposition parties do not take any credit for finding these senior prosecutors of young offenders in their respective provinces of Nova Scotia, Manitoba and Alberta. They got together and asked collectively to come and make presentations.
The first thing they said to the committee was that the government's bill would do just the opposite: it was going to make it more difficult for them to prosecute serious, violent youth offenders.
In the last few weeks I received a letter from the attorney general confirming the prosecutors in Saskatchewan. We had representation from two Conservative governments and two NDP governments before the committee saying that we had messed up really badly, that our bill was going to do exactly the opposite of what we were telling the country it was going to do.
I take credit for asking them if they could give us the amendments they needed, and they did that. I want to recognize the work that they did. They gave us three amendments. Basically they let the youth criminal justice system focus in on the serious offenders and let the rest of the system work, because the rest of the system, from everything we heard at committee, is working reasonably well. It is effective, fair and just and it deals with youth crime quite effectively, but it is not doing so with serious offenders.
The prosecutors gave us three amendments and came back a second time to present and explain them to us in detail. I asked government members if they would adopt them. They said no. They were so certain they had a perfect bill that in spite of the experts, their own prosecutorial experts, the government refused to accept those amendments.
Interestingly, and I will give them credit for this, in this incarnation, this omnibus bill, Conservatives have taken two of the amendments. The third amendment deals with sentencing of youth as adults, and they need that amendment again for this one. I have no answer for why it is not in here. I was hoping I would have enough time to ask the minister today, but I will have to do that subsequently. However, it is not there.
Those amendments are necessary in the bill. Again, I repeat that the NDP, the Liberals and the Bloc members were prepared to support those amendments, and the government refused to do so simply because, in dealing with the Conservatives, it is their way or the highway. They were absolutely adamant about refusing to take those amendments.
The third part I want to address is the international transfer of prisoners. We have had a long history in this country of signing treaties with other countries that say that if we have one of their citizens convicted of a crime in prison in our country, we will allow the prisoner to apply to his or her country to be returned to that country of origin. Of course, we have the vice versa arrangement for ourselves, so that one of our citizens in another country can apply to be returned to Canada. I do not how long we have had those arrangements, but it has been a number of decades.
When the Conservatives first came into power in 2006, they unilaterally decided they were going to change the pattern and reject a whole bunch of these applications. We went from accepting something in the range of 90% of those applications to less than 50%. There were court applications made against the government's conduct, and it was slapped really hard by the Federal Court.
The Conservatives have now tried to put into the bill what really amounts to absolute discretion for the minister to be able to continue that practice of reducing those numbers. This has created an international incident between ourselves and the United States, with which most of these prisoner exchanges occur. Americans actually sent a note of protest to the Canadian government in January 2010 because it had so radically changed the pattern.
The bill has major problems. There are parts of it that New Democrats could in fact support; I could not get to them because my time is just about up, but with the attitude we have of the government, it is going to be very difficult to work out those kinds of compromises.
Mr. Sean Casey (Charlottetown, Lib.):
Madam Speaker, today marks the second speech that I have given in the House. It has been a busy week.
As some of the members may know, I am a new member of Parliament for the riding of Charlottetown, the birthplace of Confederation. I trust I will be allowed this opportunity to thank the good people of Charlottetown for bestowing upon me the honour and privilege of representing them here in the chamber.
Madam Speaker, I very much look forward to working with you and with my colleagues on both sides of the House.
As members may know, my colleague, the justice critic and hon. member for Mount Royal, a former minister of justice and a world-renowned advocate of human rights, a law scholar and professor, is at the United Nations today participating in meetings. We wish him, along with our Prime Minister, well in their deliberations at the United Nations meetings as the world watches the events regarding the Middle East unfold.
I am here today to talk about Bill C-10. The bill is large and includes nine bills from the previous Parliament all lumped into one big buffet of division and fear. The title of the bill goes on for about seven lines. I can just imagine how much time, effort, deliberation in meetings and agonizing it must have taken to come up with a name for this bill.
I tried to imagine some of the other names that might have fallen on the cutting room floor. I will speculate on a few of the names that did not quite make it: an act to divide Canadians and keep the Conservative base happy; an act to provide inmates for empty prisons; an act to fill prisons in order to build new ones; an act to take more aboriginals off reserves and put them into prisons; an act to provide a Conservative comprehensive affordable housing strategy; an act to make prisons the largest mental health institutions in Canada; and, one I particularly like, an act to stimulate the penal sector.
After many lunches, dinners and late night meetings, the Conservatives finally settled on a short title for the bill. I understand this was the runner-up to the one that actually made it, that being, we won a majority, now get out of our way act.
Never has a piece of legislation been more deserving of the title “an act” because that is what this is. It is a performance. Facts be damned, crime statistics and effective crime prevention do not matter because the government is determined to put on a show. Simply put, it is a disgrace of the highest order.
With all the new prisons being built as a result of this "hang 'em high" mentality, one wonders who will staff these new prisons. Is this an opportunity for an alternate service delivery or a public-private partnership? Perhaps we could have the operations of these institutions farmed out for profit. Is that the plan? I am sure it is a question that the Conservative propaganda machine will surely avoid and deny.
This is a bill worthy of mockery. It is a bill that plays on fear, not hope.
It is a bill that ignores evidence and facts. It creates an illusion that crime is out of control and there is mass insurrection in the streets. It is without costing. It is a bill that does not reflect the values of Canadians as a smart, caring society.
We seem to be well on our way to a system of justice more reflective of our neighbours to the south and not reflective of a country like Canada.
Catherine Latimer from the John Howard Society stated:
|| We think it will endanger corrections workers and inmates and compromise rights and not promote good corrections and undermine principles of justices and have a disproportionately harsh impact on some of the most vulnerable members of our society...blindly following failed American policies is not in the interest of Canadians--
As it appears that the bill was influenced if not drafted by our Republican friends in the United States, l will quote from a recent U.S. editorial. With regard to crime and prisons it states:
|| California spends more money on prisons than on higher education. The governor is right--we’ve got it backwards and it's time to reverse course.
|| Only sixty-eight percent of our high school students are graduating. Yet we pay prison guards substantially more than teachers.
|| Fear of crime led us to vote for long prison terms and the three strikes law. We didn’t intend to spend $4 billion more on prisons than colleges--
|| The less educated our workforce…the more we feed the prisons.
|| It’s time to admit our mistakes and make tough decisions. By pumping so much money into prisons, we’re starving education. We cannot afford the consequences.
With regard to crime rates, in a report released earlier this year by Statistics Canada it stated:
|| Police-reported crime reaches its lowest level since the early 1970's.
It goes on to state that the “police-reported crime rate, which measures the overall volume of crime, continued to decline” right up until last year. In fact last year it was down 5%, “reaching its lowest level since 1973”.
There is more. It claims that violent crime is at its lowest since 1999.
Last year both the volume and severity of violent crime fell 3% from the previous year, while the decline in the violent crime severity index was more notably down 6%. This is the fourth straight year where there has been a decline in the violent crime severity index and the largest drop in more than a decade. Overall, violent crimes accounted for just over one in five offences. Among the violent crimes that saw a decline were: attempted murder, down 14%; homicide, down 10%; robbery, down 7%; and serious assault, down 5%. In contrast, increases were reported among firearms offences.
We on this side of the House are partial to public policy based on evidence. However, despite the evidence the Conservatives, or should I say the horsemen of the apocalypse, would like us to believe that there is mass chaos in the streets. Only in the Conservative world would we see a statistic showing firearms offences increasing by 11% only to be followed by the decision to get rid of the gun registry.
I mentioned our aboriginal community earlier in my speech. According to the 2006 census, 3.1% of our adult population identified themselves as aboriginal yet in the same year aboriginal adults accounted for 18% of our prison population in provincial and territorial institutions and 19% in federal institutions.
The bill would do a lot of bad things for Canada, not the least of which is an increase in aboriginal Canadians in our prisons.
How can a government, in any way, be taken seriously when one of the likely results is that the bill would lock up even more aboriginal Canadians? That is a national disgrace.
I understand that my words today might cause some difficulty and, in fact, I would suggest perhaps some disagreement from the members opposition. Although I am a new member of Parliament, I have views, which is part of the reason I am standing here today. My views are rooted in values of fairness and justice. I want to see crime legislation that is evidence-based, cost-effective and focused on crime prevention, not retribution. I will not stand for any suggestion that I, or the members of this caucus, are soft on crime. It is simply not the case. It will be rejected in the strongest possible terms.
I will close by saying that the government pretends to be tough on crime. It pretends to care. It is a game for the Conservatives. It is a diversion from the real issues that matter to Canadians. This week the government House leader told Canadians that the government will be focused on the economy during this session of Parliament and yet the first two days of this House have been occupied, not by proposals to help the economy and create jobs, but by a bill that is not evidence-based and that seeks to divide Canadians. It is a diversion.
The government likes to use slogans and gimmicks. It likes to look tough. Many of us on this side are wondering when the Conservatives will get tough on creating jobs, get tough on fighting poverty, get tough on fighting climate change, get tough on fighting for health care and get tough on helping the most vulnerable.
The only thing the government is tough on is the truth and it is Canadians who will suffer as a result.
I move, seconded by the member for Winnipeg North:
|| That the motion be amended by deleting all of the words after the word “That” and substituting the following:
||“this House declines to give second reading to 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, because its provisions ignore the best evidence with respect to public safety, crime prevention and rehabilitation of offenders; because its cost to the federal treasury and the cost to be downloaded onto the provinces for corrections have not been clearly articulated to this House; and because the bundling of these many pieces of legislation into a single bill will compromise Parliament’s ability to review and scrutinize its contents and implications on behalf of Canadians”.
Ms. Kerry-Lynne D. Findlay (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice, CPC):
Madam Speaker, the safe streets and communities act fulfills this government's commitment, as noted in the June 2011 Speech from the Throne, to reintroduce law and order legislation to combat crime and terrorism. As highlighted by the Minister of Justice, the bill is in five parts and brings together the criminal law reforms that were proposed in nine bills in the last session.
Amendments to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act are found in part 2 of the bill, from clause 39 through clause 51 inclusively. These amendments are the same as those proposed in Bill S-10, which was introduced in May 2010, passed by the Senate last December and died on the order paper when Parliament was dissolved last March.
I also note that the government first introduced these amendments to address serious drug crimes as Bill C-26 in 2007 and again as Bill C-15 in 2009. We remain committed to enacting these reforms now included in the safe streets and communities act.
These amendments are not about imposing mandatory minimum sentences for all drug crimes. These amendments propose targeted, mandatory minimum sentences for serious drug crimes and ensure that those who carry out these crimes will be penalized. These amendments clearly send the message that Canadians find this type of criminal behaviour unacceptable.
A mandatory minimum sentence is the starting point for the judge's consideration of the appropriate jail term. Where a minimum sentence applies, the sentence imposed by the judge cannot be less. Presently there are no mandatory minimum penalties in the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, or CDSA. The CDSA provides for maximum penalties based on the prohibited activity involved as well as on the substances involved. The maximum penalty for the most serious offences involving the most dangerous drugs is life imprisonment.
The most serious drug offences in the CDSA, as measured by their maximum penalty, are trafficking, possession for the purpose of trafficking, importation and exportation and production in respect of schedule I drugs. What are those drugs? They are drugs such as heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine and morphine, and schedule II drugs which are cannabis-related.
All of these offences involving Schedule I drugs are punishable by up to life imprisonment. The offence of trafficking and possession for the purpose of trafficking of cannabis in amounts over three kilograms is punishable by up to life imprisonment, as are the offences of importation and exportation of any amount of cannabis. The offence of producing cannabis in punishable by up to seven years imprisonment.
The least severe penalties in the CDSA for designated substances offences, up to 12 months imprisonment on summary conviction, are reserved for offences involving substances listed in schedules IV and V; that is, substances such as diazepam, or Valium, and secobarbital, Seconal. it should be noted, however, that most of the prohibited activities in the CDSA are legal if committed by someone possessing the proper licence, permit, or exemption.
There are some who do not agree with the drug-related amendments proposed in the bill. They are of the view that serious drug offences do not require a response such as that contained in this proposed legislation. However, serious drug crime is a serious problem in Canada and it requires a serious legislative approach. That is what we are bringing to this issue.
Marijuana cultivation offences have increased significantly in the past several years. According to a study on marijuana grow operations in British Columbia, my home province, in 2003 approximately 39% of all reported marijuana cultivation cases, or 4,514, were located in B.C. Between 1997 and 2000, the total number of these cases increased by over 220%. Although the number of individual operations in B.C. levelled off between 2000 to 2003, the estimated quantity of marijuana produced has increased from 19,729 kilos in 1997 to a seven year high of 79,817 kilos in 2003, due to the size and sophistication of individual operations.
Investigations by BC Hydro indicate the existence of thousands of possible marijuana grow operations. The increase in the illicit production of marijuana has occurred not just in B.C., of course, but across all of Canada.
Available RCMP data indicates a rise in synthetic drug production operations in the last 10 years. The RCMP indicates that there were 25 clandestine labs seized in 2002. In 2008, 43 clandestine labs were seized across Canada. In 2009, 45 clandestine labs were seized by various Canadian police agencies. The majority of labs seized were methamphetamine and ecstasy labs.
It is in part because of the existence of these illicit activities that the Prime Minister unveiled Canada's national anti-drug strategy in October 2007. The national anti-drug strategy provided new resources to prevent illegal drug use, including illicit drug use by young people, to treat people who had drug addictions and to fight illegal drug crime.
The strategy comprises a two-track approach, one which will be tough on drug crime and the other which will focus on drug users.
The national anti-drug strategy includes three action plans: preventing illicit drug use; treating those with illicit drug dependencies; and combatting the production and distribution of illicit drugs.
The action plan to combat the production and distribution of illicit drugs contains a number of elements, including ensuring that strong and adequate penalties are in place for serious drug crimes. It is within this context that the drug-related amendments of this bill are to be viewed. Moreover, these amendments follow through on one of this government's key priorities, which is combatting crime and making our communities safer for all Canadians.
As I have mentioned, domestic operations related to the production and distribution of marijuana and synthetic drugs have dramatically increased, resulting in a serious problem in some regions of Canada. The situation has reached such a point in some parts of Canada that law enforcement agencies are overwhelmed.
Illicit drug production can pose serious health and public safety hazards to those in or around them. They can produce environmental hazards, pose cleanup problems and endanger the lives and health of whole communities. They are lucrative businesses, and I use that term loosely, and attract a variety of organized crime groups. Huge profits are available with little risk to operators and these profits are used to finance other criminal activities.
The penalties for drug-related offences and the sentences imposed on offenders are considered by many to be too lenient and not commensurate with the level of harm imposed on communities by such operations. The reforms that the government is pursuing in this bill are meant to deal with these concerns.
As members are undoubtedly aware, the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act contains a complex offence and penalty structure. Penalties depend on the nature of the prohibited activity and on the type of substance involved. The most problematic and dangerous substances are listed under schedules I and II and the most serious offences involving these substances attract the severest penalties, up to life imprisonment. As I have noted, the CDSA does not currently contain any minimum penalties. The drug-related amendments of the safe streets and communities act propose to enact such minimum penalties for specific offences.
The offences being targeted are: trafficking, possession for the purpose of trafficking, production, importing, exporting and possession for the purpose of exporting drugs.
The drugs that would be covered are schedule I drugs, such as cocaine, heroine and methamphetamine, and schedule II drugs, such as marijuana.
The drug-related mandatory minimum penalty scheme proposed in the bill is based on the presence of specific aggravating factors, most of which are commonly present in serious drug crimes. The scheme would not apply to possession offences or to offences involving drugs such as diazepam or valium.
As I noted at the beginning of my remarks, the drug-related proposals contained in the bill reflect a tailored approach to MMPs for serious drug offences. Some further details about the targeted or tailored regime will assist hon. members in understanding the approach and supporting speedy passage of the bill, we believe.
For schedule I drugs, and that is heroine, cocaine, or methamphetamine, the bill proposes a one year minimum sentence for the majority of the serious drug offences if there are certain aggravating factors. The aggravating factors exist where: the offence is committed for the benefit of, at the direction of or in association with organized crime; the offence involved violence, or threat of violence, or weapons or a threat of the use of weapons; or the offence is committed by someone who was convicted or served a term of imprisonment for a serious drug offence in the previous 10 years. If youth are present or the offence occurs in a prison, the minimum sentence is increased to two years.
In the case of importing, exporting and possession for the purpose of exporting, the minimum sentence would be one year if the offence is committed for the purpose of trafficking or the person, while committing the offence, abused a position of trust or authority or had access to an area that is restricted to authorized persons and used that access to commit the offence. The penalty will be raised to two years if the offence involves more than one kilogram of a schedule I drug. Again, these are drugs such as heroine, cocaine, or methamphetamine.
A minimum sentence of two years is provided for a production offence involving a schedule I drug. The minimum sentence for the production of schedule I drugs increases to three years where aggravating factors relating to health and safety are present. That is where: the person used real property that belonged to a third party to commit the offence; the production constituted a potential security, health or safety hazard to children who were in the location where the offence was committed or were in the immediate area; the production constituted a potential public safety hazard in a residential area; or the person placed or set a trap.
For schedule II drugs, such as marijuana, cannabis resin, et cetera, the proposed mandatory minimum sentence for trafficking, possession for the purposes of trafficking, importing or exporting and possession for the purpose of exporting is one year if certain aggravating factors such as violence, recidivism or organized crime are present. If factors such as trafficking to youth are present, the minimum is increased to two years.
For the offence of marijuana production, the bill proposes mandatory penalties based on the number of plants involved: production of six to two hundred plants and if the plants are cultivated for the purpose of trafficking, six months; production of 201 to 500 plants, the penalty, one year; production of more than 500 plants, two years; and production of cannabis resin for the purpose of trafficking, one year. The minimum sentences for the production of schedule II drugs increases by 50% where any of the aggravating factors relating to health and safety, which I have just described, are present.
It is important to note that the drug-related proposals of the bill are not limited to creating minimum sentences. Amphetamines, as well as the date rape drug GHB and Rohypnol would be transferred from schedule III to schedule I, thereby allowing the courts to impose longer sentences for offences involving these dangerous drugs.
The maximum penalty for producing marijuana would be increased from seven to fourteen years imprisonment. That is the maximum penalty, speaking about the other end of the scale now.
Last, I wish to point out that this legislation is not just about punishing drug offenders by enhancing the sentence provisions. The proposed legislation would allow the courts, including drug treatment courts, to exempt an offender from the mandatory minimum sentence that would otherwise be imposed where the offence involved no other aggravating factors other than a previous conviction for a serious drug offence, and the offender successfully completes a treatment program.
The proposed reforms to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act also require that within five years after the coming into force of these provisions, a committee of the Senate or of this House or a committee of both places undertake a comprehensive review of these provisions and their operation, including, my friend opposite will be pleased to hear, a cost benefit analysis of the minimum sentence provisions.
It is a fundamental principle of the Canadian sentencing framework that a sentence should be proportionate to the gravity of the offence and the degree of responsibility of the offender. The Criminal Code provides that the purpose of sentencing is to impose sanctions on offenders that are just in order to contribute to the respect for the law and the maintenance of a just, peaceful and safe society, something we all want.
Accordingly, the objectives in sentencing are to denounce unlawful conduct, deter the offenders and others from committing crimes and separate offenders from society where necessary, as well as to assist in rehabilitating offenders, have them accept responsibility for their actions and repair the very real harm that they have caused to victims or the community.
I would submit to members of the House and to Canadians in general that the proposed drug related mandatory minimum penalties contained in this bill meet these requirements. These are strong measures but they are reasonable and they are meaningful, and a meaningful response to a problem that is increasing in and plaguing our cities.
The manner in which these minimum penalties would apply is intended to ensure that they do not result in grossly disproportionate sentences being handed down.
As parliamentarians, we are this country's lawmakers. It is incumbent upon us to see that our laws provide appropriate and adequate measures to address this very serious problem.
Some members of the House may be of the view that serious drug offences do not require a response such as the one contained in the bill. However, serious drug crime is a growing problem in Canadian cities and in smaller towns, and a serious legislative response is required.
The government has made tackling crime a priority in order to make our streets and our communities safer. This bill is a reasonable, balanced and narrowly structured approach which the government is taking toward realizing this goal.
I am certain that we will have the support of the majority of the members of the House for these measures. I ask everyone to please consider them carefully.
Mr. Jasbir Sandhu (Surrey North, NDP):
Madam Speaker, yesterday the Conservatives introduced nine pieces of legislation in one big bundle. There are over 100 pages in the bill. These pieces of legislation fall under the purview of three separate ministries. The bills range from broad changes to our corrections system that are based on a failed U.S.-style approach, to giving the minister absolute power to approve or deny the international transfer of offenders. These changes are sweeping and will fundamentally change several aspects of Canada's criminal justice system.
The way this bill was introduced speaks a lot to the Conservatives' approach to crime. They have introduced a big bill to help them appear to be tough on crime, but again they have proven that they are not smart on crime.
The goal of any changes to our criminal justice system should be public safety first. It should be safer streets and communities. We should accomplish this by finding cost-effective programs and policies that really make a difference. However, that clearly is not the priority of the Conservatives. They are not interested in looking at the evidence or studying the real impacts of the measures in this bill. The way they introduced them in an omnibus bill shows they have no intention of studying impacts. They just want to ram the legislation through before the public learns how ineffective and expensive it will be.
I will say that some measures in the bill make some sense, but unfortunately the vast majority of the bill really does not matter. We need to be able to examine this on a case-by-case basis. This is also an incredibly fiscally irresponsible piece of legislation. Earlier in the House the minister was asked a number of times about the cost. We do not know the cost. How much is it going to cost?
The government is asking us to support a bill it has not costed. It has refused to provide the Parliamentary Budget Officer with information so he can cost these initiatives. I imagine the government is withholding that information because it does not want Canadians or Parliament to know how big the tab for its big crime bill is going to be, not just for the federal government but for much of what is going to be downloaded to the provinces. Unfortunately, taxpayers in this country are going to be the ones left to pay this big crime bill's tab.
The experts agree, as many studies have been done, that the Conservative approach on crime is the wrong approach. It is not based on evidence and the majority of these measures will not make our communities any safer.
Across the U.S., governments have tried this before and have seen it fail. We have seen this south of the border. Many of the states are now abandoning the ineffective approach to crime that the Conservative government is pursuing in this country. Governments in the U.S. are abandoning it because it does not work, because it is incredibly expensive and it has been shown to be very ineffective.
I do not know how the members across the aisle can justify ramming a bill through that is so reckless that it has the potential to be financially crippling to the government and will not make any of our communities safer. I come from a community where crime, gang violence and drug-related crimes are real problems. I want to see changes that stop gangs from recruiting young children. I want to see more police officers on the streets. I want prisoners to come out of prison rehabilitated and able to be contributing members of society, but clearly that is not a priority for the Conservative government.
I have a number of concerns with key parts of the bill. One major area is the changes that are being proposed for our pardon system.
Our pardon system needs to be fair to all Canadians and it needs to be strengthened. It must protect public safety by promoting the reintegration of reformed offenders and ensuring that the public is protected from those who still pose a threat to society.
This portion of the bill proposes a number of changes which must be carefully considered.
Changes to the pardon system must be rational, evidence based, and put public safety first. There needs to be a thorough study of the pardon system, and any changes should come from the results of that study. Unfortunately, the Conservatives across the aisle seem more interested in using this issue to score political points.
Of course we need to make changes to protect Canadians from pardons in outrageous cases where clearly our system has failed over the years, but making broad changes, such as disallowing pardons for those with four or more indictable offences, changes the nature of our system completely.
Pardons serve a very important function. They allow people who have made positive life changes and who have abstained from criminal behaviour to be freed from many of the negative impacts of having a criminal record, such as what occurs when securing employment and housing.
Approximately 3.5 million Canadians have a criminal record. I find it hard to believe that the government has thought of the impact these changes will have on these Canadians.
Four offences can occur in one incident. Someone could have one misguided event, but under this legislation the individual would not be able to have his or her record sealed. For people trying to turn their lives around, the inability to get a pardon can have very detrimental implications on their lives.
Employment is a stabilizing factor in reintegrating individuals and the inability to gain employment only increases the risk of reoffending. Stable meaningful employment, as well as the income, housing and social networks that employment can foster, are significant protective factors against reoffending. From a public safety perspective, this type of incentive offered to individuals trying to reintegrate successfully back into the community makes good sense.
By summarily making pardons more difficult to get, and by doing it without any study or rationale, the Conservative government will make it more difficult for people to rehabilitate and reintegrate into society. If the Conservatives make it more difficult for deserving people to get pardons, those people will not be able to get back into society and will be far more likely to commit crimes in the future. It is entirely possible, in fact very likely, that in some ways this legislation will actually increase crime.
Another area of concern for me are the corrections and conditional release changes in the bill.
Aspects of the bill would open the door to the violation of human rights in Canadian prisons. These changes would have Canada adopt a U.S.-style approach to prisons that is regressive, expensive and which has shown to be very ineffective.
One particularly disturbing part of this legislation about which many experts have expressed concern is the changes to the Corrections and Conditional Release Act.
The act currently reads that the Correctional Service of Canada must use the “least restrictive measures consistent with the protection of the public, staff members, and offenders”. The least restrictive measures language is a time tested and court derived standard for the acceptable treatment of prisoners.
This legislation removes the “least restrictive” language and changes the standard to “measures...that are limited to only what is necessary and proportionate” to the objective for which they are imposed. This change will open the door to more severe treatment of offenders. In the absence of any evidence that the “least restrictive” language is hindering the ability of the CSC to fulfill its mandate, it should not be carelessly discarded.
I support changes to our federal corrections system that will result in more offenders being successfully rehabilitated and reintegrated into communities upon their eventual release. This is the most effective way to promote public safety, to make our communities safer places for our citizens to live. However, the reality is that our federal prison system is lacking in the programs needed to get offenders to turn their lives around.
This omnibus bill creates a paper obligation for prisoners to participate in non-existent rehabilitation programs and then sets out how to punish them for failing to get rehabilitated. To me it makes no sense. Experts in the corrections field have stated very clearly that this is the wrong approach to take. The government is setting itself up for failure because this legislation will not achieve its stated objective. In fact, it will make things worse.
The bill reflects an outdated U.S.-style approach to prisons which wastes money and incarcerates more people for longer. We have seen the results in the United States. Most importantly, it does nothing to reduce reoffences. Public safety means getting smart on crime. Those are not smart changes.
Another part of the legislation that concerns me is the changes regarding the international transfer of offenders. This bill claims to enhance public safety, which of course is something I agree with. However, the bill grants absolute discretion to the minister to pick and choose who is brought back to Canada. The act needs to be strengthened, not shredded. The bill does away with a clear legal process that has been in place since 1978 and it replaces it with decisions made at the minister's whim. This bill opens up the process to bias. It does away with any transparency and accountability.
There is no doubt there are offenders who should not be brought back to this country and public safety needs to be considered when we are making these decisions. There are cases when public safety is enhanced by allowing the transfer to take place, which gives Canada the control of the offender's rehabilitation program and supervision after the offender has finished his or her sentence, rather than have the offender return to Canada unsupervised after finishing a sentence abroad.
To allow the minister such wide-ranging discretion to ignore criteria completely and to use his or her own subjective opinion as to the test for the criteria he or she does consider is wrong. It replaces an established law-based process with a politicized subjective process.
This is not the way to make wholesale changes to our criminal justice system. Before any changes like this are made, Parliament must study their effects. We owe it to Canadians. It is part of our job.
All indications are that the changes Conservatives want to make are the same mistakes that many state governments have made in the United States. We have seen this approach fail in the U.S. Many states are now repealing these laws, but the Conservatives seem determined to repeat mistakes made in the United States. We should be learning from our neighbour's mistakes, not repeating them.
Where does this leave us? What is the goal of this legislation? It would seem that effectiveness is not the goal. The goal seems to be stoking fears among Canadians and playing up those fears for political gain. A responsible approach for any large policy change would be to thoroughly study proposed changes and seek advice from experts. The Conservatives seem intent on refusing to do that and on ramming this through recklessly.
Why are they doing that? It has been mentioned in this place many times before. Key stakeholder after key stakeholder, expert after expert has spoken out against the kinds of legislation that the Conservatives are bringing forward. However, they will not talk about whether or not this will actually make our streets and communities any safer. They will not talk about how this initiative has been tried and has failed elsewhere. They will not talk about how much of a huge financial burden this will be on our economy and on Canadians.
It seems that many goals of this legislation are to score political points and play on fears. New Democrats have been clear about the approach we should be taking. We should be taking an approach that is based on evidence, that works in our communities, that hires more police officers, that is built on more than simply the outdated megaprison system. Most of all, we need an approach that is based on putting public safety first.
I urge the government to listen to experts. Earlier in question period we had the finance minister talking about how the government needs to listen to experts; I encourage the Minister of Justice and the Minister of Public safety to listen to experts, to look at the evidence, to look at the cost, and at the very least to give this massive piece of legislation a proper study in Parliament.
We owe it to Canadians to be clear about the costs and to be clear about the effectiveness of this legislation. It will cost untold billions of dollars and will not make our streets any safer. This is not tough on crime and it is not smart on crime; it is wrong on crime.
Mr. Robert Goguen (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to rise here today to speak at second reading of Bill C-10, the Safe Streets and Communities Act.
As many of my colleagues know, this government committed to introducing once again—yes, once again—any law and order bills that died on the order paper at the dissolution of the 40th Parliament.
The proposed changes aim, for example, to protect children from sexual crimes, to clarify ineligibility for conditional sentences and pardons, and to protect other vulnerable members of our society.
With all that in mind, the bill before us constitutes a comprehensive bill incorporating all the changes previously proposed in nine separate bills introduced during the previous parliament.
The first part of the bill—clauses 2 to 9—contains the changes suggested in the former Bill S-7, the Justice for Victims of Terrorism Act.
Part 2 contains clauses 10 to 51 of the bill, which include the amendments found in former bills C-54, the Protecting Children from Sexual Predators Act, which was designed to protect children from sexual predators and certain sexual offences; C-16 , the Ending House Arrest for Property and Other Serious Crimes by Serious and Violent Offenders Act, intended to limit the use of conditional sentences; and S-10, the Penalties for Organized Drug Crime Act, to increase sentences for serious drug-related offences.
Part 3—clauses 52 to 166—includes measures to increase the accountability of offenders, eliminate pardons for serious crimes and modify the factors considered in the international transfer of Canadian offenders. These amendments were contained in former bills C-39, the Ending Early Release for Criminals and Increasing Offender Accountability Act; C-23B, the Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes Act; C-59, the Abolition of Early Parole Act; and C-5, the Keeping Canadians Safe (International Transfer of Offenders) Act.
Part 4 of the bill—clauses 167 to 204—amends the Youth Criminal Justice Act to better protect Canadians against violent young offenders. These amendments were included in former Bill C-4 , Sébastien's Law (Protecting the Public from Violent Young Offenders).
The last part of the bill—clauses 205 to 207—proposes amendments contained in former Bill C-56, the Preventing the Trafficking, Abuse and Exploitation of Vulnerable Immigrants Act, that would amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act in order to protect workers who want to work in Canada and are at risk of being subjected to humiliating or degrading treatment, including sexual exploitation.
In particular, I would like to elaborate on clause 34 of Part 2 of the bill, which seeks to curtail the use of conditional sentences for some property crimes and other serious crimes.
As I mentioned earlier, these amendments were contained in a previous bill, Bill C-16, which died on the order paper with the dissolution of the third session of the 40th Parliament. However, there are some technical differences, which I will discuss later.
Currently, under the Criminal Code, conditional sentencing, sometimes referred to as house arrest, can be imposed when an offence is not punishable by a mandatory minimum sentence and the court hands down a prison sentence of less than two years.
In fact, since December 2007, conditional sentences have no longer been available for indictable offences with a maximum prison sentence of 10 years or more in the case of serious personal injury offences, terrorism offences or organized crime offences.
What is more, the court imposing a conditional sentence has to be satisfied that serving the sentence in the community will not jeopardize the safety of the community and that the sentence is consistent with the fundamental purpose and principles of sentencing.
It is important to note that the fundamental purpose of sentencing, as set out in section 718 of the Criminal Code, is to contribute to respect for the law and the maintenance of a just, peaceful and safe society by imposing just sanctions that have one or more of the following objectives: to denounce unlawful conduct; to deter the offender and other persons from committing offences; to separate offenders from society, where necessary; to assist in rehabilitating offenders; to provide reparations for harm done to victims or the community; and to promote a sense of responsibility in offenders.
The Criminal Code also informs us that a just sanction is a sanction that is proportionate to the gravity of the offence and the degree of responsibility of the offender. To achieve this, the courts take into consideration aggravating and mitigating factors in each case. Before describing the key aspects of the proposed changes, I want to provide some background on the provisions in the Criminal Code on conditional sentences.
Conditional sentencing came into effect in 1996, when the government wanted, among other things, to reduce excessive use of incarceration for less serious crimes. I repeat: less serious crimes. Moreover, the information document that accompanied these sentencing reforms states that the addition of conditional sentencing as a new form of sentencing means that offenders who have committed a less serious crime and who otherwise would be incarcerated can serve their sentence in the community under close supervision.
The limits that I mentioned earlier were established in order to guarantee that conditional sentences could be given only for less serious crimes, in keeping with the fundamental principles and purpose of sentencing. However, in the years following the creation of this type of sentencing, there has been a complete lack of consistency when it comes to determining when conditional sentencing is appropriate.
At the time, many court decisions gave a conditional sentence for serious and violent crimes. This contributed to the public's loss of faith in the justice system. Clearly, many people, and some provinces and territories, wondered whether the limits on conditional sentencing set out in the Criminal Code were sufficient.
In order to deal with this lack of consistency in conditional sentencing, this government introduced Bill C-9, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (conditional sentence of imprisonment) on May 4, 2006. This bill proposed the elimination of conditional sentencing for any indictable offence with a maximum prison sentence of 10 years or more. However, Bill C-9 was amended by the opposition parties to limit the ban on conditional sentencing to indictable offences with a maximum prison sentence of 10 years or more that constitute serious personal injury offences, terrorism offences or criminal organization offences. These amendments took effect on December 1, 2007.
The definition of serious personal injury was developed in the context of dangerous offenders, which is why this definition is found in part 24 of the Criminal Code. According to this definition, serious personal injury offences include any indictable offence, other than high treason, treason, first degree murder or second degree murder—punishable by at least 10 years in prison—involving the use or attempted use of violence against another person, or conduct endangering or likely to endanger the life or safety of another person or inflicting or likely to inflict severe psychological damage on another person.
The second part of this definition is clearer, as it lists sexual assault, sexual assault with a weapon and aggravated sexual assault as serious personal injury offences.
It is important to understand that the opposition parties borrowed a term straight from the dangerous offender regime in order to put limits on a sentence that should only be applied to less dangerous offenders. That created two philosophical approaches for interpreting the definition of serious personal injury in the context of conditional sentencing.
Another issue with the definition of serious personal injury is that it only targets violent offences. The definition of serious personal injury cannot ensure that a conditional sentence will not be used in the case of serious fraud or theft over $5,000.
The amendments in this bill will ensure that certain non-violent serious offences will still be treated as serious offences, thus avoiding the use of conditional sentencing. The amendments to the conditional sentencing regime proposed in this bill aim to establish clear benchmarks to allow for consistent use of conditional sentencing in order to respect Parliament's intention when it created this sentence.
That is why the bill proposes eliminating the reference to serious personal injury offences and restricting the availability of conditional sentences for all offences for which the maximum term of imprisonment is 14 years or life.
The same will apply to indictable offences punishable by a maximum of 10 years' imprisonment when they result in bodily harm, involve the import, export, trafficking or production of drugs or involve the use of weapons.
When an offence is committed under these circumstances, it is even more important to deter the offender and denounce the crime. This justifies restricting the availability of conditional sentences in such cases. It is possible however that the limits I just described do not cover all offences prosecuted by way of indictment and punishable by a maximum of 10 years in prison.
Therefore, the bill also proposes limiting the availability of conditional sentences for prison breach, criminal harassment, sexual assault, kidnapping, trafficking in persons, abduction of a person under 14, motor vehicle theft, theft over $5,000, breaking and entering a place other than a dwelling-house, being unlawfully in a dwelling-house, and arson for fraudulent purpose.
As I mentioned at the beginning of my speech, there are technical differences between the changes proposed in this bill and those contained in the former Bill C-16.
For example, Bill C-16 proposed the abolition of conditional sentencing for the offence of luring a child, described in section 172.1. This is no longer on the list of offences that would not be eligible for conditional sentencing, since article 22 of this bill proposes a minimum punishment of imprisonment for a term of one year in the case of an indictable offence, or 90 days in the case of a summary conviction.
Another change from Bill C-16 is that the list of offences that are no longer eligible for conditional sentence includes the new offence of motor vehicle theft, described in section 333.1 of the Criminal Code.
The final change would correct an error that slipped into Bill C-16. That bill did not include the offence of abduction of a person under 14 by a parent or guardian. The intent was, however, to target the offence described in section 281 of the Criminal Code, which has to do with the abduction of a person under 14 by a stranger.
I want to reassure my colleagues that even though the reference in section 742.1 to serious personal injury offences is set to be eliminated, the changes in this bill will ensure that those who are convicted of sexual assault, sexual assault with a weapon and aggravated sexual assault will not be eligible if prosecuted by way of indictment.
Note also that conditional sentencing will no longer be available for persons convicted of sexual assault against a person 16 or under since clause 25 of the bill proposes a minimum sentence of one year when the offence is prosecuted by way of indictment, and 90 days on summary conviction.
This government is addressing the concerns of Canadians who no longer want to see conditional sentences used for serious crimes, whether they are violent crimes or property crimes.
For the reasons I have just mentioned, I urge my fellow members of this House to unanimously support the proposed changes to the conditional sentencing system.
Mr. Don Davies (Vancouver Kingsway, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, as I often like to do when we stand in the House and have a dialogue and debate among each other about issues of crime and safety in our country, I like to start with what I think is a bridging set of statements in which we all believe.
I think every member in the House believes in and wants to create policy that keeps our communities safe.
I think every member in the House, legitimately and sincerely, wants to ensure that we have a justice system that is efficient, effective and geared toward the goals that we all hope our justice system would be geared toward, which is to ensure that our justice system accomplishes the goals that it purports to have.
That goal would be twofold, when we combine effective public policy on crime and an effective justice system, and that is to adopt policies that prevent crime as much as we can from happening in the first place and once crime is committed, to do everything we can to ensure that the person committing the crime does not commit it again.
I had the honour of being our party's public safety critic in the last Parliament and spent a good part of almost two years examining, in detail, the situation in our corrections system. I had the distinct honour and privilege of touring some 26 federal correctional institutions and seeing first-hand the work that our correctional officials do every day in our prisons. It also gave me an eye-opening experience into the real situation that was occurring in our federal prisons. I would encourage all members of the House, as members of Parliament, to inspect our federal institutions and learn first-hand what is going on.
A provision in the Corrections and Conditional Release Act specifically gives MPs the untrammelled right to go into our federal institutions and inspect them. As legislators, that is a very important responsibility so we can be supervising, monitoring and inspecting our federal prisons.
I will tell the House what I have noticed in visiting those prisons from my point of view. The people who populate those prisons are, as has been said, among the most marginalized people in society, in general. It is true that there is a small segment of the prison population who are incorrigible, dangerous and violent people for whom we have very little option but to keep locked away from society. Nobody in the House would suggest that the Clifford Olsons and the Paul Bernardos of the world should safely ever be returned to the streets of our country and they should pay a price for the crimes they have committed by being incarcerated for the rest of their lives.
However, we cannot make policy based on that small percentage, because what I also saw was that 80% of the people who are in our federal prisons today, men and women, suffer from an addiction. This figure is widely accepted on all sides of the House. The public safety committee heard expert testimony after expert testimony from corrections officials, from wardens, from the John Howard Society, from the Elizabeth Fry Society, from all manner of people who all agreed with that figure, that 80% suffer from an addiction.
Another commonly accepted fact on all sides of the House is that there is a substantial number of men and women inside our institutions who suffer from mental illness. Leaving aside, the obvious point is addiction itself is a mental illness. Issues like fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, brain damage, low cognition and those with brain injuries also are disproportionately represented in our prison system.
That leads me to my first point. If we truly want to ensure that when those people come out of prison they do not recommit offences, then we need direct resources at the real problems they face.
It is true that well over 90% of people in our federal institutions will leave those institutions and come back into our communities. They will be walking down our streets, walking down our alleys, sitting beside us in restaurants, applying for jobs. They will be members of our communities.
It is only common sense. It is not only from a moral point of view but it is from a self-interested point of view for us to ensure we do everything possible when we make policy to improve the situations that cause them to commit their crimes in the first place. That is why the New Democratic Party is a consistent voice for putting resources into crime prevention and into resources that address and attack the fundamental causes of these people's criminogenic behaviour where we can do so.
What I see in Bill C-10 is an accumulation of ineffective policies to solve a diminishing problem that is inexorbitantly expensive. I do not see how that will make a noticeable dent in the problem that we have in this country.
At the public safety committee, we asked a person from the United States who is a member of an initiative called right on crime to appear before our committee to tell us about the experience in the United States. The person who came up was the appointee of Ronald Reagan as the original drug enforcement agency czar. He also was the chief architect of the tough on crime policy that has been pursued by the United States over the last two decades.
What he told us was remarkable. He told us that the policies of toughening up sentences and incarcerating more people in the United States by pursuing policies like mandatory minimums, lengthening sentences, taking away judge's discretion and reducing sentencing options for judges has resulted in poor outcomes. He said that it threatened to bankrupt the treasuries of every state in which these policies are being pursued and that it has made no noticeable dent in crime. So, after spending billions and billions of dollars and locking up hundreds of thousands of citizens, the net result was that they were nearing bankruptcy and the crime rate was unaffected.
I said to members opposite in the House at that time that they had the benefit of the justice department and public safety department and that they had access to our civil servants who can access research that one hopes is being done before legislation is being brought before the House. I asked them to tell me the name of one jurisdiction anywhere in the world, a state, a government or a province, where these policies that the government seeks to put into law have resulted in safer communities with lower crime rates.
The answer I received was that there were none. No country could be named. That is instructive. Before we embark on a policy that will cost the Canadian taxpayers billions and billions of dollars, it is instructive and responsible of us as legislators to do our homework and to at least have an even chance of accomplishing the goals that we seek the money to achieve.
Crime is not an issue that is restricted to Canada. Every society in the world is grappling with this, whether it is Europe, Asia, South America or Africa. Crime exists everywhere. This is not a unique situation. We have examples all over the world of different approaches to dealing with crime. We have very harsh approaches, like the current government seeks to take our country in, and we have examples of more lenient approaches.
Surely there is a wealth of information in this world that we can glean from and craft best policies to ensure we accomplish the goals that Canadians want us to accomplish, and that is to ensure we prevent crime as much as we can and to reduce the possibility that somebody will commit a crime a second time.
I want to talk a little bit about police officers because our party, the New Democrats, has been calling, through the last three elections, for the increase of 2,500 police officers in this country. We do believe in putting police officers on Canadian streets and using them properly.
In my view, that means putting them in our communities and having police officers on bikes. Putting them around high-crime areas like sky train stations in my city of Vancouver is an important way that we can improve community safety.
The Conservative Party promised to create 2,500 police officer positions in the 2008 election. I have met with police boards and police chiefs across this country and they all tell me the same thing, that only a fraction of those 2,500 police officer positions have been created. The reason is that the money the federal government promised to give jurisdictions to create those positions has been reduced from ongoing funding, to five-year funding, to three-year funding. Police chiefs have looked the Conservatives in the eyes and said that they are not creating a single position when they only have funding for only three years.
There is no funding for the civilian staff that each police officer position engenders. The money has been transferred to provinces with no strings attached. The provinces have received that money without any obligation to actually create police officer positions and, in some cases, that money or portions of it have disappeared into provincial treasuries' general revenue.
The Conservatives have not fulfilled their promise to Canadians to create those 2,500 police officer positions. I would encourage them to do so because they have unanimity on this side of the House to do that.
If we really want to improve our justice system and reduce crime on our streets, we need to add more prosecutors and judges in this country. Our courts are overburdened. There are cases kicked out of courts across this country every day for want of prosecution and delay. I see nothing in Bill C-10 that adds police officers, judges, prosecutors and nothing that addresses addiction, mental illness and crime prevention. Those are valid, fact-based criticisms of this bill.
I will talk about what I have also seen in our federal prison system. There was a program in our federal prisons called CORCAN which allowed inmates to learn skilled trades and engage in programs like making furniture. The furniture would then be sold to the federal government at reduced prices. It was a win-win situation. It gave underskilled inmates an opportunity to learn soft and hard skills, to learn the discipline of work, to learn skills that would allow them to survive on the outside and maybe have a better chance of escaping the criminal lifestyle. It also gave the federal government much needed equipment at a reduced price.
Do members know what has happened to the CORCAN program? It has been reduced. I am not saying that rhetorically. If people were to go to Kent Institution 90 kilometres outside of Vancouver, they could walk into the CORCAN rooms, which are three big rooms that look like industrial arts labs in junior and senior high schools, and all they will find are storage rooms. They are empty.
The government has closed prison farms. We have had big debates, and I do not intend to open that debate again, but there were prison farms operating at four or five institutions in this country that were absolute models of success. They gave offenders a chance to learn soft skills, to get up in the morning and show up for work. They had responsibilities. The arguments I heard in the House about the closing of the farms were absurd, like those people would never find work on a farm. That is not the point of prison farms. The point of prison farms is to teach skills of responsibility, of working together, of having to show up at the same time every day, working with animals, for hardened people to emotionally reconnect and consider the feelings of other people and learn responsibility. They were very effective programs and the government closed the farms.
This bill is titled “the safe streets and communities act”. I think it should more aptly be called “the overcrowded prisons, no crime prevention and overburden taxpayers with no results act”. That is just as accurate a title as any other.
I want to talk a little about some of the pieces of Bill C-10. Part of this practice of governing that the Conservative Party has proven a predilection for is to take a whole bunch of unrelated bills and throw them into one great big conglomeration before the House, which is a very imprecise and ineffective way to govern because we then need disentangle all of the pieces, some of which are good, some of which are bad. I want to focus on some of the pieces of this.
I want to talk about the international transfer of offenders provision of the bill.
For many years, Canada has had a provision whereby Canadians who are convicted abroad have the opportunity to apply to serve their sentence in Canada. This is not done just because they want to. The host jurisdiction must agree, Canada must agree and the offender must agree.
There are criteria and the criteria are that they must satisfy the Canadian authorities that they are not able to access proper rehabilitation services in the country of origin, sometimes because no English or French is spoken, sometimes because there is no rehabilitation programs and sometimes if there is particularly compelling humanitarian and compassionate grounds. We all remember the fellow who was convicted with Conrad Black, his compatriot, who successfully applied and came back to Canada.
There is another important reason that the bill is important for public safety. If a Canadian in the United States finishes his or her sentence, the second after that sentence is completed the individual is deported back to Canada. The individual comes into our country and we have no record of him or her coming and we have no probation and no parole. We do not even know that the individual is in our community.
If the person is actually transferred back to Canada, however, and serves his or her sentence in Canada, we have a record of the sentence and we often will have parole conditions so that when the individual is released from jail we can impose conditions and monitor his or her re-entry into Canadian society. It is actually better for public safety and community safety to have this program.
This bill essentially would gut that program. It would allow the minister to have virtually unparalleled discretion to refuse such a request without any real kind of review. That is not good legislation.
I want to talk briefly about the pardon system.
The New Democrats, not last June but the one before, worked with the government to toughen our pardon system. We are the ones who proposed that we give the National Parole Board the power to deny a pardon in any case in which the administration of justice would be brought into disrepute. We added the provision that someone convicted of manslaughter would be prohibited from obtaining a pardon for 10 years whereas it was 5 years before.
Those are the provisions that would prevent Karla Homolka from getting a pardon, which, under the Conservative government's watch, was going to happen unless we did something. The New Democrats worked with the government to ensure that did not happen.
The government has now come forward with further pardon provisions that are simply unjustifiable. It wants to deny the ability of anybody with more than three convictions from ever in their entire life qualifying for a pardon. We heard evidence before our public safety committee from people in that situation, people who had four convictions or ten. We heard from one who had 26 convictions, and it sounded really bad.
The person with 26 convictions had a constructive story. He was a young executive who was recently married and bought a house and his wife developed leukemia and died. He went into depression and he started selling steroids for six months. Over the course of those six months, he engaged in selling steroids over the Internet. When he was convicted, he pled guilty. For every one transaction involving the sale of steroids, he had multiple convictions: possession, trafficking and there were offences because he was selling across the border. He is now an executive with Corus media. He appeared before our committee as a bright, rehabilitated, productive member of our society. This is the kind of person who would be prevented from getting a pardon under this legislation.
The “three strikes and you're out” approach that has been prevalent in places like California are being repealed in those jurisdictions because they have found that it has put a straitjacket on their justice system. That is not effective and it does not result in better community safety. It is also expensive.
The New Democrats are opposed to this because we want to create effective, strong, rational, fact-based policy that will likely result in safer communities, which, as I said at the beginning of my speech, is the goal of everybody in the House.
I would urge the government to listen to what the experts say, listen to what people across the justice system have to say, and not pursue a blind, ideological approach because it may be good wedge policies, but to actually work together with all members of the House to craft good policy to make our communities and our country safer for everyone.