Speech on Omnibus Crime Bill (C-10)

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to the omnibus crime bill, Bill C-10, Safe Streets and Communities Act. I support the sections of the bill that aim to protect children from dangerous sexual predators.

In fact, I have introduced legislation myself, Bill C-213, that makes it an offence for an adult to communicate with a minor by any electronic means. This bill would close a loophole in the Criminal Code that allows sexual predators to communicate with children by any electronic devices such as cellular phones or even the social media. This legislation would give more tools to the courts to address the issues of child luring and abuse.

These changes to the Criminal Code are long overdue. This legislation was first introduced in 2008 by my predecessor Dawn Black. I brought forward this legislation when I was first elected and I recently reintroduced it in this session. The government has not addressed this loophole in the Criminal Code for years now. The Conservatives want to use it as window dressing for building mega prisons.

The world has changed in three and a half years, with cellphone and Internet use exploding. During these years, the government has left children unprotected. The government should have taken swift action and moved on this bill but has instead included it in a highly controversial omnibus bill which has many problems associated with it.

The people of New Westminster, Coquitlam and Port Moody want effective public safety policies from the government. Coquitlam has one of the lowest police-to-population ratios in British Columbia. The police are constantly being asked to do more with less and this crime omnibus bill will only exacerbate the problem.

If the government were serious about protecting neighbourhoods, then it would ensure that communities like Coquitlam have adequate funding for the RCMP. The federal government has yet to deliver on its 2006 commitment to fund 2,500 new RCMP officers and to sit down with municipalities to review their community policing needs.

I believe we need to focus on crime prevention. My riding has experienced gang violence, a prevalent issue in the lower mainland. We need to increase funding for youth gang prevention programs as well as the number of police officers on the street. We need to prevent kids from getting involved with gangs to begin with.

In my riding we have a very successful youth restorative justice program. One organization, Communities Embracing Restorative Action, has been working in my riding since 1999. It aims to provide a just and meaningful response to crime, rehabilitate people who commit crime and to engage the community. The organization also offers preventive programs, running an empowering youth program in local schools. The program is aimed at crime prevention to give young people tools and information before crime emerges, and to build strong and inclusive relationships at an early age. The program has grown to be successful and is an excellent alternative for working with our youth.

We also need to increase support to those suffering from drug addiction and mental health problems. This legislation would increase the overrepresentation of offenders with mental health and addiction problems in our prison system. Our prison system is already strained for resources and resource programs. Currently, only one in five inmates has access to programs for anger management and substance abuse. How will the prison system cope with an influx of inmates needing this treatment?

This is one of the key problems with this crime omnibus bill. It downloads an extra cost and burden to provincial and territorial governments. To date, there has been no analysis nor consultation related to the increased costs for enforcement and prosecution which will be downloaded onto the provinces and territories.

Paula Mallea from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives states:

The cost of the [government's] crime agenda will be colossal, and a large part of it (some say most) will be borne by the provinces, who are responsible for implementing whatever the feds pass. So provinces and territories (many of them in elections as we speak) will be expected to pay for additional courts, clerks, prisons, Crown Attorneys, judges, sheriffs, court reporters and so on.

In British Columbia, our court system is already strained. Our prisons are already overcrowded. According to the B.C. government employees' union that represents prison guards in British Columbia, says jails in the province are at 150% to 200% in overcrowded conditions. Also, understaffing and overcrowding is responsible for an increase in attacks on prison guards. The province of British Columbia closed nine prisons in 2003 and made cutbacks to the corrections system.

How are the provinces and territories to deal with an influx of prisoners who are sent to jail on mandatory minimums?

Growing even six marijuana plants would trigger an automatic six month sentence with an extra three months if it is done in a rental unit, or is deemed a public safety hazard. According to Neil Boyd, a criminologist at the Simon Fraser University, this legislation could increase the proportion of marijuana criminals in B.C. jails from less than 5% to around 30%.

Has the government taken this into account? Is this the best use of our resources? Has this been fully costed? Unfortunately, I think the answer is no.

One of the key concerns with this bill is the cost. When the Conservative government came to power in 2006, the federal corrections system cost nearly $1.6 billion a year. By 2013-14, according to the department's own projections, the cost of our federal penitentiary system will have increased to $3.147 billion. In 2010-11, more than $517 million will be spent on prison construction. According to the Parliamentary Budget Officer, the total annual cost per prison cell is about $260,000, while a new high security cell amounts to about $600,000.

Aside from the cost associated with actually building prisons, the cost to incarcerate inmates is high. The average cost for a female inmate is about $343,000 per year. For a male inmate in maximum security the cost is $223,000 while medium security is $141,000 year. Even while out on parole the average cost per inmate is $39,084 per year.

The crime rate continues to decline. The crime severity index, which measures the seriousness of crime, also dropped to its lowest point since the measure became available in 1998. So why is the government putting forward such costly legislation when crime rates continue to drop? Why is the government pursuing tough on crime policies that have failed so miserably in other jurisdictions such as the United States?

The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world. Much of this is the result of mandatory minimums and the so-called war on drugs. It has not made the United States a safer place. In fact, most evidence indicates that it has not deterred crime and could even lead to less safe conditions in prisons and in communities.

Just as the costs are expected to be a large burden on our provinces and territories, the costs have proven to be crippling for the states. For example, Texas has recently moved away from using mandatory minimums because the costs to the state were too high.

The bill is not based on evidence. The government has failed to produce information that its legislation to impose mandatory minimums and lengthen sentences would have any deterrence on crime. The Minister of Justice the other day is quoted as saying, “We're not governing on the basis of the latest statistics”.

It has been shown time and again that the government fails to understand the importance of statistics, facts and science. To put forward such costly legislation without having statistics to back it up is inappropriate. To put forward legislation based on failed U.S. policies is shortsighted. We need to be moving forward not backward.

Mandatory minimums remove judicial discretion and this is highly problematic. In some cases, it could lead to judges giving lesser sentences then they otherwise would because they need to rely solely on legislation for sentencing.

According to the Canadian Bar Association, there are concerns with several aspects of the government's proposed omnibus crime bill, including mandatory minimum sentences, an overreliance on incarceration, constraints on judicial discretion to ensure a fair result in each case, and the bill's impact on specific already disadvantaged groups.

While the bill has some parts that I am in favour of, it is only on a case-by-case basis.

My concern is that the government has mixed good legislation in with bad and plans to ram it through all at once. It is ineffective and expensive. I cannot support the bill as it stands.