Statement made on 01 March 2012 by Senator Terry Mercer
Hon. Terry M. Mercer:
Honourable senators, it is usually a pleasure to rise here in the Senate to speak on legislation — usually. However, today I feel so very disappointed with the lack of logic the government is showing in carrying forward with this flawed piece of legislation. I am also embarrassed for seven of our colleagues appointed by Mr. Harper who have just recently joined us in this chamber. They are now sitting here for the first time with a major piece of legislation, not having had an opportunity to hear the testimony at the committee and not having had an opportunity to hear lengthy debate and the messages from both sides. However, they will be asked — and probably will because they are members of the caucus — to vote on this legislation. It is being carried forward.
Despite the countless numbers of experts who have told us that this bill is flawed, despite the number of times we have tried to make the bill better by offering amendments to it based on evidence we heard from those experts, and despite the thousands of emails I have received from Canadians who do not agree with the bill and do not agree with the fear mongering tactics of the government, the Harper government wants to spend untold billions of dollars on a backwards crime agenda that flies in the face of fact and evidence. The government's attitude towards crime fails to understand the connection between the challenges of addiction and mental health and crime and fails to understand that youth cannot be treated the same as adults. It also clearly disadvantages the most vulnerable members of our society, including Canada's Aboriginal population.
We all know that crime rates in Canada have been falling for the past 20 years, but apparently facts and evidence do not matter to the government. As a matter of fact, the Minister of Public Safety even said that he did not care about statistics. In a quote from an appearance before the Legal Committee on February 1, he said:
I do not care whether the statistics demonstrate that crime is down 5 per cent or 3 per cent or 1 per cent or up 10 per cent; I am focused on danger, and that is what the legislation is focused on as well.
Honourable senators, if the evidence is that crime rates are indeed falling and we already have stringent laws in areas such as child safety, for example, why the need for some of the sections of this bill?
On February 8, Mr. Dan MacRury of the Canadian Bar Association stated as follows:
What we say to society, as the Supreme Court of Canada has, our Supreme Court has the toughest child pornography laws probably in the world, tougher than the United States.
He goes on to say:
I respectfully submit that we should probably start getting out there and say we do have strong laws, because we do. That is the difference. There is misinformation out there that somehow we are not standing up for children. I can tell you that we are.
If there is a need to enhance laws to protect our children, then we are all for it. However, that need must be based on evidence that it is actually required. If it is not, then why are we doing it?
Honourable senators, while I cannot get into the ramifications of this bill in its entirety, as it is so large, I would like to touch on how the bill affects our youth.
We have all heard that as a result of this bill, many young people have the potential to be thrown in jail for smoking a joint or growing a marijuana plant. I think perhaps some people in this room might have been guilty of that at some point. The government insists this is not the case and that their intent is to go after the large grow ops and drug traffickers, yet the bill talks about the minimum number of plants being six. Does this sound like a major grow op to you? Perhaps we should ask Senator White, who would know better than most of us in here.
On February 2, 2012, the Canadian Police Association told the Legal Committee:
Notwithstanding that, coming back to my earlier response, from a capacity perspective I do not remember the last time a Vancouver police drug squad member sought a warrant or executed a warrant on a grow op with six plants. We target organized crime groups, large grow ops, hundreds of plants, typically. Even if you wanted to follow the letter of the law in terms of where the line is, we would not have the capacity to do that anywhere in this country.
Not only is it preposterous to spend that amount of police resources going after someone who wants to grow six pot plants, it is simply not possible, yet that is the provision in this bill.
We must have confidence in our police force and in our justice system in order to ensure public safety, but this bill really does nothing to accomplish that in several areas.
With respect to mandatory minimums, for example, on February 22, former justice Mr. Justice Merlin Nunn told the Legal Committee:
I think you have to have confidence in your courts and your justices that they will appropriately sentence the person who is before them. Two people can commit the same offence and they may have vastly different situations and may deserve, perhaps, vastly different sentences.
He went on to say:
Look at the one in the papers in the last while, the kid who had the gun and had a picture of himself in his shorts in the mirror pointing the gun. The police happened to come in for some other reason and they saw him and he was charged. The minimum sentence is three years. One judge said this is a situation where a minimum sentence should not apply: It would be cruel and unusual punishment. It is not the kind of a situation that the intention of the act ever was to get at, but I would not want to be that fellow.
Honourable senators, we have all been young. We have all done foolish things from time to time when we were growing up. Does this young man deserve to go to jail for three years? While I am neither a judge nor a lawyer, it seems to me that wasting countless dollars on incarcerating this youth is foolish, to say the least.
What is needed is a balanced approach to the justice system. I read a very interesting submission to the Legal Committee from Professors Corrado and Peters from Simon Fraser University, and I quote:
Our main concern is that these proposed changes to the Youth Criminal Justice Act (YCJA) will increase the number of young offenders sentenced to longer custody sentences without considering several critical issues identified in Canadian research and research in other countries concerning several negative impacts that custody can have on incarcerating young offenders.
They went on to say:
The best response is becoming involved early and following the youth through development, offering support along the way. Without the programming, serious violent and mentally disordered young offenders will continue to cycle through the youth system and eventually find themselves in the adult system.
I entirely agree with that.
Honourable senators, the ramifications of these policies in Bill C-10 will impose an extreme financial burden on the provinces that will be saddled with more inmates and stripped of any judicial discretion. All of us in this room come from provinces that are suffering from fiscal problems. I know in my province we are worried about the cutbacks that are already starting to happen in our schools and our hospitals, and now they will have this extra burden of implementing the cost of Bill C-10.
The Parliamentary Budget Officer estimates the cost of only a few of these measures to be over $13 billion, but the government has never produced a credible estimate and will not tell Canadians how much this will cost. After this bill is passed, it will be like getting that awful Visa bill after Christmas — it will be a surprise for everybody.
A witness from the Canadian Police Association on February 2 told the Legal Committee:
. . . I would like all honourable senators to be aware that police budgets across Canada are, in many circumstances, already close to the breaking point.
Again, I am sure Senator White could help us out with this.
The witness went on to say:
In order to keep our communities safe, we require both the tools and the resources necessary to avoid the kind of service cuts that would put the gains we have made at unnecessary risk.
On behalf of my members, let me be clear that this legislation represents part of the cost of doing business for law enforcement. We hope that the federal government and their provincial partners can quickly come to an agreement on how to best address the funding concerns without delay.
They are telling us, if we are going to do this, then we need a lot more money and we need to get a lot more money into the system.
Who is going to pay for the changes Bill C-10 is making? Canadians.
[each senator has 10 minutes for debate; Senator Mercer's time has expired]
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