moved that Bill C-48, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (bail reform), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill C-48.
As this is my first time rising in this chamber as Minister of Justice and Attorney General, I want to first thank the Prime Minister for placing his confidence in me and appointing me to this position. I want to thank the constituents of Parkdale—High Park for their faith in me over the past three elections. I look forward to continuing to earn their support in this new role. I also want to thank my parents and my sister for always empowering me to dream, and I want to thank my wife and children for supporting me in realizing my dreams.
There is another person in this chamber without whose work I could not be engaging in this, and that is the hon. member for LaSalle—Émard—Verdun. The work he has done over the past four and a half years has made Canada a better place and the justice system more fair. His work will continue to inspire me in the work that I do in this role.
Lastly, I want to congratulate my parliamentary secretary, the member for Etobicoke—Lakeshore. I have the pleasure of having him as a riding neighbour in Toronto, and I am very excited to work with this excellent lawyer and parliamentarian to improve Canada's justice system.
Bill C-48 will strengthen Canada's bail laws to address the public's concerns relating to repeat violent offending and offences involving firearms and other weapons. It is a response to direct requests we have received from provinces, territories and law enforcement.
I know that these issues are of top concern for all parties in this chamber and indeed all Canadians. I look forward to seeing everyone in this chamber, across party lines, help pass this bill quickly in order to make Canadians safer. We have heard support for this package from provincial and territorial counterparts across the country of all political stripes as well as municipal leaders, police and victim organizations.
I want to begin by expressing my sincere condolences to the families of those we have lost recently in senseless killings. My mind turns to the family of Gabriel Magalhaes who was fatally stabbed at a subway station in my very own riding of Parkdale—High Park. The country mourns with them. This violence is unacceptable and we cannot stand for it. Canadians deserve to be safe in their communities from coast to coast to coast.
As a father, I am personally concerned about crime and violence. I want to make sure that my two boys are protected, as are all Canadian families. That is one of my goals as justice minister. This bill will help advance that goal.
Our government is working to ensure that these crimes cannot be repeated, which means tackling crime as well as what causes crime. We are the party of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Canadians expect laws that both keep them safe and respect the rights that are entrenched in the charter. In Bill C-48, we have struck that important balance. This legislation recognizes the harms posed by repeat violent offenders and would improve our bail system to better reflect this reality.
I will take a moment to remind my colleagues about the values we hold on this side of the House. Public safety is paramount for our Liberal government. This means ensuring that serious crimes will always have serious consequences. It also means improving mental health supports and social services that will prevent crime in the first place and help offenders to get the support or treatment they need to reintegrate safely into communities after they have served their sentence. We believe that investing in our communities ensures safety in the long term.
I was dismayed by the comments made by the Leader of the Opposition in the spring. He would rather engage in fearmongering for political gain instead of doing what is right: coming up with real solutions. He advocates for measures that would limit Canadians' charter rights. He points fingers instead of acknowledging the root causes of crime. The Leader of the Opposition has ignored evidence; he has voted against progress. I am dismayed, but I am not surprised. The Conservative approach to criminal justice has been short-sighted. We cannot return to Harper-era policies of clogged prisons, court delays, wasted resources and increased recidivism.
However, I was heartened to hear the Leader of the Opposition, on August 18, just about a month ago, say, “I am happy to bring back Parliament today and will pass bill reform by midnight” tonight. Well, Parliament is back. We are here. I am willing to put in the work to have this bill pass by midnight tonight. I hope the Leader of the Opposition will stay true to his word and is ready to do the same along with his caucus colleagues. Premiers around the country want this. Police around the country want this. Canadians around the country want this. Let us get this done; the clock is ticking.
What are the specific measures we are speaking about in Bill C-48? According to existing Canadian law, bail can be denied in three circumstances: to ensure the attendance of the accused in court, to protect the public and to maintain public confidence in the administration of justice.
Justice ministers across Canada agree that the bail system functions properly in most cases. However, at the same time, we heard there are challenges with the bail system when it comes to repeat violent offenders. Circumstances change and our justice system should reflect those changes. We are always open to making the system better. When we see a problem, we act. That is what Bill C-48 is about.
The targeted reforms in this bill would improve bail in five regards, as follows: first, by enacting a new reverse onus for repeat violent offending involving weapons; second, by adding certain firearms offences to the provisions that would trigger a reverse onus; third, by expanding the current intimate partner violence reverse onus, fourth, by clarifying the meaning of a prohibition order for the purpose of an existing reverse onus provision; and last, by adding new considerations and requirements for courts regarding the violent history of an accused and community safety.
Let me start, first of all, with the newly proposed reverse onus. A reverse onus at bail starts with a presumption that an accused person will be detained pending trial unless they can show why they should be released. The onus is on the accused. It sends a strong message to the courts that Parliament believes bail should be harder to get when there is an increased risk to public safety or because a release in these cases would undermine confidence in the system. Importantly, the decision and the discretion to deny bail rests with the courts, which are best placed to make such determinations.
This new reverse onus would apply in the following situations: when violence was used, threatened or attempted with the use of a weapon in the commission of the offence; when the offence is punishable by a sentence of 10 or more years in prison; and when the accused has been charged with another offence that meets these criteria in the past five years.
Bill C-48 targets repeat violent offending. My provincial and territorial counterparts and the police have told us this is what we need to address. We are delivering in terms of that specific request.
The new reverse onus targets the use of dangerous weapons. What am I speaking about? I am talking about firearms, knives and bear spray, which I know has been a particularly acute problem in the prairie provinces, thus the direct ask that was made of me and my predecessor.
In the second category, we are cracking down on firearms offences. Bill C-48 would create a reverse onus for additional indictable firearms offences. When the premiers of the country came together in January and wrote to the Prime Minister, they said a reverse onus was needed on unlawful possession of a loaded or easily loaded prohibited or restricted firearm. This bill would deliver that.
On top of what they asked us for in January, we added additional provisions. Those are if one is charged with breaking and entering to steal a firearm, if one is involved in a robbery to steal a firearm and if one is charged with making an automatic firearm. In all those additional instances, the onus would be reversed, which would make bail much more difficult to receive.
Gun crime is a serious threat to public safety. We heard this from coast to coast to coast in this country. We heard about this in this chamber. We have seen too many lives lost and innocent people hurt because of guns. Our government knows when a gun is involved the risk is so much greater. That is why we are expanding the reverse onus provisions to make it harder to get bail in those circumstances.
These reforms respond directly to the calls of the 13 premiers across this country, some who share my political party stripe, many who share the Speaker's and Conservative Party's political stripe, and some who share the NPD's political stripe. What is important is it is a multipartisan approach. The reforms also reflect the perspectives of law enforcement partners to make bail more onerous for accused persons charged with serious firearms offences.
My third category is that this bill would strengthen the existing reverse onus that applies to accused persons charged with an offence involving intimate partner violence where they have a previous conviction for this type of offence. As members may recall, this particular reverse onus was enacted through former Bill C-75, which received royal assent in June 2019. It makes it more difficult for an accused person to get bail where a pattern of violence against an intimate partner is being alleged. The goal is to provide further protection to victims from the escalating nature of this type of violence. Our Liberal government, under the direct leadership of the Prime Minister, has always taken the issue of intimate partner violence seriously and will continue to protect victims of such violence.
The fourth key element of this bill is that it clarifies the meaning of a prohibition order at the bail stage.
Right now, the reverse onus applies at the bail stage when a person has allegedly committed a firearm-related offence while subject to a firearms prohibition order.
The bill clearly states that the reverse onus will also apply in cases of bail orders that carry a condition prohibiting the accused from being in possession of firearms or other weapons. This amendment serves to strengthen the existing reverse onus provision by making it clearer and easier to apply.
The final key proposal among the group of five that I mentioned at the outset relates to what considerations a court must make and take when deciding whether to release someone on bail. In 2019, the former Bill C-75 amended the Criminal Code to provide that before making a bail order, courts must consider any relevant factor, including the criminal record of the accused or whether the charges involved intimate partner violence. That very provision would now be expanded to expressly require courts to consider whether the accused's criminal record includes a history of convictions involving violence. This would help strengthen public confidence and public safety, because bail courts would now be specifically directed to consider whether the accused has any previous violent convictions and whether they represent an increased risk of reoffending even when the proposed reverse onuses do not apply.
The bail provisions would be further amended to require a court to state on the record that it considered the safety and security of the community in relation to the alleged offence. Let me repeat that: This bill, once it passes, and indeed I hope it passes today, would require a court to state on the record that it considered the safety and security of the community in relation to the alleged offence when making a bail order. That is listening to communities and responding to their needs directly through parliamentary action. It would complement the current requirement that the court consider the safety and security of any victim.
This amendment would address specific concerns I have heard from municipalities, indigenous communities, racialized communities and marginalized communities. Our collective safety matters critically in bail decisions. This is an important change. Members of small rural communities have told us that the release of an accused on bail can have significant implications for their residents. This change would require the courts to explicitly consider the wishes of those very communities.
It is our government's responsibility to ensure that legislative measures are consistent with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. I am confident that the proposed measures are compliant. More information is provided in the charter statement for this bill, which is available on the Justice Canada website.
I am deeply committed to ensuring that any measures taken in the chamber by this Parliament would not exacerbate the overrepresentation of indigenous, Black and racialized persons in our criminal justice system. We must not further marginalize and disadvantage vulnerable people, including those struggling with poverty, homelessness and mental health and substance use issues.
The government is committed to addressing systemic discrimination in Canada's criminal justice system. I believe that the approach taken in this bill, which makes narrow but important changes, is evidence of that.
The measures proposed in the bill are the result of extensive collaboration among federal, provincial and territorial governments. Members may be aware that the previous ministers of justice and of public safety convened an urgent meeting on March 10 of this year with their provincial and territorial counterparts to discuss ways to strengthen the bail system. This was a productive meeting. The ministers agreed that law reform was necessary but was only part of the solution. The provinces and territories expressed willingness to take action in various areas themselves, including improved data collection, policies, practices, training and programs in the area of bail support and bail enforcement.
I am very encouraged by the efforts by these provincial and territorial partners that are already taking place to improve the bail system in Canada. They are our partners in this issue. They will be our partners in rendering Canada more safe. For example, Ontario and Manitoba have announced commitments to enhance bail compliance measures, among other things, to increase public safety and to address concerns posed by those engaged in repeat violent offending. In British Columbia, the premier has also stepped up and made significant investments to strengthen enforcement and improve interventions in relation to repeat violent offending. I believe that any criminal law reform enacted by Parliament will be even more effective because of such actions taken by the provinces I have just listed, and I am hoping that every province follows suit.
The position I am taking and pronouncing here in the chamber, which is entrenched in Bill C-48, is backed up by law enforcement. Brian Sauvé, president of the National Police Federation, said this on this very issue:
We also see the federal government's tabling of Bill C-48 in June as a good first step, but this cannot be the only solution. Provincial and territorial governments must now look at their own justice systems and make needed improvements. Our justice system is complex with many interrelated challenges and flaws that cannot be addressed through legislation alone.
Apart from the Criminal Code reform, our government is also fighting crime through non-legislative means. For example, the Minister of Public Safety announced $390 million in funding to help fight gangs and gun crime. This kind of funding will support provincial government initiatives related to the bail system and will complement our efforts to crack down on firearms through Bill C‑21.
Ultimately, we all have a role to play in keeping our communities safe. I would be remiss not to acknowledge the dedication and service of law enforcement personnel across our country in doing exactly that: protecting the safety of our communities, sometimes jeopardizing their own personal safety in doing so.
We are pleased that the police associations across the country have come out in support of Bill C-48. This past weekend, in my very own riding of Parkdale—High Park, I hosted the Toronto chief of police, Myron Demkiw, for a festival. He personally expressed to me his hope that Bill C-48 would become law as soon as possible. When I told him it would be debated first thing on Monday, he said, “Dyakuyu”, which means “thank you” in Ukrainian.
We have also discussed bail in meetings with representatives from national indigenous organizations. Their views were and continue to be welcomed. This helps us to better understand what is needed in relation to criminal justice system reform and keeping all communities safe.
Our government takes cases of repeat violent offending and offences involving firearms or other weapons very seriously. Our goal of protecting public safety and victims plays a major role in our analysis of how the bail system operates and whether it is performing as planned.
Bill C-48 demonstrates our commitment to taking action at the federal level to strengthen the bail system in response to the challenges raised over the past several months. Provinces, territories and law enforcement have all lauded this legislation. They come from political parties of varying stripes. This is not a partisan issue. It is about safety, and it is now our turn to pass this bill swiftly.
I started off by acknowledging some people who have been important in my life, and I want to return to that message right now. I talked about my parents and my sister. When those three people and I came here from Uganda as refugees in 1952, we were fleeing the persecution of General Idi Amin. We came here for one thing above all else: safety. We came here because Canada offered that safety and the prospect of a better life. That concern remains alive and well 51 years later for me and everyone who has the ability, honour and privilege of calling this country home. We have the ability today to do something that promotes and advances safety. I hope we can all do it co-operatively and collegially, and can get this done today.