Hon. Lorne Nystrom (Regina—Qu'Appelle, NDP)
Mr. Speaker, we in the NDP support Bill C-35 being sent to committee. I assume, like everyone else, that the Prime Minister will probably drop the writ for an election campaign very shortly and this debate will not continue until the fall sitting of the next Parliament.
However, I do want to make a few comments on the substance of the bill even though the motion before us today is to refer it to the standing committee for greater study. That is important because it will give the committee a chance to call in some expert witnesses. It will also give the committee a chance to see whether or not it is a useful bill for the prevention of crime and for the common good of the people of this country.
The bill itself would add certain criminal offences relating to criminal harassment to the list of designated offences to which a DNA data bank order can be made. In other words, the police can make a DNA data bank order for offences that are not now available for DNA orders. In principle, that is a good thing to do.
Bill C-35 would permit a data bank order to be made against a person who has committed an offence but found not criminally responsible on account of a mental disorder. If someone with a mental disorder is found not criminally responsible, the police can apply for a data bank order to be made against that individual.
Bill C-35 would expand the list of sexual offences under the retroactive scheme for persons prior to June 30, 2000 by adding historical sexual offences like indecent assault and committing a sexual offence, and the offence of break and enter.
A new class of offender would be added to the list of offenders who may be candidates for the retroactive scheme, for example, those who have committed one murder and one sexual assault at separate times.
The legislation would create the means to compel an offender to appear at a certain time and place to provide a sample of DNA evidence. Bill C-35 would create a procedure for a review of DNA data bank orders that appear to have been made for a non-designated offence and the destruction of samples taken from those offences.
Those are five examples of different things Bill C-35 would do to change the law. The NDP certainly supports the bill being referred to committee. In principle, it looks like we are going in the right direction. On behalf of the New Democratic Party of Canada, I want to reserve our final position on this legislation until we have had a chance to examine witnesses, study it further, and look at possible amendments.
Our party does have some concerns about any changes made to criminal law, particularly when it comes to something like DNA and fingerprinting. We are concerned about an individual's right to privacy. We want to ensure that an individual's privacy is not going to be violated by the suggested changes. We are also concerned about the individual's security. We want to ensure that there will be no violation of fundamental rights that are guaranteed under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
In principle, many positive things appear to be happening with the bill in terms of increasing the effectiveness of DNA samples as an investigative tool to be used by the police. Providing it is not a violation of people's security or an infringement on their civil liberties, it is certainly a step in the right direction.
The potential of DNA evidence is enormous. It has great power toward solving crimes, and ensuring that the guilty are convicted and the innocent are exonerated. It is one of the miracles of modern justice. We must ensure however that DNA evidence is accurate and is gathered without infringement on the rights of all Canadians to be free of unreasonable search and seizure. Bill C-35 should be sent to committee for further study.
I want to make one comment on the miracle of DNA evidence. It was brought home very clearly to a lot of us in my Province of Saskatchewan a few years ago. I am referring to the case of David Milgaard.
David Milgaard was convicted for a 1969 murder of a young Saskatoon nurse named Gail Miller. My recollection is that he spent 22 to 23 years in prison for a crime which was later proven he did not commit. David Milgaard might be still in prison had it not been for DNA evidence and DNA technology 10 or so years ago that proved that he was not the person who committed this gruesome and unfortunate act of murder. Someone else is now serving time, having been convicted for the murder of Gail Miller.
This is something that is a miracle of modern technology in terms of convicting those who should be convicted and ensuring that those who are innocent are not wrongfully convicted.
Over the sweep of history in our country, and indeed around the world, there have been many people who have been wrongfully convicted. There have been many cases in this country. I think of the Marshall case and many other cases that I do not want to get into at this particular time.
However, David Milgaard stands as a very good example of this. I commend the courage of his mother, Joyce Milgaard, for the fight to free her son. They came from rural Saskatchewan and one time lived in the Town of Langenburg which was part of my former riding of Yorkton--Melville. David Milgaard then moved around after that to Regina and other parts of Saskatchewan. This is a good example where DNA evidence has freed an innocent man and helped convict a guilty man of a murder.
We certainly support the reference of the bill to committee. The committee will have hearings and cross examine witnesses. I assume we will be making some amendments, after we hear the expert witnesses, and come out of this with something that is positive for the protection of Canadian society in order to bring individuals to justice, convict those who have done wrong, and ensure those who are innocent are not falsely convicted.
Subtopic: Criminal Code