Ms. Shaughnessy Cohen (Windsor—St. Clair, Lib.)
Madam Speaker, the self-righteous prattle is certainly coming hard and strong from the other side. I wonder if the last speaker and the other speakers from the Reform Party on this debate today have ever heard of the Constitution or the charter of rights and freedoms because there is a balance that has to be struck here.
We have struck this balance before. Recently we struck a balance with Bill C-68, which was upheld today by the Alberta Court of Appeal, in spite of Reformers telling us last week, loud and strong, that they thought it was going to fail.
This government respects the constitutional balance that has been created in this country between parliament and the courts, and it respects the fact that the charter of rights and freedoms exists to protect all Canadians, including Canadians who are accused of crimes but who have not yet been proven guilty.
This balance is seen in Bill C-3. While the debate on Bill C-3 has interested me, I must say it is about time that we see an end to it. It is time to bring this debate to close. It is time that we move to make this bill law. We know that Bill C-3 will place Canada at the forefront in the use of DNA technology in criminal investigations in the world.
Canada will become one of only a handful of countries to have a DNA data bank. We know that once that bank is in place it is going to be a major milestone in policing technology and investigative procedures.
Public safety is a priority for this government, but public safety and privacy rights have to be balanced, understood and seen to be in sync with one another. To that end, Bill C-3 is an important part of our commitment to Canadians. It is a major achievement, a significant part of our government's safer communities agenda, and safer communities, after all, are what all Canadians want.
Canadians want the police to be able to use a tool like the DNA data bank to help ensure that safe communities stay that way. However, Canadians do not want to give police powers that violate their rights to privacy and their rights pursuant to our Constitution.
The intention of this legislation is to create an effective law enforcement tool, a tool that will stand the test of time. I believe that Bill C-3, as written today, will do just that. I also believe that legislation of this kind needed to be developed very carefully and was developed very carefully. It was also studied very carefully in the justice committee last term.
It is my view that Bill C-3 balances the needs of Canadians who want public safety as their top priority with the need to take into consideration the privacy rights that Canadians value.
Criminal penalties have been included as a safeguard for any misuse or abuse of this data information bank and I do not think the Reform Party is objecting to that. However, in addition to that, the bill was drafted in accordance with Canada's Constitution. It has been drafted to ensure that the rights of all Canadians will not be infringed. It upholds one of the primary considerations in our legal system, one which I think the rhetoric today has left behind, and that is that an accused has the right to be presumed innocent and to be protected from unreasonable search and seizure.
Bill C-3 reflects the views of the highest court in the land which has said that the taking of DNA samples constitutes a search and seizure that requires judicial authorization. We see this in the most straightforward searches that police now conduct of homes or offices. Even for those, police must first get a warrant to search.
When asked for a bodily sample to be taken from an individual person, the importance of the court's authorization cannot be understated. A search of a person's bodily substances needs to be taken more seriously than the search of a home or an office because it involves bodily integrity and it undermines human dignity.
The supreme court has made that clear. Therefore, taking a DNA sample from a person for investigative purposes clearly demands a high standard of justification.
DNA samples taken from every suspect without a warrant, as the opposition would suggest, no matter how minor the offence not only would waste valuable law enforcement time and resources, but also would not meet the standards that have been clarified by our courts. We cannot forget the fact that police can already take a DNA sample from a person at the time of arrest or charge so long as they obtain a warrant to do so. Reform does not raise this because it does not fit its assault on the government.
The fact of the matter is that that DNA warrant legislation came in in the last parliament. It has been used very successfully in a wide range of cases. Warrants have been given upon the right grounds being ready.
The Criminal Code already provides a way of allowing police to obtain a DNA sample from a person they suspect of having committed a very serious offence, by using a DNA warrant. This provision is consistent with the charter, giving the police the assurance that their case will not later be thrown out of court. It gives individuals the assurance that indeed it is taken very seriously by police when they are about to invade someone's privacy.
Our colleagues are obviously overlooking the fact that DNA warrant legislation has been in place for three years. They are ignoring the fact that the Supreme Court of Canada has commended that legislation.
DNA warrants are well used by police. They have been helping investigations tremendously. They have been used to eliminate suspects and secure convictions. They have been instrumental in obtaining guilty pleas, thereby sparing victims the trauma of testifying. They have been cost effective because they have helped to reduce overall court costs.
The DNA warrant legislation has also survived all constitutional challenges to date. It has survived those challenges because the legislation provides that judicial authorization be obtained for the collection of DNA samples.
There is no doubt that over the past few years we have made enormous progress in our efforts to contribute to a safe, just and peaceful society. The addition of forensic DNA analysis and the ability to store DNA profiles will help us target those who commit the most serious of crimes and hold them accountable.
Canadians can continue to enjoy the safety of their streets and have a sense of security knowing that police forces across the country have access to some of the most sophisticated tools worldwide, but have restraints on their actions so that they cannot violate the privacy of individuals.
I urge all members of the House to support Bill C-3 so that we can proceed to create Canada's first national DNA data bank.
Topic: Government Orders
Subtopic: Dna Identification Act