Bill C-9 (Historical)
An Act to amend the Criminal Code (conditional sentence of imprisonment)
This bill was last introduced in the 39th Parliament, 1st Session, which ended in October 2007.
Vic Toews Conservative
This bill has received Royal Assent and is now law.
- Nov. 1, 2006 Failed That Bill C-9, in Clause 1, be amended (a) by replacing lines 6 to 13 on page 1 with the following: “742.1 (1) If a person is convicted of an offence and the court imposes a sentence” (b) by adding after line 25 on page 1 the following: “(2) Despite subsection (1), the court shall not order that an offender serve the sentence in the community if the offender is convicted of any of the following offences: ( a) an offence punishable by a minimum term of imprisonment; ( b) an offence prosecuted by way of indictment for which the maximum term of imprisonment is fourteen years or more; and( c) any of the following offences, if prosecuted by way of indictment and punishable by a maximum term of imprisonment of ten years:(i) a terrorism offence, (ii) a criminal organization offence, (iii) an offence under any of the following provisions: (A) section 83.231 (hoax — terrorist activity), (B) subsection 88(1) (possession of weapon for dangerous purpose), (C) section 144 (prison breach), (D) section 160 (bestiality, compelling, in presence of or by child), (E) subsection 212(1) (procuring), (F) section 221 (causing bodily harm by criminal negligence), (G) subsection 249(3) (dangerous operation causing bodily harm), (H) subsection 252(1.2) (offence involving bodily harm), (I) subsection 255(2) (impaired driving causing bodily harm), (J) section 264 (criminal harassment), (K) section 267 (assault with a weapon or causing bodily harm), (L) section 271 (sexual assault), (M) section 279 (kidnapping, forcible confinement), (N) section 279.02 (trafficking in persons — material benefit), (O) section 281 (abduction of person under 14), (P) section 282 (abduction in contravention of custody order), (Q) section 283 (abduction), (R) paragraph 334( a) (theft),(S) subsections 342(1) and (3) (theft, forgery of credit card, unauthorized use of credit card data), (T) paragraph 348(1)( e) (breaking and entering with intent, committing offence or breaking out),(U) section 349 (being unlawfully in dwelling-house), (V) section 354 (possession of property obtained by crime), (W) section 382 (fraudulent manipulation of stock exchange transactions), (X) subsection 382.1(1) (prohibited insider trading), (Y) section 396 (offences in relation to mines), (Z) section 400 (false prospectus), (Z.1) section 403 (personation with intent), (Z.2) section 424.1 (threat against United Nations or associated personnel), (Z.3) section 435 (arson for fraudulent purpose), and (Z.4) section 465 (conspiracy), (iv) an offence under any of the following provisions of the Criminal Code, chapter C-34 of the Revised Statutes of Canada, 1970, as they read immediately before January 4, 1983: (A) section 145 (attempt to commit rape), and (B) section 156 (indecent assault on male), (v) an offence under any of the following provisions of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act:(A) section 5 (trafficking), (B) section 6 (importing and exporting), and (C) section 7 (production), (vi) an offence under any of the following provisions of the Food and Drugs Act, as they read immediately before the coming into force of section 64 of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act:(A) section 39 (trafficking in controlled drugs), (B) section 44.2 (possession of property obtained by trafficking in controlled drugs), (C) section 44.3 (laundering proceeds of trafficking in controlled drugs), (D) section 48 (trafficking in restricted drugs), (E) section 50.2 (possession of property obtained by trafficking in restricted drugs), and (F) section 50.3 (laundering proceeds of trafficking in restricted drugs), and (vii) an offence under any of the following provisions of the Narcotic Control Act, as they read immediately before the coming into force of section 64 of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act:(A) section 19.1 (possession of property obtained by certain offences), and (B) section 19.2 (laundering proceeds of certain offences).”
- June 6, 2006 Passed That the Bill be now read a second time and referred to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights.
Safe Streets and Communities Act
September 22nd, 2011 / 1:05 p.m.
Shelly Glover Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today at the second reading debate on Bill C-10, An Act to enact the Justice for Victims of Terrorism Act and to amend the State Immunity Act, the Criminal Code, the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, the Corrections and Conditional Release Act, the Youth Criminal Justice Act, the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and other Acts.
Part 2 of the bill proposes sentencing amendments to the Criminal Code and the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. Clause 34 of the bill, within part 2, proposes to restrict the availability of conditional sentences in the same manner as was advanced in former Bill C-16, which had received second reading and had been referred to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights but had not yet been studied when it died on the order paper at the dissolution of the 40th Parliament.
Conditional sentences are an appropriate sentencing tool in many cases, but not when it comes to serious property crimes and violent offences. Conditional sentences became a sentencing option with the proclamation in September 1996 of Bill C-41, chapter 22 of the Statutes of Canada, 1995. They were created in recognition that many less serious offenders who would otherwise be sentenced to custody could remain among other members of society as long as they adhered to strict and appropriate conditions.
When first introduced, conditional sentences were available if the sentence imposed was less than two years of imprisonment, the offence for which the offender was sentenced was not punishable by a mandatory minimum penalty and the court was satisfied that allowing the offender to serve the sentence of imprisonment in the community would not endanger the safety of that community.
Shortly thereafter, a requirement was added to require the court to be satisfied that sentencing the offender to a conditional sentence of imprisonment would be consistent with the fundamental purpose and principles of sentencing set out in section 718 to 718.2 of the Criminal Code.
Where a conditional sentence is imposed, the effect is that the offender serves his or her sentence in the community with conditions, and sometimes with a condition of house arrest. This new sentencing option generated considerable debate following its creation because it was available at sentencing for any offences not punishable by a minimum sentence, including serious and violent offences, provided that the accused met all the above-mentioned prerequisites. Parliament intended that conditional sentences would be available to non-dangerous offenders who would have been, before the creation of conditional sentences, sentenced to a term of incarceration of less than two years for offences with no minimum term of imprisonment.
In 2000 this debate on certain controversial cases led the Supreme Court of Canada to examine the conditional sentence regime in R. v. Proulx. The court explained that a sentencing court must first find that a sentence of imprisonment of less than two years is appropriate before examining the other prerequisites to the availability of conditional sentences.
In other words, a conditional sentence is not on an equal footing with the rest of the sentencing options available at sentencing, because the court must be of the opinion that other non-carceral sentencing options, such as a probation order or a fine, would not adequately address the seriousness of the offence and the degree of responsibility of the offender. It is only in situations in which the court is of the opinion that the term of imprisonment should not be more than two years that a conditional sentence order may be considered, if the court is also satisfied that allowing the offender to serve the sentence in a community would not endanger public safety.
Over the years there has been a loss of public confidence in the appropriateness of conditional sentence orders because of the wide array of offences that received conditional sentences of imprisonment, including offences punishable by the highest maximum in the Criminal Code.
Our government responded to these concerns by tabling Bill C-9, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (conditional sentence of imprisonment) on May 4, 2006.
Bill C-9, in its original form, proposed to eliminate conditional sentences for offences prosecuted on indictment and punishable by a maximum sentence of 10 years or more. It was, and still is, the opinion of this government that offences prosecuted on indictment and punishable by a maximum term of imprisonment of 10 years, 14 years, or life are serious offences that should never, ever, result in a conditional sentence order.
However, the scope of Bill C-9 was amended in committee to only capture offences that are punishable by a maximum sentence of 10 years or more and prosecuted on indictment, that are terrorism offences, organized crime offences, and serious personal injury offences as defined in section 752 of the Criminal Code.
The use of the term “serious personal injury offence” to restrict the availability of conditional sentences has not accomplished the objective of ensuring that conditional sentences are not available for serious crimes. In fact, this approach allows certain serious offences, punishable by a maximum of 10 years' imprisonment or more, such as robbery, to be eligible for a conditional sentence or house arrest.
As defined in section 752 of the Criminal Code, a serious personal injury offence has two components. First, it specifically includes the three general sexual assault offences in sections 271, 272 and 273 of the code. This is pretty straightforward. The second component of the serious personal injury offence does not provide the same certainty because it includes indictable offences involving the use or attempted use of violence against another person, or conduct endangering or likely to endanger the life or safety of another person, or inflicting or likely to inflict severe psychological damage on another person, and for which the offender may be sentenced to imprisonment for 10 years or more. This calls for interpretation of whether an offence endangered the life or safety of another person or was likely to do so. For some offences this will be clear, but for others it will not be clear.
This government wants to clearly indicate the offences for which a conditional sentence is never an option. This is what the relevant amendments contained in the bill before us address. Rather than leaving it to individual courts to determine whether a particular offence qualifies as a serious personal injury offence, it clearly identifies all offences which should never be eligible for a conditional sentence. It removes all of that uncertainty.
Until the coming into force of Bill C-9 on December 1, 2007, sentencing courts only interpreted “serious personal injury offence” for the purpose of determining whether the threshold for a dangerous or long-term offender application had been met. That is from part XXIV of the Criminal Code. This is because the term had been enacted and defined for the dangerous and long-term offender provisions only.
Since Bill C-9 came into force, courts have had to interpret the definition of “serious personal injury offences” in the context of conditional sentences, a context which is quite different from that for dangerous and long-term offenders. For instance, in the 2009 decision by the Alberta Court of Appeal in R. v. Ponticorvo, the court held that serious personal injury in the conditional sentence context included the use, or attempted use, of any violence and was not restricted to only the use of serious violence. In so doing, the court applied a different interpretation than it had to the same term in the dangerous offender context in R. v. Neve in 1999.
In 2010 in R. v. Lebar, the Ontario Court of Appeal confirmed this approach and concluded that for the purposes of the availability of conditional sentences, Parliament created “a divide between crimes where violence is or is not used, not between crimes of serious violence and less serious violence”. That is in paragraph 69 of the decision.
These cases illustrate there is considerable uncertainty about how the existing conditional sentence regime will be interpreted. This bill will provide the needed clarity and certainty to say which offences are not eligible for a conditional sentence. This will in turn prevent the need to wait for these issues to be finally resolved by the appellate courts, including perhaps the Supreme Court of Canada.
Another concern we have is that the definition of “serious personal injury offences” on its face does not cover most serious property crimes which could still be eligible for a conditional sentence. For instance, fraud, which is an offence punishable by a maximum sentence of 14 years, is a very serious crime that can have a devastating impact on the lives of its victims, yet, according to the definition of “serious personal injury offence”, it is still technically eligible for a conditional sentence.
I should note, however, that a recent amendment to the Criminal Code which is not yet in force provides for a mandatory sentence of two years when the value of the fraud exceeds $1 million. In those cases a conditional sentence would not be available.
In addition, the current prerequisites to the availability of a conditional sentence do not exclude drug offences, such as the production, importation and trafficking of heroin, unless they are committed as part of a criminal organization and provided that they are punishable by a maximum term of imprisonment of 10 years or more and prosecuted on indictment.
However, as hon. members well know, this bill also includes the amendments that were proposed in former Bill S-10, which also died on the order paper at the dissolution of the last Parliament. It is proposed to create mandatory minimum penalties for certain drug offences which would make them ineligible for a conditional sentence.
It is my view that the current conditional sentencing regime fails to categorically make conditional sentences ineligible for many very serious crimes. Permitting the use of conditional sentences for some offences punishable by the highest maximum available in the code sends a message that certain offences punishable by a maximum of 14 years or life are less serious than others punishable by the same maximum. This is not the message this Parliament should be sending to Canadians.
Greater clarity and consistency is needed to limit the availability of conditional sentences and to protect Canadians from serious and violent offenders. In order to address these concerns, the proposed amendments contained in this bill would retain all the existing prerequisites for conditional sentences but would make it crystal clear which offences are ineligible. Specifically, the reforms would eliminate the reference to serious personal injury offences in section 742.1 and would make all offences punishable by 14 years or life ineligible for a conditional sentence.
This would, for instance, make the offences of fraud, robbery and many other crimes clearly ineligible for a conditional sentence. It would also make offences prosecuted on indictment and punishable by a maximum term of imprisonment of 10 years ineligible for a conditional sentence if they: result in bodily harm; involve the import or export, trafficking and production of drugs; or involve the use of a weapon. It is the opinion of the government that where these circumstances are present, there is a need to emphasize the sentencing objectives of denunciation and deterrence and therefore eliminate the possibility of a conditional sentence.
In order to ensure that all serious crimes are caught, this bill also proposes a list of 11 specific offences prosecuted on indictment and punishable by a maximum sentence of 10 years that would be ineligible for a conditional sentence. These offences are: prison breach, criminal harassment, sexual assault, kidnapping, trafficking in persons, abduction of persons under the age of 14 years, motor vehicle theft, theft over $5,000, breaking and entering a place other than a dwelling house, being unlawfully in a dwelling house, and arson for fraudulent purposes.
Some hon. members might notice there are three differences from the list that was contained in Bill C-16.
First, the offence of luring a child was taken out of the list of offences punishable by 10 years' imprisonment on indictment because clause 22 of the bill proposes a mandatory minimum penalty of one year on indictment and 90 days on summary conviction. Therefore, this offence would be ineligible for a conditional sentence.
The second change was the addition of a new motor vehicle theft offence described at section 333.1 of the Criminal Code. This addition would ensure consistency with the restriction on the availability of conditional sentences for theft over $5,000.
Last, former Bill C-16 eliminated the possibility of house arrest for the abduction of a person under the age of 14 by a parent, guardian or person having the lawful care or charge of that person. The intention, however, was to target the abduction of a person under the age of 14 by a stranger. This has been rectified in the bill by replacing the reference to section 283 by a reference to section 281 in the list of offences punishable by a maximum sentence of 10 years' imprisonment and prosecuted on indictment that are ineligible for a conditional sentence.
This government is committed to ensuring that conditional sentences are used the way they were originally intended to be used, and that is for less serious offences. I am confident the more appropriate use of conditional sentence orders will strengthen public confidence in the sanction and administration of justice.
I am the chair of the Conservative Party's law enforcement officers caucus, which is made up of 11 people from both the House of Commons and the Senate who have previous experience in police investigations, in corrections and in other law enforcement agencies. We stand together to support this bill, because we have seen first hand how detrimental these conditional sentences and many of the other aspects of the bill have been to our communities. We have seen the victims of these offences suffer terribly. We have been at the front line to say that we are sorry the system failed them.
We will not stand by and allow the system to continue to fail them. We are the police officers, the corrections officers and the law enforcement officers in this House. They do not exist in any other party. We stand together to support this bill.
I would ask, in fact on behalf of victims I would beg, members of the opposition to please support this bill to make sure that our streets and communities are safe. This is imperative to continue to live in the most incredible country in the world.
Mr. Speaker, I am happy to answer questions from members across the way, and I would implore them to think about the victims as they ask their questions.
Safe Streets and Communities Act
September 21st, 2011 / 5:40 p.m.
Robert Goguen Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice
Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to rise here today to speak at second reading of Bill C-10, the Safe Streets and Communities Act.
As many of my colleagues know, this government committed to introducing once again—yes, once again—any law and order bills that died on the order paper at the dissolution of the 40th Parliament.
The proposed changes aim, for example, to protect children from sexual crimes, to clarify ineligibility for conditional sentences and pardons, and to protect other vulnerable members of our society.
With all that in mind, the bill before us constitutes a comprehensive bill incorporating all the changes previously proposed in nine separate bills introduced during the previous parliament.
The first part of the bill—clauses 2 to 9—contains the changes suggested in the former Bill S-7, the Justice for Victims of Terrorism Act.
Part 2 contains clauses 10 to 51 of the bill, which include the amendments found in former bills C-54, the Protecting Children from Sexual Predators Act, which was designed to protect children from sexual predators and certain sexual offences; C-16 , the Ending House Arrest for Property and Other Serious Crimes by Serious and Violent Offenders Act, intended to limit the use of conditional sentences; and S-10, the Penalties for Organized Drug Crime Act, to increase sentences for serious drug-related offences.
Part 3—clauses 52 to 166—includes measures to increase the accountability of offenders, eliminate pardons for serious crimes and modify the factors considered in the international transfer of Canadian offenders. These amendments were contained in former bills C-39, the Ending Early Release for Criminals and Increasing Offender Accountability Act; C-23B, the Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes Act; C-59, the Abolition of Early Parole Act; and C-5, the Keeping Canadians Safe (International Transfer of Offenders) Act.
Part 4 of the bill—clauses 167 to 204—amends the Youth Criminal Justice Act to better protect Canadians against violent young offenders. These amendments were included in former Bill C-4 , Sébastien's Law (Protecting the Public from Violent Young Offenders).
The last part of the bill—clauses 205 to 207—proposes amendments contained in former Bill C-56, the Preventing the Trafficking, Abuse and Exploitation of Vulnerable Immigrants Act, that would amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act in order to protect workers who want to work in Canada and are at risk of being subjected to humiliating or degrading treatment, including sexual exploitation.
In particular, I would like to elaborate on clause 34 of Part 2 of the bill, which seeks to curtail the use of conditional sentences for some property crimes and other serious crimes.
As I mentioned earlier, these amendments were contained in a previous bill, Bill C-16, which died on the order paper with the dissolution of the third session of the 40th Parliament. However, there are some technical differences, which I will discuss later.
Currently, under the Criminal Code, conditional sentencing, sometimes referred to as house arrest, can be imposed when an offence is not punishable by a mandatory minimum sentence and the court hands down a prison sentence of less than two years.
In fact, since December 2007, conditional sentences have no longer been available for indictable offences with a maximum prison sentence of 10 years or more in the case of serious personal injury offences, terrorism offences or organized crime offences.
What is more, the court imposing a conditional sentence has to be satisfied that serving the sentence in the community will not jeopardize the safety of the community and that the sentence is consistent with the fundamental purpose and principles of sentencing.
It is important to note that the fundamental purpose of sentencing, as set out in section 718 of the Criminal Code, is to contribute to respect for the law and the maintenance of a just, peaceful and safe society by imposing just sanctions that have one or more of the following objectives: to denounce unlawful conduct; to deter the offender and other persons from committing offences; to separate offenders from society, where necessary; to assist in rehabilitating offenders; to provide reparations for harm done to victims or the community; and to promote a sense of responsibility in offenders.
The Criminal Code also informs us that a just sanction is a sanction that is proportionate to the gravity of the offence and the degree of responsibility of the offender. To achieve this, the courts take into consideration aggravating and mitigating factors in each case. Before describing the key aspects of the proposed changes, I want to provide some background on the provisions in the Criminal Code on conditional sentences.
Conditional sentencing came into effect in 1996, when the government wanted, among other things, to reduce excessive use of incarceration for less serious crimes. I repeat: less serious crimes. Moreover, the information document that accompanied these sentencing reforms states that the addition of conditional sentencing as a new form of sentencing means that offenders who have committed a less serious crime and who otherwise would be incarcerated can serve their sentence in the community under close supervision.
The limits that I mentioned earlier were established in order to guarantee that conditional sentences could be given only for less serious crimes, in keeping with the fundamental principles and purpose of sentencing. However, in the years following the creation of this type of sentencing, there has been a complete lack of consistency when it comes to determining when conditional sentencing is appropriate.
At the time, many court decisions gave a conditional sentence for serious and violent crimes. This contributed to the public's loss of faith in the justice system. Clearly, many people, and some provinces and territories, wondered whether the limits on conditional sentencing set out in the Criminal Code were sufficient.
In order to deal with this lack of consistency in conditional sentencing, this government introduced Bill C-9, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (conditional sentence of imprisonment) on May 4, 2006. This bill proposed the elimination of conditional sentencing for any indictable offence with a maximum prison sentence of 10 years or more. However, Bill C-9 was amended by the opposition parties to limit the ban on conditional sentencing to indictable offences with a maximum prison sentence of 10 years or more that constitute serious personal injury offences, terrorism offences or criminal organization offences. These amendments took effect on December 1, 2007.
The definition of serious personal injury was developed in the context of dangerous offenders, which is why this definition is found in part 24 of the Criminal Code. According to this definition, serious personal injury offences include any indictable offence, other than high treason, treason, first degree murder or second degree murder—punishable by at least 10 years in prison—involving the use or attempted use of violence against another person, or conduct endangering or likely to endanger the life or safety of another person or inflicting or likely to inflict severe psychological damage on another person.
The second part of this definition is clearer, as it lists sexual assault, sexual assault with a weapon and aggravated sexual assault as serious personal injury offences.
It is important to understand that the opposition parties borrowed a term straight from the dangerous offender regime in order to put limits on a sentence that should only be applied to less dangerous offenders. That created two philosophical approaches for interpreting the definition of serious personal injury in the context of conditional sentencing.
Another issue with the definition of serious personal injury is that it only targets violent offences. The definition of serious personal injury cannot ensure that a conditional sentence will not be used in the case of serious fraud or theft over $5,000.
The amendments in this bill will ensure that certain non-violent serious offences will still be treated as serious offences, thus avoiding the use of conditional sentencing. The amendments to the conditional sentencing regime proposed in this bill aim to establish clear benchmarks to allow for consistent use of conditional sentencing in order to respect Parliament's intention when it created this sentence.
That is why the bill proposes eliminating the reference to serious personal injury offences and restricting the availability of conditional sentences for all offences for which the maximum term of imprisonment is 14 years or life.
The same will apply to indictable offences punishable by a maximum of 10 years' imprisonment when they result in bodily harm, involve the import, export, trafficking or production of drugs or involve the use of weapons.
When an offence is committed under these circumstances, it is even more important to deter the offender and denounce the crime. This justifies restricting the availability of conditional sentences in such cases. It is possible however that the limits I just described do not cover all offences prosecuted by way of indictment and punishable by a maximum of 10 years in prison.
Therefore, the bill also proposes limiting the availability of conditional sentences for prison breach, criminal harassment, sexual assault, kidnapping, trafficking in persons, abduction of a person under 14, motor vehicle theft, theft over $5,000, breaking and entering a place other than a dwelling-house, being unlawfully in a dwelling-house, and arson for fraudulent purpose.
As I mentioned at the beginning of my speech, there are technical differences between the changes proposed in this bill and those contained in the former Bill C-16.
For example, Bill C-16 proposed the abolition of conditional sentencing for the offence of luring a child, described in section 172.1. This is no longer on the list of offences that would not be eligible for conditional sentencing, since article 22 of this bill proposes a minimum punishment of imprisonment for a term of one year in the case of an indictable offence, or 90 days in the case of a summary conviction.
Another change from Bill C-16 is that the list of offences that are no longer eligible for conditional sentence includes the new offence of motor vehicle theft, described in section 333.1 of the Criminal Code.
The final change would correct an error that slipped into Bill C-16. That bill did not include the offence of abduction of a person under 14 by a parent or guardian. The intent was, however, to target the offence described in section 281 of the Criminal Code, which has to do with the abduction of a person under 14 by a stranger.
I want to reassure my colleagues that even though the reference in section 742.1 to serious personal injury offences is set to be eliminated, the changes in this bill will ensure that those who are convicted of sexual assault, sexual assault with a weapon and aggravated sexual assault will not be eligible if prosecuted by way of indictment.
Note also that conditional sentencing will no longer be available for persons convicted of sexual assault against a person 16 or under since clause 25 of the bill proposes a minimum sentence of one year when the offence is prosecuted by way of indictment, and 90 days on summary conviction.
This government is addressing the concerns of Canadians who no longer want to see conditional sentences used for serious crimes, whether they are violent crimes or property crimes.
For the reasons I have just mentioned, I urge my fellow members of this House to unanimously support the proposed changes to the conditional sentencing system.
March 17th, 2011 / 10:20 a.m.
Rob Nicholson Niagara Falls, ON
Again, we don't just say it's the provinces' responsibility; these costs are in fact incurred by the provinces.
I can say with respect to youth justice, as I indicated in response to the Liberals, that approximately $350 million is for the total youth justice system. I mean, these are programs that help prevent youth getting involved with the system and help those who already are. So it cannot be attributable to this particular bill...certainly not; I mean, that's the cost, and it is incurred by the provinces.
We have not received any costing from the provinces on that. We've been looking to see if there's any information on that. We have not received that from them. So if we haven't received it from the first time we changed conditional sentencing, then I think you'll believe me when I tell you that we haven't received it for the most recent bill.
I can tell you, Mr. Chairman, that we don't bring forward these bills in a vacuum. On a regular basis I meet with my provincial counterparts, and very often I am encouraged to move forward on these. They are suggested by the provinces. Yes, there is a cost to the provinces, and again, I don't try to....
In answer to the question of the honourable member concerning conditional sentences, I won't speculate on what it costs the provinces. If they give us that information, or if they are able to determine...but again, I appreciate the challenges they have in trying to determine these.
That being said, with respect to federal costing, you have considerable information before you. We've been giving it to you over the last couple of months. As I say, I hope this is of great help to the committee, Mr. Chair, because these are the federal costs. I appreciate that the province has an important role in this--
September 22nd, 2010 / 2:45 p.m.
Vic Toews Minister of Public Safety
Mr. Speaker, to think that member would even speak about protecting victims, after that member stood up and gutted Bill C-9 on the issue of conditional sentences. Apparently, she would rather see criminals out on the street than behind bars. As for protecting law-abiding citizens, we have nothing to answer to that member for. We do not support the wasteful long gun registry. We support measures that protect victims.
May 11th, 2010 / 2:40 p.m.
Vic Toews Minister of Public Safety
Mr. Speaker, I listened to the answer that the Minister of Justice gave to the prior questioner and I agree with that position.
What I do not understand is why that individual simply refuses to stand up for the victims of white collar crime. I remember when that party voted against Bill C-9 to stop house arrest for people involved in fraud. Those members voted against it and now they have flipped sides. Why is that? Why are they not consistently on the side of victims?
May 5th, 2010 / 3:40 p.m.
Marc Lemay Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC
There are always questions about the administration of justice. How can justice be better administered? How can we ensure that dangerous criminals stay behind bars as long as possible? We will not find positive answers to these questions in Bill C-16.
For those who are watching, I should explain what we are talking about. When an individual is brought before a court for having committed an offence, a break and enter for example, the judge has a myriad of options, ranging from a simple fine to jail time. Somewhere between those two options is parole and absolute discharge.
When it comes to detention, the Conservatives need to stop kidding us. I am sure that the translators, who are wonderful, will put this correctly in English: a conditional sentence is still a sentence. And that brings us to the final types of sentences a judge can impose—a fixed term sentence or a conditional sentence. Since the Conservatives are not familiar with this, I will explain it to them.
In 1996, a number of attorneys general and ministers of justice—including the current Minister of Justice, who was in Manitoba at the time—determined that this was expensive and that some people were jailed too long for nothing.
We must understand one extremely important thing, which I will repeat because the members opposite do not understand: a conditional sentence is a sentence of imprisonment. The Conservatives are saying that offenders serve their sentence at home with their feet up doing nothing. I will come back to that. They are bending the truth, if not totally lying to the public when they say such things. It is absolutely not true.
I practised law in 1985, 1990 and 1995, and from 1996 to 2003. I argued many cases and learned a lot about the system. For example, an individual is brought before a judge, who hands down a conditional sentence. It might be a good idea for certain Conservative MPs to read and consult section 718 of the Criminal Code, which is not being amended by this bill. This section is the basis of conditional sentencing. It reads:
The fundamental purpose of sentencing is to contribute, along with crime prevention initiatives, to respect for the law and the maintenance of a just, peaceful and safe society...
These words are important and our favourite Conservatives need to understand them:
...by imposing just sanctions that have one or more of the following objectives:
(a) to denounce unlawful conduct;
(b) to deter the offender...
(c) to separate offenders from society, where necessary;
We see that the third objective does not come first.
The fourth objective is, “to assist in rehabilitating offenders”. Those are not my words. That is what it says in section 718 of the Criminal Code. Do the Conservatives want to abolish section 718 while they are at it?
Then there is the fifth objective, “to provide reparations for harm done to victims or the community”. An intelligent judge—and God knows, judges are intelligent—who has read and understood section 718 knows how to apply it. Let us be clear about something once and for all. It is a shame my Conservative friends are not listening to what I am saying.
A conditional sentence can only apply to sentences of less than two years.
Less than two years. Is that clear enough?
The very title of the bill is reprehensible. It is absurd. It does not apply to hardened criminals or those who commit dozens of break and enters. It applies to sentences of less than two years given for offences such as petty theft, auto theft and joy-rides. These sentences are usually given to young people who do not understand. They are not hardened criminals. Judges want them to consider their actions. We are not talking about thieves who commit armed robbery. That kind of crime buys a minimum of four years in jail because a weapon was involved. Anyone who uses a weapon to commit theft gets a minimum of four years in jail. Is that clear enough?
This bill is worse than backward; it drags us back nearly 30 years. The Conservatives' mentality is dangerous because it would move us backward.
That is not the worst of it though. When the Minister of Justice told the committee that this was what attorneys general wanted, committee members asked him if every attorney general in Canada agreed with him. He had the nerve to say that the majority agreed. The problem is that he did not study the issue. The Minister of Justice just came up with this bill. Initially, it was Bill C-42. Now it is Bill C-16, but it is the same bill. Only its number changed. The Conservatives did not study the issue. God knows that I can say so because I was a member of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights when we studied Bill C-42. We asked them if they had done any studies suggesting that this kind of bill is useful and necessary and that attorneys general and crown prosecutors want it. The answer was no.
So why are they introducing this type of bill? For one reason and one reason only—to respond to the Conservatives supposed target population, which is asking them to be tough on crime. The problem is that when you are tough on crime, you also need to be smart on crime. You have to understand these sentences and these demands. When the bill is studied again, they will trot out the same numbers again. Numbers can speak for themselves. Hold on tight, you are in for quite a surprise.
I will give the real numbers for those who are listening. I did not make these up; they come from the Department of Justice. Actually, they are from the Department of Public Safety, which is practically the same thing. They work hand in hand. This needs to be heard. The average annual inmate cost—I am going to take my time, Mr. Speaker; you can add this to the time I have been allotted—for persons in provincial or territorial custody—the provinces, Quebec, Yukon, Ontario—including remand or other forms of temporary detention was, listen carefully now, $52,205 in 2005-2006. I will repeat that in case the Conservatives did not understand. It cost $52,205 per year to keep someone in a provincial prison. But the best is yet to come. The cost of monitoring an offender within the community, including conditional sentences, probation, supervision, fines and release was $2,398.05 in 2006-2007. I will translate that into plain language since they did not understand. I will repeat it.
It costs $52,205 per year to keep someone in prison, while a conditional sentence costs $2,398.05 per year. The government's figures show that the recidivism rates for individuals who receive conditional sentences have significantly decreased. I am repeating that because they do not understand. The Bloc is not the one saying this.
However, if we were to adopt this bill as is tomorrow morning, we would have 13,000 to 15,000 more prisoners in our provincial detention facilities. That is many hundreds. I hope they know how to count on the other side. Let us take the lower number, 13,000, and multiply it by $52,000. I hope they know how to count. That money could be invested in rehabilitation programs and we could offer appropriate services to the people who need them.
The worst is that regions like Yukon and the Northwest Territories will pay the price because, unfortunately, those regions have a lot of crimes committed by aboriginals. There is a high rate of imprisonment among aboriginals.
In 1996, the government was smart. This government was not in power in 1996. The government implemented conditional sentences because it had thought it through and had conducted studies. It said this was about actual prison sentences. The offender must be found guilty of an offence not punishable by a minimum sentence.
It is clear that if someone commits murder, we will not waste our time. That is what the Conservatives do not understand. Conditional sentencing applies only to sentences of less than two years for which there is no mandatory minimum term of imprisonment. Possession of a firearm for dangerous purposes carries a minimum sentence of three years. That is not an eligible offence and conditional sentencing would not apply. Let us take, for example, multiple charges of impaired driving. If the court imposes a sentence of more than two years, this does not apply. It applies only to people who are imprisoned for less than two years.
Whether our Conservative friends like it or not, when we see the real figures, we can see that judges have taken their role so seriously that, since 2000, they have tightened up monitoring and imposed stricter conditions for an individual to be eligible for conditional sentencing.
When conditional sentences were first being developed, around 1996 or 1997, people were very concerned about whether an individual would respect all the conditions that were set. It was out of respect for the victims—the Conservatives like it when we tell them these things—that the criteria to qualify for a conditional sentence were tightened to include custody. It is a form of imprisonment. It might be at home or at a detention centre or reception centre. The individual's schedule is monitored. The monitoring system is very important in such cases. The individual is regularly and continuously monitored.
To demonstrate this, for days on end, many of my clients were woken up at 3 a.m. by the monitoring service that called to ensure they were at home in bed. Once that was confirmed, the service wished them a good day and hung up.
They are prohibited from having anything other than a land line phone. When cell phones came on the scene, someone could gallivant all over the place and answer as though he was at home. Now conditional sentences prohibit cell phones, because the individual must be reachable at home. So what happens when someone breaches one of the conditions of his conditional sentence? This is very important.
What the Conservatives fail to grasp is that the person is sentenced, for example, to an 18-month conditional sentence, with certain conditions that are set, approved and signed by the court. The individual who breaches the conditions is arrested and serves the rest of the sentence without being eligible for parole. What does that mean? I will explain it for my Conservative friends. Take the example of an individual who is arrested and is given an 18-month conditional sentence. If he does not respect the conditions on the first week-end, he is arrested and jailed, and has to serve the rest of his sentence without possibility of parole. I can assure you, as I have represented a number of these clients, that the court will be very reluctant and hard pressed to release them under other conditions.
I would like to end by telling my Conservative colleagues that eliminating conditional sentences for 39 offences is not the way to reduce crime. This propaganda must stop. This means one thing and we must realize it. If individuals, if the Conservatives, if the Minister of Justice wish to impose jail sentences rather than conditional sentences, it is because they do not trust the judges. That is extremely dangerous. In fact, we need to realize something: if we are unhappy with a judge's sentence, we can appeal. That is what the appeal courts are there for. The government should stop beating around the bush and just say that they do not trust them. We believe that we must trust our courts and, above all, that we must keep conditional sentencing, which is a good measure, one that works well and reduces crime.
May 5th, 2010 / 3:20 p.m.
Larry Bagnell Yukon, YT
Mr. Speaker, it gives me great pleasure again to rise on this very important bill, a bill that is important for my riding and, indeed, the justice system and all Canadians.
To briefly summarize what I was talking about in the first 13 minutes, I made the point that many Conservative MPs do not have an appropriate understanding of the effectiveness of conditional sentencing and of the success rates of conditional sentencing. As all studies have shown, it makes victims and Canadians much safer because it has a higher rate of reducing future crime. There is a lower rate of recidivism when someone is on a conditional sentence than when they go through incarceration.
People say that incarceration for a number of criminals is just a university of crime. They are with people who are not helping them get on in life or develop good methods and morals. They are teaching them ways to continue in crime, whereas conditional sentences have all sorts of conditions which many people do not understand that help rehabilitate someone and get them prepared for a meaningful life. Everyone, of course, goes back into society after their sentence is finished.
It is hard to believe that the government actually takes this whole crime agenda seriously. It talks about it all the time but it keeps shutting down Parliament and delaying its own crime bills every time it gets close to being in trouble. At the last prorogation there were 19 crime bills. A lot of those bills could have been through already. If the government were really serious about protecting Canadians it would not keep delaying its own bills on crime.
I sat on the justice committee for a number of the bills and virtually all the experts and all the witnesses we saw on a vast majority of the bills showed that a number of the provisions being put forward did not make any sense when they were tested against the reality of what worked, of what the stats showed, of what actually reduced crime and of what protected victims. Therefore, the justice committee had to make a number of modifications. The precursor to this bill, Bill C-9, we had to drastically change because it was so out of whack with reality and with what witnesses and experts said would actually protect Canadians and reduce victims.
I would agree that some violent crimes should not be eligible for conditional sentences, which is why I am willing to let the bill go to committee. However, for a number of crimes that should still be allowed, where judges should have discretion. The government has made no indication and cannot answer the question about the cost of this. There have been disastrous results from the Conservatives' other bills when someone else analyzed the costs. There is no analysis here, especially considering the provinces will have to pay for some of it and they have no idea what would need to be transferred to the provinces.
When we are in this huge deficit, the biggest in history, the Conservatives need to keep raising taxes. They raised the income trusts for elderly people in this country. EI premiums are going up. We are all paying airline taxes and huge interest rates on our income tax. Now they want to put in another bill that will cost a lot of money with no costing whatsoever and no telling the provinces what they will have to pay.
The second point I want to make relates to the appellate courts. If the lower court has a problem with a sentence that does not provide an appropriate conditional sentence, then it is appealed. The appeal courts do not have a problem interpreting the conditional sentencing. Both Ontario and Alberta Courts of Appeal agree that conditional sentences are not interpreted the same way for dangerous offenders purposes, which have totally different consequences and purposes.
Another problem with the bill is that it totally avoids the principles of sentencing and the circumstances of the crime. If the government thinks the bill will get away without a constitutional challenge, it has another think coming. If we defy major principles in our justice system, looking at the principles of sentencing, the circumstances of a particular crime by eliminating one of the options for the judge, then that certainly will be challenged at some time in the future.
The last point relates to policy development. Policy development in the federal system normally starts with experts in a department, such as the Department of Justice, who have years of experience. They find a need in society, work it up, study it around the world, talk about the problems and then they bring forward legislation.
It has been made quite clear to us in committee that on a number of justice cases the government has been working the other way around. The government just tells the bureaucrats what to do. In those cases, Department of Justice officials have not even been able to defend the legislation because they did not develop it. It is indefensible, as the experts explained to us in the justice committee.
I would like to ask Conservative members if they could give me three examples of cases where the courts gave an inappropriate sentence for a violent crime, a conditional sentence, and those sentences were not appealed. Conditional sentences have worked in thousands of cases. I would just like to have three examples of where a conditional sentence was given for a violent crime and the sentence was not appealed.
As one of my colleagues said, a lot of this bill appears to be a solution looking for a problem. I was a bit more enthusiastic about this bill at the start but when the government cannot answer any of these questions about it, it really puts the whole effort into question.
May 3rd, 2010 / 6 p.m.
Rick Casson Lethbridge, AB
Mr. Speaker, conditional sentences became a sentencing option over 13 years ago with the proclamation in September 1996 of Bill C-41, sentencing reform, chapter 22 of the Statutes of Canada, 1995. The original intention of conditional sentences was to promote the protection of the public by seeking to separate the most serious offenders from the community while less serious offenders could remain among other members of society with the effective community-based alternatives while adhering to appropriate conditions.
Conditional sentences were to provide an intermediate sentencing option between probation and incarceration to permit less serious offenders to remain in the community under strict conditions if their sentence was less than two years, the court was satisfied that allowing the offender to serve the sentence of imprisonment in the community would not endanger the safety of the community, and their offence was not punishable by a mandatory minimum term of imprisonment.
An amendment was made in 1997 to add a requirement that the court be satisfied that sentencing the offender to a conditional sentence of imprisonment would be consistent with the fundamental purpose and principles of sentencing set out in section 718 to 718.2 of the Criminal Code.
In 2000, the Supreme Court of Canada held in R. v. Proulx that a sentencing court must first find that a sentence of imprisonment of less than two years is appropriate before considering whether the sentence can be served in the community under conditional sentence order. In other words, a court must be of the opinion that a probation order and/or fine would not adequately address the seriousness of the offence and the degree of responsibility of the offender.
Second, a penitentiary sentence, a term of imprisonment of more than two years, would not be necessary to do so and a sentence of less than two years would be appropriate. Once this decision is made a court would then determine whether the sentence of imprisonment of less than two years may be served in the community, bearing in mind the other prerequisites I referred to earlier, community safety for one.
Over the years conditional sentencing decisions that appeared on their face to be questionable have contributed to a loss of public confidence in this sanction and therefore in the administration of justice.
A number of observers, including some provincial and territorial counterparts, became increasingly concerned with the wide array of offences that received conditional sentences. By the time our government took office in 2006, it had become clear to us that further limits to the availability of conditional sentences were needed. Our government responded to these concerns when it tabled Bill C-9, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (conditional sentence of imprisonment), on May 4, 2006. Bill C-9 was referred to the justice committee just one month later on June 6, 2006.
Bill C-9, in its original form, proposed to eliminate conditional sentences for offences prosecuted by indictment and punishable by a maximum sentence of 10 years or more. It was and still is the opinion of this government that offences prosecuted by indictment and punishable by a maximum sentence of imprisonment of 10 years, 14 years, or life are serious offences that should not result in a conditional sentence order. This is so even if the court ultimately finds that a sentence of less than two years is proportionate to the circumstances of the offence and the degree of responsibility of the offender.
Bill C-9 as originally drafted would have caught serious crimes such as weapons offences, offences committed against children and serious property crimes. However, opposition members thought that the scope of Bill C-9 went too far in limiting conditional sentences and amended it to only capture terrorism offences, organized crime offences and serious personal injury offences as defined in section 752 of the Criminal Code that are punishable by a maximum sentence of 10 years or more and prosecuted by indictment.
This was similar to the approach taken in Bill C-70 which the previous government had tabled in the fall of 2005, but which died on the order paper with the call of the general election later that year. The amendments to the bill created some strange results. First, the opposition amendments to Bill C-9 created a situation where offences punishable by a maximum of 14 years' imprisonment or life are not all considered to be serious crimes. I would like to remind members that these are the highest maximum available in the code.
Second, as a result of amendments to Bill C-9, offences contained in the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act are not excluded from eligibility for a conditional sentence unless they were committed as part of a criminal organization. Consequently, the production, importation and trafficking in a schedule I drug such as heroin would not be caught and would be eligible for a conditional sentence of imprisonment. However, as members of the House know, our government has proposed mandatory minimum penalties for serious drug offences. I would expect that when the legislation is enacted, as I hope will soon be the case, these offences would be ineligible for a conditional sentence.
Until the coming into force of Bill C-9 on December 1, 2007, sentencing courts had only to interpret serious personal injury offences for the purpose of determining whether the threshold for a dangerous or long-term offender application had been met, because that term only applied to the dangerous and long-term offender provisions. Since Bill C-9 came into force, courts have wrestled with the interpretation of serious personal injury offences in the context of conditional sentences.
The Alberta Court of Appeal in Ponticorvo, 2009, reviewed its decisions in Neves, 1999, where is considered the definition of serious personal injury offence in the context of dangerous offender provisions. In that context, the court concluded that section 752 required that the offence considered be objectively serious. However, in the context of conditional sentencing, that court of appeal found that the use or attempted use of violence sufficed and did not require any overlay of objective seriousness. In other words, it ruled that it should be easier for the Crown to establish that an offence is a serious personal injury offence in the context of a conditional sentence than it is in the context of a dangerous offender.
While that is an appropriate interpretation, there have been some cases that do not follow the decision of the Alberta Court of Appeal and continue to apply the guidelines developed in the context of dangerous offenders in determining whether an offence is a serious personal injury offence.
Another concern with the definition of serious personal injury offence is that serious property crime, such as fraud, could still be eligible for a conditional sentence. We are well aware of recent examples of the devastating impact of fraudulent conduct. Victims who have lost their life savings have called for strengthened sentences for those types of crimes. It is hard to disagree with their concerns, especially considering the fact that fraud, which is punishable by a maximum sentence of 14 years, would still be eligible for a conditional sentence, despite reforms enacted by Bill C-9. It is clear to me, and I suggest to many Canadians, that greater clarity and consistency is needed to eliminate the availability of conditional sentences for serious violent and serious property offences.
For these reasons, Bill C-16 proposes to remove the reference to serious personal injury offences in 742.1, to make all offences punishable by 14 years or life ineligible for a conditional sentence. This would make the offence of fraud and many other crimes ineligible for conditional sentences.
Bill C-16 would also clearly make offences prosecuted by indictment and punishable by 10 years that result in bodily harm, involve the import, export, trafficking or production of drugs or involve the use of weapons ineligible for conditional sentence.
I hope all members in the House will support the bill. It is important that this new bill comes forward to control the use of conditional sentencing.
May 3rd, 2010 / 5:45 p.m.
Kevin Sorenson Crowfoot, AB
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak in support of Bill C-16. This bill would end house arrest for property and other serious crimes by serious and violent offenders.
It is good to hear that the NDP is going to vote in favour of this to move it to committee. I am sure our committee, chaired by the member for Abbotsford, will do good work on this bill.
Bill C-16 addresses the issue of conditional sentences or house arrest as it is often described. The issue is not a new one and has been considered by this chamber in recent years. While that debate is relatively fresh in our minds, there does not seem to be an appreciation for the operation and principles of sentencing in criminal cases in Canada, and within that, the proper role for any sentencing option, including conditional sentences. This is what I will use my time to address.
It has become clear to me over the years here, as illustrated by the nature of the debate over various aspects of this government's tackling crime agenda, that the sentencing regime, while widely criticized, is understood by relatively few people.
Criticisms based upon misperceptions or misunderstandings contribute little to a serious discussion about a serious issue. In fairness, I recognize that part of this has to do with the sheer complexity of modern criminal law, which must deal with everything from single assault through complex commercial crime, all the way to terrorism and to cybercrime that uses the most advanced technologies.
Part of it has also to do with the nature of the Criminal Code sentencing regime itself, which contains a lengthy list of purposes, objectives, and principles that have often been supplemented by complex legal rulings from different levels of courts all across this country.
It is not hard to see why those who are not formally trained in law, as I am not, may find it challenging to understand immediately the specifics of particular reform proposals, such as those before the House today.
Yet, our role as lawmakers is to work through these complexities and through these challenges to ensure that we understand the current shortcomings of the law and how the proposed reforms we are discussing would effectively address those shortcomings within the overall sentencing regime.
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Lethbridge.
To really understand the current shortcomings of the conditional sentencing regime and the central problem that Bill C-16 intends to rectify, we must understand the original rationale for the creation of conditional sentences.
Shortly stated, conditional sentence is a sentence of less than two years that a judge allows offenders to serve in the community subject to a number of conditions whose breach could send them directly to prison.
I can readily acknowledge that for the average Canadian the notion of a conditional sentence seems somewhat confusing and even contradictory at times.
While the conditional sentence is a form of punishment, it is not easily categorized because it straddles the line between prison, probation, and even in some cases has the markings of the hallmarks of parole.
For instance, it is not actual jail time because if the offenders satisfy all the conditions that are imposed upon them, they will never spend a single day in prison despite the nature of the offence for which those individuals were convicted. Nor is it probation, for a probation order is typically made in the case of a suspended sentence and is enforced quite differently with greater difficulty than a conditional sentence.
As the name implies, a conditional sentence takes the form of a sentence. By the same token, a conditional sentence is not parole since the offender is not released after having served an appropriate period of time in a prison or a penitentiary under the authority of our Canadian correctional system. It is the sentencing court, not a Parole Board, that exercises the discretion to order a conditional sentence in lieu of jail time.
In hindsight, it is clear from the statements of the original sponsoring minister back in 1994, as well as from subsequent court judgments, such as the Supreme Court of Canada's decision in R. v. Proulx, that the conditional sentence was conceived as an alternative to imprisonment and as one way to reduce Canada's rate of incarceration. We heard the NDP bring that forward here this afternoon.
While this is a laudable objective, it cannot be allowed to detract from the protection of society as the guiding principle or to diminish the right of that society to denounce particularly heinous conduct and to punish those responsible for that conduct.
This brings me to the central issue that I want to raise with regard to conditional sentences. Prior to this government's most recent conditional sentencing amendments in 2006, there were four criteria for a conditional sentence order. First, the sentence had to be less than two years. Second, the person had to show that he or she was not deemed to be a danger to society or to the community. Third, there was no mandatory minimum term of imprisonment. Fourth, there had to be consistency with the fundamental purpose and principles of sentencing.
The discretion that was granted to judges by these criteria was quite wide. In fact, from the outset, critics have reasonably argued that the discretion accorded by Parliament in the early years of the conditional sentence regime itself was overly broad. For example, with regard to the first and second criteria, even now most sentences in Canada are less than two years and, among the large number of Criminal Code offences, there are still relatively few that call for mandatory minimums.
By the same token, the third criteria originally asked a sentencing judge to assess the danger of an offender to his or her community, but without offering any supporting criteria against which to make an assessment. The fourth criteria provided insufficient direction for the proper use of a conditional sentence. The purpose and principles of sentencing cover a lot of philosophical ground in that they require sentencing judges to balance denunciation, deterrence and separating an offender from society by methods of rehabilitation, restitution and the development of a sense of social responsibility by the offender. That responsibility was placed on the judiciary.
Criteria one and two illustrate what many believe was so radically wrong with the conditional sentence regime as originally enacted: the focus on the length of the sentence rather than on the nature of the offence, the character and criminal record of the offender and not so much the consequences for the victim of that criminal's action.
It was particularly notorious that the conditional sentencing regime as originally developed did not see fit to explicitly exclude particularly odious crimes such as child sex offences. In such cases, the repugnant nature of the offence, the character of the offender and the consequences for the victim should have been paramount considerations and should have automatically made such offences ineligible for conditional sentences.
It should not be surprising, therefore, that the courts had difficulty grappling with conditional sentences. This was especially so after the Supreme Court in R. v. Proulx appeared to endorse the notion that no offences were presumptively excluded from the conditional sentence regime. In fact, Proulx offered very little guidance to sentencing judges, nor did the Supreme Court itself appear to have a consistent approach to conditional sentences. Four conditional sentencing cases decided by the Supreme Court at the same time as Proulx highlighted the apparent lack of judicial consensus on these issues.
I see that my time for debate is up. I am very pleased that the government has moved forward with this. We have done this before in Bill C-9. We have done it at other times in the House. We have debated it recently in past Parliaments. I look forward to this bill being passed quickly, moved to the committee, studied, and brought back to the House. This is going to make Canada safer and a better place for all.
May 3rd, 2010 / 5:15 p.m.
Joe Comartin Windsor—Tecumseh, ON
Mr. Speaker, with regard to Bill C-16, it is important to set it in its context.
I will try to demolish the myth of the Conservatives being concerned about crime and victims in our country. I wish the person who keeps talking about the revolving door had some knowledge of it. He obviously is fully ignorant of it. The condition that will come from the bill, if it ever gets through the House and into law, will encourage repeat recidivism at a much higher rate than it if does not get through.
Let us go back to the myth. Conservatives stand in the House repeatedly, and in public even much more often, and claim to be tough on crime, but this bill is the classic example of them being not smart on crime at all, but also being highly hypocritical when they take that.
It is one of a series of bills that has not received any attention from the House and not passed through to final debate because of decisions made by the government, whether it called the election in a complete contrary theme to the legislation the Conservatives themselves had passed and which they again had promulgated as a major reform then promptly ignored and breached, but any number of crime bills some of which were in areas that did not need to be dealt with. They just get sloughed off because they call an election or they prorogue the House and we have to start all over again.
We have seen that repeatedly, literally in the range of 10 to 20 bills that are constantly being shoved backwards because the government is much more interested in its political survival than it is in dealing with those issues in our society around crime.
I will make a second point before I go specifically to Bill C-16 because Bill C-16 raises this issue. I have been saying repeatedly in the House, at every opportunity I get, that we badly need a systematic, holistic review of our Criminal Code.
We see it in the sections, and I hope, if I have enough time today, I will be able to point some of these out before I finish my speech on Bill C-16. However, we have huge contradictions in the Criminal Code, repeated contradictions, both with regard to the nature of the conduct we are trying to make a crime and with regard to sentencing.
We will see situations where I think the average Canadian would say that obviously this is the range of penalty and punishment that this crime should elicit. Then they will take another section that has more extensive penalties and punishment and the crime itself is of much less serious consequence in the eyes of the average Canadian. That is repeated over and over again. There is huge duplication in the Criminal Code.
We have been, and the government is particularly guilty of this, piecemealing amendments to the code way too long.
It is interesting, if we look at the experience in the United States and to a lesser degree in England, their approaches have been much more systematic in major reform. There are some ideas we could learn from those. I will not go on with my diatribe on that, but we badly need to do something about the Criminal Code.
Let me finish with this in this regard. One of the things where we could have done this was with the Law Commission, which was promptly done away with in the first term of the government. It was the ideal body in the country that could have initiated this. In fact, it was beginning to do some work on what was a crime, what should be a crime. It was beginning to do research on it when all of its funds were cut by the government. I think that happened in the 2007-08 budget.
Had that not happened, we might have finally seen some meaningful movement on getting that major reform to the code, which would make the job of our police officers, our prosecutors and our judiciary a lot easier than it is now.
Going to Bill C-16, to set this in context, roughly 14 years ago, September 1996, we introduced into the code the concept of conditional sentences. What conditional sentences were to do was part of the overall reform we were doing through that period of time, trying to make our criminal justice system not only more fair but more efficient, more effective. Overall we have seen that we have made some significant progress in that regard by reducing the rate of crime, particularly violent crime, in this country.
I fight oftentimes on the justice committee, as I did on the public safety committee when I was there, with my Conservative colleagues about not seeing the numbers right or numbers being manipulated, which I find frankly quite insulting to Statistics Canada, specifically Juristat that does an excellent job with the statistics. But the bottom line when we get into that debate is we cannot argue about the murder rate. In 99% of the cases there is a body or witnesses to say this person was murdered. We cannot argue about that, and the reality is that the murder rate in absolute numbers, not just in percentages but in absolute numbers, has been dropping for the last 20 to 25 years. We peaked in Canada at about 900 murders in one year. We are now down, averaging over the last few years in the range of 610 to 650. So there has been that kind of drop in murders in this country.
Over that 25 year period, our population would have gone up by 10%, 12% or 15%, so the murder rate has dropped quite dramatically. Part of that is attributable to the reforms we have carried out through this period of time, and the conditional sentences were one of those reforms. We introduced them. The concept behind them is, and this has been found all the way up to Supreme Court decisions, that they are a form of incarceration. This always gets ballyhooed by some of the pundits but mostly by the Conservative Party, but they are in fact a form of incarceration. Prisoners are in their own residences not in institutions, but under very strict conditions, and I think this is the point again that the Conservatives regularly forget, much stricter conditions than we can do under either probation or even under parole, when prisoners are coming out of a federal institution.
The other point one has to make about a conditional sentence is that it cannot be used, no matter what the charge is and what the facts are, unless the judicial officer makes the determination that the appropriate sentence would be less than two years. That is the way it has always worked since 1996, in spite of some of the amendments we made a few years ago. That is still the basic condition. Judicial officers at whatever level of court they are sitting have to hear all the facts of the crime, and the facts around sentencing, and then make a determination that if they are going to send the person to custody, to incarceration, they are going to send him or her to a provincial institution because the determination, after hearing all the facts, is that the person should be incarcerated for less than two years. No matter how severe the offence is, on its surface and after looking at all the facts, judicial officers are determining a sentence of less than two years.
Everybody in the House knows that if people are going to be sentenced to less than two years, they are going to be sentenced to a provincial institution. So the incarceration rate we are talking about, if the bill were to go through, is all going to be about individuals who would be going into provincial institutions. Those people would no longer be eligible for conditional sentence; the judge would determine they are going to be incarcerated. As is so typical of the government, no arrangements are being made with the provincial governments to pay for all those additional spaces.
I want to highlight this by pointing out that the first crime bill the Conservatives brought into the House in 2006, after they were elected, was Bill C-9 and it dealt with this issue. At that time they introduced about 40 sections of the Criminal Code that would no longer be eligible for conditional sentences.
I thought the height of hypocrisy was when they did their public relations work on this and they talked about these being serious violent crimes that were no longer going to be eligible. I have to say, and I say this with some pride on the part of myself, my party and the opposition parties, that there were four or five, maybe six, sections of the code that in fact did deal with serious violent crimes. Some were sexual assaults; some were robbery with violence; they were those types of crimes.
The opposition parties said that the government was right, that people who commit these crimes and are convicted of these crimes, even when the judge is saying they should not go to jail for more than two years, should not be eligible for conditional sentences. We agreed to that.
However approximately another 35 sections had nothing to do with violent crime. The one I always use as an example of these sections that we were not going to be able to consider conditional sentencing for was falsifying a testamentary document such as a will or trust document. That was going to be excluded from consideration of the use of conditional sentence. And we could go through the list. There were some forgery sections that are clearly nothing to do with a violent crime. At the end of the day, the opposition parties stripped that bill of those 35-odd sections, dealt with the serious ones and passed it, and it is now law.
There is one other point we have to make about Bill C-9, because to some degree, not as severely, it is going to be repeated if Bill C-16 goes through. Early on in the committee process of Bill C-9, I asked the Department of Justice to tell me and the committee how many more people were going to go into custody. At the time, and it was not much smaller then, there were about 12,000 people in custody. If Bill C-9 had gone through as originally proposed by the government, there would have been an additional 5,000 people incarcerated in our provincial institutions every year.
The point I want to make, and we are seeing this again when we see the Minister of Justice and the Minister of Public Safety come before their respective committees, is that they do not know, and if they do know, they are obfuscating what is in fact the reality. At that period of time, both those ministers were in front of the justice committee and neither one of them knew, until we dug that information out of the Department of Justice, how many people were going to be incarcerated. But they were quite prepared to go ahead and pass that kind of legislation for charges that clearly fit exactly into the rationale of why we started with conditional sentences. They were going to exclude them from use and had no idea of how many people were going to go into custody.
We are seeing the same thing repeated this time. Maybe not with the report that is going to be coming out this week from the Parliamentary Budget Office on how much it is going to cost for one of the other bills that has gone through this House and is now law, but I am still expecting the Minister of Justice to show up at the justice committee, assuming this gets there, and say to us, “Do not worry. Be happy. There is enough room in our custodial settings to take care of all the additional people who are going to end up there.”
If he says that, he is going to be saying it from a complete base of ignorance, because we know, and we heard it from my colleague from the Bloc, that in all of the provincial institutions, without exception, right across all 10 provinces and all 3 territories, their facilities are bulging.
We have an international responsibility. We have signed protocols at the international level to not double-bunk. We have signed those. That is a treaty that this country has committed itself to, and there is not one province in the country that is abiding by it.
We are double-bunking and in a lot of cases triple-bunking, and we are beginning to do it more and more in the federal institutions. Therefore, we are breaching the international commitments we made to other countries.
I want to make one more point about the use of this device, again referring to my colleague who raised the revolving door issue. It is about recidivism. The statistics show and have shown for at least the last 10 years that if someone is put under control under conditional sentencing, within the first year, since that is the comparison we are doing, there is an 11% rate of recidivism where another crime is committed. Oftentimes, I have to say, the vast majority of that 11% is not actually a new crime but a breach of the conditions the person is under. The other 89% live up to the conditions. They are law abiding and do not commit any other crimes.