Bill C-53 (Historical)
Protecting Canadians by Ending Early Release for Criminals Act
An Act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (accelerated parole review) and to make consequential amendments to other Acts
This bill was last introduced in the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session, which ended in December 2009.
Peter Van Loan Conservative
Second reading (House), as of Oct. 26, 2009
(This bill did not become law.)
This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.
This enactment amends the Corrections and Conditional Release Act to eliminate accelerated parole review and makes consequential amendments to other Acts. This enactment also makes coordinating amendments in the event that the Strengthening Canada’s Corrections System Act receives royal assent.
Abolition of Early Parole Act
February 16th, 2011 / 4:15 p.m.
Maria Mourani Ahuntsic, QC
Mr. Speaker, I am thinking of the victims of Vincent Lacroix, Earl Jones and Leon Kordzian—a fraudster who wrought havoc in my riding—as I rise today on Bill C-59, An Act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (accelerated parole review) and to make consequential amendments to other Acts.
For the past four years, members of this Parliament have talked about this provision. There is no doubt that for four years we have wanted to abolish it.
What initially surprised us—and it was not much of a surprise after all—was that the Conservatives stood in the way of the speedy passage of our bill, which sought to eliminate the one-sixth accelerated parole rule.
Let me provide a little background so that members have a better understanding of the provision we are seeking to abolish.
This mechanism, which allows for the release of inmates after they have served one-sixth of their sentence, is also known as accelerated parole review, and is already contained in sections 119(1), 125, 126 and 126(1) of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act.
Put simply, a criminal sentenced to two years or more in a federal institution may have early parole after serving one-sixth of his sentence, subject to an accelerated parole review. I want to make this very clear and I am going to come back to it later.
Under the current rules, for a first federal sentence, where an inmate has committed no violent crime involving organized crime or terrorism, no sexual crimes, nor been an accomplice to any such offences, has not been ordered to serve at least half of his sentence for a drug-related crime, and is not likely to commit a violent crime—he can commit another kind of crime, just not a violent crime—the inmate may be released. Those are the criteria in the act as it stands—criteria that we wish to abolish.
Consequently, if an inmate meets all of these criteria, he may, subject to this procedure, be released after serving one-sixth of his sentence. Under this procedure, he may even be released after serving a third of his sentence, which equates to full parole.
The public does take a very dim view of this mechanism, and I understand this perfectly. People wonder why, if a judge has sentenced someone to 13 years, the inmate is released after serving 15 months. We have seen that quite often: we saw it with Vincent Lacroix and we would have seen it with Earl Jones, but that will not be the case, I hope, because this bill will be passed. As my colleague just said, we also might have seen it in the case of certain drug traffickers who delegated the violent jobs to their foot soldiers. It brings the justice system into disrepute and makes it look rather distorted and lax. People are asking questions. I completely understand that the general public thinks it makes no sense.
Let us remember that this bill did not fall from the sky and did not just turn up overnight. I am going to give you a short timeline.
It started in July 2006 with Paul Coffin. I think the Liberals are very familiar with this guy, a player in the sponsorship scandal who was released after serving one-sixth of his 18-month sentence. We are not talking about fraud, we are talking about corruption and the sponsorship scandal. This is a far cry from Vincent Lacroix.
In October 2006, another one, Jean Brault, the founder of Groupaction and a key player in the sponsorship scandal, was released after serving six months of his 30-month sentence.
In June 2007, the Bloc Québécois proposed a justice plan, in which one of the things it called for was the repeal of this provision.
In December 2007, Vincent Lacroix was sentenced on criminal charges for the first time.
In August 2008, Jean Lafleur—that name may ring a bell with some—was released after serving seven months of his 42-month sentence. On September 14, 2009, the Bloc made its first request for unanimous consent of the House for the speedy passage of Bill C-434, An Act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (day parole—six months or one sixth of the sentence rule). As I said, the Conservatives alone opposed it, for purely partisan reasons. On February 15, 2009, Charles Guité was released on parole after serving six months of his 42-month sentence. On October 26, 2009, the Conservatives introduced Bill C-53, to abolish parole after one-sixth of a sentence, but their Prime Minister shut down Parliament, and as we know, the government’s bills died.
On March 4, 2010, we tried again. Once more we sought the consent of the House. The Liberals supported us, as they had the first time, and the NDP supported us too. Only the Conservatives did not want to hear anything about it, for purely political reasons. On June 15, 2010, they introduced Bill C-39, which is now in a committee that still has not heard witnesses. So their bill is far from passing. I would remind the House that it contains not only the repeal of accelerated parole review but all kinds of other things that will need very careful study.
On January 27, 2011, Vincent Lacroix was released after serving one-sixth of his sentence. It was the talk of all the media, a huge scandal, and I certainly agree with that. Suddenly the Conservatives woke up. I was in the House myself and saw the hon. member for Laurier—Sainte-Marie, the Bloc leader, head for the Prime Minister to discuss this and try to reach an arrangement. After much discussion, an agreement was reached. On February 10, I asked for the unanimous consent of the House to pass this bill, but the Liberals and the NDP refused, even though they had agreed in March 2010 and September 2009.
As members can appreciate, this bill did not come out of nowhere. It did not emerge out of the clear blue sky. It has taken four long years, and so far as I am concerned, the people of Quebec and Canada have finally glimpsed ultimate victory. Tonight, perhaps, they will be able to cheer that victory. People are fed up, and some of the victims appeared yesterday before the committee to tell us how their daily lives and their families had been affected and how they had suffered psychologically because of these criminals. The abolition of this provision will correct certain aberrations that people most often criticize. What they want is not necessarily tougher sentences but sentences that are actually served.
I want to give a fast overview of our committee meeting last night. It lasted four hours, including two hours of hearings and then the clause by clause study. First, we were told that the passage of this bill would not prevent criminals at very low risk of reoffending from possibly being released. However, there will be an evaluation of various crime-related factors, a real risk-assessment that is not necessarily based on the likelihood of reoffending through the commission of a violent crime. The risk assessment will focus on the actual individual in question. If he is a fraudster, for example, the likelihood that he will reoffend by committing a violent crime is low, but the likelihood of another fraud may be much greater.
We must be careful. We are saying that by eliminating this provision, we will be allowing a more comprehensive risk assessment.
I would like to give some idea of the factors that lead this kind of individual to commit crimes. This is based on the work of psychiatrist Robert Hare who wrote Snakes In Suits: When Psychopaths Go To Work. Perhaps some members are familiar with his book. He explains who these white collar criminals are.
It is very simple. There are two types of people who commit fraud. In an interview, Robert Hare once said, “For many ordinary criminals, crime is their job.” Like everyone else who gets up in the morning and goes to work, so do they. “They are professionals who understand the risks, but choose to run the risks in order to take advantage of a windfall in the end.”
Then there are others: the psychopaths. I am not talking about a psychopath with a knife hidden in the forest. That is not who I am talking about. I am not talking about psychopaths who seek out young children to sexually abuse them. I am talking about psychopaths who follow small investors to steal from them. Such people exist. These psychopaths are not the same as ordinary criminals.
Robert Hare also said, “These people are not the kind who calculate the risks and rewards. They believe they are entitled to the money they are stealing and that other human beings are objects with no feelings or rights. Professional criminals can have a conscience and feel loyalty to others, to their families, for instance. A psychopath feels no loyalty to anyone but himself.”
Earl Jones, for instance, defrauded his own daughter. What a perfect example. I could go on forever in order to prove that these people should no longer be assessed based on the risk of violent recidivism, but rather based on the risk of any recidivism. That is what this bill will do, by eliminating accelerated parole review.
Yesterday I was looking at the record of the National Parole Board decision regarding the release of Vincent Lacroix. It is very clear. The commissioner said that the assessment done by the multidisciplinary team convinced the board that this individual would not reoffend by committing a violent crime, which is true. However, what is the real analysis of the risk of a repeat offence? He is a fraudster. He is not a murderer; he is a fraudster. He is not a pedophile; he is a fraudster. What kind of crime would he commit again? A violent crime? The risk of that kind of repeat offence is very low. He will reoffend by doing what he knows best and what he considers a profession. He gets up in the morning, puts on a nice suit and defrauds seniors. Vincent Lacroix is one thing, but who would Mr. Kordzian defraud? He would defraud seniors, women who were single parents and disadvantaged people who did not speak French or English. Those are the people he would go after, and that is unacceptable.
Yesterday in committee, Mr. Zinger, the Executive Director and General Counsel for the Office of the Correctional Investigator, set the record straight, in my opinion. I asked him whether he was saying that full parole would no longer exist if the bill were passed the following morning—as I hope will be the case—and that people would serve two-thirds of their sentence. He replied that no, it was the accelerated parole review process that would be eliminated. That is clear.
Fundamentally, this accelerated process is a review on paper, based on a file, a criterion that is different from risk.
He is saying that all that will happen is that members will no longer conduct an administrative review of the case; they will have to actually evaluate the offender's risk of reoffending. The members will have to look at the person in front of them and decide whether he should be released or not. That is their job. Are the members paper pushers? No. They are there to meet these people and assess the risk along with a multidisciplinary team. It is high time this ended. They are paid well; they need to do their job. Of course, they have to be given the chance to do their job.
If the law forces them to release someone because they think that the offender, the criminal, will not reoffend by committing a violent crime, they can only do what the law gives them the authority to do. They are completely heartbroken at times because they want to keep an offender in detention, but they cannot. I would be very surprised if the person who let Vincent Lacroix out after one-sixth of his sentence really wanted to release him.
When this bill is passed, the National Parole Board will take into consideration the overall risk of reoffending in order to ensure public safety. It is true that we are not talking about serial killers, but they are still killers; they are economic predators. They destroy lives. Yesterday we heard from one of Vincent Lacroix's victims whose friends committed suicide. What is murder? Is it killing someone directly? What about murder at arm's length? Where did this idea of classifying murder come from? If my brother committed suicide tomorrow because someone ruined his life, would I be pleased to hear that that person did not kill him? What a disgrace. Incredible.
This bill brings up many emotions and we need to stay calm. With this bill, the National Parole Board will no longer be forced to release another Vincent Lacroix, and yes, I said “forced”.
I will continue to talk about what happened in committee. Ms. Campbell from the Corrections and Criminal Justice Directorate was telling us that this bill does not abolish the one-third of a sentence or day parole six months prior to one-third of a sentence. The bill serves only to remove the provision on accelerated parole review.
Since I have two minutes remaining, I would like to go directly to one of the points she raised. She said that sentences of three years or less would not really be affected by this provision. Day parole review would still be at about one-sixth of the sentence. The difference is the ability to examine the case and, in a way, assess the overall risk of recidivism.
I did a few quick calculations. I asked Ms. Campbell some questions yesterday. She said that the average sentence for female offenders is approximately three years or less. I asked her for the figures for men for 2004-05 to 2008-09 and she said that just over 50% of male offenders serve sentences of three years or less. Generally speaking, those who are sentenced to three years or less will not be affected by this provision. Offenders who, after assessment, are found to present an unacceptable risk to society will not be released. All those who commit smaller-scale fraud, the offenders I refer to as casual or opportunistic criminals, will not be affected.
There will be a risk assessment and if we can assume the risk, they will be released.
Abolition of Early Parole Act
February 15th, 2011 / 11:45 a.m.
Don Davies Vancouver Kingsway, BC
Madam Speaker, of course I will tie them together, because the context of a bill or why it is before the House is always a matter of relevance. I can understand why the Conservatives do not want anyone in the House to remind Canadians of their hypocrisy.
When we see the Conservatives and separatists come together and co-operate today on the bill before the House, I think that what the government has said in the past about co-operating with separatists is entirely relevant. Of course, it is understandable why my hon. colleague would not want us to remind Canadians of that.
Again, on hypocrisy, the Prime Minister talked about Afghanistan and bringing the troops home in 2011. That went down the toilet. Bringing any decision or vote before the House on deploying troops back to Canada also went down the toilet. We are used to hypocrisy by the government.
Today we are debating a bill brought forward by the government, supported by the separatists, but I want to talk about the way it was done. It was done in a way that absolutely subverts democracy. Conservatives cut a deal, brought the bill before the House quickly and invoked closure so that we cannot have meaningful debate on the bill.
It was a backroom deal to cut off debate so that we as parliamentarians cannot perform the due diligence that Canadians want us to do to determine the impacts of this bill, how much it will cost and what effect it will have on our prison system. To me, that shows a lack of confidence in the merits of the bill by Conservatives and the Bloc, because if they were confident in it they would not be afraid of having a fulsome and thorough debate in examining the bill.
Let us talk about the bill. New Democrats understand the concern of Canadians and the sentiments that underlie this bill. Two issues have caused the bill to come before the House. The first is the spectre in Quebec of two high-profile white collar fraudsters, Earl Jones and Mr. Lacroix, who defrauded thousands of investors out of millions and millions of dollars. The prospect of their coming out of prison after serving one-sixth of their sentences has, quite rightly, made people upset in Quebec and across this country.
The second is that it is a quite reasonable concern of Canadians to raise an issue with the concept of some people coming out of a federal penitentiary and being moved to other places of incarceration after serving only one-sixth of their time. Those are valid concerns.
Canadians may know that accelerated parole is only available to first-time offenders who have committed a non-violent offence. Canadians may also find it relevant to know that those people are not coming out of prison and going into the community. They are not let out jail; it is the place of their incarceration that is being shifted. Instead of being in a federal penitentiary, after serving one-sixth of their time, they generally move to halfway houses, which are places of incarceration in our communities, where they still serve their sentences. If someone gets a sentence of 10 years, they still get that 10-year sentence but the place where they serve the sentence is moved.
I want to point out that the New Democrats have a long and proud history in the House of being tough on white collar crime. The New Democrats worked to strengthen the provisions in Bill C-21 to toughen the penalties for white collar crime and, I might point out, those amendments by the New Democrats were defeated by other parties in the House.
New Democrats also have a long and proud tradition of standing up for strong regulation in the financial sector, standing up against banks and finance companies and stock market behaviour to make sure those are well-regulated industries and that we minimize the opportunity for Canadians to be bilked or defrauded out of their money. Those efforts, I might add, are generally resisted by the Conservatives, and often by their coalition partner, the Liberals, and now by their new coalition partner, the Bloc Québécois, as they usually try to stop the efforts to ensure that we protect consumers in this country.
I also want to say that New Democrats understand the pain in Quebec. We understand the absolute and profound damage that has been caused by these unregulated white collar criminals who have defrauded so many people out of their life savings, and New Democrats believe that we have to crack down on them. The issue, of course, is to do that in an intelligent and targeted way, in a way that will actually help.
I want to go over some of the facts of this bill.
APR was introduced in 1992 and was expanded in 1997. It was considered a measure to help the correctional services focus on more dangerous offenders and thus save money.
In 2007 the Correctional Service of Canada review panel, headed by the Mike Harris era Conservative minister for privatization, Rob Sampson, recommended that APR be eliminated. We can thus see the genesis of this idea. He argued that parole should be reformed. The roadmap that Mr. Sampson developed and that the panel issued has been widely criticized, comprehensively criticized, as the absolutely wrong approach to our prisons, both in terms of effectiveness and cost.
The Conservatives have introduced measures to eliminate APR twice before, in Bill C-53, which died on prorogation without receiving any debate; and as part of an omnibus CCRA amendment, Bill C-39, which is currently before public safety committee.
I want to review some of the challenges of this bill. On the one hand, we have the spectre of some Canadians getting out after serving one-sixth of their sentence in a federal penitentiary and being moved to a different institution. That is absolutely the wrong message we want to send when talking about serious white collar crimes.
It is important to note that under the current legislation, there are some crimes that are not eligible for accelerated parole. One thing New Democrats ask is that if there are crimes that we do not think should qualify for accelerated parole, then why do we not study what those crimes should be and add them to the already existing list of crimes for which accelerated parole is not available? That is a surgical, intelligent approach.
Right now, out of 13,000 people in federal penitentiaries, there are approximately 1,000 people who currently would be affected by this legislation. Unlike the Conservatives' approach to crime, which is to take one poster person and target a bill to get at that person and to paint a broad brush of everybody else, it is clear that we do not have a uniform sample within those 1,000 people.
Caught up in those 1,000 people not eligible under this bill would be a person like a young aboriginal woman in jail for the first time maybe for passing bad cheques. She may have children in the community. She may have an addictions problem. She may have a mental health issue. It may be advantageous, both for her and for the community's safety, to move her into a halfway house in the community after one-sixth of her sentence were served in a federal penitentiary, where she could get the help for her issues she could not get inside a penitentiary. That is the kind of person who would also be caught by this bill.
I want to talk about services. I have been in 25 federal institutions in this country in the last year and a half. I will tell the House what I found: Our federal penitentiaries are a complete disaster in terms of offering timely and effective programming to our federal prisoners.
This bill would take 1,000 people who would otherwise be eligible to be moved into community facilities at one-sixth of their sentences, where they would get those services, and would make them stay in prison for another one-sixth of their time. Will those people have access to the types of services they need?
We have heard in committee that 80% of offenders in our federal institutions suffer from addictions. We are also just starting to touch the surface on the secondary problem of mental illness, which is also profoundly substantial.
If those people in our federal penitentiaries are not getting addictions treatment in a timely and effective way or treatment for their mental illnesses, this bill would keep them in those penitentiaries longer. Does the government want to put additional money and resources into our federal prisons to deal with that? I have not heard those members say that. No bill has been introduced by the government that would add those kinds of services to our prisons.
I released an internal document prepared by the correctional service. It stated that two bills alone, Bill C-25, the bill eliminating the two-for-one credit for pre-sentencing custody, and Bill S-6, the bill that adds mandatory minimums for gun crimes, would add 4,000 offenders to our prisons in the next two to three years. They would cause the government to hire 3,300 new personnel, which we estimate would cost a quarter of a billion dollars on personnel each and every year. As well, it has been estimated that it would require the government to spend somewhere between $5 billion and $10 billion to build new prisons in the next five to 10 years.
This bill would take 1,000 people and make them stay in prison longer. That may be a wise thing or it may not be, but I ask the following questions.
Has the government costed out what this will cost? I haven't heard it say anything about that. I have heard the government tell Canadians it is none of their business what the crime bills cost. It claims cabinet confidence when we ask what the crime bills will cost Canadian taxpayers.
Might I remind the government that it is not its money; the money that it is spending is Canadian taxpayers' money. Canadian taxpayers have the right to know the cost of any legislation. Yet the government hides. Why? It does not want to tell Canadians that the result of its crime agenda will cost billions of dollars. What is worse is that it will not make our communities any safer.
The political right in the United States has tried these policies over the last 30 years, people like Newt Gingrich, people in Texas and the American south. They have built more prisons, locked up people, tightened up parole, made people serve longer sentences and are now reversing those measures as we speak. This is not rhetoric. It is fact. The United States is actually adopting the exact opposite policies of this government because it knows that these are bankrupting its treasuries and not reducing crime rates.
As a matter of fact, the states that are focusing on crime prevention, on addressing the root causes of crime, such as addictions and mental health, and are putting resources into treating those issues are making their communities safer and reducing crime rates. However, this government is pursuing a policy that is 30 years out of date and proven wrong.
There is another reason that we might want to move someone from a federal penitentiary after a short, sharp experience into a community facility like a halfway house. It might be better for their reintegration. It would put them closer to their families and support structures. It would allow them to work. I have heard the government say many times that the best social welfare program is a job. It would put that person in a community where they would have more access to required services such as mental health assistance and therapy, addictions treatments and help for any number of different physical or mental ailments they may have.
What are we saying? We are saying that transferring someone into that kind of facility is better for them and makes it more likely they will not reoffend, which is better for community safety.
Have we considered that? No, because the Bloc and the government have combined to ram this bill through in Parliament within a matter of days of debate.
One thing I have noticed about this chamber is that it is never good public policy to make legislation on the fly, under pressure and without study. I do not care what the bill is: no bill, no federal legislation that will affect thousands of Canadians, should ever be passed by this House without our thoroughly vetting that bill and understanding all of its implications and consequences.
What is the impact on community safety? What is the impact on prison overcrowding? What is the impact and how many more prison cells will we have to build if we have to keep more people in prison for longer? What will it cost? Which crimes should we be targeting? All of these questions are valid questions that any responsible parliamentarian would want the answers to before voting on a bill. However, the Conservatives and the Bloc, the separatists and the Conservatives, have joined together to say, no, we cannot have that debate.
The New Democrats have a number of positive suggestions in this regard. Again, we understand there are some crimes that should not get accelerated parole, particularly by white collar criminals who bilk people out of their savings. However, why do we not look at making surgical amendments to the legislation to add crimes to the list that do not qualify for accelerated parole? A second alternative is to allow a judge to have discretion at the time of sentencing to determine whether a person should or should not qualify for accelerated parole.
Those are amendments the New Democrats will be bringing to the committee tonight, in the four hours the government and the separatists have allotted for debate, after which they are going to invoke closure.
In those four hours, we will be exploring answers to these questions for Canadians. We are going to try to understand the impact of this bill on our penal system and on our treasury. We are going to propose amendments to fix the problems that Canadians want fixed, but do not damage the rehabilitation and community safety. That is what the New Democrats are about: responsible parliamentarianship. That is not what we see in this bill.
I want to focus on the way our parole system works.
Our parole system is a carefully crafted system that has developed over decades. One cannot tinker with just one part and not expect it to have an impact on other parts. There are theories of punishment as to how we can best alter behaviour.
The purpose of our prison system is corrections. It is to try to correct the behaviour of people so that when they re-enter society they do not reoffend. That is the best public safety policy we could have. That is why we have sophisticated notions of punishment and reward where people get a short, sharp experience with prison and then reintegrate into society. As parliamentarians, we should be encouraging that process.
Abolition of Early Parole Act
February 15th, 2011 / 11:10 a.m.
Maria Mourani Ahuntsic, QC
Madam Speaker, I am delighted to speak today to Bill C-59, An Act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (accelerated parole review) and to make consequential amendments to other Acts. Finally, we are arriving at the conclusion of this great saga.
I will first summarize the current situation. The procedure for parole after one-sixth of the sentence, also known as accelerated parole review, is set out in sections 119(1), 125, 126 and 126(1) of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act.
In brief, a criminal serving a sentence in a federal institution—a sentence of two or more years—can be paroled after serving one-sixth of his sentence under accelerated parole review.
According to the criteria, provided that the offender has not committed an offence involving violence related to a criminal organization, terrorism or a crime of a sexual nature or been an accomplice to such an offence, he is not subject to an order requiring him to serve at least half of the sentence for a drug-related offence. The offender must have been sentenced to a federal penitentiary for the first time and must not be likely to commit a violent offence. These are some of the criteria in the current law.
Consequently, an offender who meets all these criteria is eligible for accelerated parole review, which means that he could be released on day parole after serving six months or the equivalent of one-sixth of his sentence, whichever is longer.
This mechanism is often negatively perceived by the public, which does not understand why white collar criminals or other kinds of criminals serve only a tiny fraction of the sentence given them. This also makes the justice system seem lax. I must admit that I completely understand their position. There is good reason to question this process. People do not necessarily want tougher sentences, they just want the sentences to be enforced.
I feel that this mechanism hurts the parole system as well as the overall justice system. And it also undermines the public's confidence in our ability to protect them.
Before I go any further, I would like to provide a bit of history. The NDP and Liberal members are so surprised and outraged by what is happening today that I will tell them what led to all these events. Then they will understand that this bill did not just come out of nowhere.
It began in July 2006. Paul Coffin—I think the Liberals know him—was involved in the sponsorship scandal and was released after having served one-sixth of his 18-month sentence. This is not a question of fraud; this was pure corruption on the part of those involved in the sponsorship scandal. This is not Vincent Lacroix.
In October 2006, Jean Brault, a second person who was a main player in the sponsorship scandal and founder of Groupaction, was released on October 6, 2006. He served six months of his 30-month sentence.
In June 2007, the Bloc Québécois introduced a justice plan that included a demand for the abolition of this practice that allows fraudsters to serve only a tiny fraction of their sentence.
In December 2007, Vincent Lacroix was criminally convicted for the first time.
In August 2008, Jean Lafleur was released after having served only 7 months of his 42-month sentence. Jean Lafleur is a name that should still ring some bells.
On September 14, 2009, the Bloc Québécois asked for unanimous consent for the quick passage of Bill C-434. That was the first request.
The Conservatives opposed it, once again for partisan reasons. On February 15, 2009, Joseph Charles Guité was released on parole after serving six months of a 42-month sentence. On October 26, 2009, the Conservatives introduced Bill C-53 to abolish the one-sixth of sentence rule. They did not want unanimous consent, so they introduced their own bill. We had no problem with it and were prepared to support it. It was a reaction, but that was fine. Then the Prime Minister prorogued Parliament, so the bill died on the order paper.
On March 4, 2010, we again asked the House for unanimous consent for speedy passage of the bill, which had the same objective—to abolish accelerated parole review. Once again, the Conservatives opposed it for purely partisan reasons.
On June 15, 2010, the Conservatives introduced Bill C-39, which is currently before the committee. It aims to abolish the one-sixth of sentence rule, but it also contains a number of other measures. It needs to be thoroughly examined, but we have not yet even begun to hear any witness testimony. Understandably, it might take some time for this bill to go through the legislative process.
On January 27, 2011, Vincent Lacroix was released after serving one-sixth of his sentence. He served 15 months of a 13-year sentence. On January 31, I was in this House and saw the Bloc Québécois leader go out of his way to see the Prime Minister. They had a discussion. The Conservatives finally changed their minds and we are now working together. It appears that the Liberals would have liked to be the ones to take this initiative. Yesterday my public safety colleague almost seemed ready to issue some criticisms, because his party had not initiated this. We need to forget about that and look ahead to the future. We are working with the Conservatives and now we have Bill C-59.
On February 10, 2011, I asked for the unanimous consent of the House, and what did we hear? From both sides, the Liberals and the NDP clearly said that they were not interested in unanimous consent and they needed more time to examine something that they had already accepted in September 2009 and March 2010.
This bill did not fall from the sky; it did not appear out of nowhere. It took a long time for it to get to where it is now, and I think it is important.
Eliminating what is now virtually automatic parole after one-sixth of the sentence is served will remedy some of the bizarre and most often criticized situations, such as sentences for economic crimes, for example. And the hon. member for Ajax—Pickering is right, it is not just economic crimes that are affected. I saw a good example when I was a parole officer. There was a man who was part of the mafia who had never been caught for violent offences. That is not unlikely because people like him delegate their dirty work to subordinates. A good organizer with a lot of hired people on hand who is not even accused of gangsterism can also benefit from this. There are many other people, who are not necessarily petty fraudsters or petty thieves, who might be rehabilitated. It is true. By the way, these people still have a chance at rehabilitation with Bill C-59. The only thing this bill does is get rid of automatic parole after one-sixth of the sentence. However, these people could very well get day parole six months before they have served one-third of their sentence. That is already a common occurrence.
Bill C-59 abolishes this provision and will ensure that people like Vincent Lacroix serve their sentence. It is too late for Vincent Lacroix because he has already been released and he had to serve only one-sixth of his sentence.
Abolishing this provision will confirm the role of parole officers, who will be able to assess the risk of recidivism and the risk to society based on criminogenic factors and the ability of this type of criminal to reintegrate into society. They will also be able to determine whether these inmates have to stay at the detention centre to take programs. Let us not forget that assessments take time. When an accused ends up at a regional reception centre, it takes approximately six months of assessment before he is sent to a penitentiary. Then the offender has to take programs, which takes time. It takes more than 15 months to be able to say congratulations, you are rehabilitated, thank you and goodbye to an offender who then goes to a halfway house in Ontario and hides some place where very few people know him. It is okay to do that, but we have to allow these people to take programs, and they can do that when they are incarcerated.
Abolishing this procedure will help create a balance between the credibility of the justice system and the objective of rehabilitation, if we want to really talk about rehabilitation, because the offender has to want to be rehabilitated. I will give some examples of comments made by some judges and prosecutors regarding accelerated parole review. I did not really understand what the member was saying earlier. He should have said it in English. I think he was talking about how the Quebec bar association is not very happy with the bill. I will give him some other examples of people who, on the contrary, think that accelerated parole review is appalling. The best example is Justice Wagner, who presided over the case of Vincent Lacroix. He sent a very clear message to politicians about parole, and it concerns all of us:
The reflection of the Courts cannot and must not take into account the consequences and the terms and conditions of parole, which are not their responsibility and over which they have no control.
Justice Wagner added:
While Mr. Lacroix's crimes were not accompanied by direct physical violence...his crimes caused his victims and their families considerable moral violence because of the stress, insecurity and uncertainty experienced by those who lost their life savings intended for their retirement.
Furthermore, Justice Wagner said:
The Court feels that it is important to point out that parole is the responsibility of Parliament and that it is up to politicians to answer for their acts or omissions.
That is good advice.
In addition, Mr. Brodeur, the crown prosecutor on this case, said, “This judgment sends a clear message that elected officials will have to hear. Parole after one-sixth of the sentence is served is, in some cases, unreasonable.” He is talking about us there.
I repeat: abolishing accelerated parole review after one-sixth of the sentence is served will give professionals working in our prisons the ability to recommend to the appropriate authorities—the National Parole Board in this case—the right action plan for each offender, based on the work the individual has done in prison. It will also help restore the credibility of our justice system.
I would now like to direct my comments to the Liberal and NDP opposition. Their attitude is not only inconsistent; it is irresponsible. Ironically, unlike the Conservatives, they agreed to back us twice, once in September 2009 and again in March 2010, in order to secure swift passage of the bill. And yet, the bill being introduced today is similar and serves exactly the same purpose. It is quite clear that they are simply stonewalling on an issue about which all Quebeckers agree. I am sure that if we were to poll Canadians tomorrow morning, they would agree with this assessment.
The Liberals and the New Democrats are the ones trying to stall the process. Here is the clearest example of that: on February 7, 2011, the NDP stated publicly—at least they were quick about it and very frank—that they would not support any fast-tracking on this issue. The Liberals followed suit a few days later. We saw their official response on February 10, when I called for speedy passage of the bill.
And yet, I repeat, not once over the past four years did they speak out against this initiative. The NDP claims that it wants to take its time in considering this bill, but in my opinion they are confusing the expressions to take one’s time and to stall.
We pressed ahead to get this bill fast-tracked and we have demonstrated that we are amenable to making accommodations. However, as I see it, the NDP would rather complain. We, on the other hand, intend to move ahead on this issue with a clear conscience.
Yesterday, during debate, a Liberal member argued without much conviction that there was a difference between our previous bill on abolishing accelerated parole review and Bill C-59. That is completely untrue. Also included in Bill C-59 is what essentially amounts to a number of consequential amendments. It is just window dressing; exactly the same process is being considered.
In my opinion, the opposition from the Liberal Party and the NDP amounts to pure partisanship. Furthermore, yesterday—and I will not rehash this—it was clear to me from the speech delivered by my colleague, the critic for public safety, that he was a little disappointed the government did not approach them. But that is another kettle of fish.
I would once again remind Liberal and NDP members that their current fecklessness, if emulated by the majority of parliamentarians in this House—and I hope that will not be the case—would potentially pave the way for the premature release of another financial predator, Mr. Earl Jones. To my mind, these are financial predators.
Need I remind the House that Earl Jones perfected a Ponzi scheme whereby he paid his clients out of their invested capital? He stole between $50 million and $75 million from 150 people. He was convicted on February 15, 2010, and sentenced to 11 years behind bars. He is now expected to be released in December 2011—this year, in other words—after serving only one-sixth of his sentence. This, as I made clear yesterday, explains the urgency of the matter.
I will give you another example. In Montreal and Laval, Mr. Kordzian, an unsavoury individual who is actually from my riding, unscrupulously defrauded 25 people of close to $1 million. These people lost everything: their retirement savings, their homes. I said this yesterday and I will say it again today: the leader of the Liberal Party came to my riding and was five minutes away from the coffee shop where Mr. Kordzian had operated. Had he listened to what the victims had to say, his party would not still be waffling on this issue the way they are now.
I would like to give a few examples of major frauds that were committed in the ridings of some of the hon. members from other parties in the hopes of convincing them to reconsider their positions. In the riding of Ajax—Pickering, a man was sentenced to two years in prison. He defrauded people of thousands of dollars through telemarketing. He was a senior manager at Datacom Marketing Inc. He pleaded guilty to six counts of fraud estimated at several million dollars.
Another prime example occurred in the riding of the member for Vancouver East, who is also the public safety critic. In this case, an individual defrauded 60 investors of $8.2 million through two companies, CPLC Limited Partnership and CPLC Management Group Ltd.
As you can see, this is not happening only in my riding. It is happening just about everywhere in Canada. Another example occurred in Brossard—La Prairie. One of the five Norbourg employees who were accused of fraud, Mr. Deschambault, a chartered accountant from La Prairie, was accused of 112 counts of fraud. He defrauded—
Disposition of Abolition of Early Parole Act
February 14th, 2011 / 6:55 p.m.
Alexandra Mendes Brossard—La Prairie, QC
Mr. Speaker, I would like to participate in the debate on the motion to prevent debate on the content and substance of Bill C-59. I find it rather odd that the Bloc has supported the government's attempt to stifle any attempt at debate on the substance of this bill.
No one in the House can accuse the Liberals of not supporting the idea of eliminating parole eligibility after one-sixth of the sentence is served for economic crimes. Two years ago, my colleague from Bourassa, our candidate in Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert and our member for Lac-Saint-Louis participated in a press conference with several of Earl Jones' victims to call on the government to quickly bring forward a bill to eliminate parole eligibility after one-sixth of the sentence is served, especially for criminals who commit major fraud and have multiple victims.
No one can accuse the Liberals of not supporting that idea. I think it is really dishonest of the government to make that kind of accusation when it knows very well what the Liberals' position is. This was pointed out by my colleague from Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine.
Now I would like to talk about the debate and the fact that the Conservatives and the Bloc members want to limit the scope of the debate. Just seven months ago the members of the Bloc rose in the House to criticize the government for doing the exact same thing it is doing now with Bill C-59. The government moved a motion to block debate.
Last June, the member for Saint-Maurice—Champlain rose in the House to criticize the government for moving a motion to block debate on the Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act. The Bloc member for Hochelaga also rose to oppose a government motion to block debate on Bill C-9, the Jobs and Economic Growth Act, by imposing time allocation.
We are opposed to this time allocation motion because we believe that Bill C-59 addresses a very important issue. Furthermore, for two years now, the Liberals have been calling on the government to eliminate parole eligibility after one-sixth of the sentence is served for economic crimes like those committed by Earl Jones, Vincent Lacroix and others.
I think it is a shame that some would have people believe that the Liberals do not want to protect victims. That is simply not true. When the government introduced Bill C-21 on economic crimes and it was referred to committee, the Liberal justice critic proposed an amendment to the bill to eliminate eligibility for parole after one-sixth of the sentence in cases of economic crime. The Conservatives and the Bloc defeated the motion.
Every MP is entitled to his or her opinion on bills that we are called on to debate in the House. It is a fundamental aspect of the democratic process. The operative word here is “debate”, and the collusion between the Conservatives and the Bloc is preventing us from acting as responsible parliamentarians.
We would like to hear from experts. We want to know how this bill will truly address a gap in the law, how it will do justice to victims, how this bill will improve the chances of rehabilitation for those who once lost control of their lives.
Perhaps we should indeed eliminate parole after one-sixth of a sentence for offenders who have committed serious economic crimes and left a number of victims.
However, for non-violent criminal acts that are not fraud, we believe that evidence has shown that parole after one-sixth of a sentence has been very effective and that the rate of recidivism is much lower.
We will never know what the experts might have said since this closure motion eliminates any chance to consult experts. With this government so eager to control everything, it has become somewhat of a tradition to just pass a bill without any idea of the facts that might call it into question.
The Liberals are against this closure motion. It is not justified, and we regret that the Bloc has decided to join the Conservatives to limit the debate on this bill. As far as the substance of the bill is concerned, in the past and still today, no one could accuse the Liberals of not showing their support for eliminating parole after one-sixth of the sentence for economic crimes.
In order to illustrate the government's intellectual dishonesty, I would like to present a chronology of the Conservatives' failures in their so-called fight against crime.
I am referring here to the various bills that have died on the order paper for all sorts of reasons or that have remained in the House or at committee indefinitely.
Here they are. Bill C-15, An Act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act and to make related and consequential amendments to other Acts, died on the order paper when Parliament was prorogued; Bill C-19, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (investigative hearing and recognizance with conditions), died on the order paper before the House had a chance to vote on it; Bill C-26, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (auto theft and trafficking in property obtained by crime), also died on the order paper. It is certainly not the opposition that forced the government to prorogue Parliament.
Bill C-31, An Act to amend the Criminal Code, the Corruption of Foreign Public Officials Act and the Identification of Criminals Act and to make a consequential amendment to another Act, died on the order paper, and Bill C-36, An Act to amend the Criminal Code, on the faint hope clause, died on the order paper before being brought back this session. One committee meeting was held on Bill C-46, An Act to amend the Criminal Code, the Competition Act and the Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Act, before it died on the order paper. Bill C-52, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (sentencing for fraud), which is related to Bill C-59, the bill we are dealing with today, died on the order paper when Parliament was prorogued. Bill C-58, An Act respecting the mandatory reporting of Internet child pornography by persons who provide an Internet service, died on the order paper. The prorogation of Parliament killed many bills.
Among the bills introduced by the Minister of Public Safety was Bill C-34, the Protecting Victims From Sex Offenders Act, which also died on the order paper. The bill to deter terrorism and to amend the State Immunity Act died on the order paper. Bill C-43, An Act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act and the Criminal Code, died on the order paper. Bill C-47, An Act regulating telecommunications facilities to support investigations, died on the order paper. Bill C-53, An Act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (accelerated parole review) and to make consequential amendments to other Acts, died on the order paper. Bill C-60, An Act to implement the Framework Agreement on Integrated Cross-Border Maritime Law Enforcement Operations between the Government of Canada and the Government of the United States of America, died on the order paper.
To date, no meetings have been held to discuss Bill C-16, An Act to amend the Criminal Code. Bill C-17, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (investigative hearing and recognizance with conditions), was given first reading 51 days after Parliament was prorogued, and the committee still has not met to discuss that bill.
Bill C-21, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (sentencing for fraud), was fast-tracked at committee in just one meeting and still has not reached second reading. Bill C-22, An Act respecting the mandatory reporting of Internet child pornography by persons who provide an Internet service, was given first reading 64 days after Parliament was prorogued, and the government delayed it for 26 days at report stage because of the debate on the short title.
Bill C-48, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and to make consequential amendments to the National Defence Act, was given first reading 89 days after Parliament was prorogued, and we are still waiting for the next step. Bill C-50, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (interception of private communications and related warrants and orders), was given first reading after 94 days, and we are still waiting. First reading of An Act to amend the Criminal Code, the Competition Act and the Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Act took place 243 days after Parliament was prorogued. Bill C-53, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (mega-trials), was given first reading and nothing more.
Bill C-54, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (sexual offences against children) only made it to first reading. Bill C-5, An Act to amend the International Transfer of Offenders Act was introduced at first reading by the Minister of Public Safety 15 days after prorogation. Two committee meetings were held and nothing has happened since. As for Bill C-23B, An Act to amend the Criminal Records Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts, we are still waiting. After a few meetings on the subject, the minister was supposed to come back with amendments that he felt were necessary in order to make the bill more comprehensive and definitely more respectful. Bill C-39, An Act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts was introduced for first reading 104 days after prorogation and we still have not met in committee to discuss it. Bill C-49, An Act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, the Balanced Refugee Reform Act and the Marine Transportation Security Act was introduced for first reading 232 days after prorogation and there it remains. Bill C-52, An Act regulating telecommunications facilities to support investigations was also introduced for first reading 243 days after prorogation and we are waiting for the next step. The Senate introduced Bill S-7, An Act to deter terrorism and to amend the State Immunity Act for first reading 49 days after prorogation and we are still waiting for the next step. Bill S-10, An Act to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act and to make related and consequential amendments to other Acts was introduced for first reading in the Senate 60 days after prorogation. Bill S-13, An Act to implement the Framework Agreement on Integrated Cross-Border Maritime Law Enforcement Operations between the Government of Canada and the Government of the United States of America was introduced for first reading 237 days after prorogation.
I am pointing this out to prove that it is not the opposition parties that are slowing the process down. For all sorts of unknown reasons, the government introduces these bill and then goes no further with them.
To conclude, I would like to question the justification for Bill C-59 and the fact that the Conservatives and the Bloc felt this was urgent enough to warrant this closure motion, which is an affront to parliamentary dialogue.
Ending Early Release for Criminals and Increasing Offender Accountability Act
October 19th, 2010 / 11:20 a.m.
Judy Foote Random—Burin—St. George's, NL
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to Bill C-39, An Act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts.
The bill is a combination of Bill C-43 and Bill C-53, which were presented in the last session and are back before us today as a result of the Prime Minister's decision to prorogue Parliament last year.
This proposed legislation seeks to end early release for criminals and increase offender accountability. We are hopeful, on this side of the House, that the legislation before us today can be improved in moving forward to the committee process. I would like to think that all of us have the same objective of ensuring justice initiatives contribute to making our communities and our streets safer places for all Canadians.
There is no doubt that in this House we do differ greatly in the type of approach that would achieve best results. The current Conservative government's approach to justice matters centres on spending $10 billion on prisons in the coming years. I am not convinced that investments in prisons, without resources for crime prevention, would achieve the goal of decreasing crime in our communities.
Statistics Canada tells us the crime rate fell 3% in Canada last year and is down 17% in the past decade. This includes a decrease in violent crimes and homicides. Rather than continuing on a course that is arguably achieving the desired results, the current Conservative government made dramatic cuts, an incredible 70% funding reduction, to crime prevention programs and also reduced funding for victims' programs by 43%. Now, after recording the largest deficit in Canadian history, in excess of $55 billion, the government is forging ahead to build republican-style super prisons, to the tune of anywhere from $10 billion to $13 billion.
While the Conservative government continues to push what it refers to as a tough on crime agenda, it neglects the instruments of government that have proven to be most effective in preventing crime. No one objects to offenders who have committed serious or heinous crimes being sentenced appropriately. However, by focusing solely on imprisonment, which carries a huge price tag and offers only short-term solutions, the Conservative government is failing to address the root causes of crime.
Governments are defined by the choices they make. The Conservatives are choosing to spend $10 billion on new super jails on the notion that this would make Canadians feel safe. This is a plan that would implement failed republican policies from the United States.
Conservative budget projections show a plan to double prison spending, by 2013, over 2006 levels. This represents an increase of well over 200%, while at the same time, funding for crime prevention programs has been cut by more than half.
Whatever happened to the premise of an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure?
In 2005, the last year of a Liberal government, the National Crime Prevention Centre supported 509 projects in 261 communities throughout the country, for a total investment of $56.8 million. In this current year, with a Conservative government, there are 285 projects, down from 509, funded with $19.27 million. That is less than half the number of projects, with only one third of the money being spent.
These are the wrong choices if the goal is to reduce crime and keep Canadians safe, and these are the wrong choices to prevent crime from occurring in the first place.
The crime agenda should be balanced. We need to be tough on crime, but we also need to be unwavering in our commitments to rehabilitation and crime prevention. We cannot forget that less crime is the objective and we certainly cannot ignore the costs associated with the government's justice agenda.
Parts of the legislation before us evolved from the Conservatives' 2007 report entitled, “A Roadmap to Strengthening Public Safety”. The report called for a new direction to Canada's corrections. Expert opinion has suggested the so-called road map was significantly flawed in terms of human rights and human dignity and that it in fact threatened public safety, and also that it came at a tremendous cost to the taxpayer.
Instead of learning from the mistakes made in California, the Conservative government would have Canada head down the same path and make the same mistakes, the path that led to a staggering debt and did not improve community safety.
If the Conservatives' plan to build super jails and incarcerate more people by passing laws that prescribe minimum sentencing was a key to a safer community, the United States would be the safest place in the world. California has implemented the very crime policies that the Conservative government is now proposing. The State of California is on the brink of bankruptcy. Its current prison system costs $8 billion annually and is overflowing with more than 160,000 inmates.
An article in The New York Times, in March of this year, referring to the California prison crisis, says that California spends about 11% of the state budget, or roughly $8 billion, on the penal system, that there are 167,000 prisoners in California, and that new reforms are under way with the goal of reducing the prison population by 6,500 by next year.
If the Republicans have learned from their mistakes, it is only right that the Conservatives should also look to what is happening there and go down a similar path. California has incarceration rates 700% higher than in Canada. In 2008, Canada had the lowest crime rate reported in the last 25 years, so it is no wonder I am perplexed as to why the government would be so determined to proceed down a path that has proven itself to be ineffective.
Bill C-39 attempts to clarify that the protection of society is a paramount consideration for the Correctional Service of Canada in the corrections process and for the National Parole Board and the provincial parole boards in the determination of all cases. While public safety has long been a primary consideration, it appears that the government felt it necessary to elevate it to the status of paramount. I look forward to hearing more from the government as to the necessity of the change in wording.
One aspect of the bill that is appropriate is a provision that enables a victim to make a statement at a parole hearing. Every opportunity must be available to provide for the victims' voices to be heard. Bill C-39 strengthens the victim's access to information with provisions enabling the victim to access information on the reasons for a temporary absence and an offender transfer, offender program participation, and any offender convictions for serious disciplinary offences. Bill C-39 also legislates the victim's right to attend and participate in parole hearings. In this way, this legislation is a start in moving victims' rights in Canada forward, and for that I am appreciative.
While the government would applaud itself for its efforts on behalf of victims, it also begs the question as to why the government chose to reduce the grant for victims of crime initiatives by a staggering 46% in the 2010 budget and cut the contributions to the victims of crime initiative by 34%. Although the Conservative government professes concern for the rights of victims, we have not seen those words translate into meaningful resources to support victims of crime.
The Liberal public safety critic has highlighted concerns about the correctional plans component of Bill C-39. The proposed bill provides that a correctional plan is to include the level of intervention by the service in respect to the offender's needs and the objectives for the offender's behaviour, his or her participation in programs and the meeting of the court-ordered obligations. In theory, it seems logical that the rehabilitation of an offender would follow a clear path. However, there is little merit in imposing the requirement for a plan without any sort of resources to support the development and execution of that plan.
Other aspects of the bill before us today include the expansion of the range of disciplinary offences to include intimidation, false claims and throwing a bodily substance.
As well, there is a section that would eliminate accelerated parole review for non-violent offenders. This is another area where the House will need to evaluate the cost of incarceration and the most suitable way for the offender to serve the sentence.
The last provision of the bill provides a peace officer with the authority to arrest without warrant an offender for a breach of a condition of the offender's conditional release. Again, this is another area where I look forward to hearing from the committee as to the possible issues that may arise from such a provision.
The true cost of the Conservative government's justice and corrections agenda remains a guessing game. Canadians deserve to know the price tag. The government's justice agenda is certain to cost well into the billions at both the federal and provincial levels and puts on all provinces a responsibility they just cannot afford just to satisfy the Conservatives' agenda.
It is challenging to stand in the House and support at second reading a piece of legislation while I have significant concerns about the costs associated with it. That is part of the bigger picture that we are facing today.
I look forward to seeing this bill back in the House following the committee's review, in anticipation that necessary amendments will be made to improve Bill C-39.
Ending Early Release for Criminals and Increasing Offender Accountability Act
October 19th, 2010 / 10:35 a.m.
Marc Lemay Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak to this bill, which comes at a very bad time. We will try to deal with this methodically. I want to respond to my colleague who just spoke. The Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights is currently studying six bills, including Bill C-4 on young offenders. The review of this particular bill is not complete because the government has not yet tabled the necessary documents, as it should have done in June 2010. The bill we are discussing today could also die on the order paper because it may be some time before it is studied in committee.
I do not know whether my colleague, the member for Ahuntsic, is studying as many bills that affect the public in the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security. If she is, then we have a serious problem. This government is playing politics and taking a piecemeal approach to justice issues, doing a little bit here and a little bit there. It has introduced a bill that I would say is extremely worthwhile and has been a long time coming. The Bloc Québécois will vote in favour of this bill, and we would like to send it to committee as soon as possible.
Let us look at the dates of this bill. On June 16, 2009, we were examining Bill C-43. Summer arrived, the House adjourned, and then MPs returned. In October 2009, we were examining Bill C-53. Then, the government—not the opposition parties—decided to prorogue. This bill died on the order paper on December 30, 2009. Now, the government has re-introduced the bill as Bill C-39, which is the same as the previous bills C-43 and C-53. I hope this one will not die on the order paper, because it is very important.
The government is accusing the opposition of not looking out for victims, of not caring about them or being interested in them. According to the government, the only thing that the opposition cares about is criminals, and getting them out of jail as soon as possible. I never hear so many blatant lies from the other side of the House as I do when they talk about victims. We absolutely care about victims. The best example is that the Bloc Québécois has been calling for the abolition of the one-sixth of the sentence rule for two years now.
I will give a little legal lesson, more specifically on criminal law, for my colleagues opposite. It is a problem with criminal law that comes up when an individual is sentenced. The best example is the case of Colonel Williams. We can talk about him now, because he will probably be sentenced to life in prison, with no chance of parole for at least 25 years. We can get back to that, because the government just introduced another bill. Let us take the example of someone sentenced to jail time. Bill C-39 applies only to someone sentenced to more than two years. That is extremely important. We are talking about sentences of more than two years in prison. The problem is that in provincial prisons, in Quebec in particular, this service already exists. However, even if the individuals are sentenced to two years less a day, they are still eligible for release after serving one-sixth of their sentence.
In terms of criminal law, let us look only at sentences of at least two years, for example, someone in Quebec who is sentenced to three years in prison. This person is sent to the regional reception centre in Sainte-Anne-des-Plaines, in the Montreal region. Regardless of where that person is from, that is where they are sent.
It takes between three and four months for the case to be dealt with. If the person was sentenced to 36 months in prison, after six months, or one-sixth of the sentence, that person is already eligible for release, and no one will have dealt with the case.
There is a gap there. We have long been saying that parole must be earned and that release after serving one-sixth of a sentence should not exist. I have 30 years of experience as a criminal lawyer. Some of my clients were released after serving one-sixth of their sentence. After having been sentenced to three years, they were released after six months and no program had been established for them, which made it far more likely that they would reoffend.
My colleague, the member for Ahuntsic, who is a criminologist and has worked with these types of people, probably knows what I am talking about. This is exactly what is happening in prisons. They cannot even begin to work with an individual who has one foot out the door if he was sentenced to two or three years in prison. He has practically left before he has arrived. Why? Take the example of one of my clients. We decided that it was better for him to be sentenced to 24 months in prison instead of two years less a day because it would take longer to serve a sentence of two years less a day in a Quebec prison than a 24-month sentence. One-sixth of 24 months is four months, and so he was released after four months. There was not even enough time before he was released for them to deal with his case and have a meeting to discuss a plan for his return to society.
That is the worst possible mistake. As I have been saying in this House for nearly six years now, the problem with the Conservatives is that they do not understand. So, I will try to explain it again. The Conservatives think that minimum prison sentences will solve everything. Nothing could be further from the truth, so far that even the Americans are beginning to realize it. Canada—and especially the Conservatives—seems to be a few years behind. In two or three years, they are going to realize they are on the wrong track.
The public is not shocked when someone receives a four-year sentence, but rather when that individual gets out after one year. The public is shocked by the fact that people are not serving their sentences. That is precisely what the Bloc Québécois has been criticizing for some time.
Whether my Conservative friends like it or not, minimum prison sentences do not preclude offenders from being eligible for parole. Even with a mandatory minimum of three years, the individual is still eligible for parole. That is what the Conservatives do not understand. Once again, we will try to explain to them that it is the parole system that needs to change. The parole system needs to be changed so that people who are sent to prison are not released unless they have a plan for their reintegration into society. That is the problem. In the example I gave of someone who has been sentenced to three years, if he is eligible for parole after six months, he will sit back and do nothing.
That is why we are calling for the elimination of parole after one-sixth of a sentence is served. That is also why we hope to vote quickly to pass this bill. I know my Conservative Party colleagues always overreact because of the worst criminals. In the case of Colonel Williams, who has committed a rash of unspeakable crimes in the Belleville and Trenton area, if he is sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 25 years, society will take care of him. He will be sent to prison, as he clearly deserves. I will not try to defend him here, since I am not his lawyer.
That is not the problem. The worst criminals deserve the harshest sentences. That has always been true. The problem lies with individuals who are not criminals, but who are going down a path of crime. If we do not stop them, if we do not take measures to stop them, they will become hardened criminals. Generally they are individuals who are serving their first penitentiary sentence. Obviously it depends on the crime, but in most cases, a person's first penitentiary sentence is somewhere between 3 and 10 years. Those are the people this bill absolutely must catch and as soon as possible.
When I say “catch”, I mean we must encourage them to do what it takes to return to society with a plan in order not to reoffend. The problem is that the parole board does not help. It does not have a chance to work with the individuals. If an individual is eligible for parole after one-sixth of his sentence, what will he do? Take, for example, an individual who has a three-year sentence. When he arrives at the regional reception centre—every province has them—it takes three to four months before his case is reviewed. What do you think he does in the meantime? He plays cards, watches television, drinks Pepsi and waits. No one works with him, at least not very much. Someone needs to work with him as soon as he arrives at the penitentiary.
There is something my Conservative friends do not understand. I will explain it to them yet again. An individual who is sentenced will return to society and if he is not properly prepared to return to society, then, unfortunately, he will reoffend. It is a known fact that the risk of recidivism for this type of person—I am talking about those who receive sentences between 3 and 10 years—is quite high. The risk is there. We have to find ways to correct this.
Quite honestly, this is a good bill. This afternoon, the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights is going to study Bill C-22 on Internet child pornography. We all support this bill. It must be passed. Everyone agrees that this legislation needs to be put in place. It must be passed, but the government will have to submit it to us. The same holds true for Bill C-39. We must deal with it as soon as possible because it is a good bill. The parole board needs to be able to implement it. But no work is being done right now because no one knows whether the bill is going to come. The bill might not pass and could die on the order paper because of an election in the spring of 2011, for example, which is not such a far-fetched idea. It could happen. Suppose there is an election in the spring of 2011. If the government has not submitted this bill to us—we have six bills to study—then it is going to have to set priorities for the committee. We have already agreed to study Bill C-22 while we wait for the translation of the report on Bill C-4 on young offenders, as I said earlier. But it is important to pass Bill C-22 on child pornography.
There is the other bill on vehicle theft—I cannot remember the number—that we discussed before the House adjourned a week ago. Everyone supports this bill.
The government should do the sensible thing and say that since the opposition supports a number of bills, they will be sent as soon as possible to be studied, discussed and passed.
Since this bill will likely be studied by the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security, I think things should go quickly. But we have to give the penitentiaries the means to prepare release plans. This is the process where an offender is told that he has five years left to serve, for example, and he has to begin, now, to take part in preparing a release plan or serve his last five years.
At least the individual still has the choice in prison. But it is clear that he may leave—and will leave—after five years. There needs to be some follow-up with this person. During the entire prison sentence, the individual offender's treatment needs to be personalized, just as the courts hand down personalized sentences.
The individual must be made aware that their release from prison is as much their responsibility as the crime they committed. The person was found guilty or pleaded guilty to the offence and was given a sentence. However, after they are sentenced, many individuals tend to sit in prison and just wait for the end of the sentence. This bill should put an end to that. We must change the attitudes of people as they enter the prison by asking them about their plans for release and what they want to do. Do they want to finish school? Do they want addiction treatment? Do they want some sort of training? What do they want? That would set the wheels in motion so that they can leave prison better equipped than when they arrived.
Obviously, that is not what is happening right now. The National Parole Board, the prisons and the Correctional Service of Canada are not able to provide these services. That would require many things. The government supports this bill, but it needs to invest the necessary funds. Why invest? Because criminals will eventually be released. Victims need protection. They are always talking about victims.
There is something that we do not understand about the Conservatives. The National Parole Board takes care of victims, especially in terms of the prison system. This organization's main priority is the rehabilitation of an individual who is rejoining society, but the victims must also be protected and every possible step must be taken to keep that individual from reoffending.
I am being told that I have only two minutes left, but I could go on about this for a long time. I would like the Conservatives to remember this: automatic sentences have never solved anything. A minimum prison sentence has never solved anything, and that will not change today. All the studies presented to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights show, beyond a reasonable doubt, that minimum prison sentences have never led to a decrease in crime.
We must ensure that these individuals serve their sentences, keeping in mind that they will one day return to society. It is clear that we will probably never see people like Colonel Williams, who will receive a minimum sentence of 25 years for a double murder, outside the prison walls. But we will see people who were sentenced to five to ten years in prison, and some are already close to being released.
Did people like Mr. Jones or Mr. Lacroix, who owned Norbourg, learn their lesson? With all due respect, I think that the only thing they learned was not to get caught.
Unfortunately, with the current system, prisoners learn more about not getting caught than they do about preparing for their release.
Ending Early Release for Criminals and Increasing Offender Accountability Act
October 18th, 2010 / 5:15 p.m.
Maria Mourani Ahuntsic, QC
Mr. Speaker, as usual, this government is introducing a bill that I have begun referring to as a microwave bill. The Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security should have been studying this bill long ago, but the Prime Minister decided to abusively prorogue Parliament in December 2009.
In fact, because of the Prime Minister, Bill C-39, introduced on June 15, 2010, is a combination of two bills that died on the order paper, namely Bill C-43, An Act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act and the Criminal Code, introduced in June 2009, and Bill C-53, An Act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (accelerated parole review) and to make consequential amendments to other Acts, whose short title is Protecting Canadians by Ending Early Release for Criminals Act.
As usual, we have become accustomed to this government's showy, dramatic titles that are, of course, always accompanied by a circus when they are introduced.
So there is nothing new on the horizon, which is serious. It is serious because peoples' safety should come before political games. Instead of creating a circus and rejecting Bloc bills in bad faith, this government should start thinking about taking real action in terms of public safety.
One of the provisions in this bill would abolish the opportunity for parole after one-sixth of the sentence. Since June 2007, the Bloc Québécois has been proposing that parole after one-sixth of the sentence be eliminated because we feel it undermines the credibility of the justice system. We believe that such an action would restore the public's confidence that has been abused by people like Vincent Lacroix and Earl Jones.
On September 14, 2009, we introduced a bill specifically focused on that measure. All victims and the general public unanimously agree on that measure. On two separate occasions we called for the unanimous consent of all parties to pass the bill quickly, so it could be applied immediately to people like Earl Jones and Vincent Lacroix. And what did the Conservatives do? Twice—not once, but twice, so no one could say they did not understand at first, but I am sure they must have understood the second time—they refused to pass the Bloc Québécois bill. And that is terrible, given that with this Bill C-39, they have now presented a provision that they could have agreed to in 2007. This provision would have meant that people like Earl Jones and Vincent Lacroix would not be entitled to parole after only one-sixth of their sentence is served. But in reality, now we can debate the bill all we want, and people like Earl Jones and Vincent Lacroix can apply for parole after only one-sixth of their sentence is served—all because the Conservatives refused to take action quickly when we asked them to.
We will not accept that. Despite the Conservatives' bad faith, we will vote in favour of this bill because we want to study it in committee, since we think it has some interesting points and we feel it is extremely important that more consideration be given to victims. We are prepared to look at this and move it along for the benefit of the public.
We will also vote in favour of this bill because the Bloc Québécois already proposed some of these provisions back in 2007, as I mentioned earlier, including eliminating parole after one-sixth of the sentence is served. There is also the notion of making inmates accountable for their reintegration programs and questioning the virtually automatic statutory release that occurs after an inmate has served two-thirds of the sentence.
At present, in order to keep in custody offenders who are known to be dangerous, but who are due to be automatically released after serving two-thirds of their sentence, a parole officer and the whole team have to make a specific request to have these offenders detained, when they know the offenders will reoffend quickly and violently. I have been a part this process, called a detention, as a parole officer.
It takes a huge analytical effort to show that an inmate who is automatically released after serving two-thirds of his sentence will reoffend violently in very little time. There are very few detentions. They are used only for the most dangerous offenders, and that is unacceptable.
The Bloc has been proposing since 2007 that the government do away with automatic release after an offender has served two-thirds of his sentence. I could give some examples, but I would rather go on.
It is important to provide legislative tools for the people who are working very hard to maintain a balance between public safety and inmate rehabilitation. The mission of Correctional Service Canada and Quebec's correctional service is to maintain a balance between public safety and rehabilitation, which is hard work.
We must not lose sight of a very important point: rehabilitation is the key to public safety. If we introduce a system where public safety equals repression, we are going to find ourselves in a society where safety is seriously challenged. When we talk about rehabilitation and prevention, we are talking about public safety.
Unlike what certain demagogues say, prisons and penitentiaries are not some kind of club med. When people go to prison, they enter what we call crime school. People who have committed more or less serious crimes and who have more or less led a life of crime end up in prison and will develop new skills, make contacts and learn ways of doing things that make them more effective criminals.
If they go to prison for drug trafficking or another offence, they will get even better at committing crimes, hence the need for rehabilitation. The point of rehabilitation is to give tools to criminals to make them less dangerous or not at all dangerous to society. That is a key part of ensuring public safety.
It is important to understand that rehabilitation is key to protecting society, especially since many of these prisoners will be released one day, even those who were sentenced to life in prison. A 25-year-old who is serving a life sentence will be released one day, if he is rehabilitated. Sometimes, a prisoner will receive 10 or 15 years, and after going through the correctional system is just as dangerous or less dangerous. All of these people will get out one day, which is why rehabilitation is so important.
Unfortunately, the Conservatives do not understand that word. In fact, they simply do not believe in rehabilitation because they think that repressive incarceration is the answer. Incarceration is the most serious consequence for a criminal offence in Canada.
Incarceration is punishment in itself. Unfortunately, what this government does not understand is that there is a difference between “consequence” and “punishment”. When our children misbehave, there are consequences and rewards, but incarceration in and of itself is punishment and consequence. What more do we want? Why make incarceration even more repressive since being incarcerated is a consequence and punishment in itself? Applying revenge mentality to the law has to stop. The law is there to create justice and fairness and to make society safer.
This bill goes against the current mission of the CSC, which seeks to protect society by assessing the risk posed by inmates and encouraging them to take part in programs. We all agree that society must be protected, but the government is twisting this ideal to insidiously change the CSC's mandate through this bill. It is not very clear. We do not really know where the government is going with this.
I invite all hon. members to look more closely at this attempt to change the mandate that tries to achieve a balance between rehabilitation and protecting society from the perspective that rehabilitation equals protecting society.
As I was saying, the longer people remain incarcerated, the worse things get, but some people do not understand that. In less serious cases, people should be able to benefit from rehabilitation because, in any event, these individuals are assessed at every stage. The correctional plan is updated regularly, after three months, six months, a year. When these people appear before the board, their file is reviewed again. They are monitored. When they are released, because they are eligible or rehabilitated, they are monitored on the outside by Correctional Services. They have a meeting once a week, either at home, at work or at CSC offices. They are monitored closely until the end of their sentence. I think Correctional Services does good work.
However, it needs to be recognized that certain individuals cannot really be rehabilitated, such as those with psychiatric or psychological conditions. In my personal practice I met some who, unfortunately, could never be released because they are too dangerous. We must then ask ourselves if those people should be incarcerated in a prison. Should they not be incarcerated in a psychiatric institute or hospital? Unfortunately, the bill does not really answer this question. What do we do with very dangerous people who have serious psychiatric issues and who cannot be rehabilitated in the community?
Another important point about this bill concerns the place of victims in the correctional system and their right to be involved in parole hearings. There is also the issue of authorizing the correctional services and the National Parole Board to share information with victims. It is fundamental, not only to the healing process, but also to feel safe as a person who was victimized by another person, to have certain information about the offender, such as where they are, what they are doing, and to know if you will run into them while grocery shopping or at the corner store. It is important to have certain information. However, I wonder—and we can take an in-depth look at this in committee—how much information should be given? What information is relevant? I do not really have an answer to that. The committee will surely enlighten us on that issue.
I really hope victims can have access to information. But what kind of information are we prepared to have? The information should pertain to these people's safety and the healing process.
Even though the Corrections and Conditional Release Act clearly recognizes the interests of victims of crime and the role they can play in the corrections and conditional release process, victims and victims' rights advocates told us that many aspects of the current system made no sense and that victims were dissatisfied. These people will be able to give us some further clarification in committee.
The government tells us that victims have an important role to play. I am trying to understand what the Conservatives have done for victims since they came to power. There was the famous bill that was introduced at one point and then dropped off the radar. It seemed to be designed to give the police tools to fight cyberpedophilia and child pornography. We do not hear anything about it anymore.
The former ombudsman for victims of crime, Mr. Sullivan, was unceremoniously dumped. In mid-August, three and a half months later, he noted in a letter to the minister that the government had found money to expand the prisons yet was cutting funding for victims programs. He also came to see us in committee and told us that this government's actions were all about criminals and that the government was doing very little, if anything, for victims.
This year, the budget for the ombudsman's office will increase by barely 1.08%, and grants and contributions for the victims of crime initiative will decrease from 41% to 34%. Meanwhile, the government is talking about boosting funding for incarceration by several million dollars to build new prisons or expand or renovate prison wings. Mr. Sullivan was right: this government is all about getting tough on crime, but it thinks that by focusing on criminals or increasing sentences, it will solve victims' problems. Unfortunately, that is not what the ombudsman for victims of crime and the victims themselves are saying.
Furthermore, when the government prorogued the House, it killed two bills supported by Canada's police chiefs and the former victims of crime ombudsman, specifically, legislation that would have facilitated online investigations, as I said earlier, especially regarding crimes of a sexual nature against children. I asked Mr. Sullivan what he thought and he told me something rather extraordinary. He told me that if he were prime minister, the Internet legislation would be his top priority and it would be the first bill he would bring forward. Indeed, cyber-pedophilia and child pornography are rampant on the Internet.
A press release I saw on the Internet on October 3 stated that the government is tackling cybercrime. However, after reading the article, I realized that it did not include anything about the Internet legislation.
To close, I would like to mention Bill C-343, introduced by my colleague, the hon. member for Compton—Stanstead. The bill will help victims of crime, particularly by allowing them to be absent from work and receive an income while dealing with their grief or trauma. The bill was introduced in this House but unfortunately, the government voted against it. I thank the other parties for supporting the bill. I truly hope that when it comes back before the House, we will win our case, because it is important for victims.
December 9th, 2009 / 4:50 p.m.
Joey Davis Earl Jones Victims Organizing Committee
Good afternoon, Mr. Chairman and honourable members of the committee.
I wish to thank the committee for allowing me to come before you today to make a statement in regard to Bill C-52 on behalf of the alleged victims of the Earl Jones case of white collar crime.
I also want to thank the Conservative government and the members of the three other federal political parties for their meeting during the summer months, when the events of this tragedy occurred.
As victims of crimes committed by white collar criminals, we want to thank you for listening to our voices and our recommendations in tabling Bill C-52 against white collar crimes in Canada.
Before I begin my comments on Bill C-52, I would like to briefly remind you of the circumstances surrounding the Earl Jones case.
In July of this year, an invisible bomb exploded in the lives of over 200 people. In the first week of July, Earl Jones, this seemingly charming and erudite man, had locked the front door of his West Island business office, did not return phone calls or e-mails from worried clients, and went missing for nearly three weeks. This left a feeling of panic and confusion amongst all his former clients, until we mobilized ourselves and learned of the truth on the 12th day of July.
Some Quebec provincial authorities, meaning the Sûreté du Québec and the AMF, attended the first meeting with victims, as did the designated bankruptcy trustee RSM Richter and the bankruptcy attorneys, when it was announced that all the remaining assets of the Earl Jones Consultant & Administration Corporation assets had been seized and that the company had officially declared bankruptcy. No one knew why nor how Earl Jones went about being the author of their financial destruction.
The beginnings of any fraud start with trust. Earl Jones gained the trust of his clients, close personal friends, members of his own family, and his “enablers”--which I will explain a little further on--all a long time ago.
This particular case of fraud, or Ponzi scheme, is not that of a fly-by-night operation. This Ponzi scheme resulted from the deliberate planning of a determined financial predator laying the seeds of trust from the outset. As can be attested to by the various banking records and other documents uncovered within the bankruptcy, this Ponzi scheme was perpetrated over an extended period of 30 years of uninterrupted swindling. This level of betrayal has shattered the lives of his own family, his once close circle of lifelong friendships, and of course devastated the lives of all of his former clients.
Of the noted 185 creditors of the Earl Jones bankruptcy, those aged 50-plus and seniors comprise approximately 90% of the Earl Jones client registry, a list originally compiled by the Earl Jones Victims Committee of all former clients and alleged victims.
The financial as well as the emotional trauma suffered by these victims affects three generations within the family structure. These are the investors themselves, typically the grandparents who have lost all of their life savings; the adult children of the investors, who are now left to financially support their parents; and the children and grandchildren of the investors, whose inheritance and financial security have been stolen from them.
To quote some recent statistics on white collar crime in Canada, and based on published news reports in the Canadian press and on information available from RSM Richter, the trustee in bankruptcy for the Earl Jones case, of seven high-profile white collar crimes in Canada over the past five years, the Earl Jones Ponzi stands out as the single largest per capita loss, at an average loss of $477,000 per victim.
In our opinion, Bill C-52 can be summarized as a bill that attempts to, one, be a better deterrent of white collar crime through a new promise of mandatory prison sentences, and two, provides a greater sense of justice to victims, thanks to the knowledge that the criminal is going to jail and the fact that restitution from the perpetrator can now be addressed by the criminal courts.
To add strength to this bill that would raise the level of change threshold within the minds of the Canadian public, however, we strongly believe our specific recommendations would have an impact on providing that sense of deterrence and justice to victims of white collar crime.
Our first recommendation to ensure Bill C-52 reaches the level of change threshold required to make a meaningful difference in determining white collar crime relates to mandatory sentencing. While we see the introduction of the two-year mandatory jail time as positive, the deterrent power of this provision in the mind of the fraudster is less significant than its consideration of the total jail time he is likely to serve. What we are referring to here is the far greater deterrent impact that could be expected by commonly imposing 14-year sentences, coupled with the elimination of the one-sixth early release rule. I realize that the latter is a subject of Bill C-53, but it helps put in perspective our thoughts on the minimum mandatory sentence proposed in Bill C-52.
Our second recommendation is to introduce the limited temporary relief for victims of financial crime to mitigate the psychological and financial impact of fraud. A copy of this plan has already been forwarded to each of you, as well as to other government ministers at both the federal and provincial levels, for your review and consideration.
Without the means to financially survive for the first 12 months after being victimized by an act of financial crime, the restitution called for in Bill C-52 would likely come too late to prevent the terrible downward spiral of selling family homes, taking handouts from already financially stretched children, and making other personally devastating life adjustments. Bill C-52's call for restitution is admirable. Let's make it more meaningful by providing the victims with the proposed limited temporary relief survival bridge to restitution.
Our third recommendation is to identify and target not just the lead criminal who perpetrated the crime, but those financial institutions, associations, and professionals who, through egregious neglect, wilful blindness, or gross incompetence, “enabled” these crimes. These enablers should be the first line of defence in the protection of the financial investor from the financial predator. Yet it is incumbent on investors to do their homework and to be careful, but even an informed investor—particularly a senior citizen—will too often be outmanoeuvred by an experienced financial predator.
We recommend that Bill C-52 be amended to mandate a systematic identification and investigation of the potential enabling roles of those financial institutions, those associations, and those professionals in every future white collar crime case in Canada.
We further recommend that, if it is determined that these enablers could have reasonably been expected to have noticed and/or prevented the fraud that was committed, then they should have a legal responsibility to provide restitution to the victim just as much as the perpetrator of those crimes.
As a citizens group, the Earl Jones' victims organizing committee has been relentless in its desire for justice and restitution for all victims of financial crimes.
In conclusion, I wish to thank the committee for allowing me to present our views in shaping new legislation that will help protect Canadians against further white collar crimes.
Business of the House
November 19th, 2009 / 3:05 p.m.
Prince George—Peace River
Jay Hill Leader of the Government in the House of Commons
Mr. Speaker, today we will continue with Bill C-57, Canada-Jordan Free Trade Act.
If we were to complete that, I would intend to call Bill C-23, Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act. I would point out to my colleagues that this bill has already received more than 30 hours of debate in the House and yet the NDP and the Bloc continue to delay the proceedings and hold up this agreement that would create new business opportunities for Canadians from coast to coast.
As I indicated this morning, tomorrow will be an allotted day.
Next week we will once again focus on our justice agenda beginning with the report and third reading stage of Bill C-36, An Act to amend the Criminal Code followed by Bill C-31, An Act to amend the Criminal Code, the Corruption of Foreign Public Officials Act and the Identification of Criminals Act and to make a consequential amendment to another Act. Then we will have Bill C-54, Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders Act; Bill C-55, An Act to amend the Criminal Code, the response to the Supreme Court of Canada Decision in R. v. Shoker act; Bill C-19, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (investigative hearing and recognizance with conditions); Bill C-53, Protecting Canadians by Ending Early Release for Criminals Act and finally, Bill C-35, Justice for Victims of Terrorism Act. All of these bills are at second reading.
On the issue of a NAFO debate, I would remind the hon. House leader for the Liberal Party that is what opposition days are for.
November 18th, 2009 / 3:55 p.m.
Rob Nicholson Niagara Falls, ON
Well, our response is called Bill C-53. The public safety minister has tabled the bill to get rid of accelerated parole, the one-sixth provisions that you're talking about. It goes hand in hand with this particular bill. This is one part of it, and Bill C-53 is the other part.
I encourage you to have a look at that. I think you'll be quite pleased with the provisions of that bill.
November 18th, 2009 / 3:30 p.m.
The Honourable Rob Nicholson Rob Nicholson
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
The short title of this was just pointed out to me. You can refer to it as the Retribution on Behalf of Victims of White Collar Crime Act. It's also known as Bill C-52. This enhances the sentencing provisions for fraud, in particular white collar crime.
The Criminal Code already criminalizes a vast array of what could be called white collar crime, such as bribery, credit card fraud, and forgery, and with the passage of Bill S-4, identity theft, Mr. Chairman. I'm glad to get that one passed. That's an important contribution in this area.
The offence of fraud is the most important offence in our arsenal against white collar crime. Fraud consists of two elements: deception or dishonesty, coupled with an actual loss of money or other items of economic value or merely the risk of such loss. So you can see the breadth and flexibility of this offence is adequate to capture security-related frauds like accounting frauds that overstate the value of securities issuers to shareholders and investors, misstatements about the state of the company, or Ponzi schemes of this sort, which has attracted so much attention recently in the United States and Canada.
The fraud offence is also an effective weapon against other kinds of fraud, such as mass-marketing fraud, real estate or title fraud, home renovation fraud, health care fraud, or other kinds of insurance fraud, tax evasion, and old scams now perpetrated with new technologies.
For too long I believe our justice system has not focused enough on the scam artists who take advantage of the trust of others. With the global economic downturn, as I indicated, massive Ponzi schemes have been revealed. I think that underlines the point we've made here and in the House of Commons and to the public at large that we must send a new, stronger message in this area.
The government has a comprehensive plan for sending that message. As members of the committee, you are all aware that the key aspect of the government's response is Bill C-53, which eliminates accelerated parole under the Corrections and Conditional Release Act. This is the responsibility of the Minister of Public Safety, but of course it is a legislative initiative I strongly support.
Another piece of our plan is Bill C-42, which will put an end to conditional sentences for fraudsters, among others.
Let me return to Bill C-52, the Retribution on Behalf of Victims of White Collar Crime Act. To improve the law quickly the government wanted this piece of legislation to be entirely focused. For this reason, the various sentencing measures in this bill are targeted at fraud offenders specifically. The current maximum penalty is 14 years imprisonment, the highest maximum in the code short of life. The maximum sentence is adequate, but we believe that more can be done to ensure that sentences reflect the devastation caused by fraud.
The first amendment in Bill C-52 is a mandatory penalty for fraud in excess of $1 million. Fraud over $1 million is currently a statutory aggravating factor. This bill will convert that aggravating factor into a circumstance that results automatically in a mandatory penalty of at least two years in prison. Any fraud or series of frauds that result in the loss of more than $1 million must necessarily have been the result of a complex, well-organized, well-planned scheme and quite likely supported by additional crimes, like forgery. Any fraud that rises to this level of loss must be considered serious.
Many frauds, as we know, are larger than this, so it's important to be clear that two years is the floor, not the ceiling. The actual sentence imposed for a larger fraud will obviously reflect all the additional blame for the elements of that fraud, many of which are captured by existing aggravating factors under section 380.1 of the code. This bill will supplement those aggravating factors with new ones if the duration, complexity, magnitude, or degree of the planning was significant; if the offence had a significant impact on the victim, given their personal circumstances; if the offender failed to comply with applicable regulatory or licensing regimes; or if the offender concealed or destroyed relevant records.
All of these factors highlight, in one way or another, conduct or results that are completely unacceptable to Canadians. The new aggravating factors, in conjunction with the existing ones, will be applied by sentencing courts to arrive at a just sentence on the particular facts of each case.
Another new measure is the introduction of a prohibition order that can be part of the sentence. The Criminal Code has several prohibition orders in place that are designed to help prevent offenders from reoffending. One such example is the order that is often made against a person convicted of a number of child sexual offences. The order, for instance, could prohibit them from, among other things, working in schools or other places where they would be in a position of trust or authority over young people.
Along the same lines, this bill will enable the court to order that the convicted offender be prohibited from having control over or authority over another person's money or real or valuable securities--up to life. Breaching this prohibition order will itself be an offence.
Other aspects of Bill C-52 focus on improving the responsiveness of the justice system to the needs of victims. It contains provisions designed to encourage the use of restitution orders in fraud cases. The Criminal Code currently enables judges to order offenders to pay restitution to victims in appropriate circumstances. Restitution may be ordered to help cover monetary losses incurred by victims, among other things as a result of the loss of property caused by a crime. Bill C-52 would require judges to consider restitution in all cases in which an offender is found guilty of fraud. If a judge decides not to make a restitution order, he or she would have to give reasons for declining to do so.
The bill would require a judge, before imposing a sentence on an offender, to inquire of the crown whether reasonable steps had been taken to provide victims with an opportunity to indicate whether they are seeking restitution. This is designed to ensure that sentencing does not take place before victims have had a chance to indicate that they would like to seek restitution from the offender, as well as allow time for victims to establish their monetary losses.
The bill contains provisions aimed at encouraging courts to consider the impact that fraud can have, not only on individuals but also on groups and communities. The Criminal Code currently requires courts, when sentencing an offender, to consider a victim impact statement describing the harm done to or the loss suffered by a victim of the offence. Canadian courts have already in previous cases considered impact statements made on behalf of a community.
This bill would explicitly allow courts to consider a statement by a person on a community's behalf describing the harm done to or the losses suffered by the community when imposing a sentence on an offender found guilty of fraud. A community impact statement would allow a community to express publicly, and to the offender directly, the loss or harm that has been suffered in order to allow the community to begin a rebuilding and healing process.
Mr. Chairman, those are the major elements of this bill. I look forward to the speedy passage of this important piece of legislation.
Introduction of Bills--Speaker's Ruling
November 5th, 2009 / 3:40 p.m.
The Speaker Peter Milliken
I am now prepared to make a couple of rulings that I know members are dying to hear.
I am now prepared to rule on the question of privilege raised on October 27, 2009, by the hon. member for Joliette alleging the premature disclosure of the content of a government bill to the media prior to the bill’s introduction in the House.
I would like to thank the hon. member for Joliette for having raised this matter, as well as the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons, the hon. Minister of Public Safety, the hon. member for Wascana, the hon. member for Vancouver East, the hon. member for Beauséjour, and the hon. member for Scarborough—Rouge River for their comments.
In raising his question of privilege, the hon. member for Joliette claimed that a breach of the privileges of the House had occurred as a result of the public disclosure of the content of Bill C-53, An Act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (accelerated parole review) and to make consequential amendments to other Acts.
The member argued that the Minister of Public Safety in a press conference and through a press release and backgrounder on the bill had disclosed its essence and content to the public and media before it was introduced in the House on October 26, 2009, and that this amounted to a contempt of the House. It was his contention that, “The issue is not the quantity of details but the quality of details—”. He pointed to the importance of the confidentiality of bills prior to their introduction, saying that he always advises colleagues to hold press conferences on their bills only after their introduction.
Likening this situation to the question of privilege he raised on October 22, 2009, concerning the disclosure of details of Bill C-52, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (sentencing for fraud), prior to its introduction, the hon. member for Joliette wondered if there was no longer any reason for him to apply the rule of confidentiality of bills on notice so strictly.
During the interventions of the hon. member for Wascana, the hon. member for Vancouver East and the hon. member for Beauséjour, the seriousness of this issue was raised. The chair was urged to consider whether this was becoming a pattern and to give clear direction to the House on the rules that apply in this respect.
Following question period on October 27, the Minister of Public Safety rose to address the issue of whether the contents of Bill C-53 had been improperly disclosed prior to its introduction in the House. The minister noted that the rule prohibiting disclosure of the content of bills prior to their introduction arises out of a 2001 Speaker's ruling. The minister noted that the ruling limited the time period in question to the time between the bill being put on notice and its actual introduction in the House. He argued that the underlying principle is that the text of the bill should be made available first to members of Parliament.
Citing the 2001 case, in which the justice minister had actually circulated to the media a copy of the text of the bill and provided comment on it, the Minister of Public Safety acknowledged that the text of a bill cannot be disclosed to a select group ahead of parliamentarians seeing it. He then went on to accuse the opposition of looking to expand this rule significantly, effectively prohibiting the government from ever discussing any policy that might, in the future, be the subject matter of a bill before the House.
In his comments, the minister argued that the purpose of the rule is not to stifle discussion or debate or an exploration of policy issues but to restrict the actual disclosure of the text of a bill. That is only partly correct. The purpose of the convention is also to ensure that members are not impeded in their work by being denied information that others have been given.
The minister also noted that the time period in question is limited only to the time between a bill being put on notice and its actual introduction, and in this he is correct. Prior to giving notice of a bill, a minister or a private member developing a legislative initiative is of course free to discuss the proposal with anyone, but the House has the right to have first access to the text of the bill once it has been placed on notice. The specifics of a bill, once it has been placed on notice, should remain confidential until the bill is introduced.
In the case before us, the Minister of Public Safety differentiated between his own conduct and prohibited actions, stating that he did not disclose the contents of Bill C-53 but rather discussed an existing policy problem and the intention of the government to solve it. He provided neither a specific explanation of the government's solution nor an indication of what the text of government legislation in this regard would be.
As members have indicated, it has been a long-standing practice that the content of all bills on notice is confidential until they are introduced in the House. As I mentioned in my ruling of March 19, 2001, referred to by the Minister of Public Safety, at page 1,840 of the Debates:
The convention of the confidentiality of bills on notice is necessary, not only so that members themselves may be well informed, but also because of the pre-eminent role which the House plays and must play in the legislative affairs of the nation.
I went on to say that:
To deny to members information concerning business that is about to come before the House, while at the same time providing such information to media that will likely be questioning members about that business, is a situation that the Chair cannot condone.
In the 2001 case, the Chair ruled the matter to be, prima facie, a case of privilege, and it was ultimately referred to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.
In the committee's report on the matter, presented to the House on May 9, 2001, this important principle was reiterated. Following a commitment by the then Minister of Justice to establish protocol governing the processes for bills prior to their introduction, the report stated, in part:
The Committee believes that the protocol of the Department of Justice whereby no briefings or briefing materials should be provided with respect to a bill on notice until its introduction in the House of Commons should be adopted as a standard policy by all government departments. We believe that such a policy is respectful of the House of Commons and its members. It recognizes the legislative role of Parliament, and is consistent with parliamentary privilege and the conventions of Parliament.
While an attempt has been made to liken the situation surrounding Bill C-53, the case before us today, to the disclosure of the details of Bill C-52, clearly the circumstances of these two situations are not identical.
In the case of Bill C-52, specific details of the bill were released to the media and the public. On October 26 and 27, respectively, the Minister of Justice and then the Minister of Public Works and Government Services apologized to the House and made commitments to ensure that their actions concerning Bill C-52 would not be repeated. Their apologies put an end to the matter, as I indicated at the time. However, the House—and in particular ministers—should note that had it not been for the apologies of the ministers, the case might well have had a different outcome.
However, in the case of Bill C-53, the Minister of Public Safety categorically assured the House that, “none of the provisions, none of the potential mechanisms, none of the solutions, let alone the specific text” were divulged prior to the bill's introduction in the House.
While, by his own admission, he discussed in broad terms the policy initiative contained in the bill, the Chair is satisfied that the Minister of Public Safety did not disclose the details of the measures being proposed in the bill. The Chair is also satisfied that there has been no contempt of the House as a collectivity nor of any member individually as members were not denied information they need to perform their duties as parliamentarians.
Accordingly, the Chair finds no grounds for declaring a prima facie question of privilege in this case.
I wish to thank the House for its attention to this ruling on a matter of considerable importance to us all.
Business of the House
October 29th, 2009 / 3:05 p.m.
Prince George—Peace River
Jay Hill Leader of the Government in the House of Commons
Mr. Speaker, in relation to what day the House will be doing its annual tributes to the sacrifices of our veterans and those in the Canadian Forces currently serving, that will be under negotiation. I suspect that is something that will be discussed among all House leaders in the days ahead. We will decide, obviously, collectively and co-operatively on the appropriate time to make that important tribute.
In regard to our ongoing justice program, obviously we are going to continue along, as we have last week and this week, for the remainder of the week with our justice legislation. I would note that since my last statement, we introduced Bill C-53, Protecting Canadians by Ending Early Release for Criminals Act, and Bill C-54, Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders Act. Both of those additional bills are a key part of our ongoing efforts to reform the justice system in our country.
We sent to committee this week Bill C-42, Ending Conditional Sentences for Property and other Serious Crimes Act; Bill C-52, Retribution on Behalf of Victims of White Collar Crime Act; Bill C-46, Investigative Powers for the 21st Century Act; and Bill C-47, Technical Assistance for Law Enforcement in the 21st Century Act.
By the day's end, we hope to conclude debate on Bill C-43, Strengthening Canada's Corrections System Act. If we do that, I intend to call Bill C-31, the modernizing criminal procedure bill, and Bill C-19, the anti-terrorism bill.
Tomorrow we will continue with yet another justice bill, Bill C-35, Justice for Victims of Terrorism Act, followed by the remainder of the justice bills that I noted if they have not been completed.
Next week I intend to call Bill C-50, the employment insurance for long tenured workers' bill, which is at report stage, having had it returned from committee.
Following Bill C-50, we will call for debate the report and third reading stage of Bill C-27, Electronic Commerce Protection Act, and second reading of Bill C-44, An Act to amend the Canada Post Corporation Act,
Finally, Wednesday, November 4, will be an allotted day.
Introduction of Bills
October 27th, 2009 / 3:30 p.m.
Pierre Paquette Joliette, QC
Mr. Speaker, first, I appreciate the apology by the Minister of Justice and the Minister of Public Works concerning Bill C-52. However, as I said this morning, I have the impression that the message has not been adequately understood on the government side. It seems to me, with respect to Bill C-53 which was made public at a press conference by the Minister of Public Safety, that we had the same problem as with Bill C-52. The Minister of Public Works also took part in that media event.
Essentially, the Minister of Public Safety is telling us two things: first, when he held the press conference, the bill was on notice. What I contended in my point of privilege on Thursday, if I recall correctly, is precisely that when a bill is on notice on the order paper it must not be disclosed publicly until it has been given first reading in this House. As a result, his argument completely fails to address the argument I made. I had referred to a number of decisions and quotations, some of which came from your decisions, Mr. Speaker. I am still wondering about that initial aspect, that is, that it seems to me that a press conference should not disclose the content of a bill before the bill has received first reading. That is his first argument.
His second argument is that the press conference did not give explicit details of the content of the bill. However, Mr. Speaker, I would still like to refer you to a document that I sent you this morning, entitled “Backgrounder—Government of Canada to Fix the Problem of Early Parole for Criminals”. It contains some very short phrases that give the essence of the bill, “Changes to the Corrections and Conditional Release Act… towards the abolition of statutory release”.
They are announcing that, essentially, the bill will deal with that. When we read Bill C-53 we can see that, in fact, the purpose of the proposed amendments is to eliminate accelerated parole review in the Corrections Act. The issue is not the quantity of details but the quality of the details provided in that backgrounder. In the news release, which I have not had a chance to read as carefully, the Minister may have stuck to the ins and outs of the environment in which the bill is being introduced. However, in the technical information sheet that accompanied the news release, it is very clear that the essence of Bill C-53 is being disclosed to the public and the media before being disclosed through first reading in this House. I believe that is contempt of the House.
I defer to your decision, Mr. Speaker.
Introduction of Bills
October 27th, 2009 / 3:30 p.m.
Christian Paradis Minister of Public Works and Government Services
Mr. Speaker, regarding the question of privilege raised by the member for Joliette concerning Bill C-52 and the press conference I held with my colleague, the Minister of Justice, I offer my sincerest apologies to the House.
I fully support what the Minister of Justice has said about this issue in this House. The details about Bill C-52 were disclosed when it was placed on the order paper, before being read the first time. It was a mistake that should not happen again. That is what I wanted to say about Bill C-52.
With respect to Bill C-53, I heard the comments made by the Minister of Public Safety, and I also agree with his argument that the details of this bill were not disclosed at the press conference yesterday. I am also in agreement with his comments on Bill C-53.