Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders Act

An Act to amend the Criminal Code and to make consequential amendments to the National Defence Act

This bill was last introduced in the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session, which ended in December 2009.

Sponsor

Rob Nicholson  Conservative

Status

Second reading (House), as of Oct. 28, 2009
(This bill did not become law.)

Summary

This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment amends the Criminal Code with respect to the parole inadmissibility period for offenders convicted of multiple murders. It also makes consequential amendments to the National Defence Act.

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders Act
Government Orders

February 1st, 2011 / 12:25 p.m.
See context

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to speak on behalf of the Bloc Québécois to Bill C-48, which deals with the possibility of making periods without eligibility for parole consecutive in the case of multiple murders.

On October 28, 2009, the Minister of Justice introduced Bill C-54, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and to make consequential amendments to the National Defence Act, which was intended to protect Canadians by ending sentence discounts for multiple murders. It had been introduced at first reading and died on the order paper at the end of 2009 because the Conservative Party and the Prime Minister decided to prorogue the House, thus putting an end to all bills.

Bill C-54 is therefore the ancestor of Bill C-48. The Conservative Party did not think Bill C-48 was very important, since it waited until October 5, 2010 to introduce it. Even if it had the intention, it was not a major priority of the Conservative Party since prorogation put an end to Bill C-54. In spite of the fact that the House resumed in February-March 2010, the government waited until October 5, 2010 to introduce Bill C-48.

The new provisions would authorize judges to impose consecutive periods without eligibility for parole on individuals convicted of more than one first degree or second degree murder. Under the existing rules, individuals who are sentenced for multiple murders receive simultaneous periods without parole eligibility. I say this to make it clear that judges could now extend the period without eligibility by making the periods consecutive. It would then be longer before the criminal could be eligible for parole than under the present legislation.

Judges would not be required to impose consecutive periods, but they would have to make their decision having regard to the character of the offender, the nature of the offences and the circumstances surrounding their commission, and the recommendation, if any, made by the jury. They would also have to give reasons either orally or in writing for not imposing consecutive periods. Judges are allowed that latitude. That is why the Bloc Québécois supports Bill C-48 in principle, because it is judges who will decide.

Bill C-48 deals with the most serious crime, the one that has the most severe consequences for victims and affects the public most strongly: murder. Its aim is to allow sentencing judges to make periods without eligibility for parole consecutive in multiple murder cases.

First, the most serious crimes deserve the most serious penalties and are therefore subject to imprisonment for life. The Bloc Québécois is firmly opposed to sentences that are too light or parole that is too easy, such as parole after one-sixth of sentence, for example. Twice, our party has introduced bills in the House to have criminals serve their full sentence and not be able to get parole after one-sixth of sentence.

In the news, we saw white collar criminal Vincent Lacroix become eligible for parole last week. He is now in society, in a halfway house in Montreal.

We consider that to be completely and utterly appalling. Criminals like Vincent Lacroix have stigmatized their victims for the rest of their lives. These victims lost all their money, although there was a settlement before the courts thanks to the banks and companies that processed the funds. It was essentially an out-of-court settlement with no evidence presented.

No evidence-based trial was ever contemplated because these companies quite simply did not want to be saddled going forward with a bad corporate image. The companies instead decided to settle for the full amount of the victims' losses. The fact remains, however, that for five years these victims were traumatized. Moreover, Vincent Lacroix, the ringleader, a criminal, is on parole after serving one-sixth of his sentence, because the parole officers quite simply did not consider him to be a criminal who presented a danger to society.

Vincent Lacroix obviously did not murder anyone, but he did commit a very serious crime: he defrauded his fellow man and traumatized the majority of his clients. In the eyes of the Bloc Québécois, this is a crime for which the perpetrator should be forced to serve out his entire sentence with no possibility of parole. In fact, the whole concept of parole and being eligible for release after serving one-sixth of one's sentence undermines the credibility of the entire judicial system and only gives credence to the misguided notion that criminals are treated better than their victims.

There is the rub, particularly in the case of Vincent Lacroix. Once again, a criminal has been handed a sentence and yet does not serve out this complete sentence behind bars. He is rehabilitated and deemed reputable because he has been paroled. He can re-enter society on certain conditions, but the fact is, he is now there, in society. I repeat, these criminals should serve out their full sentence.

Bill C-48 deals only with criminals who have committed the most serious crime, murder. It seems unusual that a second murder would not result in an additional sentence. Logic dictates, however, that it is not possible to serve out two life sentences. Under Bill C–48, the judge would at least have the option of imposing consecutive periods of parole ineligibility.

Under the current legislation, even if someone has been handed one, two or three life sentences, that person is eligible for parole, regardless of whether the parole is associated with the first sentence. It is not possible to impose consecutive parole ineligibility periods by virtue of the fact that a person has been handed several life sentences for his many crimes. The judge is not permitted to make an order that such a person will be ineligible for a specific number of years. Under Bill C-48, it would be possible to increase the period of ineligibility so that the most violent criminals are forced to serve out their complete sentence.

In addition, the Bloc Québécois thinks that punishment cannot be the sole objective of the legal system, to the neglect of rehabilitation and reintegration. Parole, even for murderers, is an important step in the rehabilitation and reintegration process because these people end up returning to society some day. It is very important, therefore, for them to have the best possible treatment to ensure that their reintegration is safe for the rest of society.

There is no question, therefore, of asking for the pure and simple abolition of parole. It is what enables criminals to be treated and reintegrated into society. Life sentences inevitably mean that offenders can be reintegrated into society after 25 years.

The Bloc Québécois is going to support the bill, but not in order to increase the range of penalties at a judge’s disposal to punish a crime. Despite what the minister says, we know very well that these measures have no dissuasive effect, especially in cases of recidivism, which are very rare. This is an exceptional measure, therefore, for exceptional cases where the jury provides its opinion and judges keep their discretionary powers. That is why the Bloc Québécois will support this measure: in the end, it is the jury that makes the recommendation and judges keep their discretionary powers.

We want to point out, though, that recidivism is rare and it is very expensive to keep people in prison after they have served long sentences—nearly 30 years on average—even though the recidivism rate is very low. In addition, not all victims feel comforted by extended prison terms. Maybe we could do more for them, rather than looking upon prison as the only solution to crime. We should also be able to look at what the victims go through so that judges can have an array of choices in passing sentence, depending on the consequences of the crime.

According to the legislative summary, the most serious crimes in the Criminal Code can be punished by life sentences. For some crimes, such as treason and murder, life in prison is the only sentence provided and is therefore the minimum sentence.

Homicide is divided into several categories: murder, manslaughter and infanticide. Murder is the most serious kind of homicide. It is an act committed with the intention of killing or mortally wounding someone or an illegal act that the offender knows is likely to cause death. There are two kinds of murder: first degree and second degree.

First degree murder is premeditated and deliberate, a planned murder. Other kinds of murder are automatically equated with first degree murder under the Criminal Code. This applies in particular to the murder of a police officer or a prison guard and murder that occurs in the course of an airplane hijacking, sexual assault, or a hostage taking.

Manslaughter has occurred when there is no intention to kill but there is negligence. For example, it could include firing a gun through a hedge with no concern for whether there is someone on the other side.

When it comes to sentencing, the Criminal Code is clear. Anyone committing murder in the first or second degree is guilty of a crime and must be sentenced to life in prison. Only the parole ineligibility period may vary depending on whether a first or a second degree murder was committed. In the case of first degree murder, parole is not permitted for a minimum of 25 years, as I previously stated. In the case of second degree murder, the judge determines the parole ineligibility period within a 10- to 25-year range.

The maximum sentence for manslaughter is life behind bars, and there is no minimum term of imprisonment, except when a firearm is used. Nor is there any minimum parole ineligibility period. The regular rules therefore apply.

Under the current system, multiple murderers serve out their life sentences simultaneously and are therefore subject to a single 25-year parole ineligibility period. The only exception currently is when a murder is committed in prison by a person who has already being convicted on murder charges. What is important to understand is that if a person were to commit two murders, the judge would be able to extend the ineligibility period beyond the 25-year mark. Such an individual could end up spending the remainder of his days behind bars.

It is important to remember that even inmates who have been given early release are subject to lifelong supervision and may be put back behind bars for any transgression. It is also worth noting that, to date, among the many people who have been granted early release, only one has reoffended, the crime in this case being armed robbery. It should be noted, however, that under the Criminal Code persons sentenced to life in prison with no possibility of parole for over 15 years may ask the court, once they have served a minimum of 15 years of their sentence, to reduce the parole ineligibility period. The government is attempting to scrap this measure by way of separate bill, Bill S-6.

Once in effect, this legislation would enable judges to hand down consecutive periods of parole ineligibility to persons convicted of several first or second degree murders. In other words, if a person were to commit two murders, the judge would be able to order two periods of ineligibility, one 25-year period for the initial sentence and a further 10 years for the second sentence, or two 25-year periods, for example.

Judges would not be required to impose consecutive periods but would make their decision on the basis of the character of the person being tried. All this amounts to saying that judges retain their freedom, that is to say, it is up to them to decide whether to impose successive periods of ineligibility for parole. They do this on the basis of the character of the person being tried, the nature of the crimes committed and the circumstances surrounding them, and any jury recommendation. Judges would also be required to state orally or in writing why they did not impose consecutive periods of ineligibility.

The Minister of Justice said he wanted to ensure that serial killers and recidivists pay the price for their actions. He said the purpose of the bill was to put an end to what he calls “sentence discounts” for multiple murderers. The government should stop using this kind of language, which serves only to discredit our legal system, which he should be defending. We do not think it makes sense to talk of sentence discounts, although it is strange that the sentences for these crimes are regularly served simultaneously.

We also want to take advantage of this opportunity to raise a few more points. In regard to recidivism, between January 1975 and March 2006, 19,210 offenders who had served a sentence for homicide—9,091 for murder and 10,119 for manslaughter—returned to the community, either on parole or on statutory release. Of these 19,210 offenders, 45 were later convicted of another 96 homicides in Canada. The reoffenders therefore amounted to 0.2% of the 19,210 people convicted of homicide who were released into the community over the last 31 years. During this period, police forces in Canada were apprised of more than 18,000 homicides. The criminals who reoffended while on parole by committing another homicide therefore accounted for 0.5% of all the homicides committed in Canada over the last 31 years. The figures show, therefore, that there is no basis for all the exaggerated arguments focused on safety.

Since the last death sentence was carried out in Canada in 1962, the period served by offenders convicted of murder prior to full parole has increased dramatically. Offenders serving life terms for murders committed before January 4, 1968 were paroled after seven years. Offenders serving life terms for murders committed between January 4, 1968 and January 1, 1974 were paroled after 10 years. Thereafter, the period varied between 10 and 25 years, depending on the kind of murder committed.

In addition, the average term of incarceration for offenders sentenced to life for first degree murder shows that the average served in Canada is longer than in all the countries examined, including the United States, except for American offenders serving a life sentence without possibility of parole. In addition to the countries referred to in the legislative summary, we must include Sweden, at 12 years, and England, at 14 years, while the average time spent in custody in Canada is 28 years and four months.

In terms of hope, as we said during debate on Bill S-6, we should encourage inmates serving a life sentence to behave well and seek out rehabilitation programs. That is how we will contribute to improving the safety of guards and other employees in the correctional service. It is therefore important that a parole system remain, so it is in criminals’ interests to improve themselves in prison, because without that system it would be difficult for the entire prison system and especially for the employees who work in it.

The government is not standing up for victims. It is using them to push its penitentiaries policy. Some people may in fact support an application for early parole by an inmate who has already served a very long period of incarceration. For example, when the victim and inmate are related or know each other, as was the case in 84 percent of solved homicides in 2007, or when the murderer is very young, the victim’s family may approve of parole after a long period of incarceration.

Bill S-6, not the bill that is before us, but another bill introduced in the Senate, would eliminate all possibility of early parole for all inmates, regardless of the circumstances and the views of the victim’s family.

In the case of Richard Kowbel, which was heard in the British Columbia Supreme Court, the young man had attacked his family, killing his mother and seriously injuring his father and sister. Both his father and his sister testified in support of his 15-year review application. We think judges should give reasons for their decisions in all cases, whether to make periods without eligibility consecutive or not. It will be understood—

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders Act
Government Orders

November 16th, 2010 / 12:25 p.m.
See context

NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member for his speech regarding Bill C-48. Last year, it was called Bill C-54.

For the last five years this government has been introducing and reintroducing the same group of crime bills, over and over again. It really has not been held accountable for this by the press. I was reading some press articles on some of these bills. The fact of the matter is that the reporters get the press releases from the government, simply regurgitate the press releases and announce a new initiative.

Somehow when the government prorogues the House or calls a needless election, such as in 2008, this same press does not do its research, pull up previous files and report that the government has already introduced such a bill. The press proceeds to report the legislation as some new initiative. I have been reading several of these articles and that is the impression I get.

Clearly, part of the responsibility lies with the press for not holding this government accountable for what it has been doing: torching its own crime agenda.

The government pretends that it is so important to the public, even with a bill such as this, and this is not the only crime bill. We have unanimous agreement on the part of all the parties in Parliament to pass this legislation, yet the government simply prorogues the House and we have to start all over again. That is not showing proper commitment and respect to the public in Canada or to the legislation being introduced.

I would like to ask the member to expand on those comments.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders Act
Government Orders

November 16th, 2010 / 11:25 a.m.
See context

Liberal

Bryon Wilfert Richmond Hill, ON

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to participate in this debate, and I will support sending the bill to the committee.

I would like to acknowledge my friend's comments with regard to our colleague from Mississauga East—Cooksville, who repeatedly has brought forth private members' legislation in support of this type of approach, one which most members in the House could adopt.

We had another version of this, Bill C-54, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and to make consequential amendments to the National Defence Act. It is back again. As members know, the House was prorogued and because of that, we did not deal with this issue. This tough on crime government supposedly let it languish and has only brought it back recently. There has been a lot of rhetoric about getting tough on crime, but the reality is when it has come to legislation, the government has not been very speedy in bringing it before the House.

Members may recall that Parliament repealed the death penalty in 1976 and imposed a mandatory life sentence for the offence of murder. Offenders convicted of first degree murder were to serve life, as a minimum sentence, with no eligibility before 25 years. For offenders convicted of second degree murder, a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment was also imposed, with a parole eligibility somewhere between 10 and 25 years when it could be reviewed. Those serving life sentences could only be released on parole by the National Parole Board.

We are all concerned about crime. One of the things we do not hear enough about from the government is the issue of dealing with the causes of crime. In the areas of murder in our country, the statistics have remained relatively stable since 1999. There was a spike in the seventies and early eighties, but it has remained relatively the same since then.

We need to deal with the kinds of programs that deal with alcohol abuse, drug abuse, housing issues, education, issues that really affect the development of crime. It is those social issues that ultimately are the ones that breed crime in Canada. When we do not deal with those, when we say that all the solutions to crime are to throw everybody in prison, it really does not address the causation.

There is an old commercial about changing our oil and filters, which says, “Pay me now or pay me later”. I would rather pay now and deal with the causes of crime rather than have to pay the escalating costs later on down the road. That also could apply to health care, again dealing with prevention first, such as a better diet, exercise, et cetera, rather than the extreme costs that occur later on, particularly in areas of health care.

We know the Criminal Code implicitly provides that all sentences shall be served concurrently, unless a sentencing judge directs or legislation requires that a sentence be served consecutively. For example, section 85(4) of the Criminal Code requires that a sentence for using a firearm in the commission of an offence “shall be served consecutively to any other punishment imposed on the person for an offence arising out of the same event or series of events”.

Section 83.26 mandates consecutive sentences for terrorist activities, other than in the case of a life sentence. Section 467.14 requires consecutive sentences for organized crime offences. One example when a consecutive sentence may be imposed by a sentencing judge is where the offender is already under a sentence of imprisonment.

My colleague from Mississauga East—Cooksville had proposed amendments when we were in government, which I supported. Offenders who killed one person received 25 years. If they killed two or more people, they received 25 years but their sentences were served concurrently. That obviously sent out the wrong message.

We hear that the statistics in Canada are alarming. When I look at England, Ireland or New Zealand, our rates of incarceration, particularly dealing with first degree murder, are significantly higher.

The inability to impose consecutive life sentences does not mean that parole ineligibility periods cannot be effective. A single parole ineligibility period for multiple murders can be increased when someone serving a life sentence receives an additional definite sentence. In such a case the offender is not eligible for full parole until the day on which the additional sentence was imposed. A lot of life sentences are not for 25 years; on average they are 28 years, so it is not automatic.

A large majority of homicides, over 95%, involve a single victim, not multiple victims. Since 1999, the rate has remained relatively stable. An international comparison was done in 1999 which looked at Canada in terms of first degree murder sentences and the average time served in other countries including the United States. With the exception of the U.S., for offenders serving life sentences without parole the average time in Canada was about 28.4 years. The impression out there is that people get a good deal, but they actually serve longer.

It is important that we send the bill to committee so that experts can testify and members of Parliament can have an informed and intelligent review of this legislation. Again, the bill affects a very small number, but we know it is the image out there that affects people's impression of reality, but the reality is clearly different.

In places like England and Wales the ministry of justice has revealed that the mean time served by mandatory lifers, that is murderers, first released from prison in 2008 on life sentences was 16 years, There was no change from the previous year. In Ireland, in 2004, the minister of justice acknowledged that imprisonment averaged 17 years. According to the New Zealand parole board, the average in that country was seven years if sentenced prior to August 1, 1987, and after that date, it was about 10 years. In terms of incarcerating first degree murderers, we are much further along than many other states in the world, particularly Commonwealth states.

Cases such as the Clifford Olson case or Robert Pickton case are the ones which attract national attention. They are the ones on which millions of dollars are spent. People ask what happens to the victims. One of the concerns on this side of the House is we do not want people to have to relive these tragedies every few years. It is important there be incarceration for 25 years, but if there is more than one murder involved, I support, and always have supported, consecutive terms.

Does that mean we have thrown away rehabilitation? Rehabilitation is useful in some cases. I do not know that it would be applicable in the case of multiple murders. We listen to people like Sharon Rosenfeldt, the founder of Victims of Violence. Her comment is that although this bill affects a small number of perpetrators, it still will cause the greatest amount of fear, controversy and unrest in our judicial system and the Canadian public. It will send a message.

If nothing else, as long as we are sending a clear message, that is important. But we should never shy away from the fact that the government has a responsibility to deal with the hard issues of the day, such as the causation of crime. We should start by focusing on youth at a very young age. It starts in our communities and schools. That is where we need to focus. This is again a small minority. We are dealing with this now, but if the government were really serious about dealing with this issue, it would have brought forward this legislation much sooner and it would not have prorogued Parliament in the meantime.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders Act
Government Orders

November 15th, 2010 / 4:10 p.m.
See context

Bloc

André Bellavance Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

I see that some colleagues are satisfied with my apology. In any event, the member for Abitibi—Témiscamingue is well equipped to handle this. In his former life, he was a criminal lawyer. He is very familiar with these matters, and we will have an opportunity to hear him a little later.

Allow me to review this bill briefly. The Bloc Québécois supports the bill in principle. Certainly we will hear everyone in committee who is interested in debating it. It is, however, another recycled bill. We know that it died on the order paper when it was called Bill C-54. This is a problem with the Conservatives. They introduce a series of bills dealing with crime and they boast of their crime-fighting prowess. But they are the authors of their own misfortune. They prorogue Parliament and trigger elections, killing their own bills on the order paper. Then they have to introduce them again.

I am sure that my colleague from Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine will not mind if I reiterate the statistics she gave a moment ago. She said, and quite rightly, that the government is always blaming the opposition for the fact that justice bills do not progress fast enough for them. She calculated that after Parliament resumed, 216 days went by before the government brought Bill C-48 back to the floor. This is the kind of bill that will not encounter tremendous opposition and will make the cut because most parties support it. This is another example of the government itself causing its own problems and causing delays in introducing bills and, most importantly, in bringing them into force.

The new provisions of Bill C-48 would allow judges to impose consecutive periods of parole ineligibility on persons convicted of multiple first or second degree murders. In contrast, under the present rules, individuals convicted of multiple murders are sentenced to concurrent parole ineligibility periods.

With this new bill, however, judges will not be required to impose consecutive periods; rather, they will have to make their decisions based on the character of the offender, the nature and circumstances of the offences, and the recommendation, if any, made by the jury. Judges will also be required to state, either orally or in writing, the reasons why they did not impose consecutive periods. We think that it might be added, as an amendment or otherwise, that judges should state reasons for every decision they make with respect to imposing consecutive ineligibility periods or not.

For transparency’s sake, judges should have to explain exactly why they make their parole ineligibility decisions, both to the person who is convicted and accused and to the victims of that person’s crimes and the general public. I am sure that everyone would benefit.

One important aspect of this bill is that it does not tie judges’ hands. They will still be at liberty to examine all the ins and outs of a case, determine exactly what happened and find out what the mitigating or aggravating circumstances are, and so make an informed decision. By making its recommendations, the jury will get its own say, since it will have had the opportunity to follow everything that went on during the trial. The jury will also be able to identify mitigating or aggravating circumstances. That will enable it to give the judge an opinion so the judge can make an informed decision about parole for an individual convicted of serious crimes who may even, unfortunately, be a repeat offender.

This is an important aspect of this bill, one with which we agree. What I find unacceptable on the part of the government is the fact that it constantly introduces bills that pay no attention to rehabilitation and express no openness or new ideas when it comes to potential rehabilitation.

We agree entirely that someone who has been convicted of a serious crime must be severely punished, but the Bloc Québécois looks to the example of the Quebec justice system. We know that there are people who can be rehabilitated and we must help them rehabilitate themselves. We want these individuals to serve their sentences. The evidence is that we were the first to call for automatic parole after one-sixth of sentence to be eliminated. Now, that does not mean we do not want people to return to society and become contributing members. What we do not want is for them to get out of prison and then at the earliest opportunity start committing crimes again and cause further serious harm to society.

During the debate on young offenders, the Government of Quebec reported very telling statistics indicating that 85% of young offenders are successfully rehabilitated. That is nothing to scoff at. The government needs to recognize this and acknowledge the importance of giving people who have made mistakes an opportunity to get back on track. We are therefore in favour of the principle of Bill C-48. As I said, the bill gives judges some leeway, which is important in this case.

Bill C-48 would give judges the option of stacking parole ineligibility periods at the time of sentencing in the case of multiple murders. We know that it does not make sense to have two successive life sentences. If an individual is convicted of murder, he will get 25 years in prison. He will be handed a life sentence. Canada is not like the United States, where a person can end up with a 250 or 400 year prison sentence. In any case, that is absurd. I do not know anyone who has lived long enough to serve that kind of a sentence.

Under Bill C-48, judges will at least have the option of stacking parole ineligibility periods. This might occur in the case of a repeat offender who has committed two first degree murders. The judge would be able to decide that the individual will not be eligible for parole after a 25 year period, a decision which is not currently permitted. The judge may decide that parole will be an option only after 50 years. That is a long prison sentence, but depending on the circumstances, and based on all the evidence presented, the judge will be able to ensure that the individual will not get out after 25 years and will serve a much longer sentence.

However, as I said a little earlier, we believe that punishment must not become the judicial system’s sole objective at the expense of social reintegration and rehabilitation. That is what is missing in this bill and in most of the justice bills introduced by the Conservative government.

The Bloc Québécois supports this bill because it will give judges more options when punishing people for their crimes. We are aware that such a measure will not serve as a deterrent, especially in the case of repeat offences which are, in any case, very rare. Now, some may say that one repeat offence is one too many, but I will shortly read out a few statistics to demonstrate that this bill will not be particularly useful to judges since, fortunately, there are not many repeat offenders out there. There are already too many of them though. The fact is that this is not a bill that we will hear that much about.

It is, therefore, an exceptional measure for exceptional cases where the jury will give its opinion and the judge will have the final say. When the minister introduced this bill, he said he would put an end to sentence discounts. What I read in the press regarding these remarks demonstrates that the Minister of Justice himself runs down the justice system when he is in fact supposed to be its greatest advocate. That does not mean that he is not entitled to make improvements to it.

In short, the Minister of Justice has stated that judges always hand down discount sentences and that the situation has to be corrected. This is not true. When one considers the decisions in all these major crimes, it is clear that the sentences are often completely adequate.

However, in many instances people get out too early. Earlier, reference was made to parole after serving one-sixth of a sentence. Judges are not the ones making mistakes. This practice must quite simply come to a stop, and convicted offenders with sentences to serve must serve those sentences. That does not rule out the possibility of parole. That flexibility must obviously be maintained. Rather than speaking of discount sentences, it would be more honest to say that Bill C-48 is going to give one more tool to judges so that individuals who commit extremely serious crimes in very exceptional circumstances will not be entitled to get out after a 25-year period. They will get out later if parole is granted. Some may never get out.

Nor is this bill about victims, just as most of the bills introduced by this government are not. Should prison be seen as the only solution to dealing with crime? I do not think so. Victims and their pain must also be taken into consideration. Now, on the matter of victims, my colleague, the member for Compton—Stanstead has introduced a bill on employment insurance. It calls for employment insurance to be paid to the families of victims of crime over a 50-week period, which will give people a chance to get back on their feet.

Currently, in Quebec, victims of crime have guaranteed employment for a two year period. This means that employers are not permitted to lay off victims because of a family tragedy. These people were victims of a crime and they find returning to work very hard. They have to look after other family members in the aftermath of the tragedy. It is all very well to have guaranteed employment, but everyone knows what happens when a person is without an income. People are forced to go back to work. They are often not in a suitable psychological state to do so. As decision makers and legislators, we have a responsibility to ensure that victims’ families and the victims themselves have access to employment insurance.

Currently, a maximum of 15 weeks’ employment insurance is available with a medical certificate. The bill introduced by my colleague, the member for Compton—Stanstead, would increase the number of weeks to 50. That is a step in the right direction. I would call on all members of the House, and particularly those on the Conservative government side, to support my colleague’s bill. She is also the member for one of my neighbouring ridings, and she sits with me on the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri Food. This only makes the bill more important to me. In fact, it is an excellent bill. I would invite everyone to support it.

If we look at the current sentencing system, the Criminal Code is clear:

Every one who commits first degree murder [that is, premeditated murder] or second degree murder is guilty of an indictable offence and shall be sentenced to imprisonment for life.

Only the parole ineligibility period can vary, depending on whether we are talking about first degree or second degree murder. A person convicted of first degree murder cannot apply for parole for at least 25 years.

For second degree murder, the judge must set the time period—a minimum of 10 years and a maximum of 25 years—during which the offender is ineligible for parole. The maximum sentence for manslaughter is life in prison, but there is no minimum sentence, except where a firearm is used—there is a distinction here—and no minimum parole ineligibility period. Those are the rules that apply now.

If we look at the bill and the changes it would make, we see that once in effect, the bill would allow the judge to impose consecutive parole ineligibility periods on individuals convicted of multiple first degree or second degree murders.

So as I said, judges would not be required to impose consecutive periods, but would have to base their decisions on the character of the offender, the nature and circumstances of the offences and any recommendation by the jury. In addition, judges would also be required to state, either orally or in writing, the reasons for any decision not to impose consecutive ineligibility periods.

Earlier, I talked about the Minister of Justice, who said he wanted to make sure serial killers and repeat offenders would pay the appropriate price for what they had done. He said that the purpose of the bill was to put an end to what he calls “sentence discounts” for multiple murderers. I gave my opinion about this moments ago. By acting in this way, the very person who should be standing up for the justice system is doing just the opposite. We do not believe we can really talk about sentence discounts, but it is strange that the sentences for such crimes are systematically served concurrently at present. That is why the measure in this bill strikes us as appropriate and acceptable.

Let us look at the facts. Concerning recidivism, I said a little while ago that I had statistics and this is not the kind of bill where we will hear about a lot of cases and see a lot of grandstanding by judges who would say that a certain offender will not be eligible for parole for 50 or 60 years or more. The statistics show that between January 1975 and March 2006, 19,210 offenders were released into the community on either parole or statutory release, of whom 9,091 had served a sentence for murder and 10,119 for manslaughter. Of these 19,210 offenders, 45 were later convicted of another 96 homicides in Canada. The latter 45 offenders amounted, therefore, to 0.2% of the 19,210 people who were convicted of homicide and released into the community over the last 31 years. So 0.2% of the people convicted of murder unfortunately reoffended and committed murder again. These are the people targeted by Bill C-48 before us today.

Over the same period, police forces in Canada were apprised of more than 18,000 homicides. The offenders convicted of another homicide while on conditional release accounted, therefore, for 0.5% of all the homicides committed in Canada over the last 31 years. It is clear, therefore, that the minister’s safety arguments, if not exactly false, are greatly exaggerated.

In listening to the minister and reading the documents released by the department after the introduction of this bill, we would think there is a multitude of criminals and we must ensure they serve long sentences because they will re-offend, as so many have done. Well no, that is not statistically true, because what the statistics prove is that not many people re-offend. It is very important, therefore, to ensure that people accused and convicted of serious crimes serve lengthy sentences but also have an opportunity to rehabilitate themselves and become active members of society again, rather than continuing lives of crime.

In regard to sentence length, since the last person was executed in Canada back in 1962, the time that offenders convicted of murder serve before receiving full parole has been increasing by leaps and bounds. People given life sentences for murders committed before January 4, 1968 served seven years. People given life sentences for murders committed between January 4, 1968 and January 1, 1974 served 10 years. Since then, the time served has varied between 10 and 25 years, depending on the type of murder.

We are therefore tougher now than we have ever been. This does not mean that we should stop being tough but that the bill should at least give judges a certain amount of latitude. We are in favour of it so long as judges do not have their hands tied. That is the important thing in this bill. I want to repeat my request, therefore, that the government ensure that there is still a possibility for offenders to be rehabilitated, rather than just thinking about punishment.

Business of the House
Oral Questions

November 26th, 2009 / 3:05 p.m.
See context

Prince George—Peace River
B.C.

Conservative

Jay Hill Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague, the House leader for the official opposition, for his question.

This Thursday I will contain myself mainly to the traditional question which is the business ahead for the next week for the House of Commons.

This week we are focusing yet again on the government's justice bills. Yesterday we completed the final reading of Bill C-36, the serious time for serious crime bill. We expect to send Bill C-58, the child protection bill, to committee later today. I had hoped that debate might have collapsed before question period and that bill would have already been on its way to committee. Hopefully that will happen this afternoon.

We will then be debating at second reading 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. We are hopeful debate will conclude on this bill as well today.

Other bills scheduled for debate this week are Bill C-54, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and to make consequential amendments to the National Defence Act, and Bill C-55, An Act to amend the Criminal Code, which is the response to the Supreme Court of Canada decision in R. v. Shoker bill.

Next week we will be calling for debate: Bill C-27, anti-spam, at third reading; Bill C-44, the Canada Post remailers bill, at second reading; Bill C-57, the Canada-Jordan free trade bill, at second reading; Bill C-56, fairness for the self-employed bill, at report stage and third reading; and of course, as always, I will give consideration to any bill that is reported back from committee.

My hon. colleague asked about allotted days. Next Tuesday, it would be my intention to have as the next allotted day.

Business of the House
Oral Questions

November 19th, 2009 / 3:05 p.m.
See context

Prince George—Peace River
B.C.

Conservative

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.

Justice
Statements By Members

October 30th, 2009 / 11:10 a.m.
See context

Conservative

Blake Richards Wild Rose, AB

Mr. Speaker, our government believes the rights of criminals should not come before the rights of victims and law-abiding Canadians.

Canadians lose faith in the criminal justice system when they feel that the punishment does not fit the crime. That is why, this week, our government tabled Bill C-54 to impose consecutive sentences for multiple murderers, ensuring that the punishment fits the severity of their crimes. Canadians can rest assured knowing that victims and the families of murder victims remain a top priority for this government.

I am proud of the good work our government has done to make communities safer for law-abiding Canadians, in spite of the constant obstruction of opposition members who pretend they are tough on crime but whose actions do not match their words.

Canadians know they can count on this government, under the leadership of this Prime Minister, to continue to stand up for victims and their rights and the rights of law-abiding Canadians.

Business of the House
Oral Questions

October 29th, 2009 / 3:05 p.m.
See context

Prince George—Peace River
B.C.

Conservative

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.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders Act
Routine Proceedings

October 28th, 2009 / 3:20 p.m.
See context

Niagara Falls
Ontario

Conservative

Rob Nicholson Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-54, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and to make consequential amendments to the National Defence Act.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)