Bill C-23 (Historical)
Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes Act
An Act to amend the Criminal Records Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts
This bill was last introduced in the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session, which ended in March 2011.
Vic Toews Conservative
This bill has received Royal Assent and is now law.
March 17th, 2011 / 10:45 a.m.
Scott Reid Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington, ON
Rather than ask the same question of Mr. Nicholson, because I think I've made the point, I'd like to ask Minister Nicholson a separate question relating to the fact that some of the bills are not costed.
In particular, when I go through it, I see extensive charts that provide excruciatingly detailed costs, such as the one for Bill C-23, I think it is. There are multiple pages for that particular chart. There are numerous other charts that provide similar detailed cost information. But I notice, and I'll use as an example Bill C-16, which amends the Criminal Code to end house arrest for property and other serious crimes by serious and violent offenders, that there's no cost estimate provided for that one, and there are a couple of others that are in the same category. I wonder if he could explain why that's the case.
Abolition of Early Parole Act
February 15th, 2011 / 1:30 p.m.
Pierre Paquette Joliette, QC
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak during debate on Bill C-59, An Act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (accelerated parole review).
As you know, this bill is the result of an initiative by the leader of the Bloc Québécois, who went to see the Prime Minister. My friend the member for Marc-Aurèle-Fortin had introduced Bill C-434, if memory serves me. As a result of the Conservatives’ repeated refusal to agree to unanimous consent for the passage of that bill, the leader of the Bloc Québécois took the initiative of going to see the Prime Minister. They looked at whether there was a way of finding a simple bill that would meet the objective of abolishing parole after one-sixth of the sentence and on which the House might reach consensus.
I had the opportunity to meet with the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons to examine the principles on which a bill of this type might be introduced in this House, with, we hoped at that time, the support of all four parties.
Very quickly, in just over two weeks, we agreed on two principles. In fact, the member for Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, who is also our justice critic, was with me at the time. The first principle was the abolition of parole after one-sixth of the sentence. In our bill, we were abolishing section 119.1 of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act, which is the only section that refers directly to one-sixth of the sentence. So by abolishing that article, we ultimately abolished the possibility of parole being granted after one-sixth of the sentence.
The Leader of the Government in the House of Commons told us that sections 125 and 126 had to be abolished at the same time, and we had no problem with that. Once section 119.1 was abolished, sections 125, 126 and 126.1 served no purpose. We quickly agreed that we had the same objectives.
The first principle we agreed on and which is found in Bill C-59, is, as I mentioned, the abolition of the possibility of parole after one-sixth of the sentence, and thus of the accelerated review procedure.
The second principle we felt strongly about was not included in any of the Conservative government's bills on this subject. In fact, we know that Bill C-39, which includes a section on the elimination of the possibility of parole after one-sixth of the sentence, is currently being studied in committee. However, it does not immediately apply to those who have not yet been able to benefit from the one-sixth of sentence rule. So, the second principle that we were calling for and reached agreement on is that everyone who has been sentenced but has not yet been able to benefit from the current provision for parole after one-sixth of the sentence will now be subject to Bill C-59.
After talks with the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and officials from the departments of justice and public safety, we agreed that this was acceptable and represented the will of both parties. In addition, and I will come back to this later, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is being respected in all of this. Those were the two principles.
Next, there were meetings to ensure that the text reflected all of this. At the beginning, we thought about using part of a split version of Bill C-39 as the starting point, as happened with the issue of granting pardons last spring, if I remember correctly. In that case, Bill C-23 was split in two. Bill C-23A was fast-tracked here in the House and was passed by the parties. The other part, Bill C-23B, was sent to committee and followed the usual process. This was the first possibility we looked at.
We also looked at the possibility of using Bill C-434, which had been introduced by my colleague for Marc-Aurèle-Fortin. We quickly came to the conclusion that it would be better to have a new bill. That resulted in Bill C-59, which is before us now. Again, it contains the two principles that were agreed upon, namely the elimination of parole after one-sixth of the sentence and the fact that people like Earl Jones, who have been sentenced but have not been able to take advantage of parole after the one-sixth of sentence rule, would be subject to the new law set out in Bill C-59, once it receives royal assent, obviously.
The rest of the bill simply repeals sections that will no longer be necessary in the Criminal Code if sections 119.1, 125, 126 and 126.1 are repealed. The bill is about 10 pages long, but really, only three clauses are important: clauses 3, 5 and 10. No one should be using the bill's complexity as an excuse for any delay in studying it, as the Liberals and NDP have done.
As I was saying, it is a very simple bill that directly targets the objectives we intended. My initial contact with the Liberals and NDP led me to believe that we would have the support of those parties. Why did they change their minds in the middle of the process? I do not know, but it certainly cannot be because of the supposed complexity of the bill, especially since we have been debating this notion in the House for some time now.
I would remind the House that the Bloc Québécois has been proposing this since 2007. Thus, it was not the whole saga surrounding Vincent Lacroix's release after serving just one-sixth of his sentence that led us to promote the abolition of the one-sixth rule.
I will remind the House of certain things that have happened since 2006 that make a good argument for repealing the provisions that allow parole after one-sixth of a sentence is served for a very simple issue, and that argument is, simply, the credibility of the judicial system and the credibility of the sentences handed down by judges. I concur with my hon. colleague from Marc-Aurèle-Fortin: our primary concern is to ensure that the entire judicial system—the judiciary and the sentences handed down by the courts—is considered credible in the eyes of the public, has public support and has the public's trust. Certain criteria must be met in order to benefit from parole at one-sixth of the sentence. We must acknowledge that for the past few years, parole at one-sixth of a sentence has been almost automatic and the conditions have been extremely relaxed and lenient, which has undermined the public's trust a great deal. This is true in both Quebec and Canada, and has affected the entire judicial system and how easy it has been for some criminals, particularly white collar criminals, to take advantage of the parole at one-sixth rule.
I will only talk about a few cases. In July 2006, Paul Coffin, who was involved in the sponsorship scandal, was released after serving one-sixth of his 18-month sentence. Members who have been around for a few years, like me, will remember. In 2006, that shocked a lot of people. In fact, the sponsorship scandal represented a turning point regarding trust in the Liberal Party of Canada.
On November 3, 2006, Jean Brault, another person involved in the sponsorship scandal, was released on parole after having served six months of his 42-month sentence. I can say that that was also a shock for many of us and for many Quebeckers, in particular, but I am sure that English Canada was just as shocked. I remind members that Jean Brault played a very key role in the sponsorship scandal. He practically bragged about it throughout the Gomery inquiry.
In June 2007, as a reaction to these two paroles after one-sixth of the sentence was served, we proposed that this procedure that enabled to fraudsters to serve a tiny fraction of their sentence be abolished, and that was made public. Our critic at the time was Réal Ménard. This goes back some time, since he is no longer here and is no longer the member for Hochelaga. As we know, he was replaced by my colleague, who is the current finance critic. This idea was presented in our justice plan. It was even included in a bill that Mr. Ménard was prepared to introduce before he decided to leave federal politics for municipal politics.
That is when we started promoting this idea of eliminating parole after one-sixth of the sentence. In December 2007, Vincent Lacroix was released for his first federal offence after one-sixth of his sentence.
On August 26, 2008, Jean Lafleur, another figure in the sponsorship scandal, was released after serving seven months of a 42-month sentence. We are talking about three cases, apart from the issues around Vincent Lacroix or Earl Jones, that are related to fraud and attempts to break the rules.
September 2009 was the first time we asked to fast-track Bill C-434, introduced by our justice critic, the hon. member for Marc-Aurèle-Fortin. The only people who opposed the idea at the time were the Conservatives. I remember it quite well: we did not hear a single no from the Liberals or the NDP.
On October 26, 2009, the government introduced Bill C-53 to eliminate the one-sixth sentence, which reached first reading stage only. It was clearly a reaction to the introduction of Bill C-434 by the Bloc Québécois. I must point out that during all that time, every time we sought consent or we asked questions as to why they were opposed to fast-tracking our Bill C-434 to eliminate the chance for parole after one-sixth of the sentence, those sitting on the Conservative benches told us it was very complicated, that they needed to take a thorough look at it and that we could not move forward in this manner.
I am glad the Conservatives have realized that it was not so complicated and that it was just a matter of two small, very simple principles and three key clauses. For the rest, it was just a matter of repealing clauses in order to be consistent with abolishing the clauses I mentioned earlier in my speech.
We introduced our own bill and prompted the government to follow suit. The Conservative government recognized the importance of eliminating the chance for parole after one-sixth of the sentence, but for partisan reasons, it would prefer to pass a government bill instead of a Bloc bill.
Two years ago, on February 15, 2009, Joseph Charles Guité was released on parole after serving six months of a 42-month sentence. This is yet another example. Had the government co-operated with us from the beginning and had the opposition parties, the Liberals and the New Democrats, been willing to be more objective and less partisan, we could have ensured that Guité was not released from prison in 2009 after serving only one-sixth of his sentence.
We brought this issue forward again on March 4, 2010, seeking unanimous consent to quickly pass the Bloc Québécois bill. Once again, only the Conservatives opposed the bill. For the second time, the Liberals and the NDP did not oppose passing this bill quickly. Once again, we were unable to prevent the release of Vincent Lacroix after he served only one-sixth of his sentence. As the hon. members surely know, this happened on January 27. This time it was for sentences for criminal wrongdoing.
During this time, the Prime Minister called an election and Parliament was prorogued for partisan reasons. All of this caused undue delays in the passing of a bill that would have abolished the practice of parole after one-sixth of the sentence. The government revisited this issue on June 15, 2010, and introduced Bill C-39 to abolish the practice of parole after one-sixth of the sentence, among other things. This bill was passed at second reading and will go to committee. Clearly, the government will have to propose amendments so that Bill C-39 does not duplicate the provisions of Bill C-59, but that is the government's problem. There are other provisions of Bill C-39 that warrant closer examination.
If Bill C-59 is passed, it must apply to Earl Jones, who could be released next fall after serving one-sixth of his sentence. It is therefore urgent in this case, and in others, to ensure that Earl Jones will not take advantage of current provisions.
Once again, we are reaching out to the members of the New Democratic Party and the Liberal Party to ensure that the bill to abolish parole after serving one-sixth of a sentence is passed quickly this week. I know that the committee will study the matter this evening. It will be an opportunity for further consideration of the issue. Once again, this bill contains three main clauses, and the remaining provisions are just consequential amendments.
In the time remaining, I would like to discuss the importance of passing this bill. As I have said from the beginning, it is a question of the credibility of the judicial system and the credibility of sentences handed down by judges. And it is compatible with the desire to have a system of rehabilitation. After one-sixth of a sentence, there will still be one-third. There are other opportunities for parole before the end of the sentence. However, we believe one-sixth is definitely not enough.
As I mentioned, such parole is almost automatic. We know that to take advantage of current provisions, and to be released on day parole, the offender must be serving a sentence in a federal institution—thus, a sentence of two or more years. And the crime committed must not have been a violent crime, related to a criminal organization, terrorism or a crime of a sexual nature. Furthermore, the offender cannot have been an accomplice in such an offence and, if he applies for this parole, he must not be subject to an order requiring him to serve at least of half of the sentence for a drug-related offence; it must be a first federal offence committed prior to the first stay in prison. Vincent Lacroix—and this is what is absurd about the law—was able to benefit twice from the one-sixth clause because, with respect to the federal offence committed, he had already been paroled when he was found guilty of his criminal offence. As a last condition, the offender must not be likely to commit a violent crime.
As you can see, there are many criminals who meet these criteria, including the big embezzlers who, for the past few years, have plagued the financial sector.
We believe that, because of issues related to the system's credibility, the practice of granting parole after one-sixth of a sentence must be abolished. I also mentioned that we are calling on the government, which has agreed to our arguments, to make the new provisions of Bill C-59 immediately applicable to all criminals, even those who have already been sentenced, as soon as the bill receives royal assent. It is important to note this, since some people suggest that there may be problems from a constitutional perspective.
Section 11(i) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms reads:
Any person charged with an offence has the right
(i) if found guilty of the offence and if the punishment for the offence has been varied between the time of commission and the time of sentencing, to the benefit of the lesser punishment.
This clearly pertains to the sentence. That is what this section is referring to. It is not referring to the application of the sentence.
Earl Jones' sentence is known. Parole after one-sixth of a sentence is an application of the sentence. Bill C-59 does not alter Earl Jones' sentence and the provision of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms simply does not apply. Some are using this argument; however, it is a false argument designed to put off a decision that must be made.
Once again, I call on the New Democratic Party and the official opposition to show their generosity and intelligence by joining us in quickly passing Bill C-59 at all stages.
Disposition of Abolition of Early Parole Act
February 14th, 2011 / 7:35 p.m.
Ben Lobb Huron—Bruce, ON
Mr. Speaker, the member had one thing correct. I do not sit on the justice committee. It is called the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security.
Debate on the bill has struck a chord with the Bloc and with the coalition because we are actually dealing with facts. This fall we could have dealt with legislation that would have made a difference in people's lives and they went on a fishing trip instead.
Bill C-23, Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes Act is one that would eliminate the possibility for an adult who commits a sexual crime against a child to get a pardon. Opposition members could have had that dealt with this fall but they chose to drag their feet.
Canadians at home need to understand that the talk over there is fancy but there are no facts behind it. Opposition members have a chance every single day they come to committee to get this through, and if all of a sudden they have seen the light and drank the water, why do they not talk to the House leader of our party and get it all dealt with right now? They could call, PIN, text or email him. I ask hon. members, let us do it this week. Let us do something for the victims this week.
Disposition of Abolition of Early Parole Act
February 14th, 2011 / 4:40 p.m.
Maria Mourani Ahuntsic, QC
That is exactly why they did it in a press release.
The Bloc Québécois does not care whether the Bloc or the government sponsored the bill. However, this does seem to be important to my colleague, the Liberal public safety critic. That is not what is important. What is important is that we abolish the one-sixth rule, that we get rid of accelerated parole review, and that we stop undermining our current justice system and people's confidence in our ability to protect them.
The Conservatives have not yet grasped that people do not want harsh sentences, they want sentences that are served. They want sentences to be served in their entirety. Therefore, this Conservative negligence is further proof that this government is, in my view, more concerned with putting on a show than anything else.
However, I am assuming that this goodwill could perhaps shed a little more intellectual light on their view of public safety. I invite them to support other Bloc bills that are currently in the works, effective bills that will ensure public safety and victim protection.
The first Bloc Québécois bill, Bill C-343, would support the families of victims of crime. I will not repeat it, but this bill has received a great deal of support, and I invite them to support it. Another Bloc bill, Bill C-608, would amend the Criminal Code to make it an offence not to report to the authorities instances of sexual or physical abuse of children. I invite them to support this bill as well as my bill on human trafficking, which would make it possible to impose consecutive sentences on traffickers and pimps and also to seize the assets of these criminals. Let us keep the momentum going: I invite them to support our other worthwhile bills.
And now I would like to discuss the urgency of this situation. Why pass this bill quickly and therefore limit the time for debate, given that there is obstruction on all sides? They would prefer to talk about it for days, months, or even years. The question is “"Why?” The answer is: Because it is urgent. We now know—and we all know it—that this provision is absurd, that it makes no sense and that it should be eliminated. We all know it. Yes, it is true that Earl Jones will soon be eligible, but he is not the only one. There are many guys like him that the media do not talk about, who get away with it and discover that crime pays well, because they are making money. They go to prison for a few months and then they are out again.
The Liberal Party of Canada and the NDP are saying that we have plenty of time to study this bill and that the overall system needs to be looked at. That is not true. When we look at Bill C-39, which is currently before committee, we see that not witnesses have yet been heard. And so, debate on the bill at committee stage is far from complete and it still needs to be sent back to the House. I can assure you that at this pace, we can expect Earl Jones and all the others like him—in Quebec, Canada or elsewhere—to have been released.
It would be untrue to say that splitting Bill C-39, as we did, is wrong and should never be done because it would be dreadful. That is hypocritical. In fact, last summer we split Bill C-23, much to the pleasure of the Liberals and the NDP. We kept certain provisions. Other provisions are currently being studied in committee.
I would like to remind the Liberal and NDP members that, if their current irresponsibility were copied by the majority of parliamentarians—which I hope will not be the case—it would lead to the possible early release of another economic predator, Mr. Jones.
Moreover, Judge Hélène Morin had the following to say about Earl Jones. She gave the example of the case of one of Mr. Jones' victims, Ms. JD—her real name has not been released. The story is quite tragic and shocking. Ms. JD's husband was killed by mass murderer Valery Fabrikant at Concordia University in 1992. While she was in mourning for her husband, she turned to Earl Jones for financial and management advice. She had accompanied her husband to a financial planning session in Pointe-Claire a few years previously.
To Ms. JD, Earl Jones seemed incredibly comfortable managing money, an area with which she was not very familiar. Over the years, she began to allow him to make decisions on her behalf more and more frequently.
This woman suffered unbelievable grief as a result of the actions of mass murderer Valery Fabrikant and then she found herself the victim of another predator, this time a financial one, Earl Jones. Can we put ourselves in this woman's shoes? Can we imagine how she must have felt when she found out that this man was going to get out of prison after only a few months? Do we agree that this is not right? And since it is not right, this partisan attitude is even less appropriate. Such an attitude should not prevail here. The public interest should be our priority.
Judge Morin said that Ms. JD was upset when Earl Jones made the headlines. The media described him as a financial predator but she believed that he actually cared about her and her family.
I am not making any of this up. It is normal. Those who commit a fraud of this magnitude and even those who commit smaller-scale fraud are very skilled manipulators.
Judge Morin added that, after all, Mr. Jones had counselled Ms. JD following the death of her husband. Before abandoning him, Ms. JD wanted to know the truth. As she wrote in her statement, the truth was that he had abandoned them, her and the others. He did not have any pity for his clients regardless of their age or needs. In addition to having to deal with the tragic death of her husband, she also had to deal with being a victim of the accused.
This guy was absolutely merciless. And he is just one of many. Fraudsters of that ilk, and even small-time fraudsters, show no mercy for their victims. For them, it is a way to make a fast buck. We can imagine how important it is to keep these people in prison in order to rehabilitate them and to reduce the factors that led them into crime. If they get out after a few months, how can we work with these men and women—for there are also women who do this—and rehabilitate them? It takes time.
However, when a law states that they must be transferred to a halfway house after one-sixth of their sentence is served, how can they participate in any programs on the inside? Is it safe to say that all risk factors have been reduced at that point? Have they worked on their criminogenic factors? Not everything is being considered here.
The petty politics that the Liberals and NDP are playing are only going to help people like Earl Jones and Vincent Lacroix, who are merely symbols; there are many others. The Liberals and NDP are going to allow their release, even though such criminals have not necessarily had the opportunity to take programs that target their criminogenic factors.
In my riding, in Montreal and Laval, we also had our fraudster. There have been a few, but one really stands out: Leon Kordzian. He unscrupulously cheated 25 people in Montreal and Laval out of $1 million.
He speaks several languages and is very intelligent. He defrauded a number of people of Armenian, Lebanese, Iraqi, Greek and Italian origin. He recruited them at a small, well-known, local coffee shop. He had contacts. It is even said that he might have had a contact at the bank. These people lost everything: their retirement, their homes. They are living a nightmare.
At the end of January, the leader of the Liberal Party came to my riding and was five minutes away from the coffee shop where Mr. Kordzian had operated. Did the Liberal leader meet with any of this fraudster's victims? Will he meet with them to explain that, because of his petty politics, this fraudster might get released after serving one-sixth of his sentence? Whether this happens in Ahuntsic, in Canada or in Quebec, the Liberals and the NDP will have to be accountable for this.
December 15th, 2010 / 4:05 p.m.
Blake Richards Wild Rose, AB
Mr. Speaker, I have three sets of petitions to table.
The first set is certainly very timely for today, given that yesterday the public safety committee had a special meeting, called by the government members, to try to see Bill C-23 dealt with. Obviously that was filibustered and stymied by the opposition parties.
However, I have a number of petitioners who keep coming in, almost on a daily basis, calling on the House of Commons to change the Criminal Records Act, to prohibit the granting of pardons to convicted sex offenders.
December 14th, 2010 / 9:35 a.m.
Maria Mourani Ahuntsic, QC
Very well, Mr. Chairman. Allow me to speak to this bill. I have several points to cover.
First, I have to say it is rather disappointing. From a very objective point of view it is my impression that this government does not want to change its technique, it just wants to put on shows. Once again today it is putting on a show. Why? Unfortunately, this government does not understand that public safety is important, fundamental, and that we cannot put on a show when people's lives are involved.
Personally, I also think it is extremely insulting to have this thrown at us today, and to be told that there have been amendments and that we are going to be doing clause-by-clause consideration. It is even more insulting because we have not even heard some witnesses. I would like to hear these witnesses, for example the Association québécoise Plaidoyer-Victimes, which is a group that has been dealing on a daily basis with victims for several years. Unfortunately they could not come because of the time restrictions, but they wanted to come. I would like to hear their opinion on this bill. I would like to hear the voices of victims.
We heard the minister speak to us about the notion of the three violations. It is my impression that he included this in the bill just because he felt like it. This idea is not backed-up by numbers. It just seems logical to him and that is all. I would like to hear those individuals who can back statements up with numbers, and who are familiar with the outcome of similar measures in the lives of individuals. We have heard individuals who are directly affected by this and who have dealt with the justice system. However I would also like to hear the victims.
This government has called itself the champion for victims. Yet, to date, we have not seen anything and we are still waiting. We will see if they will support our Bill C-343 at third reading—a bill for victims. I apologize for my digression, Mr. Chairman.
The government has said it is the champion for victims, however we have not heard from any victims. Of course, one individual came to speak to us about what she had experienced and that was very interesting. However, I would also like to hear from groups that represent victims and that can tell us what the people they work with think about this. When I say people they work with of course I am referring to victims.
Furthermore, I think it is somewhat unfortunate that today we are debating how this bill will move forward. I sincerely believe that everyone around this table is here in good faith and wants to move bills forward that are important for public safety. That at least is true for us, in the Bloc Québécois.
On that issue, Mr. Chairman, I do not understand the urgency. Let's be realistic. If we would vote in favour of this motion today, when would we be doing clause-by-clause consideration of this bill? No doubt it would happen next year, when we come back. Everyone agrees that even if we were to vote unanimously in favour of this motion, we could not begin consideration. We would have to do this when we come back. So this is simply for show and it is disappointing.
I have thought about this issue and I have asked myself what we could do to approve this bill, given that we have not heard from everyone. It is quite possible that other groups have other good ideas to suggest.
For the benefit of the committee members, Mr. Chairman, I am going to cover all these points again, so that we know what we are talking about.
First of all, when one refers to pardon, currently that means suspending a criminal record. What does that actually mean? Currently, after one has been accused of an offence and one has served the sentence in its entirety, whether that be incarceration, a penalty, probation or anything else, one can request a pardon. This doesn't happen automatically. It is not granted automatically just because one is eligible; a request has to be made. That application takes time. Given the number of steps involved, it can take up to a year. One has to go to the courts to obtain the list of offences, to the police station for fingerprinting, etc. It is a very, very long process. It can take up to a year.
Then the file has to be dealt with. You may get the answer that it is going to happen in six months. Let's say that your request is accepted and your criminal record is suspended. If you go into a convenience store, and you steal a bag of chips and police officers arrest you, then your criminal record is reactivated, just like that, automatically and immediately. No request is necessary in that case. So the criminal record did not simply disappear.
Furthermore, if you do obtain a pardon—that is the word that is currently used—and your criminal record is suspended, it is not erased in the United States. There have been cases where individuals who committed offences—I believe this involved participating in a demonstration, and assaults—during the 1970s or 1980s succeeding in having their criminal records suspended but ended up being arrested in the United States where their criminal records were still active. There is a whole other system reserved for those individuals. They therefore have to go through the process.
Now let's ask ourselves the question and look at the numbers. We do have some numbers that the minister didn't have. Perhaps that can help us determine whether or not the current system works.
In fact, Mr. Chairman, I would just like to make a point. Bill C-23, which was much too big, was divided in two. We are dealing with Bill C-23B, An Act to amend the Criminal Records Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts. I don't know if you recall, Mr. Chairman, but once again this was presented to us at the last minute, just before we left last June. These people have made a specialty out of this. They had a show to give that day, and it was the Homolka show. Do you understand? So they needed actors, the media, etc. The whole Homolka show took place.
We nonetheless looked at Bill C-23. We felt that it made no sense but we decided to try and see the good parts of it. We did that in good faith. What follows is what was added to what already existed.
If an individual wants to apply for a pardon, if an individual who is found guilty of extreme cruelty under article 752 of the Criminal Code wants to apply for a pardon, they will have to wait for 10 years after the end of their sentence and after having paid all penalties or having ended their probation.
Let's take an individual who was given a five-year prison term, three years of probation and a fine. That's a typical case. That person will have to wait for eight years. After those eight years, they will have to put in an application. However, this doesn't automatically happen. In order to apply, one has to fill in a form, provide finger-prints, deal with the police and courts of law, etc. If that individual does not become discouraged, it will take a year. After the eight years, that is, five years of prison and then three years of probation, they will then have to wait another ten years, which makes 18 years. However, one must not forget the famous process that I just described, which takes one year. If you add to those 18 years the time it takes to process and accept the application, you have a total of 20 years. We are talking about an individual who has committed a serious crime. It therefore takes 20 years for that individual to finally obtain a document that will allow him to work. That is reality.
Why do these individuals want their criminal record suspended? Is it simply in order to have one more piece of paper to put in their files? No. I have a few examples here. The main reason is employment. That is what allows an individual to feed their family, and also not to go back to a criminal life. Any good criminologist, sociologist, counsellor, street worker, social worker or police officer, in other words any individual who has met an offender face to face, understands that that offender has to work. I am sure that my friends on the other side also understand this. Why do they have to work? Because in working, they pay taxes rather than living off social assistance or employment insurance. On your side, that allows you to provide the billions of dollars that you have to invest in prisons. Do you understand, Mr. Chairman?
Working not only allows you to become rehabilitated, but it also allows you to feed your family, to become a law-abiding citizen. It's in this way that society is protected, not by depriving these individuals of a criminal record suspension, which ends up condemning them for life and preventing them from working. It should be pointed out that these individuals cannot be employed by government. They are able to work as truck drivers, but even then, if their itinerary involves travelling from Montreal to New York or anywhere else in the United States, then they will face a major problem. So one can definitely not have a criminal record. Do you see why this is so important? It is fundamental.
As far as I am concerned, I would prefer that these people work rather than live off social assistance or employment insurance. Actually they probably won't be able to get employment insurance because they won't be able to work. So they are going to have to fall back on social assistance or their former habits, that is stealing, holding up people, getting angry, feeling rage inside and wanting to take revenge on a society that rejects them, discriminates against them. Rejection and discrimination are fundamental issues.
Yet we also heard examples of individuals who were rehabilitated and who have families. I am certain that you would not be able to guess that they had criminal records if you weren't told so, Mr. Chairman. Nowhere is it written that they have a criminal record. Do you understand? These are law-abiding citizens who have been successful and I congratulate them. They are not the only ones.
Let us take a look at the numbers I mentioned earlier. In 97% of all cases, the suspension of a criminal record did not subsequently end up being revoked. Surprisingly, criminal record suspensions were revoked in only 3% of cases. From what I understand the reasons were varied; it didn't necessarily happen because of another crime being committed. This should, however, be studied further. I am very intrigued. We shall see.
What do the numbers say? According to 2009-2010 data, approximately 3.8 million Canadians have a criminal record and therefore have been sentenced, and less than 11% of these were granted a pardon or were rehabilitated.
Furthermore, in 2009-2010 the National Parole Board received 32,105 applications for pardons. The Board approved for consideration—which does not mean they granted the pardons—28,844 applications, in other words 77% of those applications. During the same year, the board reviewed 24,559 applications. How many pardons were granted? It granted 16,247 pardons. It approved 7,887 rehabilitation applications. In other words, 97% of all requests were approved. That is extraordinary.
Here is my interpretation of the numbers. First, even if one applies for a pardon, these days the National Parole Board may not even decide to consider the request. The board receives the application but it can turn it down without even considering it. That is what I understand from the numbers. In fact, the Board decided to consider 24,844 of the 32,105 applications that were submitted, then granted 16,247 pardons and approved 7,887 rehabilitation applications.
The numbers tell us that there really is nothing to be worried about. There is no urgency.
That being said, is the suspension of criminal records still important? It is fundamental. It is very important to avoid putting everyone in the same box. What we all want is to prevent pardons being granted to individuals who sexually assault children. The case is different when it involves a man or a woman who followed a rather rocky path as a young adult and ended up committing thefts when they were 18 or 19. We all agree that not everyone is a saint and that some individuals end up following rather difficult paths at one point or another. That does not prevent them from wanting to settle down one day and start their lives over again. In fact, wanting to settle down means they want to start over.
Keeping this in mind, let us now consider Bill C-23A which includes schedule 1. The bill states that one must wait 10 years after serving one's sentence before being able to obtain a record suspension in cases where “the applicant was sentenced to imprisonment for a period of two years or more for an offence referred to in schedule 1”. Do not forget that it is not actually 10 years. We did the math together and, in fact, it's actually 20 years.
I have schedule 1 before me. I must say that for the average person, schedule 1 contains a bit of everything. It is a long list. It includes “sexual interference with a person under 16 years”, “invitation to sexual touching”, “sexual exploitation of a person 16 [...]”, “bestiality in the presence of a person under 16, inciting a person under 16 to commit bestiality”. It is disgusting. We all agree on that. There is also “child pornography”, “a parent procuring sexual activity”, “a householder permitting sexual activity”. Mr. Chairman, between you and me, the term “maître de maison” sounds like one is living in a kingdom. Does that make any sense in the Criminal Code? Regardless, schedule 1 also includes “corrupting children”, “luring”, “exposure”, “living on avails of prostitution of a person under 18”, and other serious crimes. I could go on for a long time.
So what is the problem? Why is this being thrown our way today, on this beautiful morning? Can you explain this? There is no explanation. This is just for show, Mr. Chairman. That was today's purpose. I will not stop saying this because it is what I absolutely believe.
Now, let us consider Bill C-23B. What does not make sense at first blush? Is it the substitution of the word “pardon” with the term “record suspension”? Mr. Chairman, where is the sense in a semantic debate over terms? You really have to have plenty of time to waste in order to come up with a bill whose goal is to substitute “record suspension” for “pardon”. You have to agree.
Let us ask the question. Why do the Conservatives want to remove the term “pardon” and replace it with “record suspension”? Mr. Chairman, another fundamental point is that they want to remove the word “rehabilitation”. They really do not like that term! That is the worst of it. If you start saying the word “rehabi...”, you can't finish your sentence because they start breaking out in a rash. It is unbelievable.
December 14th, 2010 / 9:25 a.m.
November 24th, 2010 / 4:55 p.m.
Maria Mourani Ahuntsic, QC
Thank you very much.
I would like to come back to you, Mr. Myette. Mr. Bérard, you could also enlighten us on this subject. It must be understood that Bill C-23 has been divided in two. In Bill C-23A, the provision that also concerns pedophiles has been discussed and adopted. In the case of Bill C-23B, that indirectly and non-exclusively concerns pedophiles; it also concerns a range of offences.
Let's take Schedule 1, for example. It states that all persons convicted of Schedule 1 offences are no longer entitled to a record suspension. That concerns arson, assault, aggravated assault, mischief and so on. There are all kinds of offences.
So if we wanted to amend this bill in accordance with Mr. Kennedy's remarks so as to target only child sex offenders, we would have to state specifically that child sex offenders are not entitled to a record suspension, period.
As it takes three offences, this could be a person who has previously been caught shoplifting and who is subsequently caught selling drugs once or twice. Then it would be over for that person, even if he or she wanted to rehabilitate.
November 24th, 2010 / 4:25 p.m.
François Bérard Policy Committee Representative, Association des services de réhabilitation sociale du Québec
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
This afternoon, I am representing the Association des services de réhabilitation sociale du Québec, which represents some 60 Quebec community-based organizations that work, in particular, in the social reintegration of adult offenders. Our members work mainly with an adult clientele and serve approximately 35,000 clients every year.
At the outset, I must tell you that ASRS is opposed to Bill C-23 in its entirety, both Bill C-23A and Bill C-23B. We cannot endorse the approach taken by the first government in over 100 years in their apparently resolute opposition to pardoning offenders.
According to figures published by the Parole Board of Canada, 3.8 million Canadians had a criminal record in 2009-2010. However, it is estimated that fewer than 11% of people who have been convicted have obtained a pardon. Pardon is thus something that applies to a minority of individuals.
The figures also show that the Parole Board of Canada received 32,105 pardon applications in 2009-2010. It agreed to consider 24,000 of that number, 77% of applications received. In the same year, the board considered 24,559 applications, granted 16,247 pardons and issued 7,887 pardons. There were therefore 24,134 favourable decisions by the board. In other words, 98% of all decisions made by the board were in favour of pardon.
In addition, for individuals who have received a pardon since 1970, 97% have not since been revoked or cancelled by the board. Over the last 10 years, out of 9,171 pardons granted in sexual offence cases, 268 have been revoked for various reasons, not necessarily for subsequent offences of the same type. Here we're talking about 2.9% of all pardons granted in sex offence cases. We wonder what the problem is and why, despite such a high success rate for pardons in particular, we are now being presented with a bill under which we would have to go back and adopt an orientation different from the one that has been followed for very many years.
The government advances two arguments to justify its bill. First, it argues that it is not the job of governments to forgive; that that is for the victims to do. We would note that, in the realm of criminal law, our society has given the government responsibility for dealing with crimes. The idea is to assign the matter to a more neutral entity than victims and offenders. Following the same logic, we could go back to a system under which victims and offenders resolve their case between themselves. In the Middle Ages, Western societies chose to allow government, as a more neutral entity, to resolve conflicts between victims and offenders when a criminal act had been committed. To our mind, saying that it is for victims to pardon is mere sophistry.
The second argument advanced is that we have to put victims first. This argument suggests that there is a conflict between the rights of victims and those of offenders. However, nothing could be further from the truth. Reducing the rights of one will not enhance the rights of the other. We also believe that nothing in this bill meets the actual needs of victims. Pardoning is one of the most common unofficial practices in society. In certain situations, people say "Pardon me," "I'm sorry," and so on. That is simply part of living together.
Forgiveness may become much more formal in situations that are considered to be more problematic. That was the case, for example, in 2008, when Prime Minister Harper offered the most sincere official apology by Canadian society to the First Nations concerning the Indian residential schools. It is also in that more formal context that pardons for crimes committed must be understood.
The question of pardons fundamentally offers us a choice: do we opt for revenge or do we choose the path of reconciliation. Unfortunately, the language used by the government fuels the conflict between victim and offender. That is why we cannot support the approaches proposed in this bill. Instead, we urge parliamentarians to find other avenues for reforming the pardon system so that it will be better able to restore the social bonds that are broken when an offence is committed.
Thank you very much.
November 24th, 2010 / 3:30 p.m.
Sharon Rosenfeldt President, Victims of Violence
Thank you very much.
Good afternoon. My name is Sharon Rosenfeldt, and I'm president of Victims of Violence.
Victims of Violence is a national organization that was started 26 years ago by my late husband Gary, me, and a number of other individuals who had a loved one murdered. We found there were not any services for people like us in our situation. We were all thrust into a justice system we did not understand. The organization grew and grew due to other individuals contacting us from across Canada looking for answers in their particular set of circumstances regarding their victimization. We did not have those answers, but we did our utmost to help them find out, and most of the time it resulted in changes having to be made to legislation, mostly to the Criminal Code.
Needless to say, criminal justice issues are many and for the most part very complex. A significant observation we found was that the issues we were addressing and asking to have changed were always controversial and sometimes emotional, simply because they are usually affecting the lives of human beings—the lives of the offenders and the lives of the innocent victims of crime.
On behalf of our membership, I would like to thank you for this opportunity to present to this committee on the importance of Bill C-23B and on motion 514. Our presentation will not be long, since we are appearing here today in support of the proposed amendments to the Criminal Records Act as well as in support to motion 514.
The original Bill C-23 was split in two, and Bill C-23A has already been passed and received royal assent on June 29 of this year. However, there are some changes or amendments in the new Bill C-23A that follow into the Bill C-23B, and thus our organization would like to comment on just a few of the proposed changes.
Clause 3 will substitute the term “record suspension” for the term “pardon”. The amendments will rename the term “pardon” as “record suspension”. The term “pardon” will no longer be used. We agree with this amendment. We believe the law was not put in place as an act of forgiveness, as the term pardon seems to suggest, but rather put in place as a way of helping individuals with a criminal record reduce the stigma associated with a criminal record. The new term or name is now clear as to the intent of this law. We agree with Mr. Bill Siksay, NDP member of Parliament for Burnaby—Douglas, who, during debate in the House of Commons, said that he thinks “this is a very significant action in the bill”. He said he knows “there has been some opinion and debate already that it may be an inconsequential change”, but he believes “it is an extremely serious change in the legislation and in our overall perspective of what the pardon system is about”.
Clause 4 in motion 514: the current wording of section 2.1 of the Criminal Records Act states that the National Parole Board “has exclusive jurisdiction to grant or refuse to grant or to revoke a pardon”. Clause 4 of this bill will amend this section to specify that the board will also have “absolute discretion to order, refuse to order or revoke a record suspension”. This change of wording places a greater emphasis on the decision-making role of the board and the fact that the grant of a record suspension is not automatic. This discretion as to whether a record suspension is merited rests with the board. Our organization agrees with that. We feel the National Parole Board needs these changes since it seems they have been somewhat hampered by the wording of the current legislation, and thus it appears that the pardon system has become a rubber stamp.
While there may be a case for review of the Criminal Records Act, and we agree that the pardon system needs looking into, we agree with an Edmonton journalist who said there should not be a rush to judgment without scrutiny. We agree and thus we are in full support of member of Parliament for Surrey North Dona Cadman's motion 514. Motion 514 states:
That the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security be instructed to undertake a review of the Criminal Records Act and report to the House within three months on how it could be strengthened to ensure that the National Parole Board puts the public’s safety first in all its decisions.
Pardons were looked at in 2006, and there were a couple of important amendments made at that time. However, we think this issue now deserves time and attention, which we believe motion 514 may bring. Motion 514 is good, in that it may end an era of mere automatic forgiveness.
Regarding clause 9, the head of the National Parole Board has stated that the pardon system has a dual benefit: to assist the individual with a criminal record in moving forward in his or her rehabilitation, and to enhance the safety of communities by motivating the individual to remain crime-free and maintain good conduct.
Increasing the time a criminal must be of good behaviour is just common sense. The old system prior to Bill C-23A that permitted pardons for serious offences after five years did not provide a long enough waiting period to determine if a person has shed his or her old ways. Longer wait times will be more meaningful and would ensure a commitment to obeying the law in the long term.
Continuing on clause 9, we believe that pardons may not be appropriate for some offenders. In the last two years since sexual offences have been tracked as a separate category, 1,530 of all offences pardoned fit into this category, including offences such as sexual assault, sexual interference, rape, incest, child pornography, and gross indecency.
The changes should take into consideration the fact that some people have committed acts that should not be forgiven. The current Criminal Records Act does not distinguish between indictable offences of varying severity and outrageousness. No crime is considered unpardonable.
In a recent Maclean's magazine article, the writer cited the Minister of Public Safety, Vic Toews, as saying, “Pedophiles are especially difficult to rehabilitate, if ever”. The minister seemed to imply that the government might extend wait times for pardons in particularly outrageous offences, which I believe has already been done. The reporter further quoted Minister Toews as saying, “I think there is a distinction to be made between a break and enter and a rape”.
The reporter then wrote on his own part that “This is precisely the sort of political question we elect, and expect, legislators to settle. It may well be time, after 40 years of criminological experience and social change, for them to get involved with fine-tuning the system.”
We agree wholeheartedly.
Furthermore, we do think it is unrealistic to place the onus on offenders to show why a suspended record would contribute to their rehabilitation, or to refuse to grant this privilege to those who have been convicted of more than three serious indictable offences, or who have sexually assaulted children.
Lastly, Victims of Violence is of the view that the proposed new amendments to the Criminal Records Act do not go far enough and should not be limited just to children; rather, they should include all victims of crime who have been harmed and hurt by sex offenders.