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.

Sponsor

Vic Toews  Conservative

Status

This bill has received Royal Assent and is now law.

Summary

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

This enactment amends the Criminal Records Act to substitute the term “record suspension” for the term “pardon”. It extends the ineligibility periods for applications for a record suspension. It also makes certain offences ineligible for a record suspension and enables the National Parole Board to consider additional factors when deciding whether to order a record suspension.

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.

Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes Act
Government Orders

June 14th, 2010 / 12:30 p.m.
See context

Bloc

Marc Lemay Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to rise on this very important Bill C-23. In the few minutes that are mine, I will try to describe the Criminal Records Act and what they are trying to do with Bill C-23.

I want to start by saying that the Bloc Québécois and I feel that this bill is probably not necessary to protect victims, because they are already adequately protected by the Criminal Records Act.

There was an incident, and we all know how today's fine government reacts. A hockey coach, Graham James, committed some really terrible acts, for which he was sentenced. He served a prison term for sexual assault on two well-known hockey players, Sheldon Kennedy and Theoren Fleury. He served his time, was released, and now lives in Mexico. He got a pardon and the government blew a fuse because it thinks he should never have been able to do this.

I will define what a criminal record is for the benefit of the people listening to us. It is created after someone commits a crime. I should say right away that someone who commits a traffic offence or a hunting or fishing offence does not get a criminal record. Those are offences against provincial laws, or even some federal laws, such as the Migratory Birds Convention Act. There is no criminal record in those cases. A record is created when someone commits a criminal offence and pleads guilty after having seen the evidence or is found guilty after a trial. I will give an example to explain.

Someone is sentenced to five years in prison and three years of probation for armed robbery of a bank. As soon as the sentence is spoken, he automatically gets a criminal record for the rest of his days. Theoretically, he will be stained for life, but the stain can be removed. I will get back to that in a moment. What is important to emphasize is that a person who has been sentenced will have a criminal record that will follow him for the rest of his days, unless he gets a pardon.

It is called a pardon, but actually it is more like a suspended criminal record. A person who was pardoned, in everyday legal jargon, if asked about any prior convictions, does not have to say he has a record. The government wants to change this system by introducing a bill to suspend criminal records. Why? A person who is sentenced to five years in prison plus three years of probation has a criminal record. The government says not enough concern is shown for the victims, but that is not true. The Criminal Records Act gives the National Parole Board all the power it needs to ensure that people who get pardons are entitled to them and have earned them.

In the case we are concerned with, it is not true that anyone can get a pardon quickly and automatically. That is not how things work in real life.

An individual is sentenced to imprisonment for five years with three years’ probation, which makes a total of eight years. That is easy to count. The individual has to wait five more years before being able to make an application for a pardon, or, as we are calling it here, an application for a record suspension.

How does it work in real life? The individual serves their sentence, and then they are paroled, subject to conditions, and are still supervised until the end of the five-year sentence. The three years’ probation that the judge ordered when they were sentenced is added. So after serving the five-year sentence, three years are added, during which the individual must keep the peace, be of good behaviour and report to an officer, as the law provides and as the court may direct. The conditions of probation are set by the court.

Let us assume that all goes well, the individual serves his sentence, is released, is a good person, is reintegrated into society, and after three years’ probation has committed no offences and has not breached parole in any way. The individual will then have to wait five years, because that is what the law provides.

For a crime committed by an individual at the age of 18 or 19 or 20, which unfortunately happens all too often, that individual will be under judicial oversight for the next 13 years, at least: a five-year sentence and three years’ probation, plus five more years, because he has to wait five years before applying for a pardon.

All of that absolutely does not happen automatically. The opposite is true. In my former life, when I practised criminal law, I represented people like that, and we filled out the forms. An individual can apply for a pardon on his own, but he can also have a lawyer to help. Generally, the individual gets assistance because the procedure is very lengthy. When I say very lengthy, that is a minimum, and it varies considerably based on the crime committed.

I will come back to the example of armed robbery that I gave at the beginning of my speech, for which the offender was sentenced to five years with three years’ probation. Generally, the National Parole Board will examine the individual’s case very carefully before granting a record suspension, to use the term in the bill. Even in sexual assault cases, the board that grants the suspension does a lot of checking.

The individual must first apply, fill out a form and send his criminal record, fingerprints and recent photos to the nearest RCMP office, which forwards it to the board. At that time, an investigation is carried out. This investigation is not necessarily public because it is the individual who has applied. All police forces in Canada, Quebec and all other provinces are contacted to verify whether this individual may, by chance, be hiding offences to which he has pleaded guilty or has been found guilty of. Naturally, if this is the case, this individual's application for pardon or record suspension will be rejected. He will then have to wait a long time to be pardoned.

Thus, the individual files an application, which is forwarded and then studied. All police forces are contacted to determine whether or not the individual has other offences that he has not disclosed. If there are none, it can take between six and eighteen months. In my experience, it takes a minimum of one year before the individual is notified that his pardon, or record suspension, has been granted.

Thus, this is a very long process. The Bloc Québécois will agree to study Bill C-23 in committee because we must carefully examine how to proceed. I have to say one thing. Unfortunately, someone with a criminal record is marked. This is what generally, and unfortunately quite often, happens. Take the example of an individual who, at the age of 18, commits a break and enter and is sentenced to a few weeks or months in jail, plus one year of probation. Everyone in this House knows that we have a propensity to forget. The individual is sentenced and then later forgets about it. A few years later, he applies for a job. Therein lies the problem with not obtaining a record suspension or pardon. Some jobs are not open to those with a criminal record. They cannot be a member of the bar, and therefore a lawyer or notary, nor can they be a doctor or surgeon. Some universities ask if applicants have a criminal record. Those who have forgotten to declare it will be automatically rejected.

This is something we want to check when this bill goes to committee. We should not do anything to hurt someone who is rehabilitated. We are going to agree on that. I just said that big, important word, “rehabilitated”. The Conservatives always say we are more concerned about offenders than victims. Individuals who are entitled to a record suspension are those who have truly been rehabilitated. They have recognized their problems, dealt with them, served their sentence and been pardoned; they have paid their debt to society. We need to stop getting carried away. Obviously, someone who has been charged with and convicted of murder may have a great deal of difficulty getting a record suspension. The offender is convicted and serves a 25-year sentence. This bill does not target these people. It is aimed much more at petty criminals. I am in no way suggesting we should pardon every crime without checking.

With respect, I believe a person can be rehabilitated. We all know people who have made foolish mistakes in their youth, and I can give some examples. In my former life as a criminal lawyer, I had clients who had driven while impaired and unfortunately had been in an accident. I can tell you that this is traumatic, but on top of the crime he has committed and the wrong he has done to a victim, the offender receives a sentence. However, he will likely be able to obtain a pardon for this sentence once he is completely rehabilitated.

We need to be careful not to deprive individuals of the right to a record suspension if they have made every effort to rehabilitate themselves. This is what worries me about this bill, and we will have to look at it very carefully in committee.

I agree that we need to be tough on criminals, but do we need to be as tough on someone who is completely rehabilitated? I have an example. I represented someone who was sentenced to 36 months in prison for eight break and enters. This person has been completely rehabilitated since then and today works as an expert mechanic. If he had not been pardoned, he never would have been able to get this job.

That is the problem with this bill. We must not deny a rehabilitated individual a decent job if he has served his prison term and successfully completed his probation under supervision. Such a person is completely rehabilitated and after spending some time in society, is entitled to have his youthful mistakes erased.

Some people will point out that there are mature individuals, 40 or 50 years old, who commit sexual assault. With all due respect to my opponents, this bill is not intended for those individuals. A criminal who commits offence after offence is not the focus of this bill. I have some examples. A repeat offender will never receive a pardon. His criminal record will never be suspended. This bill is for individuals who have made a mistake or two over an extended period.

Unfortunately in our society, many people make mistakes and keep making mistakes. Many university applications and job applications ask the applicant if they have ever been convicted of a criminal offence. Having successfully applied for a pardon—or a record suspension—the individual is not required to answer that question. He can say he has never been convicted. By virtue of serving his sentence, resolving his problems with society and receiving a pardon from the governor in council, the individual's record is suspended. That is what we will be looking at in this bill in the coming weeks and months, if we are given the opportunity to do so.

Another aspect of this bill causes me great concern. Someone who is pulled over and suspected of driving while impaired would be taken to the station and asked to do a breathalyzer test. He gets a result of 0.7, which is not so bad, but he would be charged with impaired driving. His fingerprints would be taken and so would his photo. That is what could happen under this bill.

This is completely unacceptable and goes against the charter, under which a person is presumed innocent until proven guilty. This aspect of the bill should be withdrawn. A person's fingerprints and photo cannot be taken if they have not been found guilty or if they have not pleaded guilty. This bill would change that process and that is unacceptable. We think this is very dangerous. This aspect will have to be explored further.

For now, we are voting in favour of this bill so that it can be studied in committee.

Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes Act
Government Orders

June 14th, 2010 / 12:50 p.m.
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Liberal

Scott Simms Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

Madam Speaker, I appreciate that my colleague was very illustrative in what he was doing. With his years of experience in criminal law practice, I would like to ask him a few questions about this.

He mentioned that his party would vote to put this into committee. I get the feeling that the major opposition they would have to this bill pertains to the idea of the rehabilitation of younger offenders, those around the age of 18 or 19, despite the crime. However, he does go on to say that he is not particularly concerned with the people who are serving 25 year sentences for things like murder, but that his focus lies more or less on 5 year sentences. Once they pass this bill to get it to committee, is it their intention to focus on those younger offenders who may stand a greater chance of being rehabilitated several years down the road?

He mentioned that certain aspects in the bill were against the charter, but if we accept this bill in principle, beyond that, maybe the scope of the changes that he wants will not be possible. Is that a fear of his as well?

Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes Act
Government Orders

June 14th, 2010 / 12:55 p.m.
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Bloc

Marc Lemay Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Madam Speaker, answering all those questions will be a little complicated. I would like to correct one thing right away: I have extensive experience as a criminal lawyer, not as a criminal. We have to be clear. Otherwise, I would not be here. In order to be a member of Parliament, one cannot have a criminal record. This is the perfect example. I know members who were elected who had obtained a pardon and were therefore able to sit. I cannot say where, nor can I name those individuals.

I agree with my colleague. There are two important points. I know people who served 10 years in prison before obtaining a pardon. The harsher the sentence—which is very important for my Conservative colleagues—the more monitoring there will be before that individual's criminal record can be suspended. If someone is serving a 10-year sentence, that means the crime was serious. So of course there will be more monitoring. That is the first point.

The second point is this. Unfortunately, 90% of people who apply for pardons are young people. They are young offenders. They committed offences, the foolish offences that young people commit. For instance, maybe they stole a car to go for a joyride; maybe they were charged with impaired driving causing bodily harm, which unfortunately happens to many young people. Yes, crimes were committed, but in my opinion, these young people are entitled to a pardon.

The last point I want to come back to has to do with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. If people are not satisfied with this charter, it must be amended or abolished. For now, we must deal with it. According to that charter, defendants are innocent until proven guilty. When someone's fingerprints and photos are taken, he or she is not necessarily charged. Just because someone is arrested by police does not mean he or she will be charged. There is a big difference. It is up to the Crown prosecutor to decide. This is what we will consider when we study this bill.

Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes Act
Government Orders

June 14th, 2010 / 12:55 p.m.
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NDP

Chris Charlton Hamilton Mountain, ON

Madam Speaker, I listened with great interest to the thoughtful comments by my colleague from Abitibi—Témiscamingue. He began his comments by talking about Graham James, saying that he was very much the exception, not the rule, to the intent of the bill we are debating today.

I am from Hamilton and I would suggest that for the people in my community, for those right across the Niagara peninsula and even for those nationwide, a better example would perhaps be Karla Homolka. I do not believe anybody in my community would think it reasonable that a pardon be given to her.

I appreciate and share the member's concerns about the very real distinction we need to make between the extreme cases and the vast majority of other incidents that are being covered in the same legislation. I would suggest that the Conservatives have thrown the baby out with the bathwater.

That is one of the reasons we in the NDP tabled a motion in the House last week suggesting that parts of this bill be severed, in particular the kinds of crimes that would shock the conscience of Canadians or bring the administration of justice into disrepute. However, those are quite different from a whole host of other instances where, for example, somebody made a youthful error.

I know for a fact that none of us in the House would condone drinking and driving. Nonetheless, if someone were convicted at the age of 18 or 19, should the criminal record stay with the individual and make it impossible for him or her to pursue a career, such as a teaching or one of the many other careers that require criminal record checks by the time the person graduates from university? I am not sure that would pass the nod test for very many members in the House, nor, frankly, for constituents in my home town of Hamilton.

Would the member for Abitibi—Témiscamingue comment on whether he would support severing the crimes that I mentioned that would shock the conscience of Canadians or bring the administration of justice into disrepute, and if we would then be able to deal with some of the other issues, in the way he suggested in his speech, through a thorough examination in committee and perhaps a complete rewriting of the bill?

Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes Act
Government Orders

June 14th, 2010 / 1 p.m.
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Bloc

Marc Lemay Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Madam Speaker, I respect my colleague very much, but I am not too sure about an answer to her question. I will explain. I have always believed that justice should be individualized, that the sentence should be individualized, and that when judges address the accused and find them guilty, convict them or impose a sentence, that that sentence should be individualized.

It is clear that every single thing cannot be included in a bill, and we cannot turn it into an omnibus bill that solves every problem. I say with all due respect that the more serious a crime is, the more we should extend the amount of time it takes to obtain a pardon or record suspension. In the case of conspiracy to commit murder, the individual has obviously not killed anyone, but they helped someone else commit the crime. We must be careful. With all due respect, we must at least be careful before granting a pardon.

Should we split this bill? I cannot say. However, I firmly believe it must be examined in committee. I also think that pardons or record suspensions must be individualized. That seems obvious. It will have to be examined in committee. It is not easy to answer my colleague's question.

Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes Act
Government Orders

June 14th, 2010 / 1 p.m.
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Bloc

Marc Lemay Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Madam Speaker, my colleague is quite right. I have worked with Inuit and Algonquin people in my career, and they do not understand what a criminal record is. In their mind, once they have served their sentence after committing a crime, there is no longer a problem; it is resolved.

My colleague is quite right. Everything concerning the parole service and criminal record suspensions will be very difficult to explain. It is already difficult to explain. Heaven knows there will be a lot of work to do in the north, a lot of development work. I do not know how this will all be done in the next few years, but clearly some work will be needed when it comes to criminal record suspensions, especially with first nations and Inuit communities. It is already extremely complicated for white people, white Canadians, that is, francophone and anglophone non-natives. Indeed, most people will remember events that happen today or tomorrow, but in a year and a half or two years, they will have forgotten everything. Someone who serves a sentence will forget it completely six years later. This is what they need to remember. The law must be open enough in that regard.

Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes Act
Government Orders

June 14th, 2010 / 1:05 p.m.
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NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to speak to Bill C-23.

First, I thank our party's critic, the member for Vancouver Kingsway, who has done a very good job in the research on the bill. As he has indicated, we will be supporting this bill at second reading, getting it to committee so we can initiate the process of having witnesses appear and proper professional opinions given on this whole area. We certainly support a thorough study of the pardon system by the committee. In the next few minutes I will outline the history of what the government has done in this area.

We also want to look at extending the ineligibility periods for certain kinds of offences.

We also support giving the Parole Board more discretion to deny pardons, particularly in cases that would shock the conscience of Canadians.

We also want to hear from correctional experts, from victims, from police and from other groups to ensure our pardon system is strengthened and fair.

The government has held itself out as being very sympathetic and on the side of victims. Yet three years ago, when it appointed Mr. Sullivan as the victims rights' advocate, it proceeded to ignore his advice, to the point where in the last several months, it refused to renew his contract because he criticized it for not being supportive of victims' rights and being more concerned about the punishment side of the equation. I think that speaks volumes of where the government is on this issue. It talks a great line out in the public about how supportive it is of victims, but at the end of the day, it does not come through for them.

The fact is Mr. Sullivan is now no longer working in that job because he did his job and he stood up for victims. He was rewarded by the government by being fired, in essence, because his contract was not renewed.

We have proposed that the government introduce urgent legislation that would immediately stop pardons from being granted in outrageous cases, while preserving the process of study for the rest of the bill. We have taken language from the Conservative bill and strengthened it by referring to crimes that shock the conscience of Canadians, which is language not present in its bill.

We know the bill will not pass all of the various readings before we break for the summer, and Canadians are concerned about the potential for Karla Homolka getting a pardon. As a result, we have said that we would support the government bringing in an immediate bill dealing with this issue. We want to immediately stop pardons from being granted in outrageous cases. The Karla Homolka case is certainly one that fits within that category and would be covered by the proposal of our critic, the member for Vancouver Kingsway. Then we would separately study the rest of the bill in the committee. That is our proposed.

We have offered the government this option and we are prepared to move on it today. However, the government has rejected it. What the purpose and reason is for it to take that kind of attitude on the bill beyond me when we have offered it the solution to what we see as the immediate problem.

We not support a U.S.-style three strikes and they are out correctional system because, and only because, it has never worked where it was tried. It was the flavour of the month, flavour of the decade, back in the Ronald Reagan administration. We saw many American prisons become privately owned. The new prison development became private prison development. Under the three strikes and they are out, the Americans built more prisons and filled them up. At the end of the day, the crime rate in the United States went up. It did not go down.

After all these years of a proven failed system, there are situations like Governor Schwarzenegger, who I was fortunate to speak to at the governors' conference in February in Washington. His state is on bankruptcy notice. He is being forced, as are other jurisdictions in the United States, to let people out of jail. They cannot afford to keep them in jail anymore because of the enormous cost involved.

What do we have here? We have the Conservatives following a discredited system that does not work.

Our members have said over and over again that we need to look at best practices. The Conservatives are great about talking about best practices in business. Let us scan the world and find out what works in other jurisdictions and let us try to do the same thing.

We know there are programs that work in certain countries in the European Union. With respect to the area of auto thefts, we know different jurisdictions in Canada have tried different ideas. Some work better than others.

We found in the province of Manitoba that by having a combination of a gang suppression strategy involving the police force identifying the top 50 car thieves, keeping them under surveillance, picking them up and keeping them in custody, it reduced our car theft rates dramatically to the point that last year we had zero car thefts on one day.

Four or five years ago an immobilizer program with Manitoba public insurance was not working well. If people installed immobilizers, they would get a break on their car insurance. Guess what? People were not taking up the program. The government woke up one day and decided to make it mandatory for people to install immobilizers and the government paid for them and gave people a reduction in their insurance. There was some grumbling, but by and large it has been widely accepted in Manitoba. Now hundreds of thousands of cars have immobilizers and the thieves cannot steal them cars anymore

This problem will take care of itself because over time, as all the old cars are taken off the road, new cars will have the proper immobilizer systems in place at the factory, where it should be done. In fact, the Manitoba government deserves credit for mandating immobilizers in new cars effective last year.

This is something that could have been foreseen. The insurance bureaus in Canada and in the United States have known for years that we could put immobilizers in cars in the factory for say $30. However, to save the $30, the car companies preferred to let the public pay $300 for immobilizers if they wanted them. This could have been done, yet the insurance industry kept paying the claims and people kept paying higher insurance rates. What kind of an insane system is that?

We could have been on top of this 20 years ago had we put these requirements on the car companies to bring in proper immobilizers. It would have saved the public an awful lot on insurance rates and it would have cut down the death rate. When people steal cars, they can get into car accidents and kill people. All this could have been foreseen.

However, we go back to Ronald Reagan who told the car companies that they did not have to attain certain standards. He reduced the standards. This is the same president who brought in the “three strikes and you're out” program. The Conservatives are back to Ronald Reagan's days.

In any event, we have offered a solution to the government and we still would prefer to get an answer as to whether the Conservatives would prefer to bring in this bill today. We will support the bill to stop these pardons from being granted in outrageous cases. We feel that would be a big part of the solution, not to follow the discredited policies of the past.

Bill C-23 would renames “pardons” as a “record suspension”. It also would increase the eligibility period, which must pass before a pardon application could be submitted, from the current five years to ten years for indictable offences and from the current three years to five years for summary offences. It would also prohibit those convicted of four or more indictable offences from ever receiving a pardon. It would prohibit anyone convicted of one or more offences from a designated list of sex offences from ever receiving a pardon. With respect to pardon applications for indictable offences, the Parole Board would be required to deny a pardon if granting it would bring the administration of justice into disrepute.

On that last point, this is the section that would apply to Karla Homolka, which is already in this existing Bill C-23, but nothing in the rest of the bill would serve to deny her a pardon. The increased waiting periods proposed will require her to wait five more years before applying, but only that one section will actually stop the pardon from ever being granted.

If the House were to adopt the NDP's suggestion, then we could deal with it summarily, we could deal with it today, and the problem would be at an end. Then we could follow the bill through to committee where we would deal with the issue as we should.

In 2006 the government, under the former public safety minister, oversaw a review of the pardon system in response to the Clark Noble case, a convicted sex offender. At the time, the government made a big issue of the case. It was a new government and it would to review the pardon system. After all this, one would think there would be some revolutionary change by the government, but that is wrong. At the end of the day, the 2006 review by the former minister of public safety led to just minor changes, including a requirement for two Parole Board members to review the pardon applications from sex offenders. Ultimately the tough on crime minister and government signed off on the current system as adequately protecting public safety.

What happened after that is that a government member, the member for Surrey North, who has a lot of credibility on this issue, introduced Motion No. 514. It is a very good motion and is still before the House. We support the motion, which 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.

Not only did the government do its review in 2006, which did nothing, but, rather than introduce this bill, Bill C-23, to solve this problem, it had a government backbencher introduce a motion asking for a review of the pardon system. Then all of a sudden the Graham James issue came to the fore, and overnight this became a serious issue again and the government brought in Bill C-23, essentially cutting the rug out from under the member for Surrey North, a government member.

The government did not even give the member for Surrey North a fair hearing. She did a lot of work on her motion which is before the House, and the government short-circuited it. The government said that the agenda has changed because people are interested in an issue that just popped up and calls for Bill C-23 to be brought in, regardless of the fact that a member with some credibility on the issue brought forth a motion which is the proper way to look at it. The member is asking for a review of the Criminal Records Act and for a report within three months to strengthen the system. At the end of the day, we all support the member's motion.

The public can be forgiven for being somewhat confused about what goes on around this place and what goes on with the government as it lurches back and forth not only on its crime agenda but on its whole legislative agenda. Let us look at the priorities of the government right now. One of its priorities is to close down six prison farms. Another priority is to spend $1 billion for the G20 and G8 summits which should be held on a military base or at the United Nations. To spend $1 billion of public money when the government is running a deficit of $56 billion just defies all logic.

We are looking at a government that definitely has misplaced priorities. It has no plan, or if there is a plan, it is certainly not letting us know what it is. The public must be confused about where the government is going on this issue.

We have offered to solve the problem but the government has said no. We are going into the summer recess. This bill will be in committee and nothing will happen with it until the fall and then we will be starting over. There is no sensibility as to how the government operates.

In terms of the provisions, we have suggested that this bill move quickly. The government knows that it cannot pass this bill through the committee and the Senate--it has to get through the Senate as well--before the summer recess. We know that all parties will not give unanimous consent; that is pretty much a given around here.

Once again, we brought forward a specific targeted bill to make these changes, to prevent the granting of pardons that would shock the conscience of Canadians and bring the administration of justice into disrepute. That is exactly what this House calls for at this point to solve the problem. We provided the solution, and we are waiting for the acceptance of the government on this point.

Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes Act
Government Orders

June 14th, 2010 / 1:25 p.m.
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NDP

Niki Ashton Churchill, MB

Madam Speaker, I would like to commend my colleague from Elmwood—Transcona on his thoughtful speech in which, as a member of the NDP, he conveyed the stance that we have taken.

He spoke a great deal about the Conservatives' approach to crime and their emphasis on punishment. Their approach to pardons or anything, quite frankly, when it comes to their justice and crime agenda has been extremely one-sided. Not only is there an emphasis on punishment, but there is no commitment when it comes to prevention or rehabilitation.

I would like to hear the member's thoughts on the complete lack of commitment when it comes to supporting prevention efforts among aboriginal peoples and communities that have disproportionately high rates of incarceration. I would like to hear his comments on how one-sided, imbalanced and wrong an agenda is that seeks only to punish, in many cases without a fair approach by any means, and yet does not seek to prevent individuals from falling through the cracks in our society.

Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes Act
Government Orders

June 14th, 2010 / 1:25 p.m.
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NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, what the government did and how it acted surrounding Mr. Sullivan, the victims advocate, speaks volumes about the government. The Conservatives pretend that they support the rights of victims. To give them credit, they did hire the first victims advocate. However, at the end of the day, after three years, the victims advocate walked away without getting his contract renewed and criticized the government for not being supportive of victims' rights in this country.

Clearly, it was all for show. It was a sham. The government does not support victims' rights. Even though the Conservatives constantly advertise that they do, we know that they do not.

We in the NDP are extremely concerned about the rights of victims. As a matter of fact, the criminal injuries compensation fund in Manitoba was set up by Premier Ed Schreyer way back in 1970. The criminal injuries compensation fund is certainly a very important part of the victims' rights process. For the last 10 years, the NDP in Manitoba under Gary Doer went a long way to involve victims in terms of victims' impact statements and their being able to let people know what happened in the crime.

We have shifted and the whole country has shifted toward a greater focus on the role of victims. However, the Conservatives' pretense that they are somehow the paramount leaders in this area came to a crushing end with the departure of Mr. Sullivan and the exposure of their commitment as being not as strong as they like to pretend that it is.

Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes Act
Government Orders

June 14th, 2010 / 1:25 p.m.
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Liberal

Larry Bagnell Yukon, YT

Madam Speaker, the member referred to this tangentially. Does he think this bill will ever actually get through? As I think he mentioned, the government keeps on delaying its own crime agenda. It either prorogues Parliament or calls an election and all the crime bills and things that it believes will make us safer die. Some of the things the government thinks would make us safer probably would not and it is probably good that the government lets them die. Does he think this bill will actually get through?

Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes Act
Government Orders

June 14th, 2010 / 1:25 p.m.
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NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, that is why we are so concerned. We want to offer that solution and simply pass the measures required so that we do not take that risk.

We have no guarantee. For example, we have suggested that the government introduce urgent legislation that would immediately stop pardons from being granted in outrageous cases while preserving the process of this bill. It would not matter what happened to the bill in committee. We would at least have this part in place right now.

After the G8 and G20 summits next week, the Prime Minister may wake up one day and decide to call an election and we will be right back to square one again.

The member for Yukon is 100% correct. It is the Conservatives themselves who keep torpedoing their program and then they attempt to blame it on us. I do not know how they can possibly get away with that. Maybe they could get away with it once, but it is certainly not going to work repeatedly the way they have been operating for the last couple of years.

Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes Act
Government Orders

June 14th, 2010 / 1:30 p.m.
See context

NDP

Chris Charlton Hamilton Mountain, ON

Madam Speaker, I want to commend the member for Elmwood—Transcona on yet another very, very good speech in the House. I think he must hold the record by now on the number of bills a member has spoken to or commented on.

I know he watches the proceedings in the House very carefully, so he will know that the government of the day is one that constantly talks about wanting to get tough on crime, yet what I am hearing from my constituents is that people would much prefer if the Conservatives actually got smart on crime. Smart on crime is much, much better because they would be focusing on things like crime prevention and support for the victims of crime. Frankly, they would be supporting law enforcement officers to ensure that they can do their job effectively. Yet instead, we again are forced to deal with issues that are tough on crime only.

Unfortunately, as we are debating Bill C-23, let us recall what precipitated the bill. It was not a legal matter. It was a public relations nightmare for the Conservatives when the story of Graham James hit the news. It was after that story hit the news that people started to be concerned about what would happen with respect to Karla Homolka. Instead of dealing with those issues as they are, individual incidents that needed to be addressed, the government brought in omnibus legislation that changes the entire pardon system in the country.

I have to say, before that time not a single person contacted me to say that the pardon system was not working. Now we are confronted with a bill where we are throwing the baby out with the bathwater. What we ought to be doing is severing the bills to deal with people like Graham James and Karla Homolka. In those cases, by all means, let us put the brakes on. Let us look at the implications that this bill has for the broader justice system. Pardons are an imperative part of the correctional system. They are an important part of that toolbox.

I wonder whether the member would take a minute to talk about the motion that the NDP introduced in the House last week to do exactly that: sever one piece of the bill and let us send the other piece for further study so that we can act responsibly and be smart on crime.

Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes Act
Government Orders

June 14th, 2010 / 1:30 p.m.
See context

NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, the member for Vancouver Kingsway introduced a motion, and I will read it, because it is important: “That, in the opinion of the House, urgent changes to the Criminal Records Act are required to prevent pardons from being granted that would shock the conscience of Canadians or bring the administration of justice into disrepute, and therefore the government should immediately introduce legislation with the specific purpose to empower the National Parole Board to deny pardons in cases where granting a pardon would shock the conscience of Canadians or bring the administration of justice into disrepute, with cooperation and support from all parties to move swiftly such legislation through the House and the Senate before the Parliament rises for summer...”.

That was the suggestion of the NDP. I do not know how more clear we could be that we want action on this issue, we want action now on this issue and we simply are waiting for the government to say yes or no.

Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes Act
Government Orders

June 14th, 2010 / 1:30 p.m.
See context

Bloc

Nicole Demers Laval, QC

Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to rise to speak to Bill C-23. Like my colleague from Abitibi—Témiscamingue who spoke earlier and my other colleagues who have debated this subject in the House, I think it is important that we be able to debate this bill in committee and decide what rules should govern the act relating to pardons and the act relating to suspensions of records. The surprising thing about this bill is that it has been presented to us at the end of the session because they are upset that someone was granted a pardon when they had broken the law by committing heinous acts against minors. I would ask that we remember that when it comes to record suspensions, in all cases where the person has committed acts against a minor or crimes relating to pedophilia, the criminal record can be suspended, but special attention is paid to that record.

When the criminal records of people we want to hire or take on as volunteers are checked, that is when we are informed that the person has something specific in their criminal record. We are entirely able to ask the Minister of Public Safety to explain the exact situation regarding the criminal record to us. The reason I am talking about it that way is that I worked for several years with a home support cooperative. When we talk about home support, we are talking about support for vulnerable people, elderly people, people who are ill. All of the people we hired had to complete a hiring process in which we asked the police to do an investigation. That was part of the hiring process. The people we wanted to hire had to go to the police station, apply for a certificate and pay for it, because there are in fact fees associated with the certificate. They had to ask the police to investigate them so they could prove to us that they had no criminal record or outstanding charges. Of course, when you do this research, you realize that first, when people have been granted a pardon, very few of them reoffend. You see that 97% of people who have been granted a pardon have never reoffended. The 3% figure is quite respectable, but when we think that 97% of those people did not reoffend, that really is a system that works relatively well.

And those are the people we are talking about. With this new law that our colleague is proposing, no one could ask for a pardon for at least five or ten years, depending on the crime committed.

I remember quite well that the people who committed crimes did so when they were young and carefree. The crimes they committed did not necessarily have a significant impact on society. But they were still crimes that resulted in a criminal record. These people, when they turn 20, 22 or 23 and want to take their place in society again, go to school, start a relationship and maybe get married, must think seriously about asking for a pardon. If they ask for it, it is important that they be able to get it, because we see how it can affect training and even automobile and home insurance applications. It can also affect work, your job and promotions if you have not asked for a pardon and you have a criminal record. A lot of young people think that because they were not charged or convicted that they do not need to ask for a pardon. However, if their fingerprints were taken, they would immediately have a record or their fingerprints somewhere. If they do not ask for a pardon, those fingerprints are there for life.

If they apply for a visa or a passport—for their work, for example—they will have a hard time obtaining them.

The Bloc Québécois has always said that it is important to support victims of crime. What is important is the guarantee that we can rehabilitate those who commit crime. We have to ensure that crime is reduced. This will not happen spontaneously simply because people are scared. It must happen steadily and over the long term because people realize that there is more to life than committing petty crime.

In many cases, people who commit crimes are those who are not necessarily fortunate enough to be among those who have an easier time of it in the labour market. Members of aboriginal communities have a very hard time getting an education and finding a job. They may turn to petty crime because it is easier. Then they go to jail and get caught in a vicious cycle.

Many of the aboriginal people who serve time in jail do not have access to rehabilitation programs. For the past few years, unfortunately, more attention has been paid to the risk of reoffending than to anything else. We know that people from aboriginal communities are less likely to pass these tests because they are more likely to reoffend once released from jail. People in their communities are very poor and do not have opportunities for paid work. Unable to find a meaningful goal, they will do what they have to to survive.

Last weekend, aboriginal peoples met in Ottawa to accept the government's apology, which they requested last year. Their forgiveness is unconditional. The pardon that aboriginal peoples granted the government is an act of generosity, love and respect. Why must the government always place a dollar value on forgiveness and manipulate public opinion to make people believe that it cares about the safety and well-being of victims?

All this government has done is introduce divisive bills and ensure that victims do not really get government support. Recently, the government cut funding for a number of victims' groups. Help centres for victims of sexual assault and other crimes do not have the funding they need to help victims recover. Victims do not have the funding they need to recover.

My colleague introduced a bill to give victims and their families more time to recover. Why does the government not agree with us when it comes to helping victims? They seem to find it much easier to punish criminals.

It would be much easier to work on rehabilitation and reintegration into society in order to ensure there are no more victims, as we do in Quebec with much success. All they do here is ensure there will be more criminals who remain criminals longer. Rather than making sure there will be no more victims by working on the reasons and the symptoms, we ensure that criminals stay in prison. There they do not become any less criminal. If they do not get the treatment, training and all they need to integrate back into society in a constructive way, they will remain criminals.

We should work together to find better ways of containing crime and ensuring that victims are protected in all ways and crime is further diminished.

By reducing poverty and ensuring there is social housing and gainful employment, we also do a lot to reduce crime. Much petty crime is due to the fact that people are struggling to survive. We should work on these issues, as well as on having programs to fight drugs and help people who want to get off drugs and away from prostitution. We need not only to punish people and put them in jail but also ensure they have the tools they need to start over and not just continue down the same old path. I think we are doing miracles in Quebec in this regard, given the paucity of support from the federal government. Luckily there are people like those in the Bloc Québécois and the NDP who believe in rehabilitation and think that individuals who have made mistakes can be rehabilitated because we all make mistakes.

I know someone who was charged with robbery in the 1960s. That person was sentenced to 15 years and spent eight in prison. They were not finally exonerated and found innocent until 2009. It is incredible to think that this person spent all those years in prison knowing they were innocent. They lived far away from their relatives and it destroyed their family and their relations with their daughter and son. It broke up their marriage. They separated. This person is still trying to get compensation from the government for all the years they spent in prison. We too make mistakes sometimes and harm people.

The committee should study all the ways of ensuring that criminals who should stay in prison do so but also that those who can be helped to get out and be rehabilitated do so as well and become full members of society.

Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes Act
Government Orders

June 14th, 2010 / 1:45 p.m.
See context

NDP

Niki Ashton Churchill, MB

Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague for her speech, which was dynamic, as usual. She brought up some points that this government needs to hear about its crime agenda, and also about the way we should address the challenges facing people in our society.

The member mentioned that we must focus on prevention and support for those who are themselves victims of unfortunate situations. She spoke about how we needed to envision an equal society and a society that does not simply want to punish everyone. We must obviously look at how we can improve the situation or support people so that they can change for the better and not always have to live with the crime they committed or the unfortunate situation they found themselves in. I would like to hear what she thinks the government could do about this.