Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders Act

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

This bill was last introduced in the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session, which ended in March 2011.

Sponsor

Rob Nicholson  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 Code with respect to the parole inadmissibility period for offenders convicted of multiple murders. It also makes consequential amendments to the National Defence Act.

Elsewhere

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

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

February 1st, 2011 / 10:10 a.m.
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Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles
Québec

Conservative

Daniel Petit Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice

Madam Speaker, first of all, on this first day back in the House of Commons, I would like to thank all the voters and people in my riding who have kept me in the House of Commons for the past five years, through two elections.

I am honoured to have the opportunity to participate in today's debate on Bill C-48, the Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders Act.

The proposed amendments to the Criminal Code will authorize a judge, when an offender is convicted of more than one first or second degree murder or a combination of first and second degree murders and is sentenced to life in prison, to impose separate 25-year periods of parole ineligibility for the second and any subsequent murder. These additional 25-year periods would be consecutive to the period of parole ineligibility imposed for the first murder.

In exercising this authority, sentencing judges will have regard to already-existing Criminal Code criteria that will ensure that the proposed measures are applied to the most incorrigible offenders—those whose crimes are such that they would be unlikely to ever obtain parole.

Judges will also be required to give, either orally or in writing, reasons for the decision to impose or not to impose consecutive parole inadmissibility periods. This will benefit the families and loved ones of murder victims who have long complained that they are left in the dark as to why certain decisions are taken during the trial and sentencing process.

The measures proposed in Bill C-48 will accomplish three things. First, they will better reflect the tragedy of multiple murders by enabling a judge to acknowledge each and every life lost.

Under current law, multiple murderers serve life sentences and corresponding parole ineligibility periods for each murder concurrently. The result is that they serve only 25 years in custody before being eligible for parole, no matter how many lives they may have taken.

Many Canadians are dismayed by this. They cannot understand why a sentence for murder is unable to take account in a concrete way of the fact that more than one life has been taken. Many argue that the law as it now stands seems to give a “volume discount” to multiple murderers.

This symbolic devaluation of the lives of victims has a strong negative impact on the families and loved ones of murder victims. All too often they experience a greater degree of pain and experience a greater sense of loss because the justice system has failed to mete out a specific punishment for each and every life lost. Bill C-48 would help correct this.

The second thing that Bill C-48 would do is reinforce the denunciatory and retributive functions of the parole ineligibility period attached to a sentence of life imprisonment.

Murder is the most serious crime and must be denounced in the strongest terms. This has already been recognized by the highest court of the land. In the 1987 Vaillancourt case, the Supreme Court highlighted the extreme stigma attached to murder that flows from the moral blameworthiness of deliberately taking the life of another person.

This moral blameworthiness justifies the appropriately severe penalty that murder attracts: life imprisonment accompanied by a period of parole ineligibility of up to 25 years.

Many would ask whether it is appropriate that the penalty for taking more than one life is the same as the penalty for taking one life. That is a good question. I would note, in response, that a life sentence is, indeed, for life. An offender cannot be sentenced to more than one life sentence.

Bill C-48 is based on the proposition that killing more than one person reflects a higher degree of moral blameworthiness and ought to allow the imposition of additional periods of parole ineligibility.

Bill C-48 would ensure that the judge who presides over the conviction of a multiple murderer and who is therefore in the best position to assess that person’s degree of moral blameworthiness remains the one authorized to decide whether that more severe penalty ought to be imposed.

As I mentioned earlier, that decision would be based on the existing criteria in section 754.4 of the Criminal Code. Judges already use these criteria to decide how long a second degree murderer ought to serve in custody before being able to apply for parole.

I will elaborate on that last point which, I must point out, has already been discussed in previous debates.

As hon. members may recall, the punishment for first and second degree murder is life imprisonment accompanied by a period of ineligibility for parole determined according to section 745 of the Criminal Code.

For first degree murderers as well as for any second degree murderer who has killed before, that period is 25 years from the time of being brought into custody.

For all other second degree murderers, that period is 10 years, unless the judge uses the authority bestowed by section 745.4 to set a period of ineligibility for parole up to 25 years.

Such a decision will be based on “the character of the offender, the nature of the offence and the circumstances surrounding its commission and the recommendation, if any, made [by a jury]”.

In summary, Canadian law already sets out a sliding scale of parole ineligibility to account for particularly incorrigible offenders or particularly egregious crimes.

As for the application of these criteria, the courts have stated over and over again that the most important factor to consider in deciding whether to extend the parole ineligibility period of a second degree murderer is the protection of society.

Bill C-48 proposes to use exactly the same criteria for the imposition of consecutive periods of parole ineligibility on multiple murderers—again, multiple murderers. I am convinced that the same principles will apply, and that judges will therefore look to the protection of society in making their decisions.

This leads me naturally to the third thing that Bill C-48 will do, namely, to enhance the protection of society by permitting judges to keep the most incorrigible multiple murderers in custody for longer periods of time that better correspond to their crimes, which is only normal.

Bill C-48 would ensure that our communities are safe and that offenders convicted of multiple murders, who should never be released, will never be released.

In this vein, the proposed amendments would also protect the families and loved ones of multiple murder victims, who are forced to listen all over again to the details of these horrible crimes at parole hearings held after the maximum parole ineligibility period possible under the current act expires.

If Bill C-48 is passed, it will not affect the rights of those multiple murderers currently on parole nor will it usurp the role of the National Parole Board.

Bill C-48 will not prevent convicted multiple murderers now serving life sentences from seeking parole when their parole ineligibility periods expire, nor will it call into question National Parole Board decisions to release those who meet the criteria for parole.

Bill C-48 will only apply to those who commit more than one murder after the legislation comes into force.

In short, Bill C-48 is neither retroactive nor retributive. It represents the reaffirmation of our government's commitment to respond to Canadians' concerns about strengthening the justice system by ensuring that the most serious offenders do the most serious time.

Bill C-48 was studied thoroughly by the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, which saw fit to make one amendment.

This amendment would require a judge to give oral or written reasons in the event he or she decides to impose consecutive periods of parole ineligibility on a convicted multiple murderer. The bill, as originally drafted, called for reasons only if the judge declined to do so.

Our government believes this amendment is unnecessary and could even have unintended consequences. In fact, our government's original objective for requiring a judge to give reasons for not imposing consecutive periods of parole ineligibility for a multiple murderer was to ensure that victims would be informed of the reasons for not doing so.

As I have already explained, the amendment proposed by the Liberal critic would compel judges to explain their reasons for imposing consecutive periods of parole ineligibility on an offender convicted of multiple murderers. In other words and to put it simply, this amendment would mean that murderers will be told the judge's reasons. The ultimate aim of our bill was to restore the balance between victims' rights and offenders' rights, a balance that had been lacking for some time. I believe that the consequences of this amendment work against our objective.

The Conservative members of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights tried unsuccessfully to reverse the amendment, which was supported by all opposition members. Although we oppose that change, I believe that the need for this bill is more important than the political games that the opposition members are playing. For that reason, and so as not to slow the progress of this bill, our government supports the current version of Bill C-48.

I would like to ask all members of the House to help me achieve these objectives by supporting this bill.

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

February 1st, 2011 / 10:25 a.m.
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Bloc

Serge Ménard Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Madam Speaker, I would like to ask the member who has just spoken what happens in cases involving multiple second degree murders. Does the judge impose consecutive periods? A judge can always adjust these periods within the 10 to 25 year range, which may shed some light on the consequences of this parole eligibility bill in cases involving second degree murder.

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

February 1st, 2011 / 10:25 a.m.
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Conservative

Daniel Petit Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, QC

Madam Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for his question, which is quite relevant.

I would like to point out that, in cases involving multiple second degree murders rather than first degree murders, the judge will still be required to apply section 745.4 of the Criminal Code, which already exists. As I mentioned in my speech, the judge will be able to take into account the circumstances, the manner in which the second degree murders were committed, the identity of the victims and the social and moral reprobation or blameworthiness that could result. At that time, the judge will also be able to determine, as he or she does now, whether the ineligibility period should be 15 or 25 years rather than 10. Judges will have that authority. They will be given new discretion. No authority will be taken from them; on the contrary, they will be given additional discretion. In cases involving multiple second degree murders, judges will be able to determine whether the ineligibility period should be increased from 10 to 25 years. In addition, concurrent sentences will no longer be imposed; rather, sentences will now be consecutive.

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

February 1st, 2011 / 10:25 a.m.
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Liberal

Alan Tonks York South—Weston, ON

Madam Speaker, I thank the member for his overview with respect to this legislation.

I wonder if the member would like to comment on the role of the National Parole Board with respect to its adjudication on issues related to victims' rights. It has come to our attention that concerns have been raised with respect to the role of the parole board, and I wonder if the member, within the context of the bill, would like to comment with respect to that particular issue.

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

February 1st, 2011 / 10:30 a.m.
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Conservative

Daniel Petit Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, QC

Madam Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague. We have been working together for a number of years and his question is highly relevant.

Our bill has no bearing on the parole board. The parole board only gets involved post-trial, after a conviction before a jury, which then makes recommendations for the judge's consideration. The judge has to justify, orally or in writing, the decision to impose, or not to impose, a period of ineligibility of a particular length, whether it be back-to-back periods of 25 years, or 25 years plus 10, or some other permutation. This will be at the judge's discretion. Judges will be given many more arbitrary powers than they previously had.

The difference is that the prisoner appears before the parole board. When the ineligibility period expires, the board must determine whether the prisoner is to be released or kept in detention. At that time, as in all cases, the parole board will have the individual's file on hand and will be able to see whether the prisoner has been well-behaved, has come to terms with his incarceration, and so on. There has been strong criticism over the fact that an individual handed a 25-year sentence is permitted to apply for parole every two years. Under the new system, an individual who has committed multiple murders will no longer be able to do that. The judge will be in a position to hand down a sentence of 25 years plus 25 years, which will mean 50, 35 or 45 years. The number of times victims will have to appear at a parole hearing will, as a result, be greatly reduced.

Victims are very glad to not have to start over each time, and have to revisit their child's, spouse's or grandparents' murder. That is painful, and we need to put ourselves in their shoes. This is an issue over which we have control.

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

February 1st, 2011 / 10:30 a.m.
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Liberal

Brian Murphy Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

I would like to ask the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice the same question that he was asked by my colleague, the hon. member for York South—Weston. The question is not what he thinks about the National Parole Board's power, but rather whether this bill is before us today due to public complaints about the board. There have been a lot of complaints about the board and its insensitivity towards victims' families, and we now have a bill before us today, which deals with the board's responsibilities.

I would like the member to answer that question.

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

February 1st, 2011 / 10:30 a.m.
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Conservative

Daniel Petit Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, QC

Madam Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for his question. He and I have served on the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights for several years,. Like me, he is a lawyer, and we each bring our contributions to the table, his from New Brunswick and mine from Quebec. We make up a good group, one that is careful to satisfy all Canadians. When we present bills, we have the perspective of Canada as a whole.

I will now answer his question. In fact, there have been complaints about the National Parole Board of Canada. Parole comes after the entire judicial process has been followed. We first have to let the judicial process take its course, that is, the eligibility periods that the judge imposes. The judge will have much more discretion. An individual who has killed 40 people will appear before a judge. There have been serious cases like that in several provinces of Canada. The judge will have to decide whether to impose 25 years plus 25 years, plus 10 years, depending on the case, which they could not do before. The judge knows that these are serious cases and they cannot be managed. Even if the inmates are put back “in circulation”, they could be just as dangerous as when they entered the detention centre.

Yes, there have been complaints, but we must not forget that the National Parole Board is always involved after the judicial system. We, the legislators, are the ones who make the decisions, through the Criminal Code. The board is involved only much later. We have to look at what comes ahead of the board before we look at what comes after it; we have to solve the problem that arises at the beginning before solving the one that arises at the end. The board has been criticized in some cases, particularly by family members who have had to constantly go through parole applications by an individual sentenced for the murder of one of their family.

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

February 1st, 2011 / 10:35 a.m.
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Liberal

Brian Murphy Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-48. First, the title of the bill raises questions. Yesterday, the Minister of Justice stated firmly that it was not important to hold a debate on the short titles of bills. I do not agree with that, Madam Speaker.

I do not think it is unimportant to debate the short titles of bills. This short title phenomenon is directly imported from the United States of America. Its legislatures have been poisonous longer than ours even started to be and I hope that this new session in a working minority government Parliament will have some glimmers of good work and co-operation, but short titles do not help that environment.

The short titles “Serious Time for the Most Serious Crime” also “Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders”, these two bills being combined in the last two days in other words, would not lead a person reading them from afar to what the bills are actually about. It may not be a hill to die on, but let us send a message to the government that if it wants to avoid any debate on the bills, it should make the bills descriptive.

I realize fully that the long title of any of these bills would be lost. The long title on most of these bills are things like “an act to amend the Criminal Code with respect to section 531”. That is not understandable. The purpose of a short title is to indicate what is being amended in the Criminal Code or what the government is trying to do. This is not Mad Men. This is not an advertising campaign to have a catchy title and make the consumer wonder what it is and ask whether it is chewing gum or an automobile. That is not what we are doing. We are trying to give the people of Canada an idea of what the bill is about.

This bill deals with consecutive life sentences and whether or not they should be meted out by a judge. Canadians who have an interest in this could understand that. That is my little presage on the whole title imbroglio. I want to, however, highlight that this bill, Bill C-48, which I will deal with in the committee stage when I refer to amendments that did not pass, actually does a disservice to the victims of crime. Let me begin with the overall overview of the bill.

It is a bill that seeks to make individuals convicted of multiple murders serve life sentences consecutively, one after the other, instead of concurrently, at the same time. At first glance, the bill looks like a good idea. All Liberals and citizens want strict sentences and restricted parole eligibility for multiple murder convictions. That is the first point. Congratulations to the government on that.

Congratulations to the government and the Department of Justice as well for moving from an original position that was anti-judge, anti-judicial discretion. Now with the passage of five years, listening to the experienced Department of Justice officials and, I might add, appointing a whole whack of their friends as judges, it does not want to be seen as attacking judges or judicial discretion as much and there is a stark difference between its first round of justice bills in and around 2006-07 and this bill with respect to that important pillar of our judicial system, which is judicial discretion.

This bill allows for some judicial discretion. Ironically, the reservation of that judicial discretion is the element under the doctrine of judicial restraint which does that disservice to victims, which I will get into shortly.

The bill may seem tough in a sound bite, but it would actually have limited effect on incarceration and parole. It would only change a system that has had its faults but still makes perfect sense. Parole boards are better equipped to decide if an individual is ready to get out at the time of his release. In Canada we have decided to give generous powers to the parole boards and they generally do not release those convicted of multiple murders as soon as they become eligible. That is a fact.

If the Conservatives want to scare the public into believing that a multiple murderer, a serial killer, a Clifford Olson, shall we speak the name, may get out of prison, they want to say that. That is a disservice to how the Parole Board acts. If they have a problem with how the Parole Board does its job, that is an argument for a separate bill.

Let me digress and say I, as an elected representative, have a complaint about how the Parole Board works and it comes out of a victim family, the Davis family. Ron Davis has been a friend of mine for a long time. He was a town councillor in Riverview for a number of years and a community leader.

Ron's daughter was violently murdered in a cornerstore on St. George Street many years ago. The convicted killer has shown no remorse, has taken no steps toward rehabilitation, and is up for parole eligibility as he goes through the system.

We have made a lot of noise about this in the local media and through letter writing and through active and positive roles by successive public safety ministers. I have to underscore here that sometimes there is co-operation. We said what happened to the Davis family is horrible.

Hours before a scheduled parole hearing it was cancelled at the criminal's behest. The criminal seems to control the date, time and place of a hearing. Members of the Davis family were travelling from Moncton to Quebec for this hearing and they had to travel back. To add insult to injury, they had to pay all of their expenses for this hearing in advance. That is an existing law in the books. That existing irregularity and insensitivity is built into the system. Why do we not attack that with legislation? Why do we not do something about that?

The minister wrote a letter. I was quoted in the newspaper. Mr. Davis has his own means and the victims' rights people have their own voice. It should not have to be that way. There should not be a hailstorm of publicity to change the way the National Parole Board does its job.

If there is a deep fear that people like Clifford Olson or the murderers of officers Bourgeois and O'Leary in Moncton are going to get out then why do we not deal with that? If we are concerned about the Parole Board then why do we not deal with it? There have been complaints about the Parole Board and that is why I asked the parliamentary secretary whether this bill is a reaction to how the Parole Board works or how people think the Parole Board works.

The public safety committee has had a review of the Parole Board's workings, but I am not sure that everyone in Canada has heard a full airing and has full confidence in the National Parole Board's workings. We need to do at least an investigation or some corrections, pardon the pun, to the Parole Board and how it works. If that is what this bill is about then it is in the wrong place and it is written in the wrong way.

If all Liberals and opposition members think that most serial killers walk out of jail after 25 years I would be just as worried as anyone else. That is not the case. To the contrary. We have statistics. Defence attorneys will tell us that very few serial killers are actually released after 25 years. What worries me is that the government seems to be trying to invent legal problems that scare Canadians and it has solutions to problems that do not exist.

Two months ago the Times & Transcript in Moncton had an article saying that murderer Clifford Olson was up for parole again. That is scary, but he was not granted parole. He will never be granted parole.

A few weeks later there were articles in newspapers across the country about Russell Williams. The Edmonton Sun, the Calgary Sun, the Winnipeg Sun and the Toronto Sun all wrote that Russell Williams will never get parole but no one can guarantee what is going to happen 25 years from now. That is the pith of the articles. Everyone knows that the crimes of Russell Williams were entirely repulsive but should this bring us to distrust the Parole Board system? If so, let us have an investigation into the Canadian legal principles that have served us well.

Russell Williams will not get out of jail. He committed multiple crimes and multiple murders. If the National Parole Board works the way I have observed it working on high profile, multiple murder cases, he will never get out of jail.

Another recent article in the Edmonton Sun tells us that those convicted of multiple murders would spend more time behind bars under this new legislation. There is no evidence of that. Multiple murderers who serve life sentences stay in jail a lot longer than 25 years.

Members may remember the debate yesterday on Bill S-6, the legislation with respect to the amount of time that murderers serve. First degree murderers in Canada serve 28.4 years on average. There are people who serve longer. Multiple murderers serve longer.

Because it is another committee and another set of legislation and has not been tested, does the National Parole Board now weigh the fact when discussing eligibility of multiple murderers before it?

Is it in the directives, the workings and the results of the National Parole Board to say that a person convicted of two murders is not going to be handled the same way after 25 years as a person who committed one murder? I bet it is. However, we do not have that evidence.

Professor Doug King of Mount Royal University said that the measures in this bill are unlikely to have any deterrent value either, so it will not remove multiple murderers from our community. It will not keep them away from the community any longer, nor will it deter them initially from committing the crime. The only purpose left for the bill is to send a message that life means life and that taking two lives effectively means life in prison.

I believe that already exists. We would like to have the evidence. We do not oppose a message on retribution or on removing the offender from society. We do not oppose the principles in section 718 of the code. However, the principles have to be balanced. There are principles that have to recognize that in lesser crimes there is a role for rehabilitation, even within the corrections system.

I had the opportunity to tour one of the oldest facilities in Canada over the Christmas break, Dorchester Penitentiary in New Brunswick. It houses all kinds of convicted criminals, including murderers. We might not think that rehabilitation for people who are going to be in jail for the rest of their lives is important, because they are never going to be back in society. However, that is not so. If we talk to the correctional officers and their union representatives, we learn that their lives are put in danger by persons inside who have no hope whatsoever of living any sort of acceptable life within the facility. They are in danger every day if internal programming does not keep up with the intake of criminals within the judicial system.

It is a message that is lost on the government. The government and all its members, front benches and back, had better wake up to the message. It had better talk to corrections officers and ensure that it does not lose the support of the corrections officers, who claim that it is flooding the prisons and not keeping up with its commitments toward rehabilitation, training and facility enhancement within the existing facilities and is putting their lives in danger and causing them more anxiety. As a result, they say they are not going to support the government and its programs. I say that as a clarion call to the Conservatives to wake up with respect to issues of law and order.

As a Liberal, I want to be tough on crime. I come from a family of tough-on-crime individuals. My Uncle Henry was a provincial court judge. He was nicknamed “Hanging Henry“. There were no actual life sentences in the provincial court in Moncton, New Brunswick, during his 30 years on the bench, but he was not seen as a softy on crime. Neither am I. Nobody is. Anyone with a family and anyone with regard to the community is not soft on crime. What kind of message is that? That is how the government paints anybody who does not believe what it is saying.

In real democratic debate, one is allowed to say, “Good effort on judicial discretion and good effort on clearing up the message on what a life sentence means, but you missed the mark and you should be working on other things”. That is what we are doing in the House. My message to the government is that it is not the government's sandpile; it is everybody's sandpile. Let us play together in a more reasonable fashion.

The bill really will not change very much. It is part of a tough-on-crime legislative agenda, but it really will not do very much. It is poorly drafted.

I want to talk about an amendment that would have done a better service to the victims.

There is a doctrine known as “judicial restraint”. It has been canvassed and written about. Essentially what it means is to err on the side of caution. If given two options, it is better to take the one that is less likely to be attacked.

I am quoting from the Library of Parliament's Oxford Journal of Legal Studies item on judicial restraint: “The question of how judges ought to exercise judicial restraint is a crucially important constitutional issue that cuts across most areas of public and private law”.

This is an international institutional issue that is dealt with every day by scholars, so it exists. I am not making it up. The point is that if a judge is given a choice between setting parole eligibility at 25 years or 50 years in a conviction for, let us say, two first degree murders, my thought--and also the thought of the authors who talk about judicial restraint--is that a judge will probably pick 25 years.

There was an amendment proposed at committee that would have given the judge true discretion. What is being said in the bill is that a judge will have the discretion of 25 years or 50 years. That is like being on Highway 401 and saying that one could drive in the busy rush hour at 30 miles an hour or 100 miles an hour, neither of which may be safe. In this case, being given the choice between 25 and 50 may not serve the victims and may not serve society.

That amendment was not supported. That amendment was not thoroughly researched before it came to Parliament. It was voted down, and voted down at the peril of victims. What could happen is that a judge may feel that this was an egregious set of murders and that it is not a one-murder eligibility. In other words, if there is a conviction of one crime of first degree murder, the parole eligibility--the time after which the accused convicted person can apply for parole--is 25 years. That is the way it is with one. Under this legislation, a judge with two murders in the same hearing might say, “I'm going to set parole ineligibility at 50 years” or a judge might say, “The accused convicted person is 40 years old; effectively, a 50-year parole ineligibility period is not sensible. There is a chance for rehabilitation. This might have been a crime of passion. This might have been a crime committed with respect to drug and substance abuse”. All those factors might mitigate so that a judge might say, “I will look at a period at 25 years, not 50”.

What the amendment offered and what could have come from the government--and it is not impossible to do this--was a law that would give the judge true discretion between the 25- and 50-year periods. The judge might have been able to say, “These are heinous acts. The convicted person is 40 years old. I will set the period of parole ineligibility to 35 years”. That would have been true judicial discretion. It is discretion that exists; neither I nor any members of the committee often emulate or talk about the American justice system, but it is something that exists in terms of judicial discretion in the United States.

As a lawyer, I thought this would encourage judges to apply their discretion. I thought it would rid judges of their own reticence to use this provision to give longer sentences to multiple murderers, because I do not think a lot of judges would use this extra 25 years. Judges are human. Determining the fate of a person for the next 50 years would put a lot of weight on a judge's shoulders.

I cannot resist quoting my own words, the words I spoke this morning and yesterday in this House about Bill S-6. Certainly these two bills worry me.

There are very real things the government can do, as I said, with respect to the previous legislation. We can be tough on crime for real. This chamber could legislate to protect Canadians from criminality. What are we waiting for? It has been five years. The Conservatives have had their hands on the tiller for five years. Why are they not more aggressive in other areas of the law? They should put more police officers on the street. They did this in New York City. It used to be a crime capital; now 2006 statistics show the lowest crime in that city since 1963.

Where are the promised police officers? Where is the money for rehabilitation? What policies can we borrow from successful experiences everywhere?

There are lots of stark contrasts between Conservatives and Liberals. The Conservatives want to promote their tough-on-crime agenda. They spend all kinds of money on advertising and speeches. We would better equip police forces so that communities across Canada would actually be safer.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders Act
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February 1st, 2011 / 10:55 a.m.
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NDP

Joe Comartin Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Madam Speaker, it was interesting listening to my colleague from Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe talk about the short title in this bill. It is one that I find quite offensive. I find it offensive as a lawyer who has practised in our courts for a long period of time. More importantly, I find it very offensive to the judiciary in this country. If anybody, particularly the government of the day, thinks that a term could be used that is a direct accusation that our judiciary discounts the lives of Canadians by giving lesser sentences, it is grossly offensive.

It was moved in committee that we delete this, as we have done with several other bills that had offensive or misleading short titles like this one. At committee the member voted against the motion to delete, so the title stays and that offensive wording will go on, because it appears that the Liberals, the Conservatives and the Bloc are going to vote for this bill.

I would ask the hon. member, given his opening comments today, how he justifies having voted the way he did to not delete that title and, in effect, to not support the judicial component of our society.

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

February 1st, 2011 / 10:55 a.m.
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Liberal

Brian Murphy Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Madam Speaker, the member will recall, even though he is the dean of the justice committee, that he has never brought a motion since I have been there to strike these ridiculous hyperbolic titles. Frankly, I was the first guy to strike the title, and that was a few bills ago. I think the message has been received by the Conservatives.

As I said, the only thing I agree with the Minister of Justice on is that debate on the title is silly. I would ask them, in their next bills, to stop bringing us silly titles. That was the message sent.

Unlike my friend from the NDP, we want some legislation to get through. We want it to get through. We have voted for some of this government legislation. Sometimes the NDP is so fixed on the position of being against everything that they do not know what they are for. What we are for is law and order.

I will pick the fight on the short titles with the right person at the right time. I am not going to fight with him on this.

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

February 1st, 2011 / 10:55 a.m.
See context

Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles
Québec

Conservative

Daniel Petit Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice

Madam Speaker, I have a simple question for my colleague.

The Liberal opposition has proposed an amendment to the bill. I would like my colleague to explain the whys and wherefores of the original bill and to do it in the simplest possible terms so that the public can understand why they want this amendment and what difference it makes to the original bill.

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

February 1st, 2011 / 10:55 a.m.
See context

Liberal

Brian Murphy Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Madam Speaker, the amendment, as I thought I covered in my speech, was an amendment to allow periods without eligibility to be given over to judicial discretion for the choice between 25 years and 50 years. The difference would be that a judge would be given the discretion to choose a period between 25 and 50 years. The bill, as it currently stands, chooses either 25 years or 50 years. The amendment was with regard to that issue.

I would say that the department did not look into this at all and that the government never thought of it at all, but after five years it rushes to the six o'clock news to say it is going to prevent Clifford Olson from getting out when he would never get out anyway.

The government did not do its homework to see if the bill could have this sliding discretion in it because judges, under judicial restraint in Quebec and in the rest of Canada, would choose 25 years instead of 50 years. They might have chosen something in between. It was a good amendment. The government should have crafted it in its bill, and it should do more homework.

Now the government has two parliamentary secretaries for justice. My friend is a very smart and capable man. I suggest that he be allowed to give some advice to the government, which is clearly not very interested in the substance of bills but very much interested in the shiny surface of them.

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

February 1st, 2011 / 11 a.m.
See context

Liberal

Alan Tonks York South—Weston, ON

Madam Speaker, my colleague talked about judicial discretion. My question relates to linking judicial discretion or restraint and rehabilitation. My colleague makes an excellent point with respect to the culture of penitentiary life, imprisonment, and the implications that has on those who are serving us as employees in these penitentiaries. He makes a very good point that under the circumstances they will feel very insecure with respect to their own personal safety.

If the amendment giving discretion to 35 years has been turned down by the committee and is not entrenched in the legislation, what can we do with respect to the issue that he has raised? If it is now only up to judges to apply a 25-year or a 50-year sentence, there still is no resolution to the issue of those who are entrusted with the security in those penitentiaries. Under those circumstances, there is nothing that would assuage their fears. I think the quality of their life and the life of victims needs to be balanced against the issue with respect to this legislation. For me and, I am sure, for those who are following this debate, they will be very concerned about this legislation as it relates to the security in the prisons.

Never mind whether those inmates actually get out or the Parole Board makes a decision with respect to allowing them parole, it is a question of the safety in the penitentiaries. What can be done to address that particular issue?

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

February 1st, 2011 / 11 a.m.
See context

Liberal

Brian Murphy Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Madam Speaker, under this legislation, nothing. The cake has been taken out of the oven and it is baked.

However, with respect to other measures, the Conservatives are the government. They can commit money to rehabilitation. What they seem to forget in everything they bring forward is that the incarcerated person is in prison and is facing good Canadian correctional officers. If the incarcerated person gets out, then they are in a community.

The member knows better than most as he was the chairman of the largest city in Canada, metro Toronto, and his father was the mayor of his city. He knows, like most municipal politicians, that issues such as this, offenders in the community, hit first up against municipal governments and the communities. Zoning applications are needed for halfway houses, for instance, enough police officers are needed and ensuring that correctional officials are minding the Parole Board officials to see where these people are. He knows more than most in this chamber about the real impact of offenders released and offenders within the facilities who have had no treatment.

The answer to his question is that not with this legislation and not with anything that I have seen from the government. However, surely it will get the message that people eventually get out of prison and that while they are in prison they better have had some treatment to make them better citizens so that public safety is enhanced. That is the real problem.

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

February 1st, 2011 / 11:05 a.m.
See context

Bloc

Serge Ménard Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Madam Speaker, I would like to say right away that we agree. This is a good bill and we will therefore vote in favour of it.

We feel that this is not at all the spirit that motivates the government. It is still motivated by the political benefit that can be derived. It is clear that this bill is being introduced for the second time so that the government can publicly state for the second time that it opposes sentence discounts. That is a disgraceful term to use in regard to our legal system and, besides, there is no truth to it. They want us to think a life sentence comes at a discount. It is not at a discount. Does someone have two lives if there are two victims? It is nonsense. Once again, they are taking their cue from the Americans, who have the ridiculous habit of imposing totally unrealistic sentences, such as 175 years in jail. For example, a lawyer told his client on leaving not to worry, he only had to do what he could.

The Conservatives are still using expressions that are pure propaganda. This title is pure propaganda. It is untrue. There are no sentence discounts for murder in Canada. It is true that there are multiple murders, but usually there is just one murder victim per person.

What we should remember is that, ultimately, this bill will not have much effect on the prison term that offenders serve because that decision—and this is why I think the bill is quite good—is made by the people who were there for the trial, that is to say, the judge and jury. At the end of a trial, the jury is asked whether it thinks the period of ineligibility for parole should be extended, in other words, the time until the offender can apply for it. The judge must take this opinion into account and give his reasons.

It would be better, as the hon. member for Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe suggested, if the judge had a bit more discretionary power to vary the sentence in some cases and did not have to decide between 25 and 50 years, as is currently the case. But it does not matter that much in the end. In any case, if the judge did not do it, the National Parole Board would ultimately take it into account.

We need to recognize that there are multiple murders that are less serious than single murders and there are single murders that are more serious than multiple murders. The existence of multiple victims is certainly one of the most important circumstances to be taken into account when a decision is made whether to grant parole. However, current events offer some glaring examples of this difference.

Members know that the man who was considered to be the leader of the Hells Angels, Maurice “Mom” Boucher, gave his permission to go after prison guards. He encouraged someone to go to prisons and kill two guards who were transporting prisoners. Two people showed up: one drove the motorcycle and the other was on the back. They killed the first prison guard. When they came around to kill the second, the gun jammed. Thus, Maurice “Mom” Boucher was found guilty of complicity in the murder of a single guard.

Consider another case from the news. Members will recall the horrific case in Saint-Jérôme last year of the young surgeon who was well loved in the community and deeply in love with his wife, also a doctor. When she left him, he killed their two children. That was obviously an act of desperation. One has to wonder why.

He absolutely deserves a sentence and should spend a considerable amount of time in prison. And he will, because in this case, he will not be able to apply for parole after 15 years; he will not be able to apply for 25 years because it was a multiple murder. However, it is clear that we do not need to treat the surgeon the same way as the leader of the Hells Angels, “Mom” Boucher.

There is another recent example. A poor, desperate family in Lac-Saint-Jean asked for help, but no one reached out. They eventually came to the horrible conclusion that life was not worth living, either for the parents or their children. They got enough medication to kill four people. They were eventually found in the house, and all of them were unconscious. Doctors were still able to save the woman. She survived and was charged with murdering her husband and two children, which makes sense. She was convicted. That said, there is a difference between this woman and “Mom” Boucher. Clearly, her behaviour was abnormal in psychiatric terms, but that does not justify what she did and did not render her incapable of making decisions. Consequently, it was not an admissible defence against criminal charges. But her actions were still not the same as those of “Mom” Boucher.

Think about the killer in Tucson and imagine if that happened here. In that case as well, there were multiple murders. That is very important. And there is the case of those who planted the bomb that exploded on the Air India flight. Clearly the fact that there are multiple murders will be taken into consideration by those who have to rule on parole. Obviously it is an important factor, but one that has been taken into consideration and always will be, even if this bill is not passed.

However, I see an improvement here. Currently, the decision is left up to the Parole Board concerning multiple murder cases. I think that the fact that, in future, the jury that heard the trial and the judge who will make the decision will be asked for their opinion is an improvement in the law.

Another case of appalling multiple murders is the case of Colonel Williams.

That said, in the language used by the government, a little rigour is needed. The current Minister of Justice is really not of the same calibre as many of his predecessors. He always manages to lower himself to the same level as an alley cat, with his political battles. He is in fact the one who is inspiring all these titles, which are more like propaganda slogans than informative titles for bills. Once again, he continues to show his contempt for judges and for the system. Using an expression like “sentence discounts” is, once again, an expression of his contempt in an effort to gain a slight political advantage, to show just how tough he is on crime. This is becoming a habit of his. I remember another bill the Conservatives loudly applauded that he called the “Ending House Arrest for...Serious and Violent Offenders Act”. No judge would ever allow serious and violent offenders to serve their sentences at home. It is already prohibited under existing legislation. The first criterion a judge must consider before allowing an offender to serve his sentence at home is the danger it would present to public safety.

In my opinion, if a serious and violent offender were to serve his sentence at home, that would pose a risk to public safety. So judges to do not impose such sentences.

The title of the bill clearly indicates that it is an insult to the judiciary. The member is laughing at us because we care about titles. Yes, we care about titles that are propaganda. Why does he use false propaganda in his bill titles? In my opinion, this shows once again that he has not achieved the same level of wisdom and excellence that previous justice ministers achieved—people like Guy Favreau, Pierre Elliott Trudeau and Mark MacGuigan, among others. He is not of the same calibre as his predecessors.

However, his bill does include one improvement, that is, the role of the judge and jury that heard the case. That is the only improvement it contains, but few changes were made.

In his arguments in favour of this legislation, the government member spoke of the victims who will have to continue attending National Parole Board hearings and listen to the account of the crimes of which their loved ones were the victims. A victim's family members are not required to attend these hearings. Usually half the victims decide to attend and the other half choose not to. However, there is nothing stopping those who decide not to attend from sharing their thoughts in writing or otherwise.

In that respect, there is a quick fix to all this. In fact, it might already be included in the law, but I am not sure whether this applies to Olson. Currently under the law, when someone sentenced to life in prison applies for parole before the end of his sentence—let us say that person is allowed to apply after serving 15 years—the jury making the decision on the initial application can effectively determine how long the offender will have to wait before he can apply for parole a second time. It seems to me this also applies to Olson, but perhaps not, since he has already served a minimum of 25 years. There simply needs to be a provision similar to the one that already exists under the law for those who apply 15 or 25 years after their prison term begins, in order for the jury to make its decision. In a case like Olson's, it is obvious. If ever Colonel Williams decided after 25 years to apply for parole every two years, all we would need is a provision whereby the jury hearing the initial application could determine how long Mr. Williams would have to wait before making another request. That way, the jury would lift this burden from the victims' families.

When we are dealing with this legislation it is important to remember that for the past 40 years in Canada, murderers have been serving the longest sentences. It is surprising to see that since the death penalty was abolished, murderers are serving much longer sentences than those served by murderers who had been sentenced to death, but whose sentence had been commuted. Before 1968, the average length of sentence served by murderers sentenced to death whose sentence was commuted was seven years. From 1968 to 1974, the average increased to 10 years. Since 1974 and with other reforms, the average has increased to 28.4 years. In civilized countries comparable to Canada—such as the United States—the average is roughly 15 years. For example, the average is 14 years in England and 12 years in Sweden.

When amendments were made in 1976, this information was used to establish that a decision to sentence a person to life in prison without any possibility of parole should potentially be reviewed after 15 years. Fifteen years was slightly longer than the average time frame in other civilized countries.

It is significant that Canada is the country with the longest time frame. It seems that the Conservatives' goal is to also make Canada one of the countries with the most severe sentences. I would like to remind members that we have a way to go before we catch up with the United States, the country that currently incarcerates the highest number of people, per capita, in the world. It used to be Russia, but the Americans now have a higher incarceration rate. The incarceration rate in the United States is currently seven times higher than in Canada.

Members have also spoken about the role and influence of the media. I would like to remind the media that they should perhaps be a bit more careful about criticizing court decisions. For example, the Parole Board of Canada has a gradual release program that involves sending offenders to halfway houses. There is only one difference between offenders' liberty in prison and their liberty in a halfway house: the halfway house does not have any walls, barbed wire or armed guards to ensure that offenders do not leave. However, as in prison, offenders living in a halfway house must eat when they are told, eat what they are given, do what they are told throughout the day, and live with other offenders. They are deprived of most of their freedom. After a time, these offenders may be allowed to have employment, but they have to work during the hours prescribed and they must return to and sleep at the halfway house. Little by little, offenders are given more freedom. It is important to understand that offenders who are released on parole do not have the freedom they had before they went to prison.

Newspapers generally refer to a change in status when an offender is released from prison. They say that the person has gained their freedom. That is false because it is a very limited freedom. This needs to be taken into consideration. The expense is an important consideration because the average cost of keeping an offender in prison is $110,000 compared to $30,000 if they are in a halfway house. It is possible to restrict the freedom of a good number of offenders who are not dangerous enough to be kept in the traditional maximum security setting of a prison.

In committee, we finally managed to impose an amendment on the government. It should be very clear that the opposition members find it an outright insult that judges must provide written or oral reasons for their decision in the event that they refuse to impose the most severe measure. It is customary for judges to provide reasons for their decisions in one way or another, but why impose an additional requirement if a specific measure is not applied?

This is in the same vein as the titles of laws implying that, in Canada, we give sentence discounts, as if there were sales on goodness knows what, or that judges allow serious and violent offenders to serve their sentences in the community, even though this is prohibited by law.

It is always the same story. This is something new for the Conservative Party. I do not believe that former Prime Ministers Joe Clark or Brian Mulroney adopted this habit of scoring political points at the expense of judges or the parole system.

We have had many intelligent discussions in Parliament about the role of parole. The fact remains that the parole system has been of great benefit in dealing with crime.