An Act to amend the Criminal Code and another Act

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

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 regard to the right of persons convicted of murder or high treason to be eligible to apply for early parole. It also amends the International Transfer of Offenders 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.

Votes

  • Dec. 14, 2010 Passed That Bill S-6, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and another Act, as amended, be concurred in at report stage.
  • Dec. 14, 2010 Failed That Bill S-6, in Clause 7, be amended (a) by replacing line 9 on page 6 with the following: “3(1), within 90 days after the end of two years” (b) by replacing line 19 on page 6 with the following: “amended by subsection 3(1), within 90 days”
  • Dec. 14, 2010 Failed That Bill S-6, in Clause 3, be amended by deleting the following after line 28 on page 3: “(2.7) The 90-day time limits for the making of any application referred to in subsections (2.1) to (2.5) may be extended by the appropriate Chief Justice, or his or her designate, to a maximum of 180 days if the person, due to circumstances beyond their control, is unable to make an application within the 90-day time limit. (2.7) If a person convicted of murder does not make an application under subsection (1) within the maximum time period allowed by this section, the Commissioner of Correctional Service Canada, or his or her designate, shall immediately notify in writing a parent, child, spouse or common-law partner of the victim that the convicted person did not make an application. If it is not possible to notify one of the aforementioned relatives, then the notification shall be given to another relative of the victim. The notification shall specify the next date on which the convicted person will be eligible to make an application under subsection (1).”
  • Dec. 14, 2010 Failed That Bill S-6 be amended by restoring Clause 1 as follows: “1. This Act may be cited as the Serious Time for the Most Serious Crime Act.”

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

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

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
Government Orders

February 1st, 2011 / 11:30 a.m.
See context

NDP

Joe Comartin Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Madam Speaker, I am sure my colleague from Scarborough—Rouge River will not mind if I go ahead of him, and I am sure he will stay in the chamber and pay very close attention to all of my comments, as I will to his comments shortly.

Just to be clear about the position of the NDP, we still have grave reservations about the bill. A number of members of our caucus are leaning to support it and a number are leaning to oppose it. Once the debate is completed, we will make a final decision in that regard.

What has happened here is classic example of the way the government, as well as the Conservative Party, approaches the issue of crime. It tends to be obviously ideological in many cases, and in a number of cases, it is emotional, as opposed to an approach based on good public policy, good planning, on how to cope with those people in our society, going all the way to the extreme, who are prepared to commit murder.

The bill is really designed to go after the Clifford Olsons, the Paul Bernardos and the Picktons of the world. That is the way the Conservatives portrayed it. That is the way the Conservatives sold it to the public.

However, we have heard stories today of the multiple murderers who do not fit that pattern at all. We heard in the last few minutes from the Bloc about the situation in Quebec up around Saint-Jérôme, where a well-known, well-respected surgeon killed his two children after his marriage broke up. We heard of another instance from one of the members from Scarborough about a situation that was, in effect, infanticide; but again, it was a multiple murder of two children by a mother.

Under the existing law the faint hope clause does not apply to multiple murders, including the two circumstances I just described, which of course we do not hear from the Conservatives. In those cases, therefore, those murderers will spend 25 years in custody before becoming eligible for parole. Because they cannot apply for parole until the 25th year, they will probably spend another year, maybe more, in custody. On average, even where it is clear they are rehabilitated and clearly not a risk to society at all, they will spend 26 years of their lives behind bars in those fact situations.

They say that maybe there are exceptions, but they still have to be sure to get the Olsons of the world. However, the reality is that roughly 80% of all murders are committed by people in the latter category, not the Olson category, that is, they know the victim and the victim knows them. A lot of it is inter-family or, at the very least, among acquaintances.

What the government is doing with the bill is trying to solve a problem related to Clifford Olson that will, unfortunately, in other cases, cause an injustice.

I will use the reaction we saw in the Latimer case, where we had a repeated battle in the courts over whether there was some way he could be released before the 10 years, the minimum he had to serve, based on the crime he was convicted of at that time, the murder of his daughter. There was a great discussion in the country. It went both ways. I think the country was roughly evenly divided. As much as 50% of the country said that in that circumstance, and I want to be clear that it was not a position I supported, maybe he should be allowed, once convicted, to spend less than the absolute minimum of 10 years.

We have any number of other cases, when the facts are presented to our society as a whole, where they would say the same thing, that 10 years is fine; 15 years is too much; and 25 years definitely too much.

Canadians are basically a fair people. They look for justice and they certainly want it to be clear in our society that there are going to be consequences for whatever crime one commits and, obviously, serious consequences if it is a murder, if someone takes another's life. There is no question about that: they see that as fair, they see that as just. However, from all my experiences and all the reading I have done, I also believe they want everyone to be treated fairly. If the person is Clifford Olson, they want him kept in custody for the rest of his life. It is the same with Paul Bernardo. However, if it is the Latimer case, that certainly would not be the consensus in the country.

Thus the bill is clearly designed for a problem that we recognize exists. The consequences of the bill, though, will create many more problems, and the government is not seeing that.

It really is the difference between multiple or double murders and single murders. Perhaps I should put this statistic on the table. On average, in Canada, every year we have between 14 and 16 multiple murders. The vast majority of them are not of the serial killer type; the vast majority of them are the husband or the partner losing control and killing, almost always, both his partner and the partner's new lover. Those are the majority of cases.

When we look at that, most Canadians would say that the existing system, the faint hope clause, which will disappear if the bill we were debating yesterday is passed, combined with this bill will create very many more problems and injustices, as I think the average Canadian would say, if he or she looked at the individual cases.

We cannot consider this bill just in light of itself. We have to look at Bill S-6, because the Liberals are clearly going to support it, along with the government, and it is going to pass. We are going to end up in a situation where judges are going to be confronted, in the multiple murder situation, with having to make the decision. My colleague from Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe was right about this. There are going to be very few cases where the judges in this country are going to be prepared to use this bill, this law, if it goes through, which obviously appears to be the case. I suppose this is a point one has to make if one is going to support the bill. It will be on the basis that it is probably going to be used properly by our judges.

In spite of the disrespect we constantly hear and see from the government, and we see it in this bill, when it speaks of our judiciary, it is at least equal to the best judiciary in the world, and it arguably is the best judiciary in the world, at both levels, that of provincial appointments and federal appointments. It is not perfect, but it has no superior bench anyplace in the world. It may have a few peers, but it has no superior.

Therefore, those judges, on an individual basis, when confronted with the reality of a multiple murderer before them and a conviction they have registered after a full-blown trial, will have to decide whether they are going to send someone to jail for 50 years for three murders, or 75 years. In the vast majority of cases, as I say, with the exception perhaps of Olson, they are not going to do that.

The evidence in committee from lawyers and people from organizations like the John Howard Society and Elizabeth Fry Society was interesting. It was very clear that at the time of sentencing judges knew that it was impossible to say what would happen 25 years down the road. If it is a multiple murder, they know that the person under our existing law would not be eligible to apply for parole up to 25 years.

The vast majority of judges, very near 100% of them, would say that they do not know, with any degree of certainty, what a person will be like 25 years from now, where psychological and psychiatric treatment will be 25 years from now in terms of the ability to cope with someone like this and be sure the offender goes back into society without being a risk. Judges will say that they will not invoke the provisions of Bill C-48, which will happen in the vast majority of cases.

It may happen occasionally if there is a Pickton or Olson in front of the court. Members who want to support the bill could perhaps assuage their consciences by saying it will rarely be used and based on the trust we have in our judiciary, it will only be used when appropriate.

One other point will be in the minds of the judges but obviously is not in the mind of the government. I say that because there are alternatives, such as the way we could deal with serial killers, and I will come back to that in a few minutes. What is going to be in the mind of the judiciary is the need to be sure that our criminal justice system does not become a point of ridicule, that by sentencing a serial killer in particular to 200, 300 or 400 years, and nobody lives that long, they do not expose the court, the judiciary and the criminal justice system to the kind of ridicule that could produce, as we have seen in the United States.

In some states in the U.S. people can be sentenced to 100 years for each murder. Someone who has committed two or three murders can be sentenced to life in prison with no eligibility for parole for up to 300 or 400 years. That is not uncommon in the United States and it draws ridicule from outside the U.S. on its system.

That will be in the minds of the judges every time they consider this. They will look at whether they know what a person will be like 25 years from now. In the vast majority of cases, they will say no. They will then ask themselves if they should risk the possibility of bringing the system under ridicule and disrepute. Again, they will want to decide on the basis of safety that they do not invoke these provisions.

Another reason for supporting the bill is because there is judicial discretion.

There is another point in the bill, which quite frankly shows the ignorance of the Conservative government. It has put in a provision without understanding how trials work in the country, murder trials in particular. The provision is that judges are required to put to jury, after the conviction, if it wants to make a recommendation as to whether the person should spend multiple periods of time without eligibility for parole. It actually has the wording that the judge must read to the jury.

What the government does not understand is the reality of what jury members have just gone through. They have oftentimes sat through one to several weeks of what can be extremely stressful testimony around murders. They are very tired and stressed out, but right after the conviction judges are required to read this direction to them and inquire as to whether they want to make recommendations. There is no psychological basis for them to be able to do that.

The other point the government does not understand is how this works. There is no evidence given to the jury at that point about this person. The person, in most cases, does not testify, so there is no psychological or psychiatric evidence before the jury as to what is an appropriate way to deal with the person or whether the person can be dealt with at all. In comes down to the fact that the jury has to make this decision completely in the dark.

Then, after saying those two things on the weakness of what the government has proposed for this system, it is only a recommendation and not binding on the judge. The Superior Court judge has the final decision and it is entirely within that person's discretion. As I said earlier, I believe that in the vast majority of cases judges will opt not to invoke the multiple periods of time.

Therefore, what are we doing here? It is obvious that we will pass the bill. The Liberals and the Bloc members have already announced that they will support it, along with the government. However, we are creating a system that is not going to be used very often, but that has a major risk of being used in situations where the average Canadian, knowing the facts, would say that it is not appropriate and further puts us at risk of our system being ridiculed, much as the system in the United States is in some cases.

On the alternatives, we have heard from other members of the House and the evidence at committee about these facts. Our system of dealing with murderers goes back to the mid-1970s when we opted, as a society, to do away with the death penalty. At that point, we said that this was the way we would treat murderers, depending on whether it was manslaughter, second degree or first degree murder. That was when we brought in the faint hope clause. At that time, it was fixed at 25 years spent, without the faint hope clause, for first degree murder.

The faint hope clause allowed application for parole at 15 years if it could be justified first to a judge, then to a judge and jury and then ultimately to the Parole Board. It was a three-step process. That was the system, but we made some changes to it to deal with the multiple murderers in 1997 to exclude them from that process.

In the mid-1970s, and again in 1997, we knew that we were sending people to prison much longer than all the countries to which we were compared, with the exception of some of the states in the U.S. that are close to us. The majority of the states in the U.S. have life sentences that are shorter than ours. Every other jurisdiction, England, all of western Europe, Australia and New Zealand, countries that have societies that are very similar to ours, have much shorter periods of time for people being sent to custody. The average is running around 15 years, but in a number of countries it is less than that. I think in New Zealand it is 12 or 14 years now. Currently, in England it is 14 years. On average, we are at 28.4 years.

There is an alternative as to how we deal with the serial killer, and that is to use the dangerous offender section of the code. It needs to be changed so it is specifically available to our judges, courts, police and prosecutors. If we made that available to them in the serial killer case, it would solve the problem that we are trying to address here, but not doing so very effectively.

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

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

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders Act
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February 1st, 2011 / 3:25 p.m.
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Bloc

Marc Lemay Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, I did not do that because I wanted to be in contempt of the House. It is difficult for me to stand up, because my leg is giving me a little trouble. I did not want to miss my turn.

Have no fear; I did indeed intend to speak to this bill, which I too believe is very important and which fills a gap in the Criminal Code. We who argue and have argued murder cases know that this gap has existed for many years, ever since the Criminal Code was amended in 1976 to abolish the death penalty. At the time, the faint hope clause was brought in, and that is the topic of Bill S-6, which we debated yesterday.

There is a difference between Bill C-48, which we are examining today, and the bill we examined yesterday, Bill S-6. Bill S-6 closes the door on nearly every possibility that someone convicted of murder will ever return to society. Conversely, Bill C-48 is worthwhile because it will close a door that was left half-open when the faint hope clause was introduced under section 745 of the Criminal Code. Let me explain.

When the death penalty was abolished in Canada in 1976, the Criminal Code was amended and it stated—without quoting the Criminal Code—more or less the following: anyone convicted of murder shall be sentenced to life imprisonment. That is clear. It forgot to mention that an individual can be convicted of multiple murders. Section 745 refers only to an individual who is convicted of murder, in the singular, and no one thought any differently. I was not here in 1976 and I do not believe that anyone currently in this House was here then, but the priority at the time was to put an end to the death penalty. It is clear from the work done at the time that legislators wanted to put an end to the possibility that anyone convicted of murder would be hanged, since the death penalty still existed in Canada. However, they forgot to close that door, and now nearly 25 years later, we are going to close it with Bill C-48.

When a bill is intelligent and serves an important purpose—and we believe it does—the Bloc Québécois supports it. In terms of criminal law, we believe that this is an important bill, because we must make a distinction—while being careful not to trivialize—between an individual who commits one murder and an individual who commits two or three. My colleagues will understand that they are completely different. In examining the figures provided, I realize that, in Canada, we can count the number of multiple murderers on one hand. That is straightforward.

The government is shutting doors because of a few multiple murderers. I would like to share with you the most recent figures from 2008. We asked for the most recent figures, but we could not wait for them because the bill had to be passed.

In 2008, 553 people were convicted on 1 count of murder; 18 people were convicted on 2 counts of murder; 6 people were convicted on 3 counts of murder; and 1 person was convicted on at least 4 counts of murder. We know how to count: 18 plus 6 plus 1 equals 25 people convicted of multiple murders. We should take a closer look at this.

Let us look at the type of criminal we are dealing with. I will be careful so as not to be misquoted. The majority are murderers. Murder is still the most serious crime in the Criminal Code. All the murder cases we looked at—except five, and I will come back to that momentarily—were multiple murders: someone killed his wife and three children, someone else killed her husband and two children. This happens a lot in families. In Canada, there are currently five multiple murderers in prison. In order not to violate the seal of confession, I will not name those murderers except for maybe Olson and Pickton, and more recently Colonel Williams. The others were hitmen for the Hells Angels. These are very specific cases.

The example that springs to mind is incredibly sad, and that is the case of Cathie Gauthier. Following a suicide pact she had made, she killed her husband and two children—and in a few moments I will come back to section 745, which is why we are voting in favour. This woman and her husband had left Abitibi to work in Chicoutimi in the Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean area, and they had made a suicide pact. Unfortunately, the husband and two children died, but she survived. She was supposed to die, but she survived. She was convicted of triple murder. These are very specific cases.

This is what section 745.51 of the Criminal Code would do. In Canada, in Quebec and in this part of the world, there are few criminals, few mass murderers—God willing it will stay that way. All the better for all of us. However, they had the same rights as someone who committed one murder. Members may think that I am trying to trivialize the situation, but I have no intention of trivializing murder. It is very clear that it is the most serious and most horrific of crimes. However, someone who killed his wife's lover was treated the same way as someone who killed five people to settle the score for the mafia. They were treated the same, meaning that after 25 years they could apply for parole. An individual was granted parole even though he was a criminal and a mafia hitman. He was released under this section of the Criminal Code. I checked and I can tell you that this person did not reoffend. I could speak at length about this. No individual who has been released since 1987 has reoffended by committing murder. The law was amended in 1976, but the first cases occurred in 1987. Two individuals reoffended and committed violent crimes, namely assault with a weapon and robbery.

These two individuals had their parole revoked and are back in custody.

I would like to emphasize the fundamental principle that the Conservatives do not understand. Someone who is convicted of murder is sentenced to life in prison. For the rest of his days, for the rest of his life, he will be under the control and supervision of the Correctional Service of Canada, period.

There is a major difference between Bill C-48 and Bill S-6, which we examined yesterday and which the Bloc will vehemently oppose. I hope that our Liberal friends will come around and also vote against it. Bill S-6 would abolish the faint hope clause, which would mean that any murderer, even if he was completely rehabilitated, would remain in prison. That makes absolutely no sense.

That is why yesterday I said that there was a difference between the faint hope clause, which enables an individual to reintegrate into society, and Bill C-48, which we are currently studying and which states that when an individual commits more than one murder, the judge will address the jury. That is what will be in the Criminal Code, which will be amended. I will quote what will be said to the jury, which can be found in the proposed section 745.21. It will not be the judge, the Conservatives or the police who will make the decision. It will be the jury that convicted the individual.

Before discharging the jury, the judge shall put to them the following question:

You have found the accused guilty of murder. The law requires that I now pronounce a sentence of imprisonment for life against the accused. Do you wish to make any recommendation with respect to the period without eligibility for parole to be served for this murder consecutively to the period without eligibility for parole imposed for the previous murder? You are not required to make any recommendation, but if you do, your recommendation will be considered by me when I make my determination.

Here is an explanation for the listening public. This means that, from now on, a jury will be consulted in cases involving offenders who have been found guilty of two murders. I will use the example of Cathie Gauthier, who was found guilty of triple murder. The judge will consult the jury to determine whether, given what it heard, it thinks that this woman should not be eligible for parole before serving three consecutive sentences of 25 years or a total of 75 years.

Of course, in the case of a person who killed someone in a moment of pure insanity the jury will likely tell the judge that such a sentence does not really make sense. However, in cases such as those of Olson, Pickton, Bernardo or a mafia hitman, I do not think that the jury would hesitate for long before saying that such individuals should not be released until they have served 25, 50 or 75 years.

That is the fundamental difference between Bill S-6, which will be voted on tomorrow—I hope that the Liberals will vote against it—and Bill C-48, which we will likely vote on within the next few days. I hope that the Liberals will vote, like us, in favour of Bill C-48 because it closes an open door.

But there is more. As a criminal lawyer, I admit that this idea is quite intelligent. It is rare that I compliment the Conservatives, but I am doing so now.

Surely it could not have been the Minister of Justice who came up with this. It must have been someone who works for the Department of Justice. Section 745.51 was added, under which it will be determined whether a person is guilty of a single, double or triple murder when they are sentenced under section 745.

The judge presiding over the trial of an individual found guilty of murder asks the jury for a verdict. This is where it gets interesting. Having regard to the character of the offender, the nature of the offence and the circumstances surrounding its commission, and all the recommendations made by the jury that I was talking about 10 minutes ago, the judge can order that the period of ineligibility for parole for each murder conviction be served consecutively. In other words, once the jury has found the individual guilty, the judge asks the jury the question and takes the answer into account. For example, the jury says not to impose a consecutive sentence. As a criminal lawyer, I would appeal that the next morning. I cannot see a judge disregarding a recommendation by the jury. If the jury says to impose a consecutive sentence, then the judge has discretionary power and has to give a reason orally or in writing for not making the order. What does that mean? It is quite good because once again discretionary power will be given to the court judging the individual.

I want to go back to the example of Cathie Gauthier, who made a suicide pact, as everyone knows. She gave drugs to her husband and her two children and took some herself. Unfortunately for her, she survived. She was convicted of triple murder. In her case, it is likely that the judge, having regard to the character of the offender, the nature of the offence and the circumstances surrounding its commission, would say that the sentence is already enough, that the woman is serving life in prison and will be there for at least 25 years, and to leave it at that.

However, without denigrating these individuals, in the case of Olson, Bernardo or Colonel Williams, I think the judge would not hesitate to say that they deserve a consecutive sentence and before being eligible for parole, they will have to serve 25, 50, even 75 years. In other words, there is no way they are returning to society. I think that would be a wise decision. I admit there are criminals who are so hopeless they could never return to society. Unfortunately that is true.

There are also individuals who are not criminals by nature, but who, because of the events surrounding the murder, became criminals. The case of Cathie Gauthier is an excellent example. How will the appeal court respond? I do not know; I only know that the case is being appealed. But with what we have before us today and the studies we have done, we believe this is a good bill. This bill will close a door that was unfortunately left half-open when the death penalty was abolished.

As a final point, I will say that when we see a good bill, especially in the area of criminal law, the Bloc will support it. That is true of Bill C-48. However, when a bill is bad, as is the case with what Bill S-6 is trying to do, we cannot support it.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders Act
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February 1st, 2011 / 3:50 p.m.
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Bloc

Marc Lemay Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Madam Speaker, the member for Hochelaga says he is a banker, and I will take his word on that; however, the lawyer in me stands up and says no to his request to describe the differences in just two words. I need a little more time than that, particularly since criminal law is involved. I will be brief since I know my time is limited.

First, Bill C-48, which we are examining today, closes a door for offenders who have committed multiple murders and who could be eligible for early release to which we believe they are not entitled. That is Bill C-48.

On the other hand, Bill S-6 is a bill that I hope will cause the Liberals to wake up. We should not vote in favour of this bill. The Liberals are the ones who abolished the death penalty and introduced the faint hope clause to allow offenders to return to society. We must continue to provide this option. I could name two of my clients but I will not because I did not call them. They committed murder and today they are making a positive contribution to society. They served their sentences but benefited from the faint hope clause. I want to emphasize that this clause works very well.

The Correctional Service of Canada came to prove to us, with supporting data, that it has complete control over rehabilitated offenders in society, and that they become productive citizens. Of the 141 individuals who were returned to society, only two have been convicted of violent crimes: one for assault causing bodily harm and the other for robbery. That is a phenomenal success. If Bill S-6 were to be enacted, there would be more crime in prisons tomorrow morning. I am convinced of it because the inmate will have no other options. He will know that he can never return to society. And that is unacceptable.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders Act
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February 1st, 2011 / 4:05 p.m.
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Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Madam Speaker, I remember very well the private member's bill on consecutive versus concurrent sentencing. That bill was in fact gutted in committee at that time and I know the member worked very hard to try to get it reinstated.

The debate that has occurred so far has to do in great part with whether Bill C-48 provides the right balance in terms of dealing with multiple murders considering the situation we have with Bill S-6, the faint hope clause. Would the member care to comment on how justice is served and the public safety objectives of the criminal justice would be better served by Bill C-48?

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

February 1st, 2011 / 4:30 p.m.
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Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Madam Speaker, I appreciate the member's frankness in talking about the broader dimension of our human responsibilities and the fact that the role of the criminal justice system is not simply to punish. Prevention is part of it, certainly punishment is an element, but then we have rehabilitation and reintegration.

It seems to me that an easy solution is Bill C-48, having more and more people stay in jail for longer periods of time and then we would not have to worry about whether they would be a problem. That is the important element of Bill C-48. We demonstrate a confidence level in judicial discretion. Public safety is extremely important and we should always show respect for the public safety issue. However, eventually people get out, even when they do bad things, and we want to be absolutely sure.

I appreciate the member's comments and acknowledge his openness with the House.

Perhaps the member would comment on whether Bill S-6 on the faint hope clause is consistent with the idea that there are people who are not Clifford Olson, that public safety is not at risk and that maybe there are good public service and safety reasons for early parole in certain circumstances.

Serious Time for the Most Serious Crime Act
Government Orders

January 31st, 2011 / noon
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Niagara Falls
Ontario

Conservative

Rob Nicholson Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

moved that Bill S-6, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and another Act, be read the third time and passed.

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak on a very important piece of legislation. That, of course, is Bill S-6, the serious time for the most serious crime act, sometimes referred to as the ”faint hope clause bill”. It will get rid of that particular section.

As all members of the House know full well, Bill S-6 proposes important amendments to the faint hope regime.

The bill was first introduced as Bill C-36 and was reintroduced in virtually identical form as Bill S-6 in June of 2010. After debate and study in the Senate, the bill was, appropriately enough, passed without amendment.

I am always happy to rise in the chamber to talk about justice legislation and to discuss the issues that affect Canadians and the people of my riding of Niagara Falls, but I am saddened by the fact that we are still debating this bill, a bill that could have been passed before Christmas if not for the agenda of the opposition parties.

Unfortunately, as my hon. colleague from Edmonton—St. Albert explained during the report stage debate, some Liberal members of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights chose not to listen to the testimony of victims and victim advocates and decided to delay this important bill by introducing unnecessary amendments, including deleting the title.

I have said this before about the opposition: that at some point it should take time to understand the needs of victims of crime. Unfortunately, it uses opportunities--as it did on this bill to get rid of the faint hope clause--to delay this government's important legislation and our attempts to fight crime and stand up for victims and law-abiding Canadians. The unnecessary amendments introduced by the Liberal justice critic and cheered on by the NDP and the Bloc were clear examples of the political tactics used by the opposition to delay our justice legislation.

I want to be clear in reminding the House that we are not talking about controversial legislation today. The bill before us is a bill that will get rid of the faint hope provision that currently allows a murderer to apply to be eligible for early parole after serving only 15 years in custody. It is legislation that will correct a law that has left many ordinary Canadians perplexed by the existence of a process that seems to allow murderers to get around the sentences imposed on them in open court after fair and public trials.

More importantly, it is legislation that victims have been asking for. I have met with victim after victim, and they have told me that the current faint hope regime must be repealed because it re-victimizes them and forces them to relive the horror that was the death of their loved ones. It is inconceivable to me that such an important matter as the protection of the families and loved ones of murder victims should be delayed because certain members do not like the title of the bill.

The measures proposed in Bill S-6 aim to accomplish three simple goals.

The first is to restore truth in sentencing by ensuring that the sentence pronounced on a convicted murderer in open court is the sentence that is served. It should not be too unreasonable for anybody that the sentence pronounced on a convicted murderer in open court is the sentence that should be served. That is reasonable.

The second is to keep those convicted of the most serious crimes in prison for lengthier periods of time, commensurate with the gravity of the crimes.

The third--and, in my opinion, the most important--is to ensure that the families and loved ones of murder victims are not themselves victimized at the whim of a convicted murderer who may decide to bring an application to be eligible for early parole. All this does is force families and loved ones to re-experience the pain of their original loss. They are victimized again and again. I do not think the goals of this bill are controversial or unreasonable and I believe the vast majority of Canadians agree.

As I have said many times before, this government is committed to redressing the balance in Canada's criminal justice system by considering the interests of law-abiding citizens. We are committed to ensuring that families and loved ones of victims are not themselves re-victimized by the justice system, and this is exactly what Bill S-6 accomplishes. This is a fair, balanced and reasonable reform of a controversial area of the law, and it should have the complete support today of all members of the House.

Serious Time for the Most Serious Crime Act
Government Orders

January 31st, 2011 / 12:20 p.m.
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Liberal

Brian Murphy Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Mr. Speaker, I withdraw that. Because of the recess, we have become a little relaxed on things. I apologize very much for that.

The Prime Minister of Canada killed his own bill. The Prime Minister of Canada took the legs out from underneath the Minister of Justice. However, he survived another day and then waited 48 more days to introduce this bill that is so important.

I will go back to the bill. On its merits, the bill is tough on crime. It sure is. It is late on crime, very late. There is a saying that justice delayed is justice denied. If the minister believes so vehemently in this bill, why did he delay it so much and do injustice to the people of Canada? That is a good question.

Some of my colleagues, particularly on the other side of the House, have tried to describe us on this side as weak on crime. Nothing could be more false. I wish our laws were tougher on a wide range of crimes. I wish the government and the minister would act with more dispatch on the important aspects that threaten Canadians today. Not two crimes out of 1,500 since 1987. There are far more important and urgent issues that involve the security of our public than this issue. Even when the Conservatives profess to think it is an important issue, they delay the heck out of it.

I consider the sentencing principles of denouncing unlawful conduct, deterring offences, and the separation of offenders from society to be very important. They are in the code that we believe in, the Criminal Code section 718. Every law should be seen through the prism of section 718 because it affects the balance of how we treat offenders. It is the Criminal Code. It is to put criminals in programs, including incarceration, that deal with their crimes. First of all there has to be an offender, there has to be a crime, and there has to be a punishment. We are talking about the punishment phase here.

The case that Liberal colleagues want to keep Canadians safe cannot be disputed. We want this country to be tougher on crimes and we believe we have very good ideas on how to get tougher. This does not mean we have to buy into the ridiculous idea that Bill S-6 is going to make Canada tough on crime. Let me be clear. The Liberals are not opposed to the repeal of the faint hope clause in this instance. The questions are why it took so long, why they are targeting something that is so minor in impact, and why they are dilly-dallying on the important criminal laws that need to be enacted.

Repealing the faint hope clause will likely have no drastic effect whatsoever. It affects such a small group of individuals that what negative impact it could have will likely be very limited. So we will not oppose it. However, we have to object to the shameless promotion of the so-called toughness of the bill and the whole Conservative agenda on fighting crime. It goes right to the top, not to the Prime Minister in this case, but to the short title.

The Minister of Justice went on about how inane it is to attack a short title. It is what Canadians believe the bill to be when they look at the short title. Someone looking at the short title of this bill, which was clearly crafted by some republican hack who also writes the tops of cereal boxes, would not have any clue what phase in the criminal justice system this deals with, and could not be guided by the short title.

This bill deals with the faint hope clause. It is to live or die, to eliminate it, to modify it, to let it live another day. That is what the bill is about. People may understand that, but they certainly would not understand the shameless self-promoting title chosen by the Conservatives, which engenders that they want a snappy title, they want to over-promise and under-deliver. Finally, it is their job every night to put the fear of potential harm that does not exist in the hearts and minds of Canadians.

Wow, what leadership that is, to say, “I am your leader and I am going to scare you tonight. Look at the 7 o'clock news”. That is what the government does, and in this crime, the Minister of Justice is an accomplice of the Prime Minister of Canada.

I am ready to support a government, if we could see one that would be tough on crime. However, the only thing tough about these bills is the short title. Getting to that, the short title of the bill is “Serious Time for the Most Serious Crime Act”.

If the Conservatives want to write poetry, if they want to write television titles, they should choose another occupation. However, if they want to stick to the realm of criminal law, they should look at the Criminal Code and pick titles that relate to it.

We Liberals have amended the bill to remove the short title. We amended the short title because it was disingenuous and misleading. Criminals who receive life sentences in Canada do serve serious time. How dare the Conservatives accuse us of delaying this bill for refusing to agree to a short title that tries to create a problem that does not exist.

Perhaps the problem is one of perception and the Progressive Conservatives, of which the Minister of Justice was a proud member and a cabinet member himself, can be part of the explanation as to why we have a perception problem with respect to life sentences for first degree murder, for example. If we asked Canadians what happens when someone is convicted of first degree murder, the answer would be that one gets a life sentence. I bet if we asked if that meant serving life in prison, most Canadians would think so.

We have to remember it was a Liberal government that enacted this law as a compromise for eliminating the death penalty. This very intricate compromise has been upheld by the Supreme Court and commented upon. It seems to be the balance with which we have lived in Canada for a long time. It says that a person who commits first degree murder will receive a life sentence and will be eligible for parole after 25 years served.

In addition, this faint hope clause we speak of recognizes that if after 15 years in prison a first degree murderer has shown elements of rehabilitation, denounces his or her own unlawful conduct, is likely to be deterred for life and fits all of the sentencing principles that we have lived with in society, that person might be eligible for early parole after passing through a whole series of hoops, including the empanelling of a jury, the selection of a chief justice to review the file and finally a parole hearing. That is a lot of hoops to go through. As I have said, of 1,500 who were eligible, I think only 146 actually received the faint hope consideration or early parole.

Let us remember the years when a Conservative government was in power. It did nothing to change these provisions of the Criminal Code because Progressive Conservatives believed that this was an adequate balance. However, today the Alliance Reform Conservatives believe this is an urgent and pressing problem. It is so urgent that they introduced it, let it die by their own hand and took 48 days to reintroduce it. They are really ragging the puck on something that is so urgent.

What is urgent for the Conservatives is to get out before the media and say that there is a real problem with murderers running around the streets of our home towns and they are going to make sure they never get out of prison. It is disingenuous because, in this chamber at least, everybody knows that a life sentence means 25 years with eligibility for parole. Everyone knows that in Canada the average sentence served is about 28 years for a first degree murder. Everybody should know that is just behind the United States where first degree murder has a combination of the death penalty and 29-odd years.

Everyone should also know that there are developed, civilized, important countries of the world that have average time served for first degree murder at a much lower number of years: 10, 11, 12 and 13 years for countries like Britain, Belgium, Australia and the Antipodes.

We are not lax on crime. If I were to take credit for this legislation as a Liberal from the 1970s, one could not say that being just a hair under the United States for time served is lax on crime. It can be said on a newscast and said in here, but out in the public there ought to be a little more truth and sincerity when addressing important issues such as crime and justice. That has been lacking in the whole debate on crime since I came here in 2006.

At committee we have had expert witnesses tell us that not only is there no evidence to suggest that the elimination of the faint hope clause will make our communities safer, but Canada is a world leader, as I just mentioned, in incarceration times. It means then we are tough on crime already in this respect.

I have underscored before that hope is already faint. Correctional Service Canada shows that the average time spent is actually 28.4 years, 10 years longer than in many other countries. Hope is already faint for criminals here. Time in custody is already serious for criminals.

I had occasion, after we rose in December, to visit Dorchester Penitentiary and to see the conditions under which criminals were kept. I heard from wardens and officials at one of our oldest units in the country. The said that they lived a bit in fiscal and security fear of what the Conservative government had in mind by overpopulating a prison that was as old, almost, as Confederation itself.

Time in custody is already serious. If it is the government's will to make hope even fainter for criminals, we cannot say that two individuals is a track record of a failure in this regard. What we have to say is that this overall section affects so few criminals and people in our country that it is not really the object we want to talk about today. We want to talk about what the government has done in other serious areas of the law in law reform.

As I have already mentioned, this bill will have a very limited effect on very few criminals. The faint hope clause has been in effect for 30 years and has made it possible for 130 people to be paroled.

The Conservatives are trying to make us believe that the bill tackles a serious problem. Is that how they protect Canadians and show respect for victims? Criminals are not fools, and neither are victims. Bills such as this will not reduce the crime rate. What this bill really does is make a minor change to how a small number of inmates are paroled.

The Liberal Party will vote in favour of this bill as quickly as possible because it is waiting impatiently for this government to bring forward a bill that is truly tough on crime.

We want to move on with the bill so the government can have the time and space to put forward a bill that is truly tough on crime. At the justice committee five different witnesses have said the same thing, that the bill is not tough on crime. As John Howard Society told us in its committee submission:

Eliminating the faint hope clause, which in practice only allows the earlier application for parole of a handful of already assessed, low-risk, rehabilitated applicants who have already served at minimum 15 years...is unnecessary...and will not improve community safety.

One would have thought in the ensuing years since Bill C-36 was introduced that there might have been new evidence. Alas, there was not.

The aspect of keeping people safe is far different than making them feel that they are safe. The government does a deep disservice to the latter by fearmongering and causing Canadians to feel that the system is not working. It is almost tantamount to treason to say that our criminal justice system does not work.

When first elected, Conservatives and the Prime Minister of Canada were not reluctant to say that Liberal-appointed judges were weak on crime. He also said, in his drive-by schmear, that the Liberal-appointed Senate was useless.

With the passage of time, Conservatives have now had their hands on the rudder for over five years and have appointed a lot of judges to the Supreme Court and the courts of appeal. I do not hear in the Prime Minister's speeches that it is now the fault of judges or that it is no longer the Senate's fault. Talk about victims. He is blaming a narrow number of victims for the perception that the battle on crime is not working because Conservatives have done precious little to actually attack crime. All they have done is make people feel that there is more crime.

This is the conundrum we have. If we speak against a law and order bill, we look like we are pro victim. If the government speaks against the judiciary, it looks like it is undermining the system. What it all means, unfortunately, is that Canadians cannot get a true picture of what is going on with respect to criminality in our country.

I would lay down the sword, along with the Minister of Justice and others, and say that some of us are lawyers and officers of the court. Law societies would be looking at me if I denied it, but that is extremely important. However, we have a higher duty than that. We have a duty to the Canadian public to be truthful and earnest and say, yes, that there are growing areas of crime that we need to attack surgically by implementations that we have spoken about at an all party committee in an in camera meeting. We have talked to judges in camera and know that these tools would be useful in fighting that criminality.

It is not helpful to go on the six o'clock news and say that it is a mess out there, that it is riotous, that judges and prosecutors do not care, that the opposition will not pass government bills, that people should head for the hills, lock their doors and turn out the lights or that they should get a shotgun because they do not have to register them anymore. The point is it is a disservice that all in Parliament is doing to the perception of public safety.

Let us talk about the Liberal agenda. Since prorogation, we have seen a series of bills on criminal law that simply fail to meet the expectation of being tough on crime. We have a different idea about being tough on crime. We want our country to be tough on crime we want to protect and respect victims. We will achieve that end with solutions that are based on evidence and on fact, not on being gluttons for glamour, TV, publicity and fearmongering that those on the other side are. The science of criminology has produced a multitude of sophisticated evidence based on research and fact and we are told how effectively tough on crime certain bills are.

In summary, it seems that the only part of justice the government gets is the word “just”. We want to protect the victims in the funding of witness protection programs and counselling not by just funding the advertising of victims' abuse programs. We want to fund crime prevention so we can avoid crimes altogether not just try to scare people with harsher punishment that we know to be ineffective. We want to equip police officers not just throw even longer sentences at criminals.

I will conclude with a real-life situation. People should talk to corrections officers at a place like Dorchester and ask them if they are not a little afraid about public safety with the onslaught of prisoners who are coming in without the adequate resources and training within the institutions. What are those inmates going to do when they get out of overcrowded prisons with no treatment? That will be cause for fear some day and it has to be corrected.

Serious Time for the Most Serious Crime Act
Government Orders

January 31st, 2011 / 1:10 p.m.
See context

NDP

Joe Comartin Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, as I was listening to the minister in his opening speech this afternoon, I could not help but think of my many years in court and that if this issue were ever put before a court in this land, any court, whether a criminal court or a civil court, it would get dismissed on a preliminary motion for want of any factual basis. It would not make it past a preliminary motion because there is no evidence, none whatsoever, to justify doing away with the faint hope clause.

We have to look at this issue historically and where it came about, to look at the point where this legislature decided that it would do away with the death penalty. We recognized that we had to deal with the issue of sentencing with regard to murder, first degree and second degree and manslaughter, and we did that.

It is interesting to go back and read some of the evidence that was put before the justice committee at that time. It is clear that the committee knew at that time that across western democracies, the ones with societies similar to Canada's, people convicted of first or second degree murder were being incarcerated for between 10 and 15 years on average before they were eligible for parole. That was the situation back in the 1970s when we decided to do away with the death penalty.

There was great pressure at that time from various elements of society that that was not acceptable. Therefore, the compromise was that we would fix it at 25 years for first degree murder before eligibility for parole, but that we would allow for those exceptional cases to apply after 15 years. That is where the current 15 years in the Criminal Code comes from, allowing people who are convicted of first degree murder and, in some cases, second degree murder, and sentenced to 25 years, or more than 15 years, to be able to apply at 15 years.

In addition to the compromise that was reached at that time, we also fixed very rigid terms as to how a person could become eligible to apply for parole. It would not be automatic. A person would actually have to go through two steps, and that is still the situation today, but it will be done away with by this bill. First, the person has to convince a judge in the area where the murder was committed that he or she at least has a reasonable case for release. If the judge says yes, then the case goes on to a judge and jury, where the jury decides whether the person is going to be allowed to apply for parole. The parole board still has to deal with it.

Those hearings are always held in the same communities where the murders were committed. And at that time, we gave juries in those communities the right to have all the evidence of the facts around the murder and all the evidence with regard to how the convicted murderer had functioned in the prison system after being convicted and sentenced and incarcerated.

At that time, we gave juries the authority not only to grant the application for early parole but also the right to turn the application down, which they do on a regular basis. We also gave them the authority to tell the person that he or she cannot apply again for up to 25 years. Juries do that occasionally as well, Clifford Olson being one example.

Hence, what we are doing here with Bill S-6 is in effect saying to those juries that we do not trust them to do this right, even though they have in fact done an excellent job in dealing with these cases, and that we no longer trust the judges to do it either. We are going to fix the time here absolutely at 25 years: no one is going to allowed to apply for parole, no matter how well the person may have in fact rehabilitated themself while in custody for that 15-year period.

When we look at this system, there is no other methodology that we have used in our corrections system that has been more successful than this one in terms of avoiding recidivism. This one has absolutely been the most successful. Of all the people who have been released, and they are not a large number, only two have committed violent crimes. In only one of those two cases were there actual physical injuries to the victim.

There have been other cases where parole has been revoked, which again I think clearly demonstrates that system works. We heard from the people who work in the system and actually know it that the vast majority of those cases in which there has been a revocation of the parole, it has usually been because of alcohol or drug abuse, or non-compliance in other ways with the conditions that were imposed upon them by the parole board, things like their required place of residence and oftentimes a requirement not to associate with certain other individuals. The person breaches those, usually repeatedly, so their parole is revoked. It has worked because other than those two cases, there have been no violent crimes.

Since this clause came into effect, there have been somewhere in the range of about 4,000 individuals, although the figures are not completely accurate, who could have applied under the faint hope clause. In fact, only 181 of those who applied were ever granted it in the first round. Of those, 35 were denied by the jury and, interestingly, another 35, even after the jury recommended they could proceed, were turned down by the parole board. We have had only a little over 100, about 115 or 116, who have actually got out under this. We have only had two cases where anybody applied more than once, although there is a suggestion there was a preliminary hearing for two other ones.

When we hear the justification for this by the government, it is all about protecting victims. However, when we look at the facts, we have to ask, where are the victims who are being victimized by this process?

The Conservative Party and conservative elements in this country, including a number of media personalities, have gone across the country, fearmongering that every first degree murderer and second degree murderer who has more than 15 years is going to apply for the faint hope clause, when the evidence is overwhelmingly to the opposite. That information is not given out. We have to ask, if we are really worried about the families of the victims being afraid of what might come, why would we not do something as simple as educating them and advising them that this is the way the system has worked for over 20 years. Why wouldn't they be told? Rather than stirring up the fear of what might happen, tell them in fact what does happen. The government and that political party have never done that--never.

Instead, we have the justice minister and the Minister of Public Safety leading the charge, and the Prime Minister assisting them in it, stirring the pot and raising the fear when the reality is just the opposite.

When we look at those facts, we have to ask, as my colleague from the Bloc just did, why the Conservatives do it. They do it because politically they have been able to make it work for themselves. By raising the fear level in this country among the families of murder victims they have been able to garner political support. That is reprehensible. If we are going to protect the victims, let us be serious about doing it. Let us not use them as photo ops, as the Conservatives repeatedly do.

I challenged the minister when he was here earlier this afternoon that this issue was before the committee the first time, before the Conservatives prorogued Parliament, and let it die. Conservatives on the committee brought forth two witnesses. Everyone was expecting them to get on the stand, under oath in some cases, and say, “We absolutely support the government in doing away with the faint hope clause”. The Conservatives were shocked. The grandmother of one of the murder victims was very forceful about being opposed to the continued use of the faint hope clause.

The other gentleman, interestingly, about a month before he testified before the justice committee, had the opportunity to be on a panel. He was an advocate for victims' rights, and he had done a fair amount of work. His daughter had been killed, and he had spent a good deal of his time advocating for greater assistance to victims of crime and the families of victims of crime. Because of the work he was doing, he was asked to sit on a panel to talk about these issues. Also on the panel was another individual who was a convicted murderer and had been released under the faint hope clause. In the course of the debate, the father of the victim came away convinced that there were occasions, because he saw this other individual who appeared to have been rehabilitated and was doing good work in the community, when the faint hope clause made sense. That is why we put it in in the first place, because there are occasions when people rehabilitate, even convicted murderers. Interesting enough, he thought about it after that panel discussion, and when he came before us, he was quite honest to tell us that story and to say why he, in effect, had changed his position.

I cannot help but think, and I say this from my professional experience as a lawyer for a long time and the number of clients I had who had suffered the loss of loved ones as a result of murder, that when people can step over the need that we all have as a human element in our makeup for vengeance and punishment and look at it as a whole, what happened to that gentleman is usually what happens to the families of victims.

Again, we all use Clifford Olson and Paul Bernardo as examples, or Mr. Pickton. There are those examples where we know we cannot do anything to retrieve that individual. They will stay in custody for the rest of their lives. There are others like that. They are not the only three.

We also know there are times with the treatment that people are given in the course of incarceration that some of them are eligible to be treated as having been rehabilitated and treated as being eligible to return to society as a whole. That reality was why we brought in the faint hope clause. That reality is why we still need the faint hope clause.

I have to say to my colleagues in the Liberal Party and I do not want to use too strong a term, I really am sorry and I feel sad that they are not prepared to stand up to that bullying that is coming from the government side. It was one of their governments that brought this in originally with the support of the NDP at the time, clearly. It has worked. Again, back to my opening comment, there is no reason to believe that in a courtroom we would have no ability to convince a judge that it would not continue to work.

We look at what the consequences would be and we heard it from the Liberal spokesperson earlier this afternoon. We are going to have more people who have been convicted of lesser crimes who will have less access to needed services for rehabilitation coming out of prison, not necessarily the convicted murderers, although even some of them, who do not get treatment until they are nearing the end of their sentence as we heard from the ombudsman for Corrections Services. Prisoners do not get services, particularly mental health services, until near the end of the time of their incarceration.

That will spill over into all of the other people we have incarcerated. There is no indication from the government that it is going to spend any money on anything other than bricks and mortar to build more prisons to incarcerate more people. It is not talking about any programming dollars coming into play. The scarce dollars that are there now, which are grossly inadequate, are going to remain at the same level and more people will need them. That is one of the consequences.

It is interesting to look at the government's punitive approach. Ideologically this is all about looking at punishing people, not rehabilitating people.

I understand the Liberals taking this position, but in this case it is not valid. I understand that constant need of our responsibility as elected officials at the federal level, being responsible for the Criminal Code and for dealing with crime in the country. We constantly have to balance the need for society as a whole to respect the system and to support it, to believe that it is a just one and the need to actually treat antisocial behaviour in the form of criminality.

It is a constant balancing. With some basic public education, it would be easy to convince the Canadian public that this is a system that works. It is a just system that recognizes the loss of their loved one that the families have suffered.

Another fact that we should be telling the public with regard to how the system works is that of those people who apply for this faint hope clause, the vast majority do not apply until around year 19. That is the mean average. It is not at year 15, when they first could. Again I would remind people that somewhere around 87%, which I think was the last figure, of people convicted of first degree murder, never apply. They serve out the 25 years and on average spend 28.4 years in custody. Around 87% never apply.

This fear that we hear from the Conservatives that at the 15-year mark, the 17-year mark, the 19-year mark, the 21-year mark, the 23-year mark the family of the victim, their loved one, will be faced with this application is absolutely false. The average person convicted of first degree murder applies at year 19.

The system takes so long going through those three steps: the judge alone, the judge and jury, and then the parole board, that it takes more than two years.

We saw some statistics on the last five years, up to 2009. In those five years, of the 13% who applied and again a number of those did not get very far in the process, who did get released, were incarcerated from 21 years to 23 years. In fact, in 2009, the person released actually served 25 years. They had applied and got out at the 25-year mark.

We have all of these facts with absolutely no evidence supporting the bill, but both the government and the official opposition are supporting the bill. It is a really sad day for justice in this country.

Serious Time for the Most Serious Crime Act
Government Orders

January 31st, 2011 / 1:40 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to address Bill S-6 this afternoon. It is an interesting bill, to say the very least. When we read it, it states, “serious time for the most serious crimes”. There is no doubt in my mind that the Conservative Party, over the last number of years, has taken the position that it wants to be tough on crime. To try to reinforce that, the Conservatives have come up with creative sayings in their bills, which, when they give their speeches to their constituents, give the impression that they were getting tough on crime.

When we look at what Bill S-6 would do, it is an interesting thing. I think the Conservatives have a good sense in terms of what public expectations are, but they cannot help but look at the title. I believe the title is an attempt to communicate a very strong message that the Tories are actually tough on crime. The bill would do nothing to really address the issue of crime. There would not be any crimes prevented as a result of it.

At the end of the day, it allows the government to send a very interesting message to its constituents when its members go across the country and cite the title of the bill. What we really are talking about is the faint hope clause.

I understand it was former Prime Minister Jean Chrétien who made an amendment to the legislation. We acknowledged that there was a need to put some restrictions in place. We saw that because, in good part, we wanted to listen to what the citizens were saying. That is why it was amended a number of years ago to recognize the value of putting in restrictions that would not allow for the faint hope clause to be applied to anyone who wanted to apply for it. Under certain circumstances, individuals would not be able to apply for it.

At this point, the government has as amended it even further. At the end of the day, we support what the bill attempts to do. However, I have many reservations with regard to the way the government tries to deal with the issue of crime and safety and the use of legislation to try to reinforce that it is being tough on crime. This is an issue which I want to highlight.

Recently in Winnipeg North the government decided not to reinvest in a number of programs. Those programs dealt with some of the crimes happening in our constituencies. They allowed for former gang members to participate in programs that would, hopefully, get them back on the right track. This is when government really has the opportunity to impact the types of crimes being committed in our communities.

On the one hand, we are debating an important bill, Bill S-6. The bill tries to appeal to those who want to see the faint hope clause diminished. It is not to undermine the importance of addressing that issue, but rather to highlight the need to get into our communities and do something that would prevent some crimes from occurring. That is why I thought today would be a wonderful opportunity for me to provide some comment on this issue.

A story in the Winnipeg Free Press indicated that some programs could be lost in the community of north Winnipeg and beyond. These programs assist individuals in getting out of gangs and other types of criminal activities by supporting good, non-profit organizations that really have an impact. On the one hand, we are debating this bill. On the other hand, the government fails to recognize valuable programs that prevent some of these crimes from taking place.

I want to highlight the difference in terms of approach in dealing with the whole issue of crime.

I understand the legislation was in front of the House before it was prorogued. The government is now attempting to get it passed through the second time. I suspect it will be more successful this time in getting it passed. We will just have to wait and see.

I cannot help but note that during the 2006 federal election campaign the government initially talked about getting rid of the faint hope clause. It has taken a number of years for the government to get it to this stage. One could question as to why the government has taken the legislation on the course that it has in terms of not bringing it to the House in such a fashion as to get its agenda dealt with quicker or its sense of commitment to passage. The government cannot blame opposition parties in the sense that the bill was before the House prior to proroguing just over a year ago.

It is important for us to recognize that there is some value to the faint hope clause. In many situations, different organizations, different stakeholders supported the rationale that was used in the creation of the faint hope clause, noteworthy organizations such as the John Howard Society and the Elizabeth Fry Society.

As the province of Manitoba's justice critic, I had the opportunity to meet with representatives of those organizations. These two stakeholders have an interest, like no other, in trying to get those who have committed crimes reactivated into society in a more positive way. I recognize they do not see Bill S-6 as a positive bill. They understand and appreciate why it was brought into the House in the first place.

In many ways it is felt that by offering that branch of hope, if I can put it that way, it would affect the way people might behave or participate in a more positive way while incarcerated, believing that good behaviour and upgrading their skills and education in jail might assist them in getting out of jail earlier so they can become a part of society outside the prison walls and be more productive.

Representatives from both of those organizations will no doubt be somewhat disappointed with the passage of this bill. However, at the end of the day, we recognize how the faint hope clause has impacted the victims and their families and we understand the public perception of the faint hope clause and the need for restrictions. Those restrictions have been talked about over the years in terms of the need to have additional restrictions. By having additional restrictions back then, we recognized the need for changing this legislation.

As we go forward, I suspect there will always be a need for modifications to improve the law so we can find the balance in terms of legislation that gives our prisoners the opportunity to better educate themselves and be more positive in that prison environment so that when they are released into society they will be better able to participate in a more positive and acceptable manner. We believe that is very important. If there are things we can do to enhance or improve that, I believe we should be moving in that direction.

A number of my constituents are guards with Correctional Service of Canada. I can recall one occasion when the faint hope clause came up for discussion with a correctional officer. I found that he was fairly supportive of its concept. He did not necessarily agree that prisoners should have the opportunity to have their sentence reduced but he supported the concept. which is something we need to talk more about. How can we improve our prison system to ensure a higher percentage of individuals who leave our prisons do not return to prison? When we talk to many correctional officers and administrators of our prisons, we often get into a discussion about the revolving door syndrome and what we can do to stop it.

Those are the types of things that we need to explore. The faint hope clause was one of those tools that provided encouragement, that tried to say to those people within the prison walls that, under certain situations, they will ultimately be better equipped and better able to conduct themselves in a better way.

However, I do have concerns about other things that the government is doing at the same time as we are debating this legislation. It is important for me to emphasize to the government, whenever I get the opportunity, what I believe was the number one concern in Winnipeg North during the last by-election and, I would argue, is still a concern today, and that is the issue of crime and safety. I was disappointed recently in the government's failure to provide the funds necessary to provide the programs that would allow individuals who are on the off side or may be affiliated with gangs and want to get out of gangs, or individuals who are having a difficult time in their communities and are being attracted to environments that are not good environments to be attracted to. There are three specific programs that need funding and the ear of the government and I would suggest that the government act on those programs.

At the end of the day, focusing on crime prevention, looking at these types of programs, along with dealing with legislation of this nature would be a good thing. I am not convinced that the government is as interested in dealing with the necessary programs as it is in terms of sending a message that it can be tough on crime.

Talk is cheap. I would suggest that the government has a responsibility that goes beyond just passing legislation that gives the impression that it wants to be tough on crime. It needs to start dealing with the programs that prevent crime from occurring in the streets.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

January 31st, 2011 / 3:20 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, at the closing of my comments just prior to 12 noon, I had indicated that the principle of Bill S-6 was something we could support. The concept behind the faint hope clause is a good one and I suspect we need to look at ways in which we can provide those types of incentives for individuals who are behind bars to reform and change their behaviour so that they can integrate into society in a better and more peaceful fashion and become a more productive citizens.

I also drew a comparison to something else that the government was doing over the last number of days which has a very profound impact. I did not make reference to the specific programs and I want to do that because I want to appeal to the government, to the Prime Minister, to deal with this issue in that the bill we are debating right now would not necessarily prevent crimes from taking place while, on the other hand, the government is cutting back on programs that would in fact prevent crimes from taking place.

I believe the member for Winnipeg Centre rose today with regard to a member's statement on the issue. My colleague from Winnipeg South Centre raised the issue in question period. It is the issue of the anti-gang programs that are being proposed to be closed because of the government's failure to recognize the value of these programs.

On the one hand, we are looking at a bill that would have very little impact on preventing crimes, whereas, on the other hand, we have a government that is looking at allowing for a circle of courage, an oasis, youth outreach projects, turning the tides. These are all youth gang prevention programs that could have an impact on preventing crimes from occurring. The government needs to put more time on dealing with programs of this nature and on how we can bring in and spend tax dollars in such a way that we would prevent crimes for occurring, as opposed to putting so much focus on trying to give the image that the government is being tough on crime. When I look at Bill S-6, I believe the government is just trying to send a message more than anything else.

I, too, sympathize with the victims of crimes and want to get a sense of fairness in certain situations. That is why I believe there was a need to review the whole issue of the faint hope clause. However, at the end of the day, I would be remiss if I did not emphasize that the government is cutting programs and allowing them to disappear by its lack of commitment and lack of action in dealing with what I would suggest is crime on the streets. The government needs to reassess whether it just wants to talk about getting tough on crime or whether it wants to actually act on it.

I can tell members that there will be a negative impact as a result of the government not funding the programs to which I have referred. There will be more crime in our streets. I would suggest that it will go well beyond just Winnipeg North and the province of Manitoba.

When we have an idea and when we have a program that is effective, we should be supporting it.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

January 31st, 2011 / 3:20 p.m.
See context

Bloc

Marc Lemay Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, in a few minutes I will have an opportunity to speak to Bill S-6, but first I would like the hon. member to explain something I did not understand. What is the Liberal Party's position on Bill S-6? Do the Liberals plan to support the bill or will they vote against it?

Throughout our work in committee, the Liberals always seemed to be speaking against the bill, but at the last minute they decided to support it. I wonder if someone could tell me how the Liberal Party plans to vote on this bill. Will the Liberals revoke the faint hope clause they brought in in 1976, or will they maintain it?

Criminal Code
Government Orders

January 31st, 2011 / 3:30 p.m.
See context

Bloc

Marc Lemay Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, something is not right here and I hope my hon. colleague is listening. Let us stop talking about street gangs and car thefts. That is not what we are talking about here; we are talking about murder.

From my hon. colleague's response, I understood that the Liberal Party plans to vote in favour of this bill. If that is true, the Liberals are going to abolish the faint hope clause that they themselves created in 1976. Is that clear enough?

I want to know why they are choosing to support a bill that goes against what they have always defended, specifically, that criminals must be given the opportunity to return to society. That is exactly what they are about to do with Bill S-6, if they support it.

They need to stop talking about street gangs. We are talking about murder, are we not? My question is clear: do they want to give people one last chance? If so, they must vote against the bill. That is what I want to know.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

January 31st, 2011 / 3:30 p.m.
See context

Bloc

Marc Lemay Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, over the past six years, I have heard some interesting things in the House, but the argument being made by my colleague from the Liberal Party is, with all due respect, extremely flawed. His argument does not hold water and it is inconsistent with Liberal Party philosophy.

I am liberal-minded because for 35 years, I was a criminal defence lawyer. I have defended many murder cases.

There are some things I do not understand. In 1976, the Liberal Party agreed to vote in favour of abolishing the death penalty and instituted what we call the faint hope clause. Decisions on this have gone all the way to the Supreme Court.

The Liberal Party is starting to realize it is being tricked. If the Liberals vote in favour of Bill S-6, they will be opening the door to reinstating the death penalty. Is that clear enough? That is where the Conservatives are going with this. I hope my colleague will consult with his colleagues who were on the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. I can give him some arguments to convince his colleagues.

These numbers do not come from the Bloc, the Liberal Party, the Conservative Party or the NDP. These numbers were complied by the Correctional Service of Canada. As far as I know, the Correctional Service of Canada is neutral. It deals with inmates and ensures that those who are released on parole deserve to be.

The Conservatives do not understand the first thing about the faint hope clause. I hope my Liberal colleagues will understand. The Conservatives want to defend the victims. There is nothing better than the faint hope clause, which was implemented in 1976, to ensure that victims are respected.

Allow me to explain. The faint hope clause was adopted in 1976. The first hearings were held in 1987 because the inmates had to serve their sentences after all. Since 1987, there have been 181 hearings. As of October 10, 2010—