Evidence of meeting #41 for Justice and Human Rights in the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was sentencing.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

  • Anthony Doob  Professor, Centre of Criminology, University of Toronto, As an Individual
  • Allan Manson  Professor, Queen's University, Faculty of Law, As an Individual
  • Ed McIsaac  Interim Director, Policy, John Howard Society of Canada
  • Sharon Rosenfeldt  President, Victims of Violence
  • Raymond King  As an Individual

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

Brent Rathgeber Edmonton—St. Albert, AB

Well, with all due respect, it's more than an individual view. She is the victims' ombudsman for the victims of Canada. She sat at this very table last Thursday and told us what groups she consulted with. She has a network of victim advocacy groups from coast to coast to coast. I think it's you who are selectively listening to victims, sir.

Thank you.

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Ed Fast

Thank you very much.

We're at the end of our time for the first panel. I want to thank Professors Doob and Manson for appearing. Your testimony will be helpful as we continue our review of Bill C-48.

Rather than suspending, members, we'll continue.

You have two items before you. First of all, we have a budget for Bill C-48.

Monsieur Lemay, we have a couple of items to deal with before we go to the next panel.

You have before you a budget for Bill C-48. It's in the amount of $7,750. I would need a motion to—

4:30 p.m.

Liberal

Brian Murphy Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

I move its adoption.

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Ed Fast

Mr. Murphy has moved its adoption.

(Motion agreed to)

Then we also have the sixth report of the subcommittee, which is the steering committee.

Do we have a motion to adopt it?

Mr. Murphy moves its adoption.

(Motion agreed to)

We'll break for two minutes and then reconvene.

4:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Ed Fast

We'll resume the meeting.

We're returning to our study of Bill C-48, an ct to amend the Criminal Code and to make consequential amendments to the National Defence Act.

We have with us for the second hour of our meeting Ed McIsaac, who is the interim director of policy for the John Howard Society.

We also welcome back Sharon Rosenfeldt, president of Victims of Violence. Welcome back, Sharon.

We also have with us, as an individual, Mr. Raymond King. Welcome to you as well, Mr. King.

We're going to begin with Mr. McIsaac. Then we'll move to Mrs. Rosenfeldt and then to Mr. King.

Please go ahead, Mr. McIsaac.

4:35 p.m.

Ed McIsaac Interim Director, Policy, John Howard Society of Canada

Thank you.

I thank the committee on behalf of the John Howard Society of Canada for the invitation to appear. We appreciate the opportunity to meet with you today to discuss Bill C-48.

The John Howard Society, as most of you know, is a non-profit organization whose mission is the promotion of effective, just, and humane responses to the causes and consequences of crime. The society has 65 front-line offices across the country delivering services to support the safe reintegration of offenders into our community.

The John Howard Society does not support this legislation. We do not believe that there is, within the Canadian public, an informed consensus in support of 50-year minimum sentences. In addition, we do not believe that such sentences can be reasonably seen as effective, just, or humane responses to the causes and consequences of multiple murders.

As was evidenced by testimony before this committee on Bill S-6 dealing with the faint hope clause, the current periods of incarceration prior to release on parole in this country for those convicted of first-degree murder are already twice as long as in most western democracies.

How do we as a country justify doubling this already excessive time in prison? What will motivate a 20-year old caught by this legislation to work towards rehabilitation, when their first eligibility for parole will be at the age of 70? At what risk are we placing those who work and live with individuals serving a minimum 50-year sentence? What message are we sending, as a criminal justice system, about our commitment to timely and effective reintegration in support of public safety?

The backgrounder on Bill C-48 that the Department of Justice released in October of this year, entitled “Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murderers", reads in part:

Families of victims argue that the fact that life sentences for multiple murders are served concurrently devalues the lives of victims and puts Canadians at risk by allowing multiple murderers to be paroled earlier than merited...

This document goes on to say:

The proposed amendments to the Criminal Code would address this situation by allowing judges to impose consecutive parole ineligibility periods on individuals convicted of more than one first- or second-degree murder.

I do not believe we can place a value on human life. The grief and hurt of family members following the murder of a loved one cannot be reasonably addressed through amendments to the Criminal Code. The process of addressing this pain begins with the provision of individualized support and services within the local communities, and through the assurance that timely and relevant information concerning the specifics of their circumstances is made available by the responsible government agencies.

Second, we currently have within our criminal justice system a conditional release process that has as its priority the protection of society. Although the timing of conditional release reviews is governed by legislation, the decisions to release an individual are governed by the assessed risk the individual poses to the community. As we know, the existing system is quite capable of extending periods of incarceration well beyond parole eligibility dates.

The proposed legislation potentially extending ineligibility to a minimum of 50 years addresses neither of these two concerns, nor does it enhance the concept of truth in sentencing or the public's confidence in our justice system.

I thank you for your attention. I look forward to your questions.

4:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Ed Fast

Thank you very much.

Please go ahead, Mrs. Rosenfeldt.

December 7th, 2010 / 4:45 p.m.

Sharon Rosenfeldt President, Victims of Violence

Thank you very much for the opportunity to speak before the committee. Good afternoon to everybody.

It was very quick notice to get to this committee, and I apologize that I don't have notes to hand everybody. I can certainly type up what I've quickly typed up and email it out. However, I have one piece that I will give you later for all the members. It's in a suggestion that I'm going to put forward.

This long-sought-after reform on sentencing made its way through the House in Bill C-247, which was authored by Liberal MP Albina Guarnieri 10 years ago. This is not a new issue; this has been around a long time. The bill died in the Senate, but we are very glad to see it returned through Bill C-48, introduced by the current government.

I know the current government. I've heard them speak many times, and they also give tribute to Ms. Guarnieri. As I said, this is a very important issue and has been around for a long time. I think it would be really good at this point to be able to settle it once and for all.

As you can tell, the bill simply gives a sentencing judge, in the defined circumstances of sentencing a person who is convicted of more than one murder, the discretion to impose consecutive parole ineligibility periods for the multiple murders. This is accomplished in proposed section 745.51 of the Criminal Code.

From our reading, this would apply to cases of persons who are convicted of a second murder, or more murders, following an early murder conviction, such as Daniel Gingras--if you're not familiar with Daniel Gingras, I'll be happy to answer that during questions--and also apply to persons who are convicted of multiple murders at the same trial, such Clifford Olson, Paul Bernardo, or Russell Williams. That is our reading of the section, but we urge you to make sure this is the case, because it makes no sense to not allow both scenarios.

We understand, in following the discussion on other bills, that there has been concern expressed by some members of Parliament over mandatory minimum sentences because they reduce judicial discretion. As you know, murder already has a mandatory minimum sentence of life imprisonment, although, with parole eligibility, the “life” part of the sentence does not necessarily mean being imprisoned. Bill C-48 would actually give judges more discretion at sentencing, so hopefully those MPs who have taken the position opposing a reduction in judicial discretion will support this bill, because it actually increases it.

This bill will apply, thankfully, to relatively few offenders, but that does not diminish its importance. Our system should have the sophistication, integrity, honesty, and discretion to treat multiple murderers differently. A consequence of this bill will also be, at least once it's passed, to possibly prevent victims' families, such as Ray and me, from having to go through the two-year nightmare of our children's killer demanding parole. This bill, as currently drafted, won't help us. Other changes are required for that, but it is a very important step to prevent the unintended and needless revictimization of victims' families in the future.

While I appreciate that it may be too late to incorporate into this bill the changes I just mentioned, I want to leave the committee draft amendments to the Criminal Code modelled directly on the judicial screening mechanisms that the former Liberal government enacted when it restricted the right of access to the section 745 advanced parole release of convicted murderers. It basically replicates the judicial screening process for a future parole hearing for murderers like Clifford Olson if they are denied parole at the 25-year point.

The screening judge would consider the request and could deny it, if unrealistic or without grounds, and disentitle the murderer from reapplying for a period of up to 15 years. It has narrow application to these horrendous cases, but it will prevent the revictimization that our families have just endured and the revictimization of others in the future.

Frankly, we are capable of better than what the current law permits. I hope that Bill C-48 can either be amended to include these provisions, or that one day, before Olson's next parole hearing, I will be back before you to urge passage of these measures.

I urge all members of the committee to support this bill, which provides judges with greater discretion to recognize the increased severity of multiple murders at sentencing by providing consecutive parole ineligibility periods.

That's all I have to say on that.

On a personal level, I can tell you one thing: it's tough. It's tough after 29 years, it's tough after 26 years, and I'm not so sure why we have to go through it. I have been around a long time; I understand laws and I understand people who work with offenders. Honestly, I'm not a vindictive person. I know all offenders aren't like Clifford Olson. I know that.

Honest to God, it's tough. I'm still coming down from it. I'm turning 65. When can I put my son to rest? My husband is gone. The last time he had his eyes open, he had brain tumours. He was right out of his mind and rolling on the floor. He climbed out of his bed and he was screaming, “Parole? Clifford Olson?” I don't think I can take it anymore.

I'm so sorry; I know we're not supposed to be emotional. I know better than that; I truly do. I know better than that. I didn't mean for this to take place. It really is tough, though. There has to be a way. If this bill isn't passed, maybe....

This is what I brought. Our policy adviser quickly drew this up for us. We're getting pretty desperate. There are five family members, five parents who have already died. When can we bring some justice for our kids? We don't have anything for them.

People talk about Clifford Olson all the time. He talks about himself. We're in a real catch-22. We attend these parole hearings because we have to put a face to the children he murdered. We're serving a life sentence along with him—we are—and it's not just us and it's not just Clifford Olson. His name makes me sick, because everything seems to relate to Clifford Olson, when there are other characters like him that we're talking about in this bill. It isn't only a Clifford Olson, and there are other families that will come after us.

Oh God, I didn't mean to do this. I really apologize, committee; I really do. I haven't done this in.... I'm sorry.

4:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Ed Fast

Mrs. Rosenfeldt, there's absolutely nothing for you to apologize for. We are so grateful that you're here at our committee. Take all the time you need.

Did you have anything else to say?

4:50 p.m.

President, Victims of Violence

Sharon Rosenfeldt

No, I think I'm fine. I just meant to read this.

4:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Ed Fast

Okay.

We'll move to Mr. King. Again we're looking forward to what you have to say.

4:50 p.m.

Raymond King As an Individual

Good afternoon, and thanks for letting me be here. I just found out yesterday that I was going to be here, so I don't have anything prepared. I don't have facts and figures. I can only speak personally.

When this started for me 29 years ago, we weren't in the process of anything. If this hearing had been 30 years ago, we wouldn't be here, yet the other side seems to have representation forever. It's getting better, but we're still behind.

I've been to three parole hearings for Clifford Olson, and in each one he's made a mockery of the justice system. Each time, the first thing he has said is, “Nobody in their right mind would let me out”, and yet we have to go through it over and over and over again for no apparent reason.

I think this bill is long overdue. Giving the judges more discretion is a good thing, as Sharon said. I have to agree with everything she said, of course.

I think we have a right, as survivors, to attempt to put our lives back together again, and it just hasn't happened. Obviously Clifford Olson is an extreme case, but there are others like him, and there will be others like him in the future. The people who come after us have to be protected, and this is one way to do it.

I think that's all I have to say. Thank you.

4:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Ed Fast

Thank you very much.

We'll open the floor to questions. Given the fact that our time is short, do we have consensus that we go with five-minute questions? Is everyone okay with that?

4:50 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

4:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Ed Fast

All right.

Ms. Jennings, you have five minutes.