Evidence of meeting #38 for Justice and Human Rights in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was children.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

11:15 a.m.

NDP

Françoise Boivin Gatineau, QC

Section 279 of the Criminal Code, which includes kidnapping. That's the section the bill is aiming to amend.

Even Justice Major, a former Supreme Court judge, very clearly said when he came to testify before us that the jurisprudence would show that the sentences varied. In general, sentences of less than eight years are not imposed. Setting the minimum sentence at five years concerns me. That concern is different from the concern I had about imposing minimum sentences in the case of other offences, where the judges are in the best position to properly analyze the file. In fact, I would like it even better if a judge did this type of thing, rather than the Crown or the defence. It needs to be someone impartial who can look at the file from all sides, based on the sentencing principles that already exist in section 718 of the Criminal Code. You must know them quite well, Chief Freeman. The section stipulates that there are aggravating factors when it comes to children, and so on.

I'm concerned that we are sending a strange message to the community by imposing a minimum sentence of five years, which is less than what is normally imposed. If I were a defence lawyer, I would make the argument that the legislator does not talk needlessly. If it thought it good to impose a minimum sentence of five years, is it possible that people think a sentence of 8, 10, 12 or 15 years is too harsh? I don't see why we are establishing a minimum sentence that is less than what is normally imposed in similar circumstances.

In addition, Ms. Dunahee, I would like you to speak about your work. You told us that the committee might not be the right forum to do so. That's true, if we think of your work and your needs in terms of looking for children when they disappear, and so on. Perhaps this isn't the right committee for that, but we are certainly quite interested in what types of problems you face and that could be very useful. I think that was sort of what Mr. Wilks wanted to do. I'm tempted to say as well that perhaps we aren't carrying out the right exercise to resolve the problems you deal with every day, you and your organization.

11:15 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Dave MacKenzie

Thank you, Madame Boivin. You've already used up way more than your time.

11:15 a.m.

NDP

Françoise Boivin Gatineau, QC

But we have so much time today; don't we have longer?

11:15 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Dave MacKenzie

I think we'll have to have the answers with another individual.

Mr. Goguen.

11:15 a.m.

Conservative

Robert Goguen Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Thank to the witnesses for appearing here, and to those who are at a distance, thank you also for your participation.

I have a question for Chief Freeman.

I want to take you back to the initial news conference that you gave after the abduction of Tori. You were saying that “returning Victoria to our community and to her family will bring some sense of relief to Tara McDonald [the mother] and Rodney Stafford [the dad] and all the family”. We all know, unfortunately, that this did not happen.

In your experience, kidnapping cases don't involve just kidnapping, do they? There are always more horrific events that surround them, whether it be sexual assault or murder. Is this something that's fairly common in your, I guess regretful, experience?

11:15 a.m.

Woodstock Police Service

Chief Rodney B. Freeman

Thankfully and fortunately, this is the only experience during my career that I've had to deal with such a horrific investigation. This has been the worst that all of us have experienced in our careers, and I'm talking about the 1,000 police officers who shared in this investigation from 14 police services across the province.

You're absolutely correct that usually a kidnapping is accompanied by other offences that will generally take the severity of the penalty to another level.

In our particular case, this started off as a kidnapping. If it had turned out differently and we had somehow.... We had absolutely no chance of recovering Victoria alive, now that we know what the evidence is. It all came out in trial. Our police service had absolutely zero chance of recovering Victoria alive. This was always an investigation, as it turned out, to hold her murderers accountable.

But say, for example, we had caught them before they hit Highway 401 and we had simply had a kidnapping offence. Currently there is no minimum sentence for kidnapping. The offenders could get six months or whatever is meted out.

What we are hoping to establish is that, at a minimum for that lone charge of kidnapping, there be a minimum standard sentence of five years in penitentiary.

An offender has all the other opportunities for parole and so on to get out before a five-year period. But we're looking for that sentence of five years so that the offender is taken off our streets, rehabilitated if possible, but certainly facing a stiff punishment for that offence—while recognizing that kidnappings in the past, and I'm sure into the future, will always involve more than one offence.

11:20 a.m.

Conservative

Robert Goguen Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

I guess what you're focusing on is possibly deterrence, whether it be specific or also general, a message to the public.

On May 15, Mr. Justice Major, who is a retired Supreme Court of Canada judge, appeared. He was questioned about whether he felt the minimum sentence in this type of offence, the kidnapping of a vulnerable child, would survive the “cruel and unusual punishment” test because it was a reasonable sort of infringement upon democratic rights. That was his take on it.

From your point of view as a police officer, would it really have the deterrent effect that we hoped it would? Is it reasonable, from our point of view, to put in the minimum mandatory sentence?

11:20 a.m.

Woodstock Police Service

Chief Rodney B. Freeman

Yes, sir, I think it is. That's the short answer. As a police chief and a father of two kids that are under 16 years of age, I have absolutely no mercy and I see absolutely no justification in a circumstance where a stranger would scoop up a child—any child, male or female, under 16 years of age—and forcibly take them away from their area of safety. I see that as absolutely unforgiveable and absolutely unjustifiable, and I believe in my heart, as both a police chief and a father, that a five-year sentence should be the minimum that they should expect. I think many Canadians share that belief with me.

Let's not stop there. If it involves a firearm, certainly, it is punishable by life in jail. If it's a run-of-the-mill, straight kidnapping, I believe that if it's prosecuted as an indictable offence, the maximum is 10 years. If we were to open up this discussion even further, let's take that 10-year cap and make it life, too. So it would be a five-year minimum with a maximum of life, firearm or no firearm, whatever the case may be.

I'm emotional about this right now, I admit. This has been a brutal three years, and the Stafford and McDonald families didn't see closure when we returned Victoria's body to them. I saw more of an indication of closure when the verdict was rendered by the jury of guilty on first-degree murder. Then I saw closure in their eyes. They will still have to work to heal in the next few months and years, because Victoria was a perfect child—a blond-haired, blue-eyed, eight-year-old girl whom any one of us would be privileged to have. But she is no more.

11:20 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Dave MacKenzie

Thank you.

Mr. Coderre.

May 17th, 2012 / 11:20 a.m.

Liberal

Denis Coderre Bourassa, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

In any case, I think we are all very moved by these situations. We all want to protect our children. So it is not a partisan issue, but a question of justice and security. Will our environment be safer if we increase the minimum sentence?

We also need to answer another question. Should we be tying the hands of a judge who could have the capacity to make a decision based on the situation?

This is not a curve to you, Mr. Freeman, but do you trust the way judges work right now? Do you believe in their judgment? That's an important question. There could be a situation where the judge says he is not going to go there. We already have some provisions in the law, the Criminal Code, where you can get up to life in prison.

I'm not a lawyer. I'm a father too. I'd like to have your thoughts on that.

11:25 a.m.

Woodstock Police Service

Chief Rodney B. Freeman

I can tell you that I've been part of the justice system for 34 years. My career is 34 years, and I have great faith in the system. I've seen it work. I've seen it fail. It's not a perfect system, but none are.

The sense I am getting, though, from speaking to many people in my community of Woodstock—and I think this is fairly reflective of opinions across the country—is that people are having some doubts about the criminal justice system and its effectiveness, perhaps because of a lack of consistency or legal decisions that regular people can't seem to wrap their minds around.

I'll kind of give you a political answer. As a member of the system, I believe in it. I have faith in it. I have worked in it for a long time, but I sense that society is having some lingering doubts, and they need the reassurance that we are striving to make the criminal justice system the best that we possibly can.

11:25 a.m.

Liberal

Denis Coderre Bourassa, QC

Mr. Surprenant, I know you have also lived through an abominable situation. It is important to step back a bit and consider it as a whole when we apply the Criminal Code.

Do you think that a minimum sentence of five years will have a marked impact, given that it has already been tried elsewhere? Do you think this could cause more repeat offences? Is there something in the Criminal Code we could apply?

I would like to hear your point of view on that.

11:25 a.m.

Vice-President, Association of Families of Persons Assassinated or Disappeared

Michel Surprenant

I fully disagree with what you said. In a debate, at a given moment…

I was speaking with Michel Dunn, who killed his associate. He was sentenced to 25 years in prison, where he did 17 years. He admitted that it took seven years before he admitted his crime.

A minimum length of detention is needed to accept the crime that has been committed.

You must also understand something. When a child is kidnapped, whether the child dies or not, that child's life is changed forever. It has been proven that a sexual predator cannot be cured. A minimum of five years, during which time he will be removed from the population, is a minimum to ensure safety.

It is important to understand that, for sexual predators who know they will be released, you are keeping that possibility of reoffending alive in their mind, which means that there will be other victims.

On behalf of future victims, can you take responsibility for releasing these people?

11:25 a.m.

Liberal

Denis Coderre Bourassa, QC

Therefore, the longer the incarceration is, the more protected you'll feel.

11:25 a.m.

Vice-President, Association of Families of Persons Assassinated or Disappeared

Michel Surprenant

We are talking about the safety of our children.