House of Commons Hansard #56 of the 35th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was tobacco.

Topics

Civil Air Navigation Services Commercialization Act
Government Orders

5:55 p.m.

The Speaker

I declare the motion carried.

(Bill read the third time and passed.)

Civil Air Navigation Services Commercialization Act
Government Orders

5:55 p.m.

The Speaker

It being six o'clock, the House will now proceed to the consideration of Private Members' Business, as listed on today's Order Paper.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

June 4th, 1996 / 5:55 p.m.

Liberal

Albina Guarnieri Mississauga East, ON

moved that Bill C-274, an act to amend the Criminal Code and the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (cumulative sentences), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, volume discounts for rapists and murders is the law in Canada today. It is called concurrent sentencing. It means that serial predators can serve penalties for multiple crimes at the same time and be out on the streets in only a fraction of the total sentencing.

Concurrent sentencing cheapens life. The lives of individual victims are erased from the sentencing equation. The suffering, the pain and the death of the second, third or eleventh victim is of no consequence to the courts. The minimum penalty always applies for even the most prolific killers.

Canadians cannot forget the spectacle of Denis Lortie after he machine gunned three people to death in Quebec City. It would have been hard to imagine at the time that he could be back on the street today after serving only three and a half years for each person he killed. That is the bargain basement price of life in our courts and parole system.

Denis Lortie is an unusual case, not because he is a multiple murderer or because he was released after a wrist slap of a prison term. Denis Lortie's case is unusual because the public is aware of it.

The majority of murderers and serial sex offenders are returned to neighbourhoods without publicity or warning. Trials and convictions do attract publicity and attention and the public is always lulled by the hoax of a life sentence they read in the morning paper. But 10 years later they really hear the truth. The parole board has short changed justice, written off the victims as yesterday's news and freed up a bunk bed for the next killer.

But Canadians are gradually catching on to the deception of life imprisonment. Half of all those convicted of second degree murder and sentenced to life are released after less than 12 years. For first degree murder the median has historically been 14 years. Life only means life for the murder victim who is not there to protest his or her sentence and is never eligible for parole.

The predator has also dealt a life sentence to the victim's family. For them the comforting illusion of safety in our society has been shattered. They have to live with the stark truth that the only law that protects them is the law of averages, the chance that none of the predators roaming our communities will get around to you today.

Sharon Rosenfeldt had the courage to recall her personal tragedy in support of my bill. She writes:

Concurrent sentencing is appalling. My son was one of the eleven children murdered by serial child killer Clifford Olson. The fact that he is serving eleven concurrent life sentences is ludicrous. As the mother of one of Olson's victims, I have difficulty in dealing with the reality that he is serving the equivalent of one life sentence instead of the eleven life sentences he should be serving.

Why is it justice for Clifford Olson to serve no additional penalty for murdering 10 additional children? Why can the victim's families not have peace of mind and never have to hear from Clifford Olson again?

My bill would have spared them the revictimization of having even the slightest concern that Clifford Olson would be paroled as his combined parole ineligibility would have and should have been 275 years, not the 25-year bargain given by our current system. How can a civilized society be so tolerant and generous toward the savagery of a Clifford Olson and be so dismissive of the death sentences forever served by his victims.

The justice minister not long ago observed that victims have been the orphans of the justice system and how right he was. That is why so many victims groups exist. Among those who support my bill are Debbie Mahaffy's Taking Action for Victims, CAVEAT, Victims of Violence, Citizens United for Safety and Justice, the Canadian Resource Centre for Victims of Crime and the Canadian Police Association.

But our institutions are mostly responsive to lawyers, lobbyists, inmate advocates. Criminals can rely on the system that orphaned their victims. The murder victim has no representative, no lobbyist and no lawyer because the victim is dead. The only argument we will hear about the victim's lost rights will come from family and from people who recognize the injustice and obscenity of the current system.

Let us face it, the predator protection industry is part of our modern economy. Justice cannot compete with currency. But the victims of Canadian justice, though unpaid, refuse to be unheard.

Priscilla de Villiers writes:

It is an absolute insult to victims of violent crime that each murder, subsequent to the first murder of an offender is considered to be free.

Why is it that the second murder victim does not count? Very simply, Canadian justice offers a bulk rate to murderers and rapists. One 25 year so-called life sentence is the penalty for premeditated murder no matter how many victims, and a mere seven years in prison is the maximum parole ineligibility for a rapist, again no matter how many victims.

But columnists advocating inmates' rights will argue that nothing is served by revenge, that we should have to prove that each predator is a continuing risk to society and not waste the lives of reformed carnivores.

It has become groupthink these days that we should be generous to murderers who only killed an abusive husband or smothered an infant child in a domestic dispute. My bill is not focused on these much pitied murderers. It deals only with multiple killers and rapists, criminals like Clifford Olson, people who plan, stalk and destroy young lives.

There are no mitigating circumstances for a predator. There is no need to rehabilitate a predator. No predator is a safe addition to any neighbourhood no matter what his therapist might say.

One of my constituents is a teacher in Brampton. One day some years ago the rehabilitation poster boy, Joseph Fredericks, was invited to his school, a shining example of a reformed sex offender. This devastating product of rehabilitation went on to attack and kill Christopher Stephenson.

By being convicted, serial predators have identified themselves as threats to society. No term in prison, no therapy, no treatment can make a predator an acceptable risk. Yet parole boards will continue to gamble with the lives of children and others by letting predators loose on the buffet of victims in Canadian communities.

Why is it that parole boards can take such risks so liberally? There is no risk to the parole board. For every 100 sex offenders released, 30 women and children are victimized. That is not just a stat. It is a guarantee. Parole does save a few dollars admittedly, but it ruins many lives.

The Metro Toronto Zoo is currently suffering budgetary difficulties. One might ask why it does not save money by emptying its cages and letting its untamed animals loose on the streets of Toronto. Why not? They are not the parole board and they can be sued for recklessly endangering citizens.

Prisons represent less than 1 per cent of federal spending. Protecting the public from predators would hardly bankrupt the nation. We can afford a little more justice.

Collette writes in support my bill:

This issue is very dear to me and my family. In 1991, four members of our family, Maurice, Susan, Islay and Janello Mandin were murdered by young offender Gavin Mandin. He was tried in adult court, and received a sentence of life with parole eligibility at ten years. One sentence, one parole eligibility.

Four lives erased, 10 years in prison. Oh, but wait. The murderer can change in prison. He can become a better citizen, get an education and even start a family through the conjugal visits of the jailhouse Jenny program. As always, resources are showered on the criminal, now called a client, but precious little is done to support the victimized families.

As with all other victims, and victims groups who support my bill, Collette Mandin-Kossowan asked to know the result of my vote.

But Debbie Mahaffy, the mother of Leslie Mahaffy, who died at the hands of Paul Bernardo, was more cautious, having had more experience with how justice can be obstructed, how justice is too rarely a votable item. She is used to the lip service, the feigned support, the photo ops and then the secret opposition that thwarts it all. Mrs. Mahaffy writes:

I fear there will be too much opposition because consecutive sentencing is so sensible, so no-nonsense, so uncomplicated, it may be too simple for some to understand.

I owe the groups that have supported this bill a reason for why it was thwarted by the subcommittee on Private Members' Business. The committee does not give reasons. It operates in secret, each member swearing silence except to the press when convenient. The transcripts of my presentation to the committee should lend some insight.

The committee offered not a single question about Bill C-274. They rendered no opposing comments, no objections, no rationale for the bill not being votable. At the time, I recalled the words of the Minister of Justice who said in the House that "too often, through insensitivity the interests and personal stake of the victim are overlooked".

How each of the four members of this committee voted is not a closely guarded secret. Only the public and the victims groups are denied the truth. They are used to that. Victims groups once again have reason to conclude that Parliament is not a trustworthy ally in their pursuit of justice.

Consecutive sentencing is uncomplicated. It would restore a degree of truth in sentencing. It recognizes that each sentence applies to a specific crime, an individual victim, a personal horror. It insists that the price for rape and murder must not be marked down.

Under my bill, Denis Lortie would have had to serve 10 years for each life he took and Debbie Mahaffy would never have to plead with any parole board to keep Paul Bernardo in jail where he belongs.

As life sentences are a hoax, the only meaningful part of a sentence is the period of parole ineligibility, the period for which the murderer is guaranteed to be behind bars, the period before the victim's family must relive a nightmare. That is the only sentence that is remotely real, remotely believable.

For Paul Bernardo and Clifford Olson that is 15 years. The rest of their sentences are just an option, an option our system allows to revictimize the parents of the victims, potentially to force them to join countless other victims in having to dredge up some gruesome memories just to provide victim impact statements and petitions to keep a cage between the predator and the prey.

However, the quality of mercy is not strained. Parliament still has an opportunity to narrow the gap between the justice system and justice. Does any member here stand in support of volume discounts for serial rapists and murderers? I would like those who think a second murder victim does not count to stand up and be counted. I would like to restore Mrs. Mahaffy's faith in this institution by asking for unanimous consent in the House to make Bill C-274 a votable motion.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Kilger)

The House has heard the terms of the motion from the hon. member for Mississauga East. Is there unanimous consent?

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

No.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

Bloc

Fran├žois Langlois Bellechasse, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak on Bill C-274 put forward by the hon. member for Mississauga East.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

Liberal

Dan McTeague Ontario, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I did not hear any objection to the unanimous consent.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Kilger)

With the greatest of respect, I put the motion to the floor. I heard some naysayers, and so I can resume debate, which is what I intend to do.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

Bloc

Fran├žois Langlois Bellechasse, QC

Mr. Speaker, for the sake of consistency, I shall take it from the top. I am pleased to speak on Bill C-274 put forward by the hon. member for Mississauga East. If I may, I would like to start by setting the record straight because the hon. member, acting in all good faith I am sure, has questioned the procedure currently used by the sub-committee on private members' business.

Along with the hon. members for Mississauga West, Edmonton North and Okanagan-Shuswap, I sit on this committee, which, for obvious reasons, meets in camera to hold proceedings and only under these circumstances. That is because the House has seen fit for the committee responsible for looking into private members' business to be sheltered from outside pressure. What better way to elude pressure than to sit in camera, where we can discuss freely and frankly, without having people watching over our shoulders as we draw our conclusions.

Without compromising the secrecy of in camera meetings, I was able to assure the hon. member that no vote was taken on his bill in our committee. In fact, the sub-committee on private members' business very seldom takes votes. We usually report to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs after reaching a consensus. I would say that, in 95 per cent of cases, we unanimously agree on the bills referred to us.

That is why I was taken aback, to some extent, by the remarks made by the hon. member for Mississauga East, as reported in the Hill Times . This is probably due to a lack of knowledge of the system, a system which has shown that we can have good bills and good motions in this House, provided there is an appropriate process and it is complied with.

This being said, even though the bill before us is not a votable item, it raises important issues including, of course, the whole matter of cumulative sentences. Under our system, when a judge

imposes sentences for various offences, he has a duty to state whether these sentences are cumulative or concurrent.

According to our tradition, a judge usually imposes a sentence for the most serious offence and includes in it the other sentences for lesser offences. So, generally speaking, sentences are concurrent.

The fact is that, under our criminal laws, including the Criminal code, judges already have the power to impose consecutive sentences when they deem appropriate to do so. It might be a good idea, during a debate on a motion to this effect, to look at the issue of sentencing. Do we want judges to make greater use of their power to impose consecutive sentences? Perhaps.

Perhaps the judiciary itself could deal with the fact that, in some cases, the imposition of consecutive sentences is justified. However, imposing consecutive sentences does not settle all the situations better than if it was ordered by legislation.

Inevitably, we will find ourselves in a situation where the compulsory imposition of consecutive sentences would become inappropriate. What can a judge do if he has no discretion? He will have to impose sentences that will prove to be an excessive burden for the individual who has been found guilty or has admitted his guilt.

The hon. member for Mississauga East also mentioned some people, notorious criminals, who were sentenced to one life sentence only. Contrary to the U.S. system, we do not have in our system convicted people sentenced to 200 or 300 years of imprisonment. Generally, one life sentence is enough.

In the case in question, as in the Bernardo case, since a charge was laid, the judge had no other choice but to pass sentence. It is up to the crown to follow up on the other charges or to lay new charges on additional offenses to try to get additional sentences for the criminal. But fortunately enough, according to a tradition we have here, in our country, an individual cannot be convicted before he or she has been tried.

If Ontario crown attorneys think it would be appropriate to prosecute an individual already convicted for first degree murder, it is up to them to decide what to do. The accounts we have heard are in fact very unsettling. That a person who has committed such crimes as those reported in the media-and I am thinking in particular of the Bernardo trial-can be released after serving only 15 years in prison, pursuant to section 745 of the Criminal Code, is quite disgusting.

The same thing goes for all the cases mentioned by the hon. member. It would be easy to jump to a general conclusion, but that is something we should not do before carrying out a more detailed study.

This bill also raises the issue of the victim's rights. I must say that the hon. member did a better job of getting my attention on that issue, because it is true that our system tends to forget about the victims. Their voice is not heard at sentencing hearings. When the parole board makes a decision, their statements are hardly, if at all, taken into consideration. These people are just left out of the process.

Attorneys are generally overburdened, and when a Crown attorney is put in charge of a case, he must do his work as quickly as possible, and he does not get all the resources he needs. Obviously, it is important that justice be done, but not always expeditiously. These are two points I wanted to deal with, the rights of the victims, consecutive sentencing and the right of society to protect itself.

Just because I do not approve of all the provisions in Bill C-274 does not mean I do not recognize that the society has a right to protect itself. It is a fundamental right for Canadians to see people who pose a threat to society forced to reflect in isolation on what they did. If this is not enough, they will be given longer sentences and they will not be eligible for parole.

When we heard from members of the Parole Board, I realized that there has been a very big improvement lately in the way the board deals with releases.

There is still much to be done but progress was made. Obviously, we do not now have cases as worrisome as some we had a few years ago. The watchfulness of parliamentarians surely has something to do with it as it is our duty to point out, on occasion, flaws in the system.

Bill C-274, which is before us today, warrants more reflection than a gut reaction. All the issues raised by the hon. member for Mississauga East are emotional, and give rise to such gut reactions. If we were to let our emotions colour our judgment, we would always pass stricter sentences and forget about the guidelines that insure a good administration of justice.

Since this is not a votable bill, I do not have to indicate whether I will vote for or against it, but the issues raised by the hon. member certainly give us food for thought.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

6:25 p.m.

Reform

Art Hanger Calgary Northeast, AB

Mr. Speaker, I find the bill quite unique in that it is coming from the government side.

I would like to review Bill C-274. The bill provides for the imposition of consecutive sentences on a person who commits sexual assault and another offence arising out of the same event or where a person already serving another sentence commits sexual assault.

The bill also provides that a person sentenced to life imprisonment for first or second degree murder is not eligible for parole until that person has served, in addition to the portion of sentence the person must serve for murder, one third or a maximum of seven

years of any other sentence imposed in respect of an offence arising out of the same event or that the person is already serving.

If I were to present a bill it would go a lot further than this bill does. However, this appears to be too much for the parliamentary secretary to the justice minister, who voted no to the motion put forward by the member who presented the bill.

The government through cabinet and the parliamentary secretaries refuses to deal effectively with crime. The member, a backbencher, has experienced it firsthand with the introduction of this bill which went through committee to have it made votable. The member presenting the bill made comments to that effect.

I will read some of the comments by the member for Mississauga East: "We supposedly have open government, but we have secret committees. I guarantee that no member of that committee would oppose the bill openly. They were just encouraged in secret. I am not suggesting it is a kangaroo court. It is more like a cockroach court. You cannot see them at work, but they run".

The hon. member is also quoted in the Hill Times : ``If I had a bill on lawn care, I bet I would have success in getting it through the committee. If I had a bill that offered better treatment for criminals, it would race through the place in a week. But if I have a bill that wants to side with victims or correct an obscene injustice in our justice system, you can expect resistance and many years of effort and debate''. This member is experiencing firsthand what the cabinet, the justice minister, the solicitor general and the parliamentary secretaries across the way are doing in reference to criminal justice

The member who introduced the bill wants to see consecutive sentences. I find that totally acceptable, as do most people in the country. They do not want to see criminals running around lose after serving a portion of their sentence, recommitting an offence and then serving another portion of the sentence. It goes on and on; it is a revolving door.

I would respectfully submit that the member has made a very simple request to the House. Yet one member, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice, voted down her motion to make it a votable motion.

Let us look at some facts. An offender in Canada who has served one-third or seven years, whichever is less, of his or her sentence of incarceration for a violent or serious offence becomes eligible for full parole. Inmates who have not been released on parole after serving two-thirds of their sentence are released by law to serve the final one-third of their sentence in the community. My suggestion is that if required they should be serving 90 per cent of their sentences, especially for violent and serious offenders.

The National Parole Board confirmed that even the most violent and serious offenders serve on average only one-half of their prison sentence. Attempted murderers, for example, serve an average of 48 months where the court has ordered the sentence to be 94 months. They have served only one-half of their sentence, even for attempted murderer. In the case of manslaughter the actual time served by an offender averaged 44 months when the original sentence was 84 months.

The member across the way clearly understands the problem of violent crime. The justice minister, the solicitor general and the parliamentary secretary who voted against her motion do not. They are not concerned about violent criminals repeating their offences.

What exactly is the economic impact of crime on our society? A recent study by the Fraser Institute identifies some of the economic factors of crime. It mentions victimization, policing, private security, court and legal proceedings, corrections and shattered lives. The price tag placed on this type of criminal activity is $37 billion and much of that cost is for repeat offenders.

I realize that the member across the way has only targeted two particular crimes: rape or sexual assault and first and second degree murder. The cost of shattered lives because of murder and repeat offenders in those two violent areas is very significant and would certainly make up a portion of this $37 billion annually.

Reform's position in its operation crime strike discussion paper is that it would like to see truth in sentencing. That is what the member is talking about. She wants to move toward truth in sentencing. Truth in sentencing is clear and simple. If a rapist is handed a sentence of 12 years then the rapist must serve 12 years. If a murderer or attempted murderer is handed a sentence of 25 years then he or she serves 25 years. It is a very simple concept.

The member across the way, even though she is in agreement with parole, states that if a second violent offence is committed then that sentence should be served consecutive to the sentence that has already been served.

Reform would carry that one step further. Reform would say that once persons have committed a second violent strike they are out of the picture completely. They had their chance after the first time. After the second time they would do life, and life would mean life.

In support of the member across the way who introduced this private member's bill, I too submit a motion asking for unanimous consent to make this a votable motion.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

6:35 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Kilger)

The House has heard the terms of the motion of the hon. member for Calgary Northeast. Is there unanimous consent?

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

6:35 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

6:35 p.m.

Some hon. members

No.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

6:35 p.m.

Liberal

Dan McTeague Ontario, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased the hon. member for Mississauga East had the intestinal fortitude and courage to listen to her constituents, her heart and her mind on a matter of fundamental importance which I believe is at the base of what we should be doing in the House of Commons.

Previous speakers have alluded to the fact that the process by which we determine whether an item is votable is fair. The place where we ought to make that decision is in the House of Commons. We should do it in an open fashion as transparency is extremely important.

I am perfectly comfortable with the presentation made by the hon. member who moved the motion and by the hon. member who seconded it, and who is the other member for Mississauga.

It is unfortunate the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice would not provide concurrence to make this a votable item. That being the case, it is important for us to understand what the bill is about. If the bill is not allowed to proceed today, I can assure the House that the bill and bills like it will come again before the House of Commons and we will have a day where openness will once again prevail.

A person who commits a crime must serve the full time. Too much evidence in the past has supported the excuse that serial rapists or serial murderers should only serve one sentence for all their crimes. Justice does not fit the crime. For that reason it is extremely imperative that we try, at the very least as an open Parliament, to provide justice not for those who have been accused and tried before a fair court of law but for those who are the victims. We owe it to them. We owe it to their families. We owe it to safe streets and safe communities, a commitment in our red book of 1993.

That is why as a Liberal I am proud to say that the bill speaks to the heart of the Liberal Party as I understand it and as many Canadians understood it when they voted Liberal in the last election.

Canada's criminal justice system has to be transformed. Convicted multiple murderers and serial rapists must know they will not get away from serving the full time for all their actions and will not have their sentencing behind bars reduced by concurrent sentencing. Concurrent sentencing for murder and sexual assault serves no purpose but to let convicted individuals escape the full weight of society's repulsion for their acts.

Our government is committed to safe homes and safe streets. It is my belief and the belief of most ordinary Canadians that consecutive sentencing falls within the commitment stated in our red book in terms of the safety and security of all Canadians.

The hon. member alluded to the fact that the bill acknowledges what is a debate and what is currently acceptable discourse in the homes and among many people in the learned societies of the country. Far from being stifled it is my view that the bill should be allowed to see the open and fresh air of debate.

It is unfortunate that the legislation only reached second reading. I can assure the member who had the courage of her convictions to bring forward Bill C-274 that her words today will not be forgotten in her constituency or in mine. As a member representing one of the larger ridings not just in metro Toronto but in all of Canada, I know the member has the support of thousands of Canadians for her courage to do this in the face of adversity.

It is easy for me to explain the different ideologies of the criminal justice system, but one must understand that, in the end, the victims must benefit from a good justice system. The forms of justice we have today do not work. The bill is legitimized by what people said and also by the emotions created by people like Clifford Olson and Bernardo.

The bill is important in and of itself. It is important for the Parliament of Canada to be able to debate a matter of substantial importance to all Canadians. We cannot wait until another election to hem and haw about what we will do.

While it is important to bring in all sorts of theories and ideologies on how to get to the question of the root causes of severe criminal behaviour, we owe an obligation to Canadians to mete out important, significant and fundamental justice to those who commit serious crimes against ordinary honest victims who happen to be our constituents.

I do not believe I should shirk or cower from the notion that the House must consider the bill in a much more serious manner. There was an overwhelming desire to ram through Bill C-33 in record time. It took nine days. It took us longer to join the second world war in the fight against the Nazis than it did to get that bill through the House of Commons. Perhaps a bit of levity today might allow us to reconfirm the importance of the bill.

I seek unanimous consent of the House, notwithstanding the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice, to have it made a votable item.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

6:40 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Kilger)

Is there unanimous consent to make this item votable?