House of Commons Hansard #26 of the 37th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was new.

Topics

Motion No. 479
Private Members' Business

11 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Hinton)

It has been brought to my attention that an error has taken place regarding Motion No. 479, standing in the order of precedence in the name of the member for South Surrey—White Rock—Langley.

The motion calls for the House to instruct, in accordance with Standing Order 68(4)(b), a legislative committee to prepare and bring in a bill. However, when the House adopted its new provisional standing orders relating to private members' business on March 17, 2003, it specifically suspended the application of Standing Order 68(4)(b). The Journals Branch should have so advised the hon. member.

In order to respect the provisional standing orders and in fairness to the hon. member for South Surrey—White Rock—Langley, I am directing the clerk to modify Motion No. 479 to read as follows:

That, in the opinion of this House, all ministers of the Crown, secretaries of state, ministers of state, parliamentary secretaries, Governor in Council appointees and full time ministerial appointees should file quarterly financial statements with the Auditor General of Canada, who should review these and report to the House of Commons.

I wish to apologize to all members, particularly the member for South Surrey—White Rock—Langley, for any inconvenience this error may have caused.

It being 11:05 a.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's Order Paper.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

11:05 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Art Hanger Calgary Northeast, AB

moved that Bill C-221, an act to amend the Criminal Code (no parole when imprisoned for life), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Madam Speaker,I am pleased to stand today to discuss my private member's bill, Bill C-221.

I have to think back to 1995 when I first introduced the bill into the House. At that time I was the party's critic for the solicitor general and certainly was fed up with the way the parole system was working, just as I am now. Very little has changed. There are still many murderers being released out onto our streets. Many have only served 15 years of their life sentences, some even less if they were convicted of second degree murder.

The purpose of the bill is to amend certain provisions of the Criminal Code that relate to life imprisonment. In effect the bill would eliminate the provisions for parole eligibility for any criminal sentenced to life in prison. In other words, criminals sentenced to life in prison would not serve 15 or 25 years but the remainder of their natural life behind bars. A life sentence would indeed mean life.

We hear the murmurs and complaints from those on the other side of the House when this issue comes forward, the serving of life sentences or penalties that they deem to be harsh.

Murder is a heinous crime. I think more and more people are beginning to share the view that these individuals who commit such crimes should be staying in prison for longer periods, in fact for life.

Interestingly, in 2002 the Winnipeg Sun reported that in Manitoba:

--the Doer government is asking Ottawa to get tougher on killers by making life sentences real life sentences.

Twenty-five years, in my view, is not sufficient protection for the public, particularly with people who are convicted of shooting police officers,

That comes from the mouth of Premier Gary Doer and was in response to a rash of police shootings in that city.

[Manitoba] Justice Minister Gord Mackintosh said a new provision should be created under the federal Criminal Code allowing a judge to sentence a cop killer to a jail cell for the rest of his days.

I do not believe “life means life” should just apply to police officers alone. I believe it should be extended to all murderers who receive a life sentence.

Having served more than 20 years on the Calgary police department, I have seen my fair share of crimes. I have seen the anguished faces of loved ones. I have felt their pain when they learn that someone dear to them has been murdered. I am not talking about dying in an automobile accident, in a fire or in a sporting accident. We are talking about cold-blooded murder.

This leads to unspeakable pain for the victims' families. I have heard people second guess themselves by wondering whether, if they had done something different, they could perhaps have spared him or her that fate. In some cases members of victims' families have come to seek help to deal with their grief. Why is that? For one reason, often there is no closure once a killer is convicted. The victim's pain is so deep, it is often unbearable.

The first thing the state should do is to send a clear message to criminals and to those contemplating the taking of another person's life, the message being that they will never be able to walk the streets of the country a free man or woman. They will be locked away for the remainder of their natural lives.

Our laws should be designed to restrain the violent and the rebellious. Good people do not need to engage the law; it is those who have turned against authority, turned against society and committed these acts who should have the law applied to them. There should be a clear message that there will be severe consequences for their actions. Yes, it is true that there are those who will forge right ahead anyway and commit an act without even thinking about the consequences; however, we hope that the punishment meted out to such individuals will serve as a deterrent to others.

I am hearing more about deterrents now in our law than at any time in the past 20 years, and even from those who have crafted our very liberal laws in relation to punishment. Many members in the House will recall that once upon a time in this country capital punishment was the punishment of choice for those convicted of murder, but back in 1976 the government of Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau introduced Bill C-84, which abolished capital punishment and replaced it with life imprisonment. Two new categories of murder were created, first and second degree, both of which carried a minimum sentence of life imprisonment.

It did not stop there. A life sentence does not mean that a criminal will spend the rest of his or her natural life in prison. This was the intent of their legislation. It simply meant that a killer could not apply for parole until he or she had served 25 years in jail. This applied to those convicted of first degree murder. Those convicted of second degree murder would have to serve 10 years. The sentencing judge could set a longer period of anywhere from 10 to 25 years.

It was in 1976 that the Liberals crafted this legislation. They then added the infamous section 745. In the present Criminal Code, it is section 745.6, which is also known as the faint hope clause. This section allows an offender to have his or her parole ineligibility period reduced after serving 15 years of a sentence.

Stories abound about lifers who used the faint hope clause to get out of prison early. I have a few examples and will relate a couple of them. One deals with a police officer I worked with in the Calgary city police department. In 1977, a colleague of mine, Constable William Shelever, was shot in the back of the head. His assailant, Roy Glaremin, also shot and injured another constable that night. Glaremin applied for a judicial review under the faint hope clause in 1993. He was denied and again reapplied, and so on and so forth goes his application for early release.

I am going to point to some statistics on this from the time period between 1987 and June 2000. There were 103 applications heard across Canada in those 13 years, with 84 of the 103 applicants getting reductions in their parole ineligibility period. In other words, 81.6% of those applicants actually had their sentences reduced and were out on the street early. That is quite phenomenal when we are talking about cold-blooded killers. It is something that should not be happening. There should be truth in our sentencing.

It is no secret that we on this side of the House have long advocated repealing section 745.6 of the Criminal Code. This has raised the ire of many criminal rights activists who have argued that locking away a murderer for 25 years is a waste of a person's life. They forget about the trauma that is created in a community when another murder takes place, and I do not care if the murderer is an adult who is 50 or 70 years old or a young offender who is 15 or 16.

I can relate to members a situation from Maple Ridge, B.C., about which many in the House may very well know. Colleen Findlay, an outstanding community activist, mother and wife, was brutally assaulted and murdered by a young offender. It was on the front page of every paper and has been for the last week. It was a horrible crime. Citizens are outraged.

What brings about a lot of that outrage is the seven years' sentence eligibility for parole because the individual is a young offender. The punishment does not fit the crime. Life should mean life regardless of the age of the offender, yet our Criminal Code clearly points to the fact that even for this crime the offender will not do much time because he is a young offender. He is 15 years old. He may not have been alone. It was a terrible offence that rocked the community and rocks a province and in fact an entire country.

The murderer who committed this crime ends up doing the time, in part. The murderer is still alive, at least, while the victims and the family in Maple Ridge will suffer and suffer because this case will not go away with the present law. The murderer can go back into his prison cell. The state looks after him. He can communicate with whomever he wants to on the outside. He gets his colour TV. He will even have his computers.

Some murderers have even gotten married in prison. Roy Glaremin was one. He shot a police officer and killed him. They will have their conjugal visits. They will get whatever education course they need. We are talking about murderers who should be doing time for life, forever. They will be allowed their visitors. Also, they get to eat very well, much better than many hard-working, taxpaying Canadians. But the relatives of the victims can only visit the graves of those who were killed.

These arguments have been put forward in the House before. The Liberals have been joined by other special interest groups who say that we have to give these murderers some hope, that we have to allow them some chance to look at the future and say, “In 15 years I am going to be out”. That is the thinking on that side of the House, but on the side of the victim they do not seem to want to address the pain that goes on in the lives of so many when these issues come to the forefront.

The only way the criminal can pay for his crime is if he and the community know for sure that he will never, ever walk away. We have heard the arguments from the Liberals. We also have heard the arguments from many victims' groups across this country. In this party on this side of the House, we stand for those who are suffering and for those potential victims out there because of laws that will not deal with violent people. We want to make sure that the criminals are behind bars, not only for the benefit of those who are victimized but for those potential members of our society who know that they will struggle if it comes their way in the future.

In closing, let me say that this private member's bill reflects the view that justice will be served when murderers sentenced to life in prison serve a full, court ordered life sentence. For families of victims, a true life sentence is an issue of closure. It is also a matter of fairness. Let us send a message that if an individual takes the life of another, that offender will spend the rest of his or her natural life locked away, with no parole. Life will indeed mean life.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Grant McNally Dewdney—Alouette, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his speech and for his initiative in bringing this issue forward. He mentioned the very personal situation he dealt with when he was on the force in Calgary and one of his colleagues was brutally murdered. He mentioned what that has meant not only for our colleague here but for the family of the victim in having the offender come forward and go through this repeated application process. Every time that happens there is a parole hearing, which puts an incredible amount of strain on the family and which simply is not right.

The member also alluded to a horrific crime in my own riding, in Maple Ridge. A loving mother was brutally assaulted and murdered by a young offender who has pleaded guilty to that crime but could be out in as short a period of time as four years given the time he has already served. It is unbelievable. It is a story that ran on the front pages of all the newspapers in Canada last week and certainly highlights the fact that our colleague's bill is necessary.

I would like him to comment, if he could, on the personal impact on the individuals he has dealt with who have faced this kind of terrible situation in their lives and on what he has noticed in that period of time, which I would think is giving him motivation for bringing forward this bill.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Art Hanger Calgary Northeast, AB

I thank my colleague for the question because it does go to the heart of the matter. For those who have been victimized, for those families who have been left behind, whether they are police officers' families or other citizens who have encountered violent criminals, when the life of a loved one taken away, there is more than grief. There is rage. There is guilt. There is blame. There is hate and there is anger. There is grief. Some have gone into the position of just being a recluse and living alone.

I can speak of my colleague's family. Mrs. Shelever has a room all set up in her house with her husband's things in there. She had such a hard time in dealing with his death. He was taken away before their daughter was even born. Her daughter never knew her dad. Mrs. Shelever collected his items and put them in a room in her house. In her eyes, that room is dedicated to her husband. It is a very difficult having to relive this every time Glaremin comes up for a parole hearing. It is a tortured way to live, in a way, because it is brought up every time. Yes, some people have to get by all of that and move on, but it is easy to say and very difficult to do.

My colleague mentioned the young mother in Maple Ridge. There will be a tremendous upheaval in that family. That victimized family will go through every emotion I have described. The state does not help. Unfortunately, in fact, the state perpetuates it because of the laws and because of the inconsistency in looking for what is right, that is, there are more rights for the prisoner than there are for the victims.

I grieve along with that family and every family that goes through this. I know what they are going to go through and, with them, I have experienced some of that pain as a police officer.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

11:25 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Bob Mills Red Deer, AB

Madam Speaker, I thank the member for bringing forward the bill, but I ask him about the difficulty we as members of Parliament have, for instance, when we speak to the parents in regard to a pedophile case. I stood in the House and spoke about the pedophile who committed his tenth offence and went to prison. He was then let out and at that time I asked the justice minister, “What do I tell the parents of the eleventh victim?” All the experts were saying that this pedophile would reoffend. Within the year he reoffended. There was an eleventh victim and a twelfth.

Obviously the justice system failed those two sets of parents. Of course he is about to get out again and this will go on. I wonder what the member thinks of that sort of situation.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

11:25 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Art Hanger Calgary Northeast, AB

Madam Speaker, all of us in the House have a responsibility. We were elected to represent our communities. We were also elected to ensure that there was good order in general in the country. As members of Parliament, we must advocate for those in the community who have been victimized. We have a responsibility to do that.

I know we on this side of the House are not the government, but there will come a day when we will be.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

11:25 a.m.

An hon. member

Soon.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

11:25 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Art Hanger Calgary Northeast, AB

Very soon, Madam Speaker.

The accountability factor is coming into play right now, and it will be hitting those on that side square in the eyes. I hope and pray that we will soon have an opportunity to be able to change some of the injustices that have been handed down by that side.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

11:25 a.m.

London West
Ontario

Liberal

Sue Barnes Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak today on the subject of Bill C-221. This bill introduced by the hon. member for Calgary Northeast is to amend part XXIII of the Criminal Code concerning life imprisonment.

This means that offenders subject to life imprisonment would have no access to parole. It also proposes to amend sections 745.6 to 745.64 of the Criminal Code, which will allow an offender to apply after 15 years for a reduction in the period to be served before parole eligibility.

It is important for hon. members to be aware that the bill would affect not just homicides, but more than 40 other offences in the Criminal Code that would provide for a maximum penalty of life imprisonment. Some examples are: to overcome resistance for the purpose of committing an indictable offence; robbery; breaking and entering in relation to a dwelling house; and extortion. It is unlikely that many Canadians would agree that individuals convicted of such offences should necessarily spend the rest of their natural lives in penitentiaries.

Although the Minister of Justice does not support Bill C-221, the government will continue its strong record of introducing effective legislation aimed at making Canadians safer in their homes and communities.

The concept of parole has been part of Canadian law since 1899. Parole recognizes that imprisonment is only one aspect of the reform of an offender and that rehabilitation of the offender and reintegration back into the community are also necessary if offenders are to become law-abiding citizens when they are eventually released. We believe that rehabilitating offenders is the best protection for the community in the long term.

Parole does not reduce a sentence, but permits offenders to serve the balance of their sentences in the community under supervision. This facilitates a gradual, controlled release back into society. Parole is not automatic. Offenders must meet specified criteria aimed at protecting public safety. Some offenders are denied parole and remain in custody for the entirety of their sentences.

Because of the importance of encouraging rehabilitation of all offenders, Canadian law does not endorse the concept of a life sentence without eligibility for parole. In exceptional cases, the Criminal Code does provide for the designation of an individual as a dangerous offender, who is sentenced to an indeterminate period of imprisonment.

Members may be interested to know that Canada's parole ineligibility period of 25 years for murder is among the longest in the western world. Prior to the introduction of the 25 year parole ineligibility period introduced as part of the repeal of the death penalty in 1976, the average time served for the equivalent of first degree murder was 15.8 years. In 1994 the average length of time served by offenders for first degree murder in Canada was 28.5 years. This is much longer than the average time, 14.3 years, served in a number of the other democracies, including western Europe, the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand and Japan.

In the U.S.A., in cases where parole is available, the average time served is actually 18.5 years. In the United States in cases where murderers are sentenced to life without parole, the average time served is approximately 29 years, very similar to Canada's 28.5 years.

It is also important to point out that in the case of a life sentence, an offender who is released on parole will be under the supervision of the National Parole Board until death. As is the case for anyone on parole, if the offender breaches his or her conditions, parole can be revoked and the offender may be returned to prison to serve the remainder of his or her sentence.

The faint hope clause, section 745.6 of the Criminal Code, is based on the belief, shared by not all Canadians but many of them, that even people who are guilty of terrible acts should be given a chance to come to terms with their crimes and rehabilitate themselves. Section 745.6 is intended for the exceptional case where a serious offender has already been able to turn his or her live around.

In 1997 the government amended the Criminal Code to ensure that offenders who committed multiple murders would no longer allowed to apply for a review of their parole eligibility period under this provision. I and all my colleagues on the government side supported that. In addition, a new screening mechanism was put in place whereby a superior court judge could screen out applications that had no reasonable prospect of success, and a new requirement was added that the jury considering the application must be unanimous in order to reduce the eligibility period.

Those were the changes done by this government earlier on to ensure that a tightening occurred, but that it was in line with the concepts of rehabilitation and proper sanction.

It is interesting to note that most eligible offenders convicted of murder do not apply for early release. Although 652 murderers have served more than 15 years in penitentiaries, there have only been 134 applications since 1976, when the faint hope clause was introduced. Of these, 54 resulted in the offenders being released on full parole.

I believe the law must provide appropriate penalties for serious crimes so that Canadians can continue to live in safety and security. However, research indicates that the extension of imprisonment by and of itself does not enhance public safety. The proposed provisions in the bill would ensure an ever increasing number of incarcerated federal offenders with no hope of release. This would seriously compromise the security of Correctional Service Canada personnel without providing more public safety.

Our government is committed to public safety while also encouraging and supporting strides toward rehabilitation. The evidence is clear that this balanced approach is the most effective way of contributing to safe homes and safe streets. People in the government, people on this side of the House, as well as colleagues on the opposite side of the House, are concerned about the victims in our society, and we also have empathy with them, but we do it in a measured way. We have to be responsible to the Canadian public for our system of justice and ensure that it covers all the best methods to address these very serious issues.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

11:30 a.m.

Bloc

Richard Marceau Charlesbourg—Jacques-Cartier, QC

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise on behalf of the Bloc Quebecois to participate in this debate on Bill C-221 introduced by my hon. Conservative colleague from Calgary Northeast.

At the outset, I must say that we have very great reservations about this bill and that, unfortunately for the hon. member, we will not be able to support it. And that is not because I am opposed to the amendments concerning the punishment of certain criminals. In fact, this very day, I will be introducing a bill intended to get tough on the sexual predators who prey on our children. I shall introduce a bill calling for minimum mandatory sentences for these predators, pornographers and pedophiles.

While I was drafting that bill, which I will be introducing later, I asked myself the following question: Should I take away the possibility of parole for these people? After many hours of research, discussions, dialogues and studies, I came to the conclusion that the answer is no.

In some cases, criminals can be rehabilitated. The division in this House is along the same lines as what we saw during the debate on young offenders. At the time, the Bloc Quebecois advocated a rehabilitative approach for young offenders because we believe in human dignity and feel that, if someone is carefully monitored and accompanied, they can change. Would it not be the greatest success of the criminal justice system to contribute to changing a person?

All this to say that parole should be granted on a case by case basis. This must be done right. Particular attention must be paid to all the details. Nonetheless, case by case must prevail.

In committee, we have already started examining conditional sentences. I hope we can pursue this study, which, in my view, is fundamental for our criminal justice system. I would not be opposed at all to broadening our study to include the whole issue of sentencing, including minimum sentences, conditional sentences and all the factors to be considered in sentencing. It is not too late for the members of this House to look at this issue, which, as we know, affects thousands of Quebeckers and Canadians.

In this context, we must also take into account the victims of these crimes, who deserve to be heard; we must listen to them and give them our attention.

I will conclude by reiterating the Bloc Quebecois position. We will oppose Bill C-221 for the reasons I have just explained.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

11:35 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Myron Thompson Wild Rose, AB

Madam Speaker, I would like to commend the member for Calgary Northeast for presenting Bill C-221 to the House today. This issue has been on the minds of a number of Canadians for many years. Canadians, throughout the land, have asked me, why does life not mean life? Why do we say it is a life sentence when it really does not mean that?

There are some people who do pay a life sentence and those are the people who are victims of heinous crimes such as murder. I can guarantee that the families of those victims have just begun to serve a life sentence. Not only has the person who died at the hands of a murderer paid the penalty of a life sentence, but the parents, the brothers and the sisters, the relatives and friends, and the communities that these people came from pay a life sentence. It never goes away. It is a life sentence for them.

In our society today, there are people who have been convicted of multiple murders. I can think of several people who are in penitentiaries today who have taken more than one life. I can think of one individual who was convicted of 11 counts of murder. That individual should be paying a life sentence for each life that he took. In our system, a life sentence is provided for individuals who have committed multiple murders, but with eligibility for parole at 25 years. There is even the possibility of parole after 15 years.

We have all heard stories and talked to victims. I think in particular of the five year old girl in Calgary who was a deaf mute. She was taken by someone while playing in the backyard of her home. Later that evening her body was found in a trash can. Her throat had been cut, and she had been raped. The killer was caught and he received a life sentence.

People thought there was something wrong with that guy, and there certainly was. I cannot begin to tell the House how much was provided to this person as far as legal aid and psychological treatments were concerned. Many hours were spent on this little child's killer, helping him to overcome this tragic thing that happened. I talked to the mother and relatives of this little girl and they received not one nickel's worth of help from the federal government or any other level of government to deal with their terrible crisis. That family is still serving its life sentence.

I can mention many other cases involving other people. I think specifically of Melanie Carpenter, a young lady from British Columbia who was kidnapped. She was just starting out in life and had a good career ahead of her. After several weeks of searching, her body was found. She had been murdered by a person who had just been released on parole from a penitentiary where the front line officers, the caseworkers who worked closely with this individual, begged the Parole Board not to release this guy because they felt he was extremely dangerous and would kill again. The only difference in this particular case was the fact that he also took his own life. I guess he decided it was time to punish himself for what he had committed over the years.

This is another example of another life lost simply because life did not mean life. That man was supposed to be in prison for his entire life. He was paroled even against the advice and the wisdom of the people who were working on the front lines, who constantly told the Parole Board not to give him parole.

Madam Speaker, I know you were not here at the time, but a lot members were and will remember when the cab drivers had a big demonstration because there was not a more severe sentence imposed on the individual who beat, robbed and murdered one of their colleagues.

Most of the cab drivers, and other people, I have talked to over the last 11 years come from other parts of the world. The one question they ask more than any other question when we are talking about government and what it is doing is: Why do we not punish our criminals in Canada? I have a difficult time explaining our system to them.

I have heard 100 times from members from the other side of the House that our system is the envy of the world. Do I ever have shocking news for them. I do not know who told them that it was the envy of the world. They must have dreamed it because it is certainly not the envy of the world. Members should talk to any of the immigrants who come to this country and they will hear that it is the laughing stock of the world, if anything.

But that is a good question. Why is it that only the victims and those close to them are the ones who suffer a life sentence?

What value do we put on life? Some people would even say that if someone takes a life, he or she should be prepared to give his or her own life. But that is extreme. Even though it is done in many parts of the world, this government would classify it as extreme.

Along with all that, there is something else that really bothers me to no end. I was in this House of Commons, when John Nunziata, a member from the Liberal Party, brought before the House a private member's bill to get rid of section 745, the faint hope clause. I know that several colleagues who are here remember the day we voted and passed that bill. It was accepted by this House of Commons that clause 745 should be gone. Well, it never happened.

It was accepted by this House of Commons in this wonderful democratic system. What kind of a judicial body do we have here that made a law that said this should be removed from the Criminal Code, and yet it never happened?

It was not only a month ago that there was unanimous consent in this House to support a motion that I put forward that said we should eliminate all defences for child pornography. It was accepted. What bill has been presented? A bill that does absolutely nothing about getting rid of all the defences. In fact, it opens the door even wider.

What are we doing around here? What are we doing in this place? We make a decision and it does not happen. Somebody else makes the decision. Why does the government not bring somebody else in here to run the country and we will all go home and save the taxpayers millions. Certainly, if this government would go home, we would save millions.

Why is it that we cannot make a decision in this place that deals with very serious offenders and crime? Once we make a decision, it never happens.

I have been here 11 years, waiting for something exciting to happen, that people across the land would be excited about. John Nunziata's bill got people excited, and it passed. It was accepted.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

11:40 a.m.

An hon. member

It is a democratic deficit.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

11:40 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Myron Thompson Wild Rose, AB

It is a democratic deficit, my colleague said. We better believe it is a democratic deficit.

I do not know what this new Prime Minister is even talking about when he says he will fix the democratic deficit. We have had one going on here for years, right before him, when he was sitting in the House of Commons voting for these things that never saw the light of day.

It is time we started listening to the grassroots people. They want some serious action taken to deal with the killers of our land when they take the lives of individuals.

Life is important. It is valuable. We need to send a message to those who might even think they would like to take someone's life that they had better think twice. Canada is a country where this is totally unacceptable, and they will pay dearly. We have to start adopting this attitude if we want to make the country as safe as the government claims it is making it, when it is not.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

11:50 a.m.

Liberal

Paul MacKlin Northumberland, ON

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak on this private members' bill, Bill C-221, an act to amend the Criminal Code regarding the sentence of imprisonment for life.

I am aware, and I am sure the Chair is aware, of the time and effort that the hon. member for Calgary Northeast has invested in bringing forward this legislation. I appreciate the opportunity to address this criminal justice issue.

Bill C-221 seeks to accomplish two related objectives.

The bill first proposes that for all offences which carry a maximum penalty of life imprisonment, life imprisonment be defined as imprisonment for the rest of the offender's natural life without any opportunity for parole.

Second, the bill proposes to repeal section 745.6 to 754.64 of the Criminal Code, which is commonly referred to as the faint hope clause. These provisions allow offenders to apply, after 15 years of imprisonment, to have a judge and jury review their parole ineligibility period for possible reduction.

It is crucial to recognize at all times that sentencing is a complicated field, where even a minute change in one of the components can result in serious and unforeseen consequences. Each and every part of the complex and interrelated system must work in co-ordination with the other components to ensure public protection and the safe and effective reintegration of offenders.

In this light it is apparent that the proposal to incarcerate all offenders sentenced to life imprisonment for the remainder of their life is a proposal which would violate the basic purposes and principles of sentencing. In a matter where precise tools are required, this proposal would be described as a blunt instrument.

In this regard it is important to note that a maximum sentence of life imprisonment is not restricted to only the violent offences in the Criminal Code. In fact there are over 40 offences to which this bill would apply. Reducing or removing the discretion of the courts in sentencing makes the criminal justice system more arbitrary and expands resources unnecessarily on incarceration when other measures may be less expensive and more effective.

The guiding principles related to sentencing are explicitly set out in the Criminal Code. Most relevant is section 718.1, which provides that every sentence must be proportionate to the gravity of the offence and the degree of responsibility of the offender. In other words, justice is best served when the judiciary has the necessary discretion to ensure that the punishment fits the particular crime and offender. Moreover, in paragraph 718.2(d) of the code it states that “an offender should not be deprived of liberty, if less restrictive sanctions may be appropriate in the circumstances”.

A key element of effective corrections is distinguishing between offenders who need to be separated from society and those who can be safely and better managed in the community. Parole, first introduced in 1899, has proven to be an effective tool in the application of these principles and in reducing recidivism.

The “throw away the key” aspect of the bill before the House today is a clear contradiction with the principles of sentencing that reflect basic Canadian values and the results of carefully conducted research. This research has shown that the extension of imprisonment by itself does not reduce crime. Most Canadians believe that many people who commit crimes can learn to be better citizens and contribute to society.

This belief is correct. Experience has shown that most offenders are more likely to become law-abiding citizens if they participate in a program of gradual, supervised release.

Canada already has one of the harshest systems for lifers in the western world. On average, first degree murderers serve an estimated 28.4 years in jail, approximately twice as much as is the case in many other western countries.

In Canada, life means life. A life sentence remains in force for the offender's natural life, and statutory release is not available to those offenders. Some inmates serving life sentences or who have been designated as a dangerous offender will never be released. Where parole is granted, the offender is supervised for the rest of his or her natural life, and any violation of the conditions of parole may lead to reincarceration even if no further crime is committed.

The proposed amendments in the bill will ensure an ever increasing number of incarcerated federal offenders with no hope of release. This will seriously compromise penitentiary security and the costs related to the increased correctional population would be significant.

The bill under consideration today also seeks to repeal sections 745.6 to 745.64 of the Criminal Code, known as the faint hope clause, which allow offenders to apply after 15 years to have a judge and jury review their parole ineligibility period for a possible reduction.

The history of these provisions begins in 1976, when Parliament formally abolished capital punishment and replaced it with mandatory life sentences for high treason, first degree murder and second degree murder. Parole eligibility periods were established at 25 years for high treason and first degree murder and 10 years for second degree murder, with the judge having the power to increase the period for up to 25 years.

At the same time, Parliament also introduced the so-called faint hope clause for those convicted of murder where parole eligibility was set at more than 15 years. In fact most eligible offenders convicted of murder do not apply for judicial review. In the time between the introduction of the judicial review provisions in 1976 and December 2003, 652 murderers have served more than 15 years, and there have been only 134 applications. Of those 134 applications, 107 offenders have had their parole ineligibility reduced and 87 have actually been granted parole.

In 1977 the government took significant steps to tighten the judicial review process for lifers by instituting several measures. Today, offenders convicted for multiple murders are excluded from judicial review and their parole eligibility period is automatically set at 25 years. There is a screening process whereby a judge must decide if the application has a reasonable prospect of success or else it may not proceed. The jury must be unanimous as opposed to the previous standard of two-thirds. Information from victims must be considered at the judicial review hearing if provided.

It must be made clear that judicial review is not an early parole hearing and does not result in the release of the offender. It only determines if the offender may become eligible to apply to the National Parole Board for parole.

The judicial review process serves to provide a degree of hope for the rehabilitation of convicted murderers, and thus serves to protect prison guards and recognizes that the public interest is not served by keeping offenders in prison beyond the point in the sentence where they can safely and gradually be reintegrated into society.

The government is fully committed to improving mechanisms that enhance the public protection. That is and will continue to be of paramount consideration for the government. However, the amendments proposed by the bill would run counter to the principles and objectives that underlie the effectiveness of our criminal justice system. That is why the bill before us is not the way to go, and should not be supported.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

Noon

Progressive Conservative

Peter MacKay Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, NS

Madam Speaker, it is always a pleasure to see you in the chair, here in the House.

I listened with great interest to the former parliamentary secretary to the justice minister talk about life being life. As a former crown prosecutor, that is simply not the case. It is the rare instance where a life sentence would actually carry on the 25 year sentence, being the maximum sentence. If the individual is a young individual, that does not amount to life. Also, only in the very specific cases of a dangerous offender designation does this happen.

While the member was speaking, I was handed a recent article. It talks about the Doer government in Manitoba calling specifically on the government in Ottawa to make life sentences mean life, and to make the sentencing structure tougher. This is not to underline or undermine the important element of rehabilitation in our justice system. It is simply to clearly enhance elements of deterrents which are talked about every day in our justice system by hard-working police officers, by those working in the justice system and by judges who are meting our sentences. Canadians should not be misled or misdirected about life sentences for the most heinous crimes. We are talking here about those sections of the Criminal Code that deal with the most heinous crimes in the country, such as murder, sexual assault and home invasion, where individuals are hurt or maimed in their own home environment. These are the types of unspeakable offences that are life altering and life ending for victims.

Therefore, if we are to have a justice system where it is credible, where Canadians believe they are truly protected and the protection of the public is first and foremost the responsibility of government and the justice system, there have to be sentences that matter.

Altering a life sentence to bring about this type of an amendment, which deals with the ability only of a judge to offer that discretion by handing down a life sentence which actually is tantamount to that life sentence, would be a great improvement. It would be tantamount to greater protection. It is tantamount to a common sense change within our justice system today and still very much puts in the hands of judges the ability to offer and review the discretion in each and every case. It is not to shackle the hands of a judge. In this instance it is simply to open up another important sentencing element in an array of sentences currently available to judges in the court system.

We in the Conservative Party certainly support whole-heartedly efforts to embrace and improve upon our justice system that would protect Canadians in their homes, that would protect Canadians first and foremost against victimization of those most heinous offences and that would ensure the element of deterrence is there so the sentencing judge is given the flexibility, the reach and the tool to impose that type of sentence which will protect Canadians first and foremost.