House of Commons Hansard #74 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was chair.

Topics

Motions in Amendment
Criminal Code
Government Orders

4:20 p.m.

Bloc

Réal Ménard Hochelaga, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would first like to say that it seems to me that we have a responsibility to be somewhat serious and make decisions based on probative and conclusive data when we have the good fortune to be representing people in public life.

I would like the people listening to us to understand that there is no one in this House who is not concerned about the safety of our neighbourhoods, our communities. There is also no one who wants dangerous criminals or people who do not deserve to be at large being allowed to be. I find the speech that the minister made in this House to be rather insulting, as if the Conservatives were the only ones who are concerned about these issues.

This arrogance, which manifests itself in a very unhealthy certainty, is surely the reason why Quebeckers and Canadians, in their great wisdom, did not give this government a majority mandate.

When we are talking about criminal law or criminal justice policy, we cannot think of things as being black or white. Obviously there are people who will never deserve to be released with a conditional sentence.

There are people who make youthful mistakes or just plain mistakes for whom there should be oversight and supervision and for whom it should therefore be possible to recommend that they serve their sentence in their community. What I find sad is this kind of black and white thinking.

Bill C-9 started from a principle. It took all the offences in the Criminal Code for which a term of imprisonment of ten years or more may be imposed. We realized that there were 120 of these offences, but they are as disparate as making counterfeit money, copying a computer program and sexual assault. Those three offences are certainly deserving of punishment, but the fact is that they do not all have to be interpreted in the same way in terms of the seriousness of their consequences.

The problem with the Conservatives is that they cannot see grey areas. That is not the case for all Conservatives, but it is the case for a large number of them. The result is that they propose criminal justice policies that are absolutely dangerous because they do not allow for grey areas.

I will give a few examples of what I am talking about.

The John Howard Society presented a brief to the parliamentary committee. I think it gave a convincing demonstration of the fact that the ten-year sentence criterion is entirely unsound.

First, I would remind the House of two facts. Conditional sentences are a marginal phenomenon in sentencing practices. According to the most recent statistics available, there were 257,127 cases leading to conviction in 2003. Of them, 13,267 resulted in a decision by a judge at one level or another to impose a conditional sentence of imprisonment. That is a rate of 5.16%.

Conditional sentencing must not be spoken of as though it were widespread.

Second, people must realize that, when section 742 respecting conditional sentencing was introduced into the Criminal Code in 1996, everything was clearly marked out. This was not done arbitrarily. There were, and still are, four conditions to be met.

First of all, a judge cannot impose a conditional sentence if there are minimum prison terms. So right away there are some 70 offences for which conditional sentencing is not an option. Also, conditional sentencing is not possible if the judge imposes a prison sentence of more than two years. Nor is it possible to impose a conditional sentence if the judge is not satisfied that the person does not pose a threat to the community. And it is not possible if the judge is not satisfied that it is compatible with the objectives of sections 718.1, 718.2 and 718.3 of the Criminal Code, which deal with the objectives of sentencing.

There are already certain conditions to be met for conditional sentencing. This is understandable, since naturally a sentence to be served in the community is different from an institutional sentence, even though in 2000 the Supreme Court—in R. v. Proulx—said that it remained punitive.

Obviously it is not the same thing to serve one’s sentence in the community as it is to serve it in prison. Serving one’s sentence in the community is not a constitutional right, but rather a privilege which relates back to certain values and enables individuals to follow a program.

An individual who receives a conditional sentence—with a supervisor—is supervised throughout their conditional sentence. As some witnesses have mentioned, this type of sentence is safer than others because an individual is eligible for conditional release after serving one sixth of their sentence. This individual is no longer supervised afterwards. These facts must be placed in context.

I repeat: the Bloc Québécois is not saying that conditional sentencing is the answer in all cases. Obviously this is not so. This is why judges must know the offender’s profile, the context in which the offence was committed and the risk of reoffending. They must also be satisfied as to eligibility in the light of the four criteria that I mentioned.

The problem with Bill C-9 is that some offences are not punishable by 10 years in prison, yet are far more serious than some offences that carry a 10-year prison term.

One example would be failure to provide necessaries of life for a child under 16, which carries a two-year prison term. In theory, this should raise questions. Neglecting a child seems to me to be more concerning than copying computer hardware or software. Infanticide is punishable by five years in prison. I think that this is a situation where no one would want a conditional sentence. Yet it does not meet the criteria, which specify a 10-year prison term.

Every time the government proposes criminal policies that are so broad that they lack nuances, which we are entitled to expect, this creates problems.

In closing, the Bloc Québécois agrees that some individuals cannot be eligible for a conditional sentence because of the seriousness of their crime or their low potential for rehabilitation or because what they did was so reprehensible that people feel they have no right to a conditional sentence. We need to trust our courts of law to assess these situations. There is no evidence to suggest that the judiciary has improperly used section 742 of the Criminal Code.

Motions in Amendment
Criminal Code
Government Orders

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

Leon Benoit Vegreville—Wainwright, AB

Mr. Speaker, I have listened this afternoon to members from the Liberals, the Bloc and the NDP. They all have something in common, something that separates them from the Conservatives.

When those parties are looking at criminal justice issues, they focus almost entirely on protecting the rights of the criminals. They forget there are victims in these crimes, and we are talking about some very serious crimes.

I suggest the members of these parties be more concerned with rebalancing the scales of justice so the rights of victims are put higher on their list of priorities. The rights of criminals are considered, but they are not the highest priority. I think that would be more in line with the thinking of Canadians.

Another thing I have noticed is that most of the members of the opposition do not see crimes, such as breaking and entering, as a serious crime. This is breaking into a sanctuary, supposedly a safe sanctuary for people, their homes. That differentiates the Conservative government from members of the opposition as well.

Until the thinking of the members opposite changes, they will never be on the same page as we are and as Canadians are. Would the member respond to that?

Motions in Amendment
Criminal Code
Government Orders

4:30 p.m.

Bloc

Réal Ménard Hochelaga, QC

Mr. Speaker, with all due respect for our Conservative colleague, many things differentiate us, but let us say that this is what separates us.

We are convinced that break and enter is a serious crime. I challenge the member to provide an example of when we stated that it is not. Why is it serious? Not only because the Supreme Court said so but also because we realize that our home is our castle and that when our privacy has been violated it is clearly a serious matter.

What is the penalty for break and enter? Life imprisonment. Is that not proof enough that the Criminal Code requires more than just a literal reading?

I repeat, we do not believe that conditional sentencing is a right and that it can be applied without any context. The difference between the Conservatives and ourselves is that we believe in the individualization of sentencing, we have faith in the judges and we refute the Conservatives' soapbox proposals. These solutions often follow an automatic process and so are not nuanced and are devoid of analysis.

Motions in Amendment
Criminal Code
Government Orders

4:35 p.m.

Langley
B.C.

Conservative

Mark Warawa Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of the Environment

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to ask a question of a member, with whom I was on the justice committee in the last Parliament. I greatly respect him. He is a very bright and articulate person, but I have great difficulties with his very lenient approaches to the justice system.

Motions in Amendment
Criminal Code
Government Orders

4:35 p.m.

An hon. member

Soft on crime.

Motions in Amendment
Criminal Code
Government Orders

4:35 p.m.

Conservative

Mark Warawa Langley, BC

He is soft on crime and has a hug a thug philosophy.

He said something that is not correct. He said that under conditional sentencing, the offender is under supervision. That sounds good, but in reality we need to ask the member what his definition is of supervision.

Supervision could be that the offender, who is supposed to be at home, could be seen once a week or once a month. However, that is not what Canadians understand as supervision. Full time supervision, having somebody watch the person all the time, is what they are assuming.

Motions in Amendment
Criminal Code
Government Orders

4:35 p.m.

Conservative

Dave Batters Palliser, SK

Jail.

Motions in Amendment
Criminal Code
Government Orders

4:35 p.m.

Conservative

Mark Warawa Langley, BC

How do we get supervision? We have just heard it, incarceration.

Canadians want to give offenders a chance, if they are first-time offenders and it is a minor offence. However, we are talking about people breaking into people's homes and auto crime, serious, high risk offenders. We are talking about very dangerous people. They will reoffend. Permitting them to serve their sentences at home, puts communities at risk.

Could the member define what he means by under supervision?

Motions in Amendment
Criminal Code
Government Orders

4:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

The hon. member for Hochelaga has 20 seconds to reply.

Motions in Amendment
Criminal Code
Government Orders

4:35 p.m.

Bloc

Réal Ménard Hochelaga, QC

Mr. Speaker, I agree more with what the member said in the first part of his remarks and less with his comments in the second part.

It is obvious that in cases of serious crime—and I repeat, break and enter can be a serious crime—conditional sentencing may not be appropriate.

We do not claim that it is indicated in all circumstances, we do not claim that it is a constitutional right, but we are stating that it may be appropriate in certain cases.

Motions in Amendment
Criminal Code
Government Orders

4:35 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I will not cover the ground already covered by the members from the Liberal Party and the Bloc. I will focus on a particular aspect of the amendments introduced in the House today.

The work the committee did and the amendments the committee proposed dealt with the most serious offences. It is unfortunate that the minister chose to introduce the amendments to this bill today when they could have gone to committee for full and open debate. The committee could have had some witnesses come forward to address some of the issues that have been raised in the House today.

I will focus on one particular group that would be adversely impacted by the proposed amendments in the House; that is the first nations, Métis and Inuit peoples.

We have had briefing notes from the Assembly of First Nations, in which they comment on the overrepresentation of first nations people in the criminal justice system. It is important that I highlight a couple of statistics the Assembly of First Nations has raised of the very serious concerns about the overrepresentation of first nations, Métis and Inuit peoples.

The assembly says that 2.7% of the population in Canada, as of March 31, are first nations, but they represent 18.5% of all federally incarcerated prisoners in Canada. In 2000 approximately 1,792, or 41.3% all federally incarcerated aboriginal offenders were 25 years or younger. That is a shocking number. The number of incarcerated aboriginal women has also steadily increased from 1996-97. In the year 2003-04, they represented an increase of 74.2% over seven years.

Those are numbers that we must deal with as a Parliament and as a nation.

In addition, the Assembly of First Nations also identified the fact that aboriginal offenders represented 12% of the overall number of conditional sentences. That is an important fact, and that is the item that is before this House today, in connection with sentences.

There a number of recommendations that the Assembly of First Nations had specifically made. One of them is that we continue with the aboriginal justice agreement, which had been in development. However, it also emphasizes the fact that restorative justice has played a role in harnessing the rate of overrepresentation of first nations people in the criminal justice system and it is more consistent with the values of first nations than the prison system and can result in restoring harmony in the communities.

Those are all very important factors that this House needs to consider.

I want to quote from a letter from the Teslin Tlingit Council. They wrote a letter, dated October 20, which included a briefing it sent to the justice committee. I want to quote from the letter because I think this is a very important element. It states:

Notably we are concerned with the Prime Minister's refusal to endorse the UN Declaration on Indigenous Rights which speak to the right of self-determination, as well as [the Minister for Public Safety's] response to the Federal Correction Report findings that First Nation inmates face discrimination within the Canadian justice system, followed by the recent federal bills tabled by [the Minister of Justice], which in our world view contribute to the already high rate of incarceration of First Nations people.

This is in context of the Teslin Tlingit's attempts to have a justice system as part of their agreed terms in their treaty.

In the briefing it provided to the committee, it indicated that:

Within the Yukon, conditional sentences had proven to be an effective instrument utilized by the Territorial Courts working with First Nation community processes, such as the Teslin Tlingit Peacemaker Sentencing Panel. Conditional sentences have contributed towards the promotion and exercise of community accountability and support of offenders to achieve the successful completion of their conditions, while also acknowledging and responding to the interest of those who have been victimized by a crime. The result is that families are kept together with a focus on balancing retribution and rehabilitation of the individual, which provides for the benefit of the overall community.

This element is important. A member of the government just talked about the fact that opposition parties have no concern for the victim. However, the Teslin Tlingit peoples specifically talk about the fact that conditional sentencing is an important element in not only considering the victim, but considering the overall health and well-being of the community. This element has been left out of the discussion.

In addition, the Teslin Tlingit have made a specific recommendation around what is perhaps a potential solution here. They say:

Consultation with First Nations would inform parliamentarians that the majority of offenders require social support to address root issues of self-destructive and offensive behaviour. Resources directed towards enforcement and institutions create a false sense of security for a short period of time. Institutional programing is often ineffective as the work is done in isolation of the realities of a community with little of the required changes to assist in the offender's reintegration to their family or community.

It is this overall comprehensive approach that all of us in this House would agree is very important. It is very important that there are enforcement regulations that do fit the crime, but we also feel that there need to be adequate resources in prevention and in support and rehabilitation.

In the recent annual report of the correctional investigator, we again have a report that talks about the disproportionate numbers of aboriginal peoples, first nations, Métis and Inuit peoples who are in prison. The investigator highlighted a couple of key elements. He said:

Over the past decade, our Annual Reports have made specific recommendations...addressing the systemic and discriminatory barriers that prevent Aboriginal offenders from full benefit of their statutory and constitutional rights and that significantly limit their timely and safe reintegration into the community.

He goes on to say that first nations, Métis and Inuit represent “18 per cent of the federal prison population though they amount to just 3 per cent of the general Canadian population”. He states that the correctional service does not control admissions to penitentiaries, but it does have the constitutional and statutory obligation to manage sentences in a culturally responsive and non-discriminatory manner.

Given the fact that we have this report from the correctional investigator which talks about systemic and discriminatory barriers, it would seem incumbent upon us to use other tools such as conditional sentences to make sure that first nations, Métis and Inuit peoples are receiving justice measures that are more culturally appropriate and to also deal with their overrepresentation in the current federal prison system.

He notes in his report that aboriginal women are overrepresented. I pointed to this earlier in the Assembly of First Nations statistics. He talks about the fact that aboriginal offenders, once in prison, are less likely to be granted temporary absences and parole or are granted parole later in their sentences, are more likely to have their parole suspended or revoked and are more likely to be classified at higher security levels. He says that is just as true today as it was 20 years ago, so clearly nothing much has changed in 20 years. It is a sad comment on the way the justice system has these systemic and discriminatory barriers.

In wrapping up, I want to re-emphasize the position that has been put forward by the Teslin Tlingit,which is that there should be consultation and the cultural perspective of first nations, Métis and Inuit communities needs to be taken into account.

I want to close by mentioning the importance of investing in community resources. There is a youth detox and youth stabilization program under way in my riding, run by a program manager and called ADAPT. This program is aimed at helping youth deal with addictions and substance abuse. The local RCMP officers in our community are actively involved in this program because it is a critical element in helping youth stay out of the prison system and also in working closely with the community to make sure that rehabilitation is there to help potential young offenders, their families and the community at large deal with some very serious issues.

I would urge members of the House to reject the amendments proposed by the government and get back to looking at the original bill, which actually deals with some very serious crime issues but also encourages us to look at conditional sentences as a tool before the courts to deal with some of the cultural issues facing first nations, Métis and Inuit communities.

Motions in Amendment
Criminal Code
Government Orders

4:45 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Lemieux Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

Mr. Speaker, while I thank the hon. member for her comments and thoughts, particularly on how this bill applies to our first nations people, my concern is that this particular bill is for all Canadians. While I do understand her concerns and I thank her for having voiced them here in the House, this particular bill is to get tough on crime for all Canadians.

I am a father of five children. I was reading through some of the offences that were gutted from the bill in committee. Quite frankly, it is shocking. I will read some of them now in the House for members.

For example, there is impaired driving causing bodily harm. What if I am walking down the street and someone has decided to drive while impaired and they hit my child? It is house arrest for that person.

Next is assault with a weapon. We are talking about a weapon and assaulting a fellow Canadian. Again it is house arrest.

Kidnapping and forcible confinement are next. Once again, I am concerned for my family and my children. I do not think I stand here alone. I believe I am speaking for Canadians who are worried about crime.

Next is abduction of persons under the age of 14. Four of my children are under the age of 14. This concerns me greatly.

Next is breaking and entering with intent. Here I would ask people to imagine themselves in their home when someone breaks in and enters their home. They have invaded our privacy. They have invaded our sanctuary. They may have assaulted us with a weapon at the same time. They are going to get house arrest.

Putting party politics aside, how do Canadians feel about these crimes? How do my colleagues feel about these crimes and this idea of house arrest for serious crimes such as these?

I have a question for my colleague. I understand my colleague's concerns, but how does she respond when the bill applies to all Canadians and to their concerns about family safety and their own personal safety within Canada?

Motions in Amendment
Criminal Code
Government Orders

4:50 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I only have to point to the statistics in the United States, where there are 700-plus people incarcerated per 100,000 of population and where supposedly there is this tough on crime approach. It clearly is not working.

Again, I think all members of the House would agree that for those very serious offences we should have a system that takes a look at appropriate incarceration, but I also think we need to ensure that our judiciary has a toolbox and a range of approaches that will allow them to make the most appropriate determination.

Certainly where there have been mistakes in the past, I think we have mechanisms to deal with those issues. I think we do need to also look at a comprehensive package, again, one that looks at incarceration and enforcement as one aspect of it, but we also need to look at the rehabilitation and the prevention. We have to make sure that our communities are addressing some of the poverty issues, for example, which we know drive people to some of those crimes.

We really do need to look at a broader picture so that we have a comprehensive package that makes sure Canadians are safe in their homes.

Motions in Amendment
Criminal Code
Government Orders

4:50 p.m.

Liberal

Gary Merasty Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River, SK

Mr. Speaker, there have been about three dozen aboriginal justice reports and inquiries over the last number of years, each pointing to the utilization of the strategies that the member talks about.

Would the member tell the House how she thinks Bill C-9 will continue to contribute to that negative stereotyping and those systemic barriers that are in the system today?

Motions in Amendment
Criminal Code
Government Orders

4:50 p.m.

NDP

Jean Crowder Nanaimo—Cowichan, BC

Mr. Speaker, I think that is one of the big challenges with the bill. It does not look at the systemic and discriminatory barriers that are already in place in the criminal justice system. It does nothing to address the poverty issues in first nations, Métis and Inuit communities that contribute to the kinds of challenges we have.

If as a society we want to say that we respect human rights, I think we really do need to look at a justice system that is also culturally appropriate. Bill C-9 fails to do that.