House of Commons Hansard #30 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was sentence.

Topics

Private Members' Business
Routine Proceedings

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Yes, Mr. Speaker, and I want to thank the Speaker for reminding the House of this matter.

It causes me some concern. I think the member who just spoke has raised some interesting points with regard to criteria and guidelines. I would suspect that a number of members are not familiar with what basis, rules, criteria or timelines they have with regard to arguing a case in terms of whether a royal recommendation is required.

Further, Mr. Speaker, as you pointed out, there is only one opportunity in a Parliament for a member of Parliament to do a private member's bill. Many members find themselves in a position where, because of the draw, they find themselves on the order of precedence and have already had to select a bill. By the time they get this letter, they may find themselves with a bill that in fact will not be votable and unfortunately puts them in an adverse circumstance relative to those who are not on the order paper at the time.

Consequently, I wonder if there would be unanimous consent of the House to have the matter covered by your statement today referred to the procedure and House affairs committee to address the questions that have been raised by the member for Hochelaga—Maisonneuve and by me.

Private Members' Business
Routine Proceedings

3:50 p.m.

Some hon. members

Yes.

No.

Private Members' Business
Routine Proceedings

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

It does not appear that there is consent, but hon. members can appear before the procedure and House affairs committee at their whim and ask the committee to consider matters at this time and come back with a report to the House at the committee's leisure. We know the procedure and House affairs committee is a particularly industrious group of members and “at their leisure” is often very quickly. I have a feeling that we may hear from them, if necessary. I have suggested the same thing in the statement I just gave the House.

The hon. member for Hochelaga has the floor again.

Private Members' Business
Routine Proceedings

3:50 p.m.

Bloc

Réal Ménard Hochelaga, QC

Mr. Speaker, did I understand correctly that the list you gave of the bills that cause you some concern included the bill presented by our colleague from Gatineau? Is that a mistake, or does it relate to an anti-scab provision? I do not understand, because this is a bill that has been introduced several times. However, I may have misunderstood. Are you concerned about that bill?

Private Members' Business
Routine Proceedings

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

I merely said that in my opinion, there are potential problems with these bills. I invited members who are wondering about this or who are asking for a ruling from the Speaker on this question to speak up before third reading. As the hon. member well knows, there can be debate at second reading, in committee and at the report stage. However, at third reading, if spending is proposed and, in my opinion, the bills do not meet the requirements of rule 79.1, they may not be voted on in this House.

The hon. member for Hochelaga has the floor once again.

Private Members' Business
Routine Proceedings

3:50 p.m.

Bloc

Réal Ménard Hochelaga, QC

Mr. Speaker, I do not want to waste the time of this House, but I would like to understand this better. The bill in question adds provisions to the Labour Code. It has been introduced and debated in this House on several occasions already. In strictly parliamentary terms, it would be difficult to understand why it was acceptable in the past and now is not, when its content is virtually identical. Can you provide us with some further explanation on that point?

Private Members' Business
Routine Proceedings

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

Yes, the difficulty is very clearly explained in the ruling I gave the House on this entire matter. There is a procedure in place. Bills may be introduced in the House and they may be debated, but a ruling will be given only once they reach third reading. I am sure that the bill to which the hon. member refers has not been voted on at third reading. That is the important thing. Votes may be held before that, but it is only at that stage that there will be a problem.

I encourage the hon. member, and all other hon. members, to read the Speaker’s ruling that I have just given here, in the House, so that he understands it better, because I realize that it is somewhat technical.

The House resumed from May 29 consideration of the motion that Bill C-9, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (conditional sentence of imprisonment) be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

3:55 p.m.

Bloc

Réal Ménard Hochelaga, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in connection with Bill C-9, introduced by the Minister of Justice in April as part of the government's so-called reform of criminal justice. Let me speak frankly; this bill has a very clearly avowed objective, which is to shift our justice system to the right.

What is even more worrying—and this will definitely not be the last time I have occasion to say so in this House—is that the government has an ideological approach to justice that can in no way be supported by statistics, rigour or documented analysis.

Furthermore, when the Minister of Justice, a former attorney general in his province, Manitoba, appeared before our committee to defend his interim supply, I had an opportunity to ask him a few questions about conditional sentences and sentencing in general. I have to say I did not get my intellectual fill. In fact, I was left hungry for answers.

What is it about? Bill C-9 wants to limit the use of conditional sentences. It would mean that all crimes—the crimes, not the people being sentenced—punishable by 10 years in prison... Since I have the privilege of addressing this House for 20 minutes—and this will go by very quickly as the member for Longueuil—Pierre-Boucher knows—I will have a chance to say more about the details of offences punishable by more than 10 years.

Let us begin with some background. I do not wish to revive bad memories for the House, but it was the former Minister of Justice, Allan Rock, today a diplomat and spokesperson for Canada at the United Nations, who introduced a bill in 1996. At that time, I had been in this House for three years, since I was elected in 1993.

Actually, in 1996, the government and various organizations responsible for law enforcement realized that Canada was one of the countries that had most recourse to imprisonment. Of course, the U.S. was also among these countries. We know that the prison population in the U.S. is about 700 per 100,000 inhabitants. Canada’s prison population at that time was about 133 or 134, and then dropped to 123 or 122, depending on the year. As we know, the U.S. does not hesitate to resort to imprisonment.

In 1996 therefore, Allan Rock, Minister of Justice and Solicitor General, tabled a bill to allow an alternative to imprisonment. It provided for the possibility of conditional sentences in certain circumstances: for crimes punishable by less than two years in prison, for individuals who did not pose any danger to society, and in cases in which there was no minimum sentence.

I repeat this because I have often heard analysts and journalists say that conditional sentences were always totally discretionary. That is not true. Our fellow citizens and parliamentary colleagues must know that when a judge wants to impose a sentence to be served in the community, certain criteria must be met. I remind the House because it is important to be aware of them: the offender must be guilty of an offence for which there is no minimum sentence, it is a crime punishable by less than two years in prison, and of course, there cannot be any threat to public safety. It is a question of secure communities. The judge must be convinced that accused who serve their sentences in the community do not pose any danger.

Finally—and this is important—according to section 718 of the Criminal Code, the judge must be convinced that a conditional sentence is consistent with the principle that sentences must be proportionate.

I say again and hope I do not have to repeat it: everything pertaining to sentencing is related to section 718 of the Criminal Code. There is still the proportionality principle. Obviously, if there is a petty thief and a first-degree murderer, it is expected that they will be sentenced accordingly. This is the very basis of our criminal justice system.

Conditional sentences of imprisonment are not discretionary. They were first proposed by the justice minister at the time, Mr. Allan Rock. They appeared at a time when too many people were being jailed. According to the statistics for 1996 and previous years, 50% of these people were imprisoned because they did not pay their fines. The social question that arises is: how much does it cost society to send someone to jail? I have a few statistics here that I will discuss a little later, although I will not keep members waiting long because I know how interested everyone is in these matters.

In 2002-03, what was the average annual cost of incarcerating an inmate in a provincial institution? We must remember that a sentence of two years or less is served in a provincial institution, while a sentence of two years or more is served in a federal institution. What was the average annual cost to incarcerate an inmate in a provincial institution? Do my colleagues have an idea?

Criminal Code
Government Orders

4 p.m.

An hon. member

$75,000.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

4 p.m.

Bloc

Réal Ménard Hochelaga, QC

The hon. member for Trois-Rivières says $75,000. She is not very far off. The cost is $51,450.

Conversely, what is the cost to society when an offender or accused person is on mandatory supervision in the community? That costs the government $1,792.

In debating these matters, it is important to keep safety imperatives in mind. No one wants people released into our communities who might pose a threat. There is a consensus on this. However, we realize that there is a very big difference here.

In 1996, the following question was asked: how can we adopt and implement custodial alternatives which help relieve the congestion in our prisons while curtailing the offender's freedom? Canada was one of the western countries that made the most use of incarceration, particularly for unpaid fines.

Still, one can acknowledge that there was a degree of defensible rationality to this alternative to imprisonment. I repeat—it is not easy to be constantly repeating the same thing, but it is necessary for educational purposes—that conditional sentences of imprisonment apply to terms of under two years.

The problem with the minister’s bill, which in any case is a very bad bill, is that the minister is still under the illusion that this bill is going to be passed in committee in speedy and expeditious fashion. I must regretfully inform you that, in committee, all the necessary questions will be asked and all the necessary witnesses will be called. There will be no question of acting in haste, which would be alien to our duty of thorough investigation and analysis, a duty which the Bloc has never shirked.

The bill is being proposed by the Minister of Justice, a man with an ideological bent and a friend whom I respect because he is motivated to serve. However, we shall not let the Minister of Justice don the garb and shoes of George W. Bush, as if there were no difference between Canadian society, Quebec society and the United States.

This idea that the principle of conditional sentencing has to be restricted was imported from the United States. The minister seems to want to follow the same line as the Americans, and he thinks that what is good for them is good for Canadians or for Quebeckers. I think he is wrong.

Let us not get off topic and get away from what the bill proposes. Clearly, just because an offence carries a 10-year prison term under the Criminal Code, that does not mean that the sentencing judge—or the jury in the case of a jury trial—will sentence the offender to 10 years. This is obvious. But the minister's bill will mean that a conditional sentence cannot be imposed for any Criminal Code offence that carries a 10-year prison term.

Clearly, this does not pose a problem for the worst crimes, the most horrible or heinous offences. I am the last person who would be soft on someone who committed criminal negligence causing bodily harm. We understand that that is an act that carries a very serious consequence, although we believe in the principle of rehabilitation, of course.

What does pose a problem is that, without making any distinction, the minister took or had his officials take the list of offences punishable by more than 10 years in prison and, in every single case, without any sort of qualification, said that there would be no more conditional sentences. I have some examples. Theft of $5,000 is deplorable, of course. People should not steal from their neighbours. Nonetheless, we cannot say that someone who has committed theft is, by definition, a threat to people's safety and that a conditional sentence is never warranted.

We understand that cattle rustling is problematic too, especially for ranchers, whose livelihood is affected. But can we equate this with an offence causing bodily harm or this type of crime? I do not think so. We could also talk about unauthorized computer use, mail theft or things like that.

What bothers me about this bill is its lack of nuance. This is probably its most dreadful flaw, and it is consistent with the government's ideology. It is as if the government did not trust the judiciary, those elevated to the rank of judge. The golden rule in administering justice should always be to individualize the sentence. Who better than the judges, or juries in trials by jury, can appreciate the evidence and sequence of events and determine what took place?

Are studies available? In the amicable tone I am known for, when the minister was in front of me at the Standing Committee on Justice, I asked him whether his department had any studies suggesting that judges were not handing down appropriate sentences or that they abused conditional sentencing. I asked where this attitude of suspicion toward the judiciary came from. I must say that the minister was not particularly eloquent; in fact, he did very poorly. I mean no disrespect, but he was incredibly boring. All in all, he said nothing. I cannot understand that a bill as essential to the administration of justice as this one has been put forward without some well-documented and scientifically sound studies to support it.

Should it be demonstrated to us when the bill is considered—and I am sure that the hon. member for Châteauguay—Saint-Constant will work with me with a similar mindset, because we in the Bloc are not dogmatic—that the use of conditional sentences has become excessively widespread, we will be prepared to reconsider. This does not appear to be the case, however.

In fact, when I met with senior public servants, I was rather surprised to hear some of the things they had to say. As for as sentencing goes, conditional sentences—where time is served in the community—come with conditions, as their name suggests.

Quite often one of the conditions is to be at home. This was established by the Supreme Court.

This is punishment and loss of liberty we are talking about.

Again, it seems easy to understand why this is not an option for the most heinous crimes. Nonetheless, it is this generalization of the 10-year rule that scares us.

In the administration of justice, the use of conditional sentencing is quite limited. During the years being considered, it seems that 5% to 10% of the people who ended up in court had to serve their sentence in the community.

I will give you some statistics that I got from the deputy ministers when I spoke with them at the briefing session we attended when the bill was tabled. The deputy ministers said, “The most recent statistics estimate that roughly a third of the 15,493 conditional sentences in 2003-04 could not have been handed down could not have been handed down if there were 10-year maximum terms of imprisonment”.

I understand that more recent data was not available.

We see that it is limited, but the bill is still quite worrisome, especially since Quebec's public safety minister, Mr. Dupuis, member for Saint-Laurent and deputy premier of Quebec was worried about the bill. If we do not allow the use of conditional sentences for people who are sentenced to at least two years, where will they end up? They will end up in Quebec's penitentiaries and prisons.

Has anyone asked the minister about this? Does his department have enough money to transfer to the provinces to fulfill this new obligation? Of course not.

We are quite worried. Allow me to say they will be long in getting this bill. We will call in witnesses, we will ask questions and we will do a thorough job of it because there is a limit to accepting ideological debates. We all have ideologies in this House, but when ideologies supersede responsibility and bills are tabled that are not backed by studies, we have to wonder.

In short, I will have the opportunity to talk about Bill C-10 when it arrives. I spent my summer reading up on sentencing. I would like to thank my leader for making me responsible for justice issues. I have read the literature on sentencing; there are no Canadian studies showing a correlation between sentencing and deterrence.

We know quite well that the sentence is not as great a deterrent as the fear of being caught.

The member for Marc-Aurèle-Fortin is an individual whom I consult on a regular basis as a former justice minister. I have discussed this matter with him and he has confirmed my convictions: we were of like minds on this issue. It is always reassuring to know that I share the beliefs of the member for Marc-Aurèle-Fortin in matters of justice.

In the minute remaining, I would like to conclude with the following four statements: this is a bad bill; it is a bill that is not well thought out; the minister cannot don the garb and shoes of George W. Bush without being accountable to this House for the consequences of Bill C-9; the Government of Quebec is not in agreement with this bill nor are those who believe in social rehabilitation.

I invite all colleagues in this House to reject this bill. I believe that we must continue to advocate, when warranted, for placing our trust in the judiciary, in the judges who are in the best position to decide the sentence. Nothing would make me happier than to have this bill defeated.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

4:15 p.m.

Liberal

Brian Murphy Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Mr. Speaker, first, I tip my hat to the members from Quebec for the Memorial Cup win by the Quebec Remparts. I would point out, however, that their goalie comes from New Brunswick.

I thank the members for their comments. I believe that the government has another goal in mind in introducing this bill. It is not motivated by justice, as the member said. I believe that there is a political goal. The John Howard Society—which is not an admiration society for the Prime Minister of Australia, but another society by the same name—has denounced this bill. In the press, it said that a political party like the Conservative Party was pursuing a political goal by giving the public the impression that there has been an increase in crime. And that is not the case.

I would like to know whether the member believes that this may be the government’s motive.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

4:15 p.m.

Bloc

Réal Ménard Hochelaga, QC

Mr. Speaker, on behalf of my colleague, the member for Québec, and all members in this House, I am pleased to accept the good wishes of our colleague for the extraordinary win by the Remparts. We know that it was not easy. In the circumstances, one might have hoped that this would be contagious, and would be caught by the Montreal Canadiens. But that is all in the past now.

The member is correct. There is something extremely wrong—is that parliamentary language? I am of course using it without implying any malice. But there is indeed something very wrong with this bill, because it is guided by ideology. It is not based on meaningful and conclusive data.

That is why it is important that we be able to deal with it in more detail in committee. The member talked about the John Howard Society, and I know that there are other groups that want to appear before the committee. It is very important that we provide a forum for these people to speak. Once again, I would call attention to this idea that the criminal justice system must be modeled on what is done in the United States, without giving it any further thought, and without understanding what kind of society American society is and what impact that has on incarceration rates.

Our colleague is well advised to share our concern. I know that we will be able to work together on this matter in committee.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

4:15 p.m.

Bloc

Christian Ouellet Brome—Missisquoi, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate my colleague from Hochelaga for his very clear speech.

I would just like to ask him the following question: Does he know, or has he considered what will happen the day we have to incarcerate more people, more youths and more women? Why more women? Allow me to explain.

In my former life—I have been around for a while—I was an architect and I designed prisons. At the time, there was no talk of remission of sentence. Judges offered convicted individuals the option of serving their time on weekends only, so that women in particular could stay home and look after their children during the week.

Then what happened? We had to create huge spaces, almost as big as this one, to house all of the people who served their time on weekends. This way of doing things was very costly for prisons, because the facilities were not used during the week.

Will the hon. member for Hochelaga share his thoughts on the relationships youths and women establish and maintain in prison? We know how and where groups of friends develop. I would like to know whether he thinks that in this type of situation, groups of friends develop that are not necessarily desirable.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

4:20 p.m.

Bloc

Réal Ménard Hochelaga, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for sharing this with us and for his very good question, which brings me to the following two comments: first of all, the member seems to be asking whether prison itself is not a good school for crime. Clearly, those who proposed in 1996 that sentences be served in the community had concerns similar to those described by the Bloc member for Brome—Missisquoi, which will remain a Bloc Québécois riding.

Furthermore, there are others, such as Professor Marie-Ève Sylvestre at the University of Ottawa who is doing her doctoral thesis on such matters. Who ends up in prison? Often, it is the most marginalized groups. Unfortunately, aboriginals are often over-represented in prison compared to their numbers in the general population. This is also true for the less privileged.

The member is entirely right to say that, apart from this general use of incarceration, there are social concerns that must be considered before adopting bills such as the one proposed by the Conservative government.