House of Commons Hansard #32 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was aboriginal.

Topics

Questions on the Order paper
Routine Proceedings

12:10 p.m.

The Speaker

Is that agreed?

Questions on the Order paper
Routine Proceedings

12:10 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

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

Criminal Code
Government Orders

12:10 p.m.

Bloc

Nicole Demers Laval, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is with some degree of concern that I rise in this House today to speak on Bill C-9. I am concerned because the government's recent policy statements are aligning us increasingly on American policies and because prisons, which account for 25% of Quebec's spending on policing and criminal justice, do little to reduce crime overall.

According to a study by Pierre Lalande entitled “Punir ou réhabiliter les contrevenants?”, which discusses the merits of punishing versus rehabilitating offenders, mass incarceration does take a toll on the lives of those who are imprisoned and those around them. Some authors suggest that there are very well-documented categories of collateral effects of imprisonment.

First, there are various effects on the future lives of individuals who are incarcerated, in the sense that they will have a harder time finding work when they are released.

Then, there are effects on their physical and mental health, including psychological problems inherent in spending time inside, and risks associated with the numerous communicable diseases, such as HIV and hepatitis, encountered in penal institutions.

With respect to family life, there are consequences on the relationship between spouses and consequences on the children.

The consequences on family, employment and income make the risk of reoffending high.

Finally, the community at large is made to suffer because of mass incarceration. Money is spent on that at the expense of higher education and other public programs and services, which could otherwise be much more extensive, thus countering poverty and giving people less of a reason to resort to petty theft to feed themselves and their children and put a roof over their heads. Add to that the problems experienced by prison staff.

In addition, there is a lot of research on the effectiveness of imprisonment to suggest that, upon release, offenders are just as likely to reoffend as they were when they arrived.

The conclusion is obvious: prisons do not ensure the rehabilitation of offenders. Some limited experiments have shown that carefully planned programs might reduce recidivism, provided that they address the situations and attitudes that have landed offenders in jail or prison in the first place.

In 2002-03, the average annual cost of detaining an individual in a provincial or territorial institution was $51,454, as compared to a mere $1,792 to monitor an offender within the community.

Conditional sentencing has a significant effect on the rate of fresh detentions, which have decreased by 13% since conditional sentencing came into effect. Thanks to this measure, some 55,000 fewer offenders were in custody. They were able to take part in rehabilitation programs.

According to a study on victims of crime and their attitude toward conditional sentencing this type of sentence had several advantages. Among other things, most rehabilitation programs can be more effectively implemented when the offender is in the community rather than in custody.

In my previous work, before I was a member of Parliament, I often dealt with people conditionally sentenced to do community work. This was always a success. Furthermore, most of these people did not go back to prison later.

Prison is no more effective a deterrent than more severe intermediate punishments, such as enhanced probation or home confinement. Keeping offenders in custody is significantly more expensive than supervising them in the community.

The public has become more supportive of community-based sentencing, except for serious crimes of violence. I can understand why. The Bloc Québécois has always been an advocate for victims of serious crimes of violence.

Widespread interest in restorative justice has sparked interest in community-based sanctions. Restorative justice initiatives seek to promote the interests of the victim at all stages of the criminal justice process, but particularly at the sentencing stage.

The virtues of community-based sanctions include the saving of valuable correctional resources and the ability of the offender to continue or seek employment and maintain ties with his or her family. After having been incarcerated in their youth and receiving a prison sentence, it is very difficult for persons to find work when they leave prison when they have no work experience and have problems as a result of a troubled childhood. If, however, they have had access to rehabilitation programs, it is much easier because they have already gained some work experience in the community.

David Paciocco, who is a criminal law professor at the University of Ottawa, said:

It is inconceivable to think that all the offences that lead to a 10-year sentence or more are invariably serious offences in every concrete case.

He added that preventing the use of conditional sentences for all such offences would not only send many people to prison who do not belong there, but it would also likely lead judges and lawyers to find ways to get around the restriction. Judges could increase the requirements in terms of evidence of guilt, while prosecutors could lay less serious charges in order to leave the option of a conditional sentence.

Furthermore, the executive director of the John Howard Society of Saskatchewan, Mike Dunphy, said that 33% of the criminals sentenced to house arrest in 2005 would have ended up in prison under the provisions of Bill C-9. Thus, prisons would need 33% more beds, employees and programs to serve the inmates.

At this time, conditional sentences are often longer than prison sentences. When prisoners are released early on parole, they move freely in the community under conditions that are less rigorous than if they were under house arrest.

Offenders also have a better chance if they are reintegrated into the community by living at home under strict conditions rather than languishing in prisons, exposed to the influence of other criminals. Long periods in prison without other rehabilitation programs tend to increase the risk of recidivism after release.

Moreover, the cost of prolonged incarceration would invariably lead to cuts in social services, educational services and employment opportunities.

The United States punishes its criminals more severely than Canada, yet its crime rate is five times higher than here.

Since the victims of violence are always at the core of our concerns and given that the Bloc Québécois has always defended the importance of taking them into consideration, especially when it comes to setting parole conditions, if Bill C-9 had been reasonable and had limited its effect to excluding the more violent crimes that are not already excluded, such as kidnapping a person under age 14, sexual assault with a weapon or aggravated sexual assault, rather than drawing up an arbitrary, endless list of offences, the Bloc Québécois would have undoubtedly supported such a bill. However, in its current form, we will vote against this bill.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

12:20 p.m.

Conservative

Daniel Petit Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, QC

Mr. Speaker, first I want to thank my colleague for expressing her opinion on conditional sentences. I have a specific question for her. In Quebec, there is a huge problem with drunk drivers who cause accidents that kill people. It is a scourge.

Currently, under the conditions that are imposed upon them, some offenders can benefit from a conditional sentence. The amendment we are proposing will eliminate this option or at least will make its use very difficult.

Here is my question. How can my colleague explain the fact that she is against this bill? Not only drunk drivers who hit and kill someone can benefit from a conditional sentence—meaning that they will be serving their sentence at home—but, in Quebec, they have the privilege of receiving 90% of their salary. Indeed, during that period, if they are injured and cannot work, they will be receiving money. Not only do they serve their sentence at home, but they are paid.

I am asking my colleague to explain to me why she is against this bill.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

12:20 p.m.

Bloc

Nicole Demers Laval, QC

Mr. Speaker, I understand my colleague's concerns. I also understand the helplessness one can feel when dealing with such situations. However, judges have always shown their competence in sentencing.

We must also recognize that some accidents happen without alcohol being involved; they are caused by speeding and other factors. Over the last few years, contrary to what my colleague is claiming, there has been a significant decline in the number of accidents caused by excessive drinking, thanks to the great wisdom shown by the Government of Quebec and to Éduc'alcool, that put in place very interesting programs to educate young people about the problems related to excessive drinking.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

12:25 p.m.

NDP

Bill Siksay Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member for yet another thoughtful intervention in this place. She always manages to do that.

I was very interested to hear her talk about the economics of this bill and the costs associated with it. When I spoke earlier today, I talked as well about the increased cost of incarcerating people, the increased cost to the provinces of incarcerating people, and how I would rather see that money go into crime prevention programs.

Quebec has been a real leader in crime prevention programs. Many years ago Quebec undertook to put money into that kind of process rather than into incarcerating, especially youth who commit crimes. I wonder if the member could comment on that program in Quebec and generally on what the $250 million, which some estimates are that this will cost the provinces, might be better spent on to prevent crime in the first place.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

12:25 p.m.

Bloc

Nicole Demers Laval, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for his question.

Indeed what we have seen in Quebec is a success story thanks to the various reintegration and rehabilitation programs that have been put in place for young people. In fact, we believe that when young people get in trouble with the law, it is often because they come from a very difficult background created by poverty.

Therefore, if there is one problem that should be dealt with here, it is poverty. It is the cause of most crimes committed by young people as well as by adults. If people had enough money for food and housing, if they had access to adequate housing, they would be a lot prouder and would not be so much inclined to commit various types of crimes.

In Quebec, we made a point of putting in place adequate programs to help young people who have taken a wrong turn to get back on the right track, so to speak. I do believe that government funds would be put to a much better use if they were used to fund similar programs in the other provinces.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

12:25 p.m.

NDP

Irene Mathyssen London—Fanshawe, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill C-9, a bill which has been referred to as the amendment to conditional sentencing. As my fellow members of Parliament are aware, the bill amends section 742.1 of the Criminal Code to provide that a person convicted of an offence prosecuted by way of indictment, for which the maximum term of imprisonment is 10 years or more, is not eligible for a conditional sentence.

As I am sure my fellow members are also aware, conditional sentencing introduced in September 1996 allows for sentences of imprisonment to be served in the community rather than in a correctional facility. This gives judges some freedom to take into account individual circumstances and allow for sentencing that fits with the crime committed.

Judges can take into account such things as the gravity of the offence and the degree of responsibility of the offender. For offences that are less serious, judges can choose conditional sentencing. Our jails are seriously overcrowded and underfunded. In 1996 conditional sentencing was seen as a way to ease the burden.

By taking away conditional sentencing, we are second-guessing our judges and limiting their ability to address individual circumstances. Another positive function of conditional sentencing is the ability for judges to provide opportunities for those convicted to acknowledge their crime and even make reparation.

The intention of this type of sentencing was to divert more minor offences out of the prison system. However, I certainly recognize that there is a real concern that conditional sentencing is being used for serious crime such as sexual assault, violent crime and driving offences involving death or serious bodily harm. These are the crimes that merit this amendment. However, I am also very concerned that this amendment to the Criminal Code can do more harm than good. We do not want to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

The Conservative government will provide money for federal jails, but this law as is will mean most of the increased jail terms will be spent in provincial facilities. The government should not be downloading the effects of its crime agenda to the provinces without support to hire more local police, expand youth initiatives, and increase and improve provincial jail capacity.

In the United Nations Vienna Declaration on Crime and Justice it states that:

--adequate prevention and rehabilitation programmes are fundamental to an effective crime control strategy, and that such programmes should take into account social and economic factors which may make people more vulnerable to, and likely to engage in criminal behaviour.

The declaration also stresses that “a fair, responsible, ethical and efficient criminal justice system is an important factor in the promotion of economic and social development and of human security”. Eliminating conditional sentencing will not address these concerns made by the UN declaration, but it will increase the population in Canada's jails and will do nothing to address the sources of crime.

One of the key issues that the UN declaration points to is poverty. It calls for countries “to create a conducive environment for the fight against organized crime, promoting growth and sustainable development and eradicating poverty and unemployment”.

What we really need to do to prevent crime is to go to the source. More often than not, that source is poverty. Crime is often a signal that something is terribly wrong with our social safety net, that people are falling through the cracks. Filling up our jails is like putting a band-aid on a broken arm. It looks like we are doing something, but we are not addressing the real problem.

We have seen the Conservative tough on crime attitude before. In Ontario, Mike Harris instituted privately run boot camps in order to get tough on youth crime. These were found to do very little to prevent crime or rehabilitate youth. The facilities charged high rates to taxpayers and did nothing. In combination with these initiatives, the Harris government cut social assistance rates, clawed back the child tax benefit, cancelled funding for second stage housing, cancelled affordable housing projects, reduced funding for women's shelters, and closed down youth initiatives and after school programs.

One particular women's shelter in my riding was forced to cancel a program that offered help to children who were traumatized by domestic violence.

All of the Harris cuts were directed at low income families. It is my greatest fear that we are heading down the same road with the federal Conservatives.

The tough on crime attitude is apparent in Bill C-9 and Bill C-10. Every day I have someone new come to my office asking if funding for one of the many social programs for women and youth will be cut after March 2007.

I am sure some of my fellow members of Parliament are thinking that the link between crime and poverty is not as critical as I suggest. Quite simply, it is. To make my case I want to address the situation of incarcerated women.

Women in the Canadian penitentiary system have the highest rate of HIV and mental illness of any group of women in Canada. Surely a prison is not the institution to respond to someone who is ill.

Forty per cent of incarcerated women are illiterate and 80% have been physically or sexually abused. They were victims long before they resorted to crime. Two-thirds of these women have children. Many had unstable housing at the time of incarceration and 80% were unemployed at the time they were sentenced to jail.

It is obvious that women who are incarcerated are victims of violence and poverty themselves. If we take the brave step to eradicate poverty perhaps we can eliminate much of the need for incarceration.

The Conservative plan to eliminate conditional sentencing will have a significant impact on female inmates in particular. As I previously noted, two-thirds of the women currently incarcerated have children. If conditional sentences are continued for non-violent crimes, these women will have an opportunity to put their lives back on track and may be able to have a relationship with their children. A 10 year jail term would kill any chance of that.

I am very concerned that the Conservatives have gone too far with the bill. Where are the provisions for the prevention of crime?

I referred earlier to the actions of Mike Harris in Ontario. The punitive approach he took to the needs of vulnerable communities has consequences. We live with those consequences now. If a human being is beaten down by the loss of hope and opportunity, eventually that human being will strike back. Have we learned nothing from the Harris legacy?

We have seen an increase in poverty and despair. Last week the United Nations social, economic and cultural council issued a scathing report condemning Canada for being inactive in key areas of social development. We have failed Canadians when it comes to safe, affordable child care, affordable housing and care for abused women. How on earth would the bill change that neglect?

Criminal Code
Government Orders

12:35 p.m.

Conservative

Patricia Davidson Sarnia—Lambton, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened with interest to the member's discussion on the bill and the comments she made with respect to the Harris government. Being a member from Ontario I am well aware of the Harris government policies and of what happened in the province.

I also well remember the NDP government under the leadership of Bob Rae and the great consternation and problems that government caused the province.

However, getting back to the legislation that we are supposed to be dealing with today, does the member not believe that we should be fighting for safer streets, safer neighbourhoods and safer lives for our women and children?

Criminal Code
Government Orders

12:35 p.m.

NDP

Irene Mathyssen London—Fanshawe, ON

Mr. Speaker, absolutely, we should be fighting for safer streets and safer situations for women and children. However, with such punitive measures as the ones we saw from the Harris government, we will never be able to achieve those.

I find it very interesting, in talking about poverty, that it does relate to women. We all know that women earn two-thirds of what men earn and that many of them are in situations where they cannot look after their families and children. Just yesterday the committee on the status of women had a vote on pay equity, something that is vital to the future of women so they can provide for their families, pull their children out of poverty and not have to face violence and despair, but the Conservative members of the committee voted against tabling a bill on pay equity.

They speak out of one side of the mouth about safety for women and children and then vote against women in a committee that is supposed to stand up for the rights of women. It is despicable.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

12:35 p.m.

Liberal

Alan Tonks York South—Weston, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am sure the House was greatly interested in and moved by the comments made by the previous speaker, in particular as it relates to those statistics that apply to women.

As the member was speaking I was reminded of the closing down of community based facilities in an attempt to replace prison-like settings with a more moral, humane and activist kind of setting as it relates to women who find themselves in the category subscribed by the member and in the conditions she described.

In terms of the conditional sentencing provisions, would the member like to see more flexibility provided through the courts for women who could receive the kind of support that is required through the probation and parole systems but would find them in more of a community setting where there are far more supports that would be relevant to the kinds of needs that they might have?

Criminal Code
Government Orders

12:35 p.m.

NDP

Irene Mathyssen London—Fanshawe, ON

Mr. Speaker, that points back to my remarks in terms of the situations that keep women in prisons, such as illiteracy, sexual and physical abuse and unemployment. Those are the things that make women's lives very difficult and that clearly underscore their victimization.

We need to improve our literacy programs. We need to ensure that women who have been sexually abused receive the care, the support and the counselling they need. We also need to ensure they have the training to seek employment and look after their children.

I would come back to not just employment to provide for their children but equal employment that includes equal pay for equal work.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

12:40 p.m.

Liberal

Tina Keeper Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am proud to speak to this important bill, Bill C-9, an act to amend the Criminal Code (conditional sentence of imprisonment).

Since being introduced in September 1996, conditional sentencing has allowed for sentences of imprisonment to be served in the community rather than through incarceration. It has served as an effective means of keeping less serious offenders out of jail and yet it is more than probation which focuses on rehabilitation and reintegration by adding a punitive measure.

It was in 1996 when conditional sentencing was introduced and the primary goal of conditional sentencing was to provide an alternative to incarceration, an alternative sentencing mechanism to the courts, and it also provided an opportunity to further incorporate restorative justice concepts into the sentencing process.

My Liberal colleagues and I set the safety and security of the Canadian public at a high priority and wish to pass appropriate legislation that reflects the realities and complexities of Canada's justice system and its citizens.

In support of this priority, in October 2005 the justice minister of the day, the hon. member for Mount Royal, introduced Bill C-70 which had received first reading but which died on the order paper. It focused largely on preventing those who were convicted of crimes that caused serious personal injury from receiving conditional sentences.

Bill C-70 added the following condition:

The court shall not order that an offender serve his or her sentence in the community if the offender has been convicted of any of the following offences, unless the court is satisfied that it is in the interests of justice to do so because of exceptional circumstances: (a) a serious personal injury offence as defined in section 752; (b) a terrorism offence; (c) a criminal organization offence; and (d) an offence in respect of which, on the basis of the nature and circumstances of the offence, the expression of society's denunciation should take precedence over any other sentencing objectives.

The bill also would have required the court to include in the record a statement of the exceptional circumstances that it considered if it chose to grant a conditional sentence.

Bill C-70 would therefore have been successful in addressing the practical weaknesses of conditional sentences without compromising the effectiveness of the corrections and justice systems as a whole.

On the other hand, the current government's proposed Bill C-9 wishes to amend the Criminal Code of Canada by mandating that a conditional sentence will no longer be an option for anyone convicted of an offence prosecuted by indictment that carries a maximum prison sentence of 10 years or more. Removing the application of conditional sentences in this regard could result in an uneven application of justice and it adds nearly 100 offences under the Criminal Code in which sentencing would no longer apply. It would result in various damaging implications throughout our country.

I also would like to mention that we must consider the disproportionate number of aboriginal people who are incarcerated. One of the most evident consequences of the bill would be a further influx of aboriginal Canadians into the prison system. This influx arrives at a time when the government ought to be taking appropriate measures to reduce the over-representation in the penal system of aboriginal peoples.

While aboriginal groups make up less than 5% of the population in Canada, as of March 31, 2004 they represent approximately 20% of all federally incarcerated prisoners in Canada. First nations over-representation in the criminal justice system has steadily increased over the past 10 years. While the federally incarcerated population in Canada steadily declined by 12.5% from 1996 to 2004, the number of first nations people in federal institutions has increased by 21.7% during this same period. To break these figures down further, the number of incarcerated aboriginal women has also steadily increased 74.2% over the last seven years.

There is no other group in the country that will be moved out of the community and into the prisons more quickly than aboriginal Canadians. Throwing people in jail is apparently easier to the government than addressing root causes or addressing the concept of restorative justice. The Conservative government should prepare itself for a serious reality check because its solution to such challenges will only perpetuate matters further.

There is a strong correlation between socio-economic disadvantages and involvement with the criminal justice system. This requires serious attention to ameliorate the vicious cycle. Restorative justice has played a role in harnessing the rate of overrepresentation of first nations peoples in the criminal justice system and has been an integral tool in healing strategies.

In contrast with the Conservatives' Bill C-9, restorative justice acts as a comprehensive system of justice with effective results. Ultimately, at the end of the day Canada's most vulnerable group will experience yet another blow by the government, which unfortunately, seems to be very common these days.

Everyone in the House I am sure will agree that we all want safer communities for our friends and families. This consensus can be met through effective and fair legislation.

I urge the government and, indeed, all members of the House to support a justice system in Canada that takes into consideration the true complexities of conditional sentencing and develop legislation that reflects this ideal rather than the short-sighted, irresponsible approach that the Conservative government is determined to impose.

Criminal Code
Government Orders

12:45 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to share with the hon. member my concern about the effect that this law is going to have on aboriginal people. We see how the courts have played out over the last 100 years. We have seen the loss of hope on aboriginal youth who were incarcerated, treated as criminals, taken to the edge of some cities and left to freeze to death. At times we have had such a breakdown in our obligation to provide our aboriginal youth with a sense of hope and vision for the future.

I have seen in the communities in my region the work that has taken place with the elders, NNADAP and other workers to give aboriginal youth a sense that even if they fall through the cracks, there will be a community sense to rebuild, and to rebuild not just them but the community that they have harmed. That happens through the sentencing circles and some of the programs that we have seen in terms of first nations spirituality and giving people a sense of their culture.

I am very concerned that this bill goes right across the board and takes away the ability of communities, the provinces, and our courts to do what is appropriate in the case of our aboriginal youth. I would like to ask the member for her thoughts on this.