House of Commons Hansard #78 of the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was parole.

Topics

Serious Time for the Most Serious Crime Act
Government Orders

12:40 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise on Bill C-36, An Act to amend the Criminal Code.

I would like to preface my remarks by saying there is no doubt that the most compelling argument for Bill C-36 is indeed the victims. Under the current faint hope clause, the victims have to relive the nightmare of the crime that was perpetrated against their family, against their loved ones. There is no doubt that the government has a compelling argument. It is for that reason, I think primarily, that in this corner of the House we will be voting in favour of Bill C-36 in order to get it to committee.

As the House well knows, the parliamentary process is set up with a system of checks and balances. This is something that is extremely important in this particular case for this particular bill. We have second reading, which is debate in principle on the bill, the principle of whether or not the faint hope clause should essentially be eliminated. From there the bill goes to committee, and that is the point where we will certainly be pressing to hear from every organization. Whether we are talking about victims organizations, victims services, those who represent parolees, police officers, parole officers, everyone in the system needs to be heard at the committee level so that we can ensure that the legislation does what the government purports that it does. At the same time we are ensuring our place in the House as the effective opposition and that amendments are made to the legislation to ensure that there are no unintended consequences or collateral fallout and that indeed we feel that this is in the best interest of the country and of Canadians.

I certainly hope the committee process will be extremely serious, in depth and effective in ensuring that the committee has heard from everyone in a consultative process that allows Canadians from coast to coast to participate. Often committee deliberations are done in a very perfunctory way. Often proposed witnesses who are submitted by the NDP are rejected out of hand. We hope that will not be the case and that due diligence will be done at the committee level.

Then we will bring the legislation back to the House to consider amendments that other members of the House may want to put forward at report stage. The final stage is third reading where we take a very in depth look at the legislation itself. At that point the question is whether or not to pass the legislation as amended.

At this point, the second reading stage, we are saying in principle that we are certainly willing to look at the bill because of the compelling arguments that are raised with regard to the victims having to relive the nightmare of their loved ones.

The real test I think will be at the committee stage to see to what extent the government is willing to hear voices from across Canada, very learned voices and those who have a key stake in this legislation, either way. From that point then I think we can look to see how the legislation can be improved.

There is no doubt in my mind that this legislation can be improved and must be improved, but that will be something for our justice critic, the member for Windsor—Tecumseh, and other members of the justice committee to do when that time comes.

A social democratic approach to the criminal justice system is based on ensuring that the victims are responded to by the system. That is why I put forward Bill C-372, which essentially proposes changes to the Criminal Code to ensure that victims' restitution is part and parcel of the judicial process and no longer an option for judges, but mandatory as part of the process. I put forward that amendment to the Criminal Code because I feel there is a profound argument that can be made that victims are often lost in the system.

It is essential for parliamentarians to hear the voices of victims and to ensure that their voices are heard every time legislation is brought forward. The victims' voices are part of a broader consultation process that has to take place.

We in this corner of the House have been advocating for some time for a comprehensive approach to the criminal justice system. Legislation obviously is one of the pillars. We must as a Parliament regularly take into account whether or not legislation is working, whether or not the Criminal Code is working and what adjustments have to be made.

For the government to limit its approach simply to legislation does a disservice to Canadians. There are other pillars of the justice system that have to be taken into consideration.

Since emerging out of the CCF, the NDP's hallmark in Parliament has been the need for substantial funding for crime prevention. The most effective approach to the criminal justice system is to stop crime from being committed in the first place. By investing in crime prevention services and crime prevention strategies, many other countries around the world have reduced their crime rate, and that means fewer victims.

By ensuring that the voices of victims past are heard ensures fewer victims in the future. We will have fewer victims in the future by investing in an effective way in crime prevention. Tragically, the Conservative government has done exactly the opposite. It has cut back on crime prevention programs and crime prevention strategies. It has done the exact opposite of what it needs to do. Most Canadians would want the government to increase crime prevention funding and crime prevention strategies.

Funding is a major pillar that the government has far from increased. If the Conservatives were really concerned about criminal justice issues, they would put more funding into crime prevention. That would ensure an effective way of reducing crime. The government has done the opposite.

Study after study has shown that for every dollar invested in crime prevention, we save six dollars later on in policing costs, in court costs, in incarceration costs. It just makes good economic and fiscal sense. There is no more effective argument for crime prevention programs than the economic argument.

The NDP has been the foremost advocate for enhanced funding for crime prevention. We will continue to press the government to do the right thing and to invest in crime prevention rather than cutting back.

Another pillar of crime prevention strategy in a criminal justice system is adequate funding for policing. The government committed in past elections to fund an extra 2,500 police officers across the country. That promise simply has not been kept. Police officers in various parts of the country are frustrated by the fact that the government has chosen not to keep its promise.

Having 2,500 more police officers on the streets of our cities would make a difference in the effectiveness of policing. Police departments are overburdened in many parts of the country. Police officers are often being asked to do far too much. If we want our police forces to be effective, we have to provide an effective number of officers, and that has not happened. Again that is an area in which the government fell short.

This is not only about funding for police officers. This is also about respect, or lack of, that has come from the government toward police officers.

Three years ago in the House we adopted a motion for a public safety officer compensation fund. The Conservatives at that time voted in favour of it, and yet they have steadfastly refused to provide a compensation fund for the families of those police officers and firefighters who die in the line of duty. There again the government has fallen short.

The Conservatives have fallen short on court funding as well. Because of that, there are bottlenecks in the court system.

There are a number of pillars in the criminal justice system. Bill C-36 deals with one of them, but the other three, lamentably, have been neglected by the government.

In this corner of the House the New Democratic Party caucus will vote to move this forward to committee so we can have that strenuous examination of the bill, but we will certainly continue to keep the government's feet to the fire on the other pillars it has neglected.

Serious Time for the Most Serious Crime Act
Government Orders

12:50 p.m.

Bloc

Marc Lemay Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Madam Speaker, I listened carefully to my colleague. I will read something said by his colleague, the NDP critic on the committee, because I think it is fundamental. He said something like this: “And what if the lack of hope crushed the desire for rehabilitation of the convicted and increased violence and the problems in prisons?

My question has to do with this observation. We are dealing with the worst crime, namely murder. Bill C-36 concerns the faint hope clause. Does he believe that adopting this bill in its present form will lead to a reduction in violent crimes committed in our society, murder in particular?

Serious Time for the Most Serious Crime Act
Government Orders

12:50 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Madam Speaker, that is a good question. However, we are not going to adopt the bill without any changes and the member knows that. We are discussing whether, in principle, we should refer the bill to committee for an in-depth analysis of the impact of this bill. To that end, the NDP will call the greatest number possible of witnesses representing victims, the police, the incarcerated and all of Canadian society in order to determine the precise impact of this bill. We want it to be sent to committee so that all the work needed to be done for this bill can begin. We will be pushing for the broadest possible consultation.

Serious Time for the Most Serious Crime Act
Government Orders

12:50 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Madam Speaker, I am getting a little concerned as we move through some of these justice bills. It seems that rather than debating the substance of the bill and determining whether there are compelling reasons that approval in principle, passage at second reading, should be supported, it seems to be drifting to sending it to committee and letting others determine whether there is evidence of this, that and the other thing.

Our responsibility is to do the work at the beginning of the process. If the members cannot make reasoned arguments that an important issue such as the faint hope clause should or should not be supported, bills should be referred to committee directly rather than being put in this place.

What assurance does the member have that should the bill pass at second reading that it would be in order to make a motion that would kill the faint hope clause itself? It may be out of order simply because approval in principle has already been given by the House at second reading.

I raise it because it seems that it is just too easy for this place not to do the in-depth research, not to consult, not to push the government for information on the basis of the bill and just send it to committee to get others to do our work.

Serious Time for the Most Serious Crime Act
Government Orders

12:55 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Madam Speaker, I like my colleague from Mississauga South, but it is important to note that this is the first time a Liberal has stood all day. We have been debating the bill day after day and the Liberal Party members have been completely non-existent on this issue. They have not done anything.

I understand they have a coalition with the Conservatives, and I understand they are not going to question the Conservatives or raise anything with regard to anything the Conservatives bring forward, but for Liberals to say to New Democrats, who have been doing all the heavy lifting in this Parliament, that we are not lifting enough is ridiculous. We are carrying the weight for the non-existent Liberal opposition. We are carrying the weight for the government members who refuse to question their own government.

Each one of the NDP MPs is having to do the work of four other members of Parliament, and now the member says we will have to take on more. Of course, we will. The New Democrats never shy away from tough work and hard work, but for Liberals to say we are not working hard enough I think is a little ridiculous, to say the least.

Serious Time for the Most Serious Crime Act
Government Orders

12:55 p.m.

Bloc

Marc Lemay Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Madam Speaker, I did not think my turn was coming up that fast, but I am ready, to echo the words of a famous Quebec political party leader regrettably reelected for another term. That said, I wish to go a bit further than my colleague did a few moments ago in his words to the colleague from Mississauga South. It is important, because the Liberals are the ones who made major changes to the Criminal Code and who came up with what we are discussing today: the faint hope clause. It is extremely important.

It may be a rarity to do so in this House, but I will quote from an article in Le Devoir. In her most interesting article on Bill C-36 on June 10, headed “The strength of intimidation”, Manon Corneiller wrote as follows:

The last Conservative bill has been introduced [...]. Bill C-36 would eliminate a provision in the Criminal Code known as the faint hope clause. Among other things, that clause makes it possible for a person who has been found guilty of first degree murder and sentenced to life imprisonment with possibility of parole after 25 years to seek permission to apply for parole after 15 years.

This also applies, and I will come back to this, to second degree murder.

The opposition parties—

I presume that includes us. Perhaps not the Liberals, after yesterday's coalition, but it does mean us. So, continuing:

The opposition parties think that the justice committee is better equipped [a response to the question from the colleague from Mississauga South] to examine the bill, and it will go there because they are planning to support the bill at second reading [which we do]. None of the three parties has stated its final position, however [it is clear]. There are many reservations.

Then we have the words of the member for Windsor—Tecumseh.

And what if the lack of hope crushed the desire for rehabilitation of the convicted and increased violence and the problems in prisons?

The journalist continues:

It is to the parties' credit that they want to study these bills carefully, because they will affect the lives of thousands of people. But their cautiousness is dictated in part by political imperatives and a direct reaction to the Conservative approach. The opposition avoids opposing a bill automatically, especially if it means defending the rights of the worst criminals.

We remember all too well the fate the Conservatives reserved for the former Liberal leader...The courts finally forced the Conservatives to give in...

The fear of being targeted in their turn by the Conservatives' populist and simplistic attacks is pushing the Liberals and, to a lesser extent, the NDP to watch what they say. Opposing a prejudice sometimes requires pointed arguments that rarely filter down to the public.

That is the whole debate. The faint hope clause is extremely important. We are told that we do not care about the victims. Yet victims are the reason for section 745 and the amendments to the Criminal Code. The Conservatives will have to understand that. One can see from the current provisions concerning the faint hope clause—and I will come back to this later if I have time, because I have a lot to say about it—that concern for victims is paramount. Why? Because there is no worse crime than taking a life, committing murder. It is the worst crime a person can commit. If we do not look after the victims in the case of murder, I do not know who will.

The Bloc Québécois believes that one priority is to ensure that this bill respects victims. They will have to be told how the bill works. There have been many changes to the legislation. Canada used to have the death penalty, which was abolished and replaced with life sentences. Offenders sentenced to life for first-degree murder must serve a minimum of 25 years.

For the people who are watching us, I will add that a first-degree murder is a premeditated murder. A person who analyzes, thinks, makes a decision and obtains the means to kill someone is committing premeditated murder. I have just one example in mind: the settling of accounts by the Hells Angels. It is clear that when the Hells Angels decided to end the reign of the Bandidos, they committed first-degree murders. These were premeditated murders.

Second degree murders are unpremeditated. My colleague from Hochelaga rightly mentioned an example earlier in this House. These are probably the most common and most familiar murders. Someone shows up at a place, finds his spouse with another person, and in a sudden act of madness decides to get rid of them, finds a weapon and kills them, commits an unpremeditated murder. This is a second degree murder. It remains a murder, however, and liable to life imprisonment.

Over the years, the options were improved, although it is difficult to use that term in this context. In my opinion, legislators were wise. They said that there were two options for a killer: either he himself is killed or he is kept in prison. If he is kept in prison, a solution has to be found. Might this person return to society one day? Legislators said he could return to society if he demonstrated improvement, demonstrated that he had changed.

It is the opinion of the Bloc Québécois that section 745.6 and following, as amended over the years, have three main purposes. First, they offer some hope for offenders who demonstrate significant ability to rehabilitate. I do not have to give names in this House, but we have heard testimony from informers and persons who testified in famous cases involving the Hells Angels and organized crime. They have appeared saying that they were killers, that they were paid to kill and they killed. Such a person must not return to society unless he has made very significant progress.

Furthermore, the objective of the faint hope clause was to motivate good conduct in prison and recognize that it was not in the public interest to continue incarcerating certain offenders beyond a period of 15 years. That being said, we need to look at how this works. There have been changes over the years, but an individual has always been permitted to come back before the court. If he is sentenced to 25 years, he will be able to come back. He had the faint hope clause. This is important.

It must be explained to the population that respect for victims is very important. In the bill before us, respect for victims and their families is very important. The murdered person can no longer appear to testify, but he leaves a family, a spouse, children and relatives in mourning. Obviously, recalling the murder is extremely difficult for these persons. Do we have to mention what happened at the École Polytechnique?

For the victims of these events, and for their parents, even though the murderer died by suicide, simply talking about the tragedy, as we saw this year, since it was the anniversary, is painful. December 6 will be forever stamped on these people’s lives.

Not everyone has access to the faint hope clause.

We have to understand that in the criminal lawyer’s jargon, an individual who commits first degree murder is said to have to serve a minimum sentence of 25 years. Second degree murder results in a sentence of between 10 and 15 years. Judges generally decide when the person may be released.

We will recall the unfortunate Latimer case, where the father killed his daughter because she could never have recovered. That was considered to be second degree murder. He was sentenced to serve a minimum of 10 years in prison. After his 10-year term, he came before the National Parole Board to make an application.

In assessing a murder, by following an extremely stringent procedure, we ensure that victims are respected and we ensure that we are not releasing criminals.

The individual must appear before the chief justice of the superior court or a judge designated by them to hear the case. The individual may apply to a judge of the superior court after serving the minimum required, 10 or 15 years, generally, for second degree murder, and 15 years for first degree murder. The chief justice of the superior court in the province where the murder was committed may allow the individual to apply for parole after considering all the facts. The individual must satisfy the judge, and the judge must consider all the facts. What kind of murder was it? What happened? Is it probable that the inmate will persuade a jury? If the judge allows the individual to appear before them and allows the individual to make an application, then the second step is reached. The judge then empanels a jury.

Since 1997, the jury has had to unanimously agree to allow the inmate to apply for parole. Before 1997, two thirds was sufficient. Now, it must be proved to the jury as a whole. The public has to understand that the fact that a judge agrees to hear a case does not mean that the judge will empanel a jury and the individual will automatically be released. No, it does not work that way.

The judge hears a case and has the individual appear before them. The individual calls witnesses, who are generally people from the Federal Training Centre. They explain that in 15 years the individual may have changed. That is when the judge empanels a jury. The jury cannot release the individual. The only thing the jury can do is say unanimously to the individual that it is satisfied that he or she may make an application for parole. The individual is not released yet; far from it. On some occasions a judge has asked for a jury to be empanelled, a jury was empanelled, evidence was given before the jury and the jury came to the conclusion that the individual could apply to the National Parole Board, and the individual was not released.

If the applicant passes the first two stages, and the jury permits him to apply for parole, he then has to appear before the National Parole Board. That is important.

If some people think that victims are not protected, they would do well to listen to the statistics. I am not talking about 15 years ago. I am talking about April 9, 2009.

On that date, 265 applications were submitted, and 140 applicants were given a reduced period of parole ineligibility. That is not many. This means that the judge, jury and National Parole Board do a very good job. One hundred and forty people were given a reduced period of parole ineligibility. They have not yet been released on parole. Of that number of applicants, the National Parole Board gave the reduction to 127, 13 of whom subsequently returned to prison—I will come back to this if I have the time—3 were deported, 11 died, one was on bail, one was in provisional detention and 98 met the conditions of their parole.

I can already see a Conservative colleague rising to ask me whether the 13 had re-offended, since they went back to prison. I asked the question. None of the 13 returned to prison for reasons of violence, such as armed robbery and so on. It was nothing like that. They broke the conditions of their parole. People have to understand. If an individual is released on parole before the end of his 25-year prison sentence, in the 18th year of his 25-year sentence, he is subject to the requirements of parole between the 18th and 25th year. For 7 years, he is under very strict surveillance.

The proof is that there have been no repeat murders by those released on parole. There has been no violence, with all due respect to the member for Pontiac. No violence was committed by those paroled after committing murder. The finest example concerns Mr. Dunn, a lawyer, who killed his colleague, Mr. McNicoll, in Lac-Saint-Jean. It was a premeditated murder. He was released on parole after serving between 15 and 17 years of his prison sentence. Since then, Mr. Dunn, obviously no longer a lawyer, helps prisoners return to society. There you have the faint hope clause.

The Conservatives would like to eliminate the faint hope clause with this bill. In committee, we will have to look at it very carefully. I would like people who have served prison sentences for murder and benefited from the faint hope clause to come and testify before us. I say, with respect, that the system functions very well at the moment. It is under supervision.

We agree to this bill's being studied in committee. However, as I was in criminal law for a number of years, I believe deeply that the individual, however bad a criminal he may be, must be given the opportunity to return to society. Otherwise, we should give him the option to die in detention or give him the choice. We do not know, but some individuals have returned to society and become active members again even though they have committed serious crimes, murder being the worst.

I am having a very hard time with the idea of removing the faint hope clause. It would take a lot to convince me. I believe, however, that I can convince my colleagues. At the moment, there is such supervision that it would be a very serious error to not continue to allow individuals, the worst criminals, to benefit from the faint hope clause.

Serious Time for the Most Serious Crime Act
Government Orders

1:15 p.m.

Conservative

Brent Rathgeber Edmonton—St. Albert, AB

Madam Speaker, I would like to thank my friend from the justice committee for his very passionate speech. I have certainly enjoyed working with him these last few months on the justice committee.

He is quite right in his description of how the faint hope clause currently works. It is an onerous task at times. The application has to be made before a superior court judge. If it makes it past that step, then it has to go before the parole board. Often these applications are unsuccessful. However, the real victims of those applications are the families of the deceased victims of the crime.

So, in those many cases, the faint hope clause application is just that, an application that is likely going to be unsuccessful from the beginning and the only people who are adversely affected are the families of the victims.

I would like him to comment on why we should put those people through the process when there is arguably little chance of success of the application on behalf of the offender and huge emotional costs for the families of the victims yet again.

Serious Time for the Most Serious Crime Act
Government Orders

1:15 p.m.

Bloc

Marc Lemay Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Madam Speaker, with all due respect for my colleague, I would say he has never gone before the National Parole Board. He has never pleaded the faint hope clause before the courts. I can tell him about it because I have.

It is very restrained. I agree it is hard for the victims’ families. However, they do not appear at any time in the process. The lawyer prepares the case and meets the client. Before the victims are informed, the case has to be good, as we say. Not just anything goes. People are not released just because they have served 25 years. I agree with my colleague when he says there are some people who should not be returned to society. In saying that, I can think of the names and faces of individuals who should not be freed. This applies clearly, for example, to multiple repeat offenders. That is obvious, and in any case, the problem was resolved in 1997.

I am talking about a person who committed a crime, a murder, once in his life. It is true that this is the worst crime of all. I agree there are victims and the families of victims. However, does this person not have the right to return to society and become an active member of it? If there is little chance for this person, he will not be returned to society. The safeguards surrounding release are so exact and well monitored. The proof—and this is what my colleague fails to understand—is that none of the 98 individuals who have been released have committed another violent crime. None. These are people, therefore, who have become active members of society. That is why the faint hope clause exists. They do not release anyone at all just because he has served 15 years of his sentence. That is not true. The Superior Court judges have undergone training on this and are very strict. The information they provide the jury before it makes a unanimous decision on the possibility of applying for parole is so strict that, as I say over and over, I think people should have an opportunity to take advantage of the faint hope clause, whether the hon. member for Pontiac likes it or not.

Serious Time for the Most Serious Crime Act
Government Orders

1:20 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, I have more of a comment than a question at this stage. I am thinking back to the confusing comments from the member for Mississauga South a few minutes ago when he was talking about how we should not be in such a rush to get this bill to committee and that there should be some real debate here at second reading.

I note that when the bill was originally introduced, the parliamentary secretary made the introduction, and the member for Scarborough—Guildwood asked the parliamentary secretary questions. He asked if the member could tell the House how many people are convicted on an annual basis for murder in our country. He asked how many people have been wrongfully convicted in the last while and had their sentences reversed. He asked how many applications there are on an annual basis for the faint-hope clause, and of those, how many people actually succeed.

He asked a series of questions, and the parliamentary secretary could not or would not answer the questions. He had to ask on three occasions and he got the same response. So I would think the member for Mississauga South, rather than admonishing us for wanting to get this bill to committee, should be out there defending his own members when they ask questions three times and get no answers from the government.

As a matter of fact, I am again not certain why he is making these comments when he and his party are not even participating in this debate, as far as the debate today is concerned.

If the member would like to comment on my comments, I would certainly welcome it.

Serious Time for the Most Serious Crime Act
Government Orders

1:20 p.m.

Bloc

Marc Lemay Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Madam Speaker, the Liberals will probably not want to take part in this debate because they have formed a coalition with the Conservatives. There will be a major discussion, though, and it will catch up with them in any case. It will obviously catch up with them at the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights and they will be forced to take a stand.

I know the Liberal caucus is very divided now on the bill, but that will not stop the committee from studying it thoroughly.

To answer a question that the hon. member for Manicouagan will not have time to ask me, I want to say it is clear that victims will not have a chance to come and testify before the committee. However, with all due respect for my colleague from Manicouagan, I myself have defended people accused of murder and can say that when people return to society, they have generally tried hard and have worked with the victim’s family. They have been forgiven, which can mean a lot of things in different religions.

The House must understand that the individuals in our society who have benefited from the faint hope clause—all 98 of them— have gone on to become active members of society.

Serious Time for the Most Serious Crime Act
Government Orders

1:20 p.m.

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Madam Speaker, I have a question for my hon. colleague who has experience as a criminal lawyer. As we know, the scales are an emblem of justice. What does it mean? It means that our society is seeking balance.

Should we disrupt this balance by amending or even removing the faint hope clause, what impact will that have on prisons? How will that affect the efforts to rehabilitate criminals?

Serious Time for the Most Serious Crime Act
Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

Bloc

Marc Lemay Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Madam Speaker, how clever of the member for Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel. It is a shame that such a man is only a notary, because he would have made a very good lawyer.

Seriously, joking aside, I will say this: What does an individual with nothing to lose do in prison? He becomes the right-hand man of the most vicious criminals who still have a chance of getting out. We have seen a great many of those become hitmen in prison because they knew they would never be released. What can we do with these men if rehabilitation is excluded?

We will have to be careful. We are not talking about persistent repeat offenders or serial killers, because those have not been eligible since 1997. We are talking about an individual who killed only once. I am not suggesting that one should kill four times. I am talking about an individual who committed one murder and has come to terms with the frenzied act he committed. It might have been a premeditated murder. I could go on for days about such cases. I once had a client who planned for an entire week the murder of his wife's lover. It took seven years behind bar before he realized the error of his ways. When we eventually had him released after 17 years of imprisonment—he served 10 more years—he became an asset to society.

If that possibility is taken away, violence will certainly increase among detainees. That is what I think beyond a reasonable doubt.

Serious Time for the Most Serious Crime Act
Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

Bloc

Claude Bachand Saint-Jean, QC

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak today on behalf of the Bloc Québécois about Bill C-36, which provides for tougher prison sentences for the most serious crimes. Before I begin, I would like to emphasize that legislators have a certain responsibility: they must give society the means to regulate itself and function appropriately. I do not claim to be either a lawyer or a notary, but it is important to me, as a legislator with a background in the social sector, to put my two cents in on today's debate. We often hear such questions as: what is the responsibility of legislators and what is their intention when passing and debating legislation? That is important.

My 307 colleagues in the House of Commons come from all walks of life and all segments of society. They have different training, education, belief systems and philosophies. Today, it is the responsibility of all members of this diverse group not only to express their viewpoint, but also to convince their colleagues that their viewpoint should come out on top. Afterward, of course, the democratic system will prevail in the House and we will vote. Democracy shapes our entire society, our entire justice system. Justice bills come before the House of Commons, and in the end, it is the members who say whether they approve of one thing or another. After that, judges, police officers and the entire legal system act according to the House of Commons' decision.

It is important for those listening to hear that we need more than a lawyers' debate. We need a debate that involves society as a whole, as represented by the 308 members of Parliament.

Obviously, society is changing in one direction or another. People often describe its moves as either to the left or to the right. I have the definite impression for some years now that it is moving a bit to the right. Thanks to the media, we now know within minutes when something terrible has happened. People react to this by saying that it makes no sense, that sentences should be more severe, and so on. We have to safeguard ourselves against that, because we are the ones who make the decisions when we debate and vote on things here. We are the ones who are going to decide how the sanctions relating to crimes before the courts will be applied in future.

The Bloc Québécois acknowledges that some crimes are very serious. Not only must justice be done, it must appear to be done. That is an expression we hear often: justice must appear to be done. Sometimes judges can err, they are human. We must not believe them to be invulnerable and incapable of making mistakes. And there are appeal courts where other judges will review cases. In the end, we must acknowledge that the system works, because there are provisions for appeal, possibilities for clarification, and if mistakes have occurred in the justice system along the way, there are means of correcting them.

It is my personal opinion, particularly with respect to hate crimes —terrible as they are—that society has moved a little to the right. We must face that fact. As a result, the Bloc Québécois does feel it is in favour of more severe sentences in some respects.

I would remind hon. members, however, that there are two societies in Canada: the Quebec nation and the Canadian nation. Those two nations sometimes do not share the same perceptions. We in the Bloc Québécois have a duty to express the perception of our nation. This is not the first time we have crossed swords with the Conservative Party or even the Liberal Party on the justice system. Among the very basic positions we espouse is the whole matter of rehabilitation and reintegration. This is not the first time we have discussed this, it is nothing new.

For instance, we discussed the young offenders bill for months, when the Liberal government wanted to crack down somewhat on young offenders, and make them subject to the same conditions as adult criminals.

I was one of the ones saying that if we take a 14- or 15-year old and throw them in prison with a sentence like the ones given to serious criminals, we are sending them to crime school. It is that simple.

The Bloc Québécois believes that our colleagues need to understand that rehabilitation and reintegration are very important. During these debates, we have shown that this approach is more productive than the hard-line method of sending them to prison. As I said earlier, prison is a crime school. When they get out, they are hardened criminals, and they are lost to us. That goes against the goal of the Quebec nation, which believes in rehabilitation and social reintegration. The statistics back up what I am saying.

The Bloc believes that rehabilitation and social reintegration are very important. In the debate to come, we must ensure that this point of view is not overlooked.

I would like to talk about some arguments that have been brought up. What we are examining today is the elimination of the faint hope clause. I ask members to put themselves in the place of a person who was sentenced for first or second degree murder or manslaughter, and who can hope to get out of prison if he behaves well and attends therapy. He can even become a contributing member of society. Once they get out of prison, once they are rehabilitated and reintegrated into society, many people will go on to become exemplary citizens. Earlier, we heard the example of Mr. Dunn, the lawyer. This is someone who had experience in this area, knew about the faint hope clause, got out of prison, and now helps people who are released from prison to get back on track. This has social and economic benefits that are important in a fair and just society. I think that is the path to follow. I urge members to put themselves in the place of someone who made a serious mistake—there is no denying that murder is very serious—and who is sentenced to 20 years in prison and must serve that sentence in full. What do these people have to lose?

When this is discussed in committee, it will be important to hear testimony from people who can tell us what impact it may have. How are people in prison who have no hope going to behave now? They will say they do not need to behave well because they are never getting out in any event. Imagine the repercussions this will have. These are things that have to be examined. We must not go straight to severe punishment and say that is an end to it. It is too easy to say that. As well, it does not take into account the economic costs to society. We often hear that. In some places, we no longer know what to do with the prison population. These are things that have to be examined.

This brings me to the committee stage. What the Bloc wants today, by voting on second reading, is precisely to be able to study the bill in committee. That is part of the parliamentary process, of the clarification of terms I talked about earlier, the responsibilities and intentions of legislators. We have to keep an open mind to listen to the witnesses and make sure we take the best possible position for society. The parliamentary process cannot be circumvented. We know how first reading works, it is automatic. Today, we are at the second reading stage, where we have the initial debate on the bill. However, the fundamental work will be done in the parliamentary committee. We will have an opportunity to hear everyone: former criminals, psychologists, psychiatrists, correctional officers, judges—although I am not certain we will be able to call judges. At least, we will be able to hear witnesses who will guide our thought process and inform the decision we will have to make. There is an excellent parliamentary process, so that on third reading we decide whether or not we support the bill, in light of the various testimony heard.

I would like to offer some facts regarding homicides. We know that there are first degree homicides. For the people listening to us, a first degree homicide is not complicated, it is really someone who planned their act. For example, it is a person who has it in for another person for X reason, or worse, a hired gun who is contracted by an individual to kill another person. They plan their act, using a bomb or a gun, but they know when the person leaves home, they know when the person always gets in the car and what route they take. When it can be proved in court that the individual planned the murder, they will be sentenced to 25 years to life with no possibility of parole.

Second degree homicide is less serious because there was no premeditation. There is also manslaughter, which is somewhat in the nature of negligence. We have the example in our documents of an individual who, for fun, shoots through a window, and someone on the other side is hit by the bullet. That is not considered to be first degree murder because it was not planned, but it is so negligent that it will be punished under the Criminal Code.

There are also crimes that are automatically like first degree murders. There are crimes for which there is no flexibility at all, such as, for example, killing a police officer or a prison guard, sexual assault, hijacking, and hostage taking. As I said earlier, those are the things that the legislation is targeting. Those penalties were introduced to ensure that if these crimes are committed in the context that I just described, then they are tantamount to first degree murder.

I want to say a few words on the faint hope clause. What is the faint hope clause? This issue was first raised in Parliament when the death penalty was abolished in Canada, back in 1976, and it was decided to introduce a faint hope clause.

An individual is not eligible for parole until he has served 15 years of this sentence, at which time he may apply for parole. However, there is a whole process involved. I think it is important to be familiar with this process. In fact, it is not just about writing a letter to the chief justice and wait for his reply to be released. There is more than that. There are benchmarks and a series of procedures, because we cannot afford to make a mistake.

The applicant must appear before the chief justice of the province where he was convicted, and he must try to convince him there is a real possibility that he will be released, and that a jury—which is the second step—is going to say that, in its opinion, the applicant is indeed eligible. So, the individual must first convince the judge, and he is often successful. When the judge says that, in his opinion, the applicant has not shown that a jury could reduce his sentence, then the individual goes back to jail.

However, if the judge says, “yes, you have convinced me that a jury may take your good behaviour into consideration”, then we move on to the next step, which is precisely to convince a jury that is made up of 12 citizens. The jury is a very important part of the justice system. The individual is judged by his peers who, like members of Parliament, come from all walks of life. They all have a different behaviour, education and way of life, and they will either say “yes” or “no” to the individual. They can reduce his sentence and decide whether he is now ready to ask the National Parole Board, within a reasonable period of time, to reduce his sentence. This is how things work.

The bill that is before us seeks to eliminate this faint hope clause. This could be a mistake, because people who are in jail will no longer have anything to lose, knowing that they cannot get their release, that they will no longer have any chance of getting back into society.

What is the good of that for someone who admits to having made a mistake and who wants to correct it because he feels guilty? The psychologists and psychiatrists assisting them help them realize what their crime has cost society. After a few years, the person may realize that he should not have done what he did and that society has suffered for it. Now he wants to do something for society, and not just develop exemplary behaviour but place himself at the service of the public and society upon his release, to put things right.

So there is a danger of ending all that. Furthermore, in my opinion, it is logical to think that if a person is sentenced to life and can never get out of prison, he will have no interest in making amends for what he has done. This has to be discussed in committee. It is being discussed at second reading, and ultimately it should be discussed at third reading, before this bill goes beyond the parameters decided by the House of Commons.

The faint hope clause continues to apply, and we see it as extremely important. The government is introducing new provisions here which will hugely restrict the faint hope clause. Among other things, at present the judge has to be convinced that there is a reasonable prospect of the jury agreeing to lighten the sentence. Under Bill C-36, substantial likelihood must be demonstrated to the judge, which is a little stronger than a reasonable prospect. This is a first restriction. If the bill is passed, judges will be under orders to hand down harsher decisions. A substantial likelihood is more demanding than a reasonable prospect.

Furthermore, a judge may refuse an application. The application can be made again after two years. With this bill, it can be made only after five years for sentences of 15 to 25 years. Someone who fails will be confined for another five years. If this had been only two years, he would have been able to accelerate his rehabilitation and training to make himself useful, etc. By stretching out the waiting periods, people are prevented from doing this. There are factors to be taken into consideration. It is not a question of telling them it is five years instead of two. The system has to get moving and evaluate the possibilities of reintegrating these persons.

We therefore have many reservations about this bill. However we have to assume our responsibilities as legislators. When we first arrive in the House—I remember arriving here in 1993—we do not yet fully see the impact on society of our responsibilities. Today we have a good example of this.

Every time a bill is developed, there is this concern. People from all walks of life explain, discuss, do the groundwork and study the subject in depth before making a decision. Indeed, as legislators, we cannot afford to make errors on societal initiatives. We do what we can to get them as close as possible to perfection. We are not perfect beings, any more than judges, who can also make mistakes, but we can see to it that our parameters are solid, that they are studied seriously and that they improve society. That is our intention.

I have been pleased to take part in this debate today. I do not have the legal training of a lawyer or notary, and I have no training in law, but I am trained in physical education. I have also worked in a reception centre and a union where, in my opinion, justice is extremely important.

This permits me to bring a particular view, to listen to other colleagues who have other types of training, other types of life experiences, and who also bring a different view. It is by considering all these views and making all these compromises that we will finally produce a bill that is as fair as possible for society.

Serious Time for the Most Serious Crime Act
Government Orders

1:45 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, I have been waiting to hear from the Liberals all morning, but I think they have gone home. I want to let them know that we are still in session.

The member for Mississauga South was complaining about second reading being a time for debate, and he was criticizing the NDP speakers, of which there have been four already this morning, for wanting the bill to go to committee so that we can hear from the presenters and introduce amendments to improve victims' rights and improve the bill. He makes those criticisms, and neither he nor the Liberal Party are putting up any speakers on the bill.

When the bill was first introduced by the government, the member for Scarborough—Guildwood and the member for Brampton West were the only two Liberal speakers on the bill.

The member for Scarborough—Guildwood was not actually speaking to the bill; he was just asking a question of the minister. He was trying to get information from the minister, just asking simple questions to the parliamentary secretary, who introduced the bill for the government, on how many people are convicted, on an annual basis, of murder in this country, and a series of very important questions, for which he could not get an answer from the parliamentary secretary. The parliamentary secretary did not even know the rudimentary answers to these questions. The member had to ask a second time. He got the same sort of non-response, and in fact, he had to ask a third time.

I would like to know where all these Liberal members are. They should be here defending the honour of the member for Scarborough—Guildwood, who could not get answers to all these questions on three occasions. Where are they, and why are they not asking these questions?

Serious Time for the Most Serious Crime Act
Government Orders

1:45 p.m.

Bloc

Claude Bachand Saint-Jean, QC

Madam Speaker, I wish to thank my colleague for his comment. It was not exactly a question, but I appreciate the opportunity to take the reasoning further with respect to the responsibility of lawmakers.

The Bloc Québécois is always committed to ensuring that society work better. Unfortunately, it has become virtually common practice in this House for partisanship to prevail and, often, for parliamentary tactics to be devised to make sure that people will not speak or try to say anything more.

It will be noted that there are provisions in our procedural documents concerning those who would like to speak too long. It is akin to unduly drawing out the debate. I do not think, however, that there is anything in our procedural documents about requiring anyone to speak. That is when interpretations might come about, as the hon. member said, or perhaps partisanship will prevent some members from speaking. It is a bit of a shame because, as I indicated earlier, we need to hear the views of all our colleagues in order to set the parameters of a given bill and ensure that an informed decision can be made based on all the information from various sources. It has happened on a number of occasions that partisanship and parliamentary tactics prevailed. Like him, I think it is a shame.