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

Oral Questions
Points of Order
Oral Questions

3 p.m.

Simcoe—Grey
Ontario

Conservative

Helena Guergis Minister of State (Status of Women)

Mr. Speaker, I never said anything of the sort when it comes to that member. I talked about crazy stories being told.

Oral Questions
Points of Order
Oral Questions

3 p.m.

Liberal

Anita Neville Winnipeg South Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, on the same point of order, the minister implied in her comments not only that the programs were crazy but that I was telling mistruths. Every one of the programs that I listed was in fact a program of government, cancelled by the current government, showing no respect for the needs of women in this country.

Oral Questions
Points of Order
Oral Questions

3:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

I will look at the transcript again, but suggesting that something is crazy I do not think is necessarily unparliamentary, whatever it might have been that was crazy. It may not be wildly polite, but I do not think it is on the list of prohibited terms in Parliament, but I will check. I will look at the record and if necessary come back to the House.

I have notice of a question of privilege from the hon. member for Yorkton—Melville and I will hear him now.

I do not want to hold up the House leader. I forgot that it is Thursday and the House leader for the official opposition has a question to pose to the government House leader. I know the member for Yorkton--Melville will want to hear that first.

Business of the House
Oral Questions

3:05 p.m.

Liberal

Ralph Goodale Wascana, SK

Mr. Speaker, I think this can be fairly brief, considering the day that we are at on the calendar and how time flies. There is only one day left in the current supply period. That being the case, I wonder if the government House leader is able to designate the first allotted day in the new supply period, which effectively begins the day after tomorrow. I am sure the government House leader would want to be prompt in designating that first day.

Secondly, there is one outstanding item of business that has been raised a number of times across the floor in the House, and that is the announcement some days ago by the Prime Minister that he would be proposing an honorary Canadian citizenship for the Aga Khan. I wonder if the government House leader could indicate how the government intends to proceed on that matter.

This likely being the last Thursday of this particular session of the House, Mr. Speaker, I wonder if, on behalf of the official opposition, I could extend our thanks and appreciation to you, for the officers at the table, the translators, the pages and all the other people who are often nameless and faceless but serve us very well in the House. On behalf of the official opposition, we would want to say our thanks to all of them and wish them a very happy summer.

Business of the House
Oral Questions

3:05 p.m.

Prince George—Peace River
B.C.

Conservative

Jay Hill Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the Thursday question, and I will not suggest that it was a little bit crazy for the hon. member to suggest that this is the last Thursday, because even if the House would be sitting Monday and Tuesday, it would still be the last Thursday of this session, if I have read my calendar properly.

I will get to his two specific questions later. First, I would like to inform the House that we will continue debate today with Bill C-36, our serious time for the most serious crime bill, and then Bill C-37, concerning the National Capital Act.

Tomorrow is the last allotted day for this supply period. Pursuant to a special order made earlier today, government business will begin one hour earlier than normal, at 9 a.m., and conclude at 1 p.m., which, for a normal Friday, is half an hour earlier.

Since there is no private members' business on the last allotted day, the bells to call in the members to dispose of all business relating to supply will begin at 1 p.m. tomorrow. The voting will thus begin at 1:15. When the votes are concluded, the House will adjourn for the summer, pursuant to the opposition motion.

I note that there is an opposition motion dealing with the business of opposition days, allotted days for the fall session. There was, I understand, some extensive discussion and consultation between the Prime Minister and the leader of the official opposition in that regard. Of course, if that opposition motion tomorrow passes, I will give careful consideration to the first opposition day and when it will be in September. I will think about that long and hard over the summer.

With respect to the other question, about the honorary citizenship for the Aga Khan, I will be circulating a motion to that effect to the other parties, and perhaps we can do that tomorrow. On the last day, I think that might be suitable, and hopefully everybody will agree to that.

Finally, since this will be my last response to a Thursday question before we adjourn for the summer, I would like to thank all hon. members for their co-operation during this session. I think we achieved a great deal during our spring sitting. This afternoon, Her Excellency, the Governor General, will be granting royal assent to eight additional bills. Next week we expect to add to that list, and 12 bills have already received royal assent during this session.

Politicians often talk about how they want this Parliament to work, and what they are referring to is the co-operation I just mentioned. However, as the hon. House leader for the official opposition mentioned, and I want to add my words of praise, the true folks who really make Parliament work are the hard-working, professional, dedicated staff of the House of Commons. You, Mr. Speaker, and Madam Clerk should be very proud of them, because, and I think I can speak for all members, we here in the House certainly appreciate everything they do for us every day, every minute of every day, in fact.

Lastly, I would be remiss if I did not specifically single out our pages for the exemplary work they did throughout the session. They will be leaving us, I know, with great sadness. Tomorrow will be their last day. We will certainly miss them. On behalf of the government, I would like to extend our very best wishes for a terrific future on whatever paths their future takes them.

Private Members' Business
Point of Order
Oral Questions

3:10 p.m.

Bloc

André Bellavance Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

Mr. Speaker, on June 2, you read a statement concerning certain bills which would infringe on the financial prerogative of the Crown and might therefore require royal recommendation. At that time, you specifically referred to my bill, Bill C-290, which is why I wanted to speak briefly. I am responding to your invitation to make representations to you on the matter.

I know that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons spoke to this matter this morning, stating that my bill did require royal recommendation. You will not be surprised to learn that I do not share that opinion. I totally disagree and, I repeat, I will be brief in stating my point of view.

Hon. members need to understand that my bill amends the Income Tax Act to provide a refundable tax credit to an individual whose employer, and certain employees of that employer, failed to make the contributions required to be made to a registered pension plan. The bill seeks to help retired workers whose retirement income is reduced by the closure or bankruptcy of their company.

I am sure I will be able to convince you with my arguments. According to a ruling by the Chair on October 16, 1995, relating to Bill S-9, reducing income tax does not contravene Standing Orders 79 and 80. The Speaker at that time made the following ruling:

The bill will also have the effect of granting some tax relief retroactively and there may be some reimbursements payable for taxes paid under the law as it now reads, should Bill S–9 be passed by the House and receive royal assent.

The bill does not appropriate tax revenue, but rather exempts or reduces taxes otherwise payable, in some cases retroactively. [...]

In conclusion, Standing Orders 79 and 80 have not been contravened, as Bill S–9 neither imposes a tax nor appropriates money for any purpose. Since the bill relinquishes funds it might otherwise have gained, it is not appropriating money but forfeiting revenue it would have raised without such changes.

Thus, it seems to have the same tax effect given that we are reducing the state's tax revenue with our bill, as allowed by the Standing Orders. The Speaker should consider the fact that this measure does not seek to create a specific program to help workers who may have lost their retirement funds but rather to allow citizens who have paid taxes all their lives to benefit from tax credits.

This tax measure will reduce the tax burden of individuals who have lost their retirement income because their retirement fund was inadequate at the time the company they worked for ceased operations.

Take, for example, the 1,200 retired employees of Jeffrey Mine in Asbestos, which is in my riding. Since February 2003, they have lost no less than $55 million in retirement funds and $30 million in benefits. A retired worker who normally would have been entitled to $30,000 now only receives $22,000. Once the bill in question, Bill C-290, goes into force, that worker will receive 22% of the lost $8,000, or the non-taxable amount of $1,760.

In closing, passage of this bill will mean that all retired employees who find themselves in this type of situation can recover a portion of amounts lost through tax credits. It is important that we mention this fact. This would only result in a reduction in the government's revenue and not in a new social program.

I will conclude by saying that I am convinced this explanation will allow you, Mr. Speaker, to reconsider the need for obtaining a royal recommendation for Bill C-290.

Private Members' Business
Point of Order
Oral Questions

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

I would like to thank the hon. member for his remarks on this matter, and I will take it all into consideration when I give my ruling on the point of order raised about this bill.

The hon. member for Yorkton—Melville on a question of privilege.

Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security
Privilege
Oral Questions

3:15 p.m.

Conservative

Garry Breitkreuz Yorkton—Melville, SK

Mr. Speaker, earlier I gave a notice of a question of privilege. I and my colleagues on the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security were disappointed to read reports of the contents of our report prior to my presentation of it in the House this morning. This leak is regrettable because it compromises the reputations of all persons who had access to the report. It reflects on me as the chair and other members of the committee.

Members may think only of themselves, but we should also remember that many other persons had access to these documents. Premature disclosure of a committee report may give a member a small advantage with the media, but it damages our wider working relationships. Obviously trust is reduced.

My only purpose this afternoon is to draw attention to this regrettable situation. It damages our collegial committee relationships. I sincerely regret this.

Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security
Privilege
Oral Questions

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

Rob Oliphant Don Valley West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the chair of the committee and the hon. member for raising that point and to stress that those of us on this side of the House have that concern too. We wanted to ensure that if there was a problem somewhere in the system, that it was fixed.

However, we wanted to also express that we were concerned about any possibility of a breach of the confidence of that report.

Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security
Privilege
Oral Questions

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

I thank the hon. members for their submissions on this matter. There does not appear to be anything further to do, but I do share their concerns about the necessity for confidentiality of committee reports before their presentation in the House.

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-36, An Act to amend the Criminal Code, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Serious Time for the Most Serious Crime Act
Government Orders

3:15 p.m.

Bloc

Serge Ménard Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Mr. Speaker, the government recently introduced a bill that would eliminate a provision that has been in the Criminal Code since 1976, the same year, I should point out, that Parliament voted to eliminate the death penalty. It replaced the death penalty for the most serious crimes—first degree murder and treason—with a minimum sentence of life in prison. The same applied to second degree murder, which was also deemed punishable by a minimum sentence of life in prison. In addition, those found guilty were not eligible for parole for 25 years.

Many people are still confused about this and think that the sentence for murder is 25 years. But the sentence for murder is still life in prison, as it is for all degrees of murder. Also, eligibility for parole does not mean that a person automatically gets parole, just that he or she has the right to apply to the National Parole Board, which can deny the request, as it does in many cases.

That same year, they decided to establish a faint hope clause for certain reasons I will discuss shortly. After a certain amount of time, people who had been convicted of first degree murder were eligible after 25 years and could apply to a court consisting of a judge and jury for their date of eligibility for parole to be reduced to 15 years. It was the same for people who had been convicted of second degree murder, that is to say, for people who had been sentenced to life but whose date of parole eligibility varied according to the decision made by the judge who presided over the jury that convicted them. It could vary between 10 and 25 years. People who had received the longest sentence before being eligible for parole could also apply to a jury after 15 years. This does not mean they would necessarily be paroled. I will say in a moment how many applied and how many were successful.

Back in 1976, the members who voted to abolish the death penalty and decided to provide this faint hope clause had three main objectives.

First, they wanted to give some hope to offenders who demonstrated a considerable ability to rehabilitate themselves. If paroled, these people could return to society and it was necessary to make very sure that their efforts to rehabilitate themselves were convincing.

Second, the members wanted to encourage good behaviour in prison. In Canada and elsewhere in the world, it is inmates who have nothing more to lose who cause problems. They may also influence other inmates and sometimes initiate the riots we see occasionally in penitentiaries. Henceforth, they had something to gain and might behave better.

Finally, the members recognized that it was not in the public interest to continue incarcerating certain offenders beyond 15 years.

In some exceptional cases, there are people who have reasons to commit murder. I want to remind the House, though, that we never talk about compassionate murder in Canada because murder is murder. For example, there was the individual who killed out of compassion his child who suffered from a very painful illness and lived a really inhuman life. He was convicted of murder because compassionate killing is not an excuse in Canada. However, there can still be some exceptional cases and circumstances. There could be young people who kill a disgraceful father who beats his wife, their mother. People are incarcerated on the basis of all kinds of horrors. I think murder is one of the crimes with the broadest array of motives. In fact, a lawyer who killed his associate to get his life insurance has also benefited from this legislation.

I do not think we can talk about abuse in this area. I want to say at the outset that I am still open on this issue. The Conservatives’ motives are very similar to those of the Republicans from the southern United States, who have had so much influence on the American system—to the point that it is the most punitive in the world.

At present, the United States has the highest rate of incarceration in the world. They have had stiff competition from Russia, which was almost level with them. They are ahead of China. They incarcerate seven times more people, proportionately, than we do in Canada. I believe, I feel, and I have often said this, when I hear them talk, that their motivations for transforming the criminal law are not to make it better, to make it more effective against crime. Their motivations are clearly purely political, because it is popular to get tough on crime. In fact, humanity was very tough long before the emergence of the civilized countries in America, Western Europe and, increasingly, Europe as a whole.

The distaste I feel for their motivations should not influence me against considering a bill that is in fact a serious one. I know that is the only motivation they need: tearing down what has been done in the past. Giving the impression they are tough. To them, tough means smart. To us, no. Being smart does not necessarily mean being tough. We need to be tough when it is called for, but we have to recognize the possibility of rehabilitation and take more effective measures to combat crime. That is why I fight so hard for registering all firearms. It has a real effect on the most serious crime, homicide.

Let us talk about first degree murder. In fact, I think murder is more than manslaughter, necessarily. Murder is more than killing. Murder is killing with intent to kill. It is doing something that will reasonably lead to death, and not caring. It is firing a shot at a person and not caring whether that person dies or not. In the case of murder, there really is an element of intent which means that the person has done the most serious thing that a person can do on earth.

That calls for severe punishment in itself. Very serious consequences must be imposed on someone who commits this kind of crime. I think when we abolished the death penalty, we showed that we were humane, particularly as we have realized over time, given that the homicide rate has declined steadily in Canada since 1976 and has continued to decline in recent years, that fear of the death penalty did not have the deterrent effect ascribed to it. We took away that deterrent and there was no increase in the number of homicides.

But it cannot be said that it has been abused significantly. At present, there are 4,000 inmates in Canada serving life sentences. They could apply under the faint hope clause. Over the years, 265 people have applied under that clause. Of those 265 applicants, only 140 have been granted a reduction of the time to be served before applying for parole. That is 52%, about half. About half of the people who sought to apply under that clause have been rejected. So the number of individuals who have applied for this is not high in comparison to the number of individuals serving life sentences.

But that is not all. Once the applicants make that request, they must go before a judge. The chief justice, or a judge appointed by him, must first decide if there is a reasonable chance that the application will be accepted—in other words, whether it is justified—by a jury made up of 12 peers, of ordinary citizens who will have to vote and who should form a significant sample. The jury's verdict must be unanimous. At one time, a two-third majority was good enough, but that is no longer the case since 1997. So, close to half of all the applications under the faint hope clause were rejected.

Once an individual is allowed to go before a jury and gets a unanimous verdict to become eligible for early parole, it still does not mean he is going to get it. The National Parole Board has granted early parole in only 127 cases. So, out of the 140 applicants who went before a jury and got the jury's unanimous agreement to apply for early parole, only 127 were successful before the National Parole Board. So, there is another thorough review at that level.

What happened to these 127 individuals? Only 13 of them have gone back to jail for various reasons. So, this means 5% of those who made an application, and 10% of those whose application was accepted. Out of that number, 11 applicants are deceased. Others were deported, but only a very small number. In fact, three applicants were deported and one is free on bail.

So, it is not like we abused this clause. It is clear that it applies to exceptional cases, and that it is used exceptionally. I do not have much sympathy for murderers. On the contrary, as I said, this is the most serious crime and very serious consequences should be imposed on someone who commits such a crime. Still, I think that the reasons why this faint hope clause was included are good. In fact, not only is the recidivism rate very low, but some applicants who availed themselves of that option went on to play a useful role in society.

Take, for example, the lawyer who had killed his business associate and had tried to make it look like a hunting accident. He made an application under that clause and, since then, this person, who has a university degree, has been helping people on parole start a new and honest life.

Before making a decision on these issues, we must examine them thoroughly. The government did not provide us with any study to justify its position. This government has no justification other than reconsidering legislative provisions that seem too good to inmates. The government raised this issue, and it had the right to do so. I think we should take a close look at it. That is why my party will support the principle of the bill. I personally believe that this is a very serious issue. I will come with an open mind. I would like as much information as possible on the 127 inmates who benefited from the faint hope clause, and I would also like to know about patterns and about the type of persons that these individuals were. I also hope we will hear about failures, because there are some.

I recall seeing on TV reports on two or three highly publicized cases. Several shows were dedicated to the same individuals at different times. I have always been very sensitive to this issue because I have been dealing with crime ever since becoming a lawyer back in 1966. I am very sensitive to these issues. I hope that the worst cases will be brought forward. Then, we will be able to determine whether or not it is worthwhile to maintain this exceptional provision with respect to a very small number of cases. In our caucus, our culture and our religious culture, whether our background is Jewish, Arab or Christian, like mine, we consider forgiveness as a sign of civilization. There is no doubt that, in the case of individuals who have committed such serious crimes as murder, this forgiveness must entail major consequences.

In our culture, forgiveness is regarded as a value. I remember two of the greatest movies I have ever seen, namely Amadeus and Ghandi, making quite an impression on me. In the latter, an individual felt the need to go to Ghandi to confide in him. Ghandi was a man of peace who lived at a time when very harsh conflicts were opposing Muslims and Hindus. This individual told Ghandi that, seething with rage over the harm done to him, he had grabbed a child by its feet and smashed its head against the walls. “How could I do something so wrong?”, he asked Ghandi. To what Ghandi replied that, for his penance, he should take in a young Muslim—the individual being a Hindu—and raise him as his own son.

The notion of forgiveness exists in our cultures, but one has to deserve forgiveness. In the present case, there are many ways to ensure that an individual deserves it. We will look at that in committee. I hope that we will be better informed than by the sparse documentation we have received from the government.

Serious Time for the Most Serious Crime Act
Government Orders

3:35 p.m.

Conservative

Brent Rathgeber Edmonton—St. Albert, AB

Mr. Speaker, I listened to the hon. member very intently. I listened to his description of how he was curious to hear about the 127 successful applicants, about which were the most serious, and about the difficult and detailed process that individuals must go through if they are going to proceed with the faint hope clause application.

However, I never once heard him talk about the victims or the families of the victims. I want to ask him a very specific question. Does he not believe that the faint hope clause is detrimental to mental closure for the families of victims? They have to monitor the proceedings and sometimes testify before the court applications that determine whether or not a faint hope application will be made. Then, they ultimately testify at the National Parole Board if a faint hope application is granted.

Does he not agree that those families of victims ought to be spared that mental trauma and ultimately get closure from these criminal proceedings, and the harm that that causes to those families?

Serious Time for the Most Serious Crime Act
Government Orders

3:40 p.m.

Bloc

Serge Ménard Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Mr. Speaker, not only do I think about the victims, but I have always thought about them. I understand families' desire for revenge, and I would be the first person to want revenge if anything happened to my children or, soon, my grandchildren.

It is strange, because we have talked a great deal about this in Quebec recently because of a horrific murder that took place. A surgeon who was highly respected in his community attacked and killed his two children when his wife left him. His wife said that she was willing to forgive him. In fact, she said something extremely moving at the funeral of their son, Olivier—my son's name is also Olivier. She asked that, in the next world, her son try to help his father recover. I do not remember exactly what she said, but it was very moving.

I do not believe that revenge is good for the person who seeks it, although I understand why people feel the way they do. Certainly, when you fight crime and spend your whole life looking for the most effective ways to do so, as I did in the past, it is because you are thinking of the victims. I do not believe that deterrence or the desire for revenge does anything for the victims. We need to help them in other ways. We need to provide them with psychological care, but that does not mean promising a heavier sentence. A heavier sentence is not better for the victims. Perhaps it would be if the original sentence were so light as to be ridiculous, but that is certainly not what we are talking about here.

Serious Time for the Most Serious Crime Act
Government Orders

3:40 p.m.

NDP

Chris Charlton Hamilton Mountain, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to congratulate the member for Marc-Aurèle-Fortin for a very balanced, thoughtful and well articulated case with respect to this bill at second reading.

We have debated dozens of crime bills, certainly since I was first elected. I have been happy to support some of them. Others have given me pause for thought, so I thought it was particularly useful in this debate to have the member speak a bit about the difference between being tough on crime and being smart on crime.

I find that sometimes, in our rush to be labelled as being particularly proactive on matters relating to law and order, we forget the sense of justice a little bit. We have a law and order system now sometimes more than we have a justice system. I am encouraged by the fact that this bill is going to get considerable consideration before committee.

However, I wonder if the member thinks that there is enough goodwill among committee members to make the necessary amendments that have been outlined by my colleagues here earlier today. For example, the member for Vancouver East and the member for Burnaby—Douglas have both done a great job at articulating our concerns.

I wonder whether he thinks that there is an ability, and enough time and research on that committee to make this bill work in the interests of Canadians and in the interests of justice.