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.

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12:15 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker Denise Savoie

According to the clock here at the table, the hon. member began his remarks at 11:53 a.m. I wish to remind him that there is also a period of 10 minutes for questions and comments.

If the hon. member insists, I can ask for the unanimous consent, but I still want to remind him that he has 10 minutes left for questions and comments.

Questions and comments. The hon. member for Edmonton—St. Albert.

Serious Time for the Most Serious Crime Act
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12:15 p.m.

Conservative

Brent Rathgeber Edmonton—St. Albert, AB

Madam Speaker, I would certainly like to commend and thank the member for Hochelaga for his comments and for his passion on this issue. He is so passionate and wanted to speak some more, so I am going to give him the opportunity to answer a question.

He talked about the procedure and the effect on certain convicted individuals. He cited a hypothetical example of a spurned lover. He talked about the processes. However, at no time during his 20-minute dissertation did he talk about the victims,

I specifically want to ask him what effect he thinks Bill C-36 would have on the victims of crime, specifically the families of a deceased individual, by sparing them the emotional trauma of having to attend and sometimes testify at court proceedings under the faint-hope clause or hearings before the National Parole Board.

Serious Time for the Most Serious Crime Act
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12:15 p.m.

Bloc

Réal Ménard Hochelaga, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank the hon. member for his question. I can assure him that all Bloc Québécois members share a real compassion and a real concern for victims. Over the years, I have personally met with victims of criminal acts. I am well aware of what this may mean for a family, for a spouse, and for children who become orphans. There is no doubt that we feel such compassion.

Of course, when we have to review a bill like this one, the question we must ask ourselves as parliamentarians is what will happen if we abolish a system that already functions by exception. I gave some numbers earlier. Every year, about 40 individuals may be eligible under this program. Is there not a danger in depriving ourselves of this tool? I certainly do not want to give the impression that, by questioning this initiative as a parliamentary group, we are showing a lack of sensitiveness towards victims.

I said that we wish to refer the legislation to a committee. I want to know who benefits from early parole. I am wondering—and I believe that is also the case for my colleagues—what would happen if this provision were to disappear. However, we definitely do not want to show a lack of sensitivity towards victims.

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12:15 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, I want to ask the member whether he has any information about how this type of legislation works in England, Belgium and other countries that have similar types of provisions in their laws.

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12:15 p.m.

Bloc

Réal Ménard Hochelaga, QC

Madam Speaker, unfortunately, I do not have that kind of information. We met with departmental officials this week and they explained a little about the structure of the bill.

They provided us with statistics, but I was not able to do a comparative analysis of other countries. Once this goes to committee, it will no doubt be interesting to see some comparisons and learn how other countries, whose legal traditions are similar to those of Canada, have dealt with early parole.

As always, my colleague's suggestion is a good one. And it is always a pleasure to debate with him. He is very present in the debates here in this House and I always appreciate his questions.

Serious Time for the Most Serious Crime Act
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12:15 p.m.

Bloc

Marc Lemay Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Madam Speaker, I would like to congratulate my hon. colleague from Hochelaga on his work in committee on this issue, which is not an easy one.

It is not an easy issue, especially when it involves this kind of bill, and I would like to take the next few minutes to explain how I see things.

Since the Bloc Québécois has no objection to referring Bill C-36 to committee for examination, what sort of questions does my colleague think the committee should ask when studying Bill C-36, particularly before it goes any further?

As the previous hon. member said, the member for Hochelaga, who has not yet been called to the bar—unfortunately for us—will probably have some interesting things to say in committee.

What is his position? What does he plan to say? What questions would he like to see the committee members ask during their study of the bill?

Serious Time for the Most Serious Crime Act
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12:20 p.m.

Bloc

Réal Ménard Hochelaga, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague. I can even boast that he is not just a colleague, but a friend as well.

Obviously, we all know that he is a learned jurist. He wrote his bar exams in the 1970s—AD, that is. There is no chance I will ever write my bar exams, but I take a certain pride in having completed my law degree.

The sort of questions I would like the committee to debate concern the profile of people who were eligible for early parole. What is the rationale for abolishing section 745.6? I know that some police forces have called for it to be abolished.

In my introduction, which was cut short prematurely, I gave three reasons why we had passed section 745.6 in 1977. We wanted to give hope to people in the prison population and to make certain inmates with the appropriate profile eligible for early parole.

Are the reasons section 745.6 was added to the Criminal Code in 1977 and reviewed in the 1990s no longer relevant?

These are questions I would like the committee to debate, obviously with the friendly cooperation of my colleague from Abitibi—Témiscamingue.

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12:20 p.m.

NDP

Paul Dewar Ottawa Centre, ON

Madam Speaker, I am looking at statistics about how this policy is applied in terms of early parole eligibility and for what crimes. The statistics go back a couple of decades. One thing that is important to look at is the regions.

I just want the member's take on how we should look at this policy when it comes to different regions, and if we should be looking at the causality, and if there are any determinants based on where people are coming from in society. When we allow people to leave the prison system under supervision, it is important that there are supports there.

Does the member think this policy that the government is proposing will actually help support people when they come out of prison? It is fine to say, “Do the time”, and so on, but what about what happens when people leave prison? What supports are there? Does he think there are problems and inequities when looking at the different regions of Canada?

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June 18th, 2009 / 12:20 p.m.

Bloc

Réal Ménard Hochelaga, QC

Madam Speaker, I did not have access to regional statistics. The statistics I shared with the House are the ones we received from the justice department about people who had been granted early parole.

When I was a law student and was taking a course on sentencing—my professor was André Jodoin, who was assisted by Marie-Ève Sylvestre, here at the University of Ottawa—there was still a very good correlation between crime and indicators of disadvantaged areas. I also remember that there was unfortunately a strong correlation between the first nations and crime. That is why, with the Supreme Court decision in Her Majesty v. Proulx and subsequently with the Liberal government, specific mention of recognizing aboriginal justice in sentencing was even added. That said, my colleague is quite right to ask how these people will be reintegrated into society once their parole ends.

As parliamentarians, we need to strike a balance between the need to set an example in punishing people who commit murder and the need to give those people hope for rehabilitation. As Saint Augustine said, virtue is in the middle.

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12:25 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to speak to Bill C-36.

At the outset, I am very eager to see this legislation passed on to committee, where we will deal with it. We look forward to hearing from the presenters regarding elements of the bill. I believe our caucus will have some very positive amendments to benefit victims and support the rights of victims and to improve the situation overall.

Back in 1976, Parliament abolished capital punishment and replaced it with mandatory life sentences for high treason and first and second degree murder. At the same time, ineligibility periods for parole were established. For high treason and first degree murder, parole ineligibility periods were set at 25 years.

In addition, the Liberal government introduced the 15-year judicial review, known as the faint hope clause. Warren Allmand, who was the solicitor general of Canada at the time, and those of us who followed the issues at the time remember him, introduced the new provision with the following comment, “to keep them in for 25 years in my view is a waste of resources, a waste of a person's life”.

I would like to advise the House, Madam Speaker, that I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for Burnaby—New Westminster.

Section 745.6(1) allows for people who are convicted of murder or high treason and who have served 15 years of their sentences to have their parole ineligibility period reviewed and possibly shortened. The process is heavily weighted in favour of the offender, from a victim's point of view. The emphasis is on rehabilitation rather than the crime itself. The impact of the crime is extremely traumatic when it comes to the family of the victim.

We want to demonstrate that Criminal Code Section 745.6(1), the application for judicial review, is not an automatic process. This process is very involved. A lot of steps have to be taken for anybody applying for the faint hope option.

Section 745.6(1) states:

Subject to subsection (2), a person may apply, in writing, to the appropriate Chief Justice in the province in which their conviction took place for a reduction in the number of years of imprisonment without eligibility for parole if the person (a) has been convicted of murder or high treason; (b) has been sentenced to imprisonment for life without eligibility for parole until more than fifteen years of their sentence has been served; and (c) has served at least fifteen years of their sentence.

The exception brought in by the previous Liberal government a few years ago excluded people who were multiple murderers. I think we can pretty much all agree that this was a good idea.

Subsection (2) states:

A person who has been convicted of more than one murder may not make an application under subsection (1), whether or not proceedings were commenced in respect of any of the murders before another murder was committed.

An application for a section 745 hearing is heard in the court. Section 745.6 requires that the chief justice of the province where the offence took place screen an application for judicial review. If the chief justice decides that the application may proceed, there will be a hearing. At the hearing, evidence is first presented by the applicant. Witnesses for the applicant usually include an applicant's family and friends, psychologists or psychiatrists, guards employed at the facility where the applicant is in prison and teachers if the applicant has taken any type of courses.

Representatives of the National Parole Board will also have been called to testify that even if the application is successful, the board does not always grant parole to these applications. The crown prosecutor may then present evidence regarding such things as the applicant's conduct and behaviour while incarcerated.

In terms of the role of the jury, because that is the next process, before the application is heard in court, section 745.6 requires that the chief justice screen an application for judicial review. If the chief justice decides that the application may proceed, the jury will hear the case. The jury must come to a decision after considering the following: the character of the offender after having served 15 years; the conduct and behaviour of the offender while in prison; the nature of the offence, based on the agreed upon facts in the case; the information provided by the victim; and specific matter the judge deems relevant to the application.

After hearing the application, the jury can make the following possible decisions: first, the offender can immediate apply for parole; or second, reduce the parole eligibility period by a specified amount of time; or third, the offender must serve the entire 25 years before parole eligibility. Even if the jury reduces the parole ineligibility period, the National Parole Board must still establish at a parole hearing whether an offender should receive parole. That is the third step in the process.

Not all applications to the board lead to an offender's release. In making its decision, the board must consider whether an offender's release will present an undue risk to society. In fact, the jury is asked a series of questions. One of the questions is, “Do you unanimously agree that the applicant's number of years in prison without eligibility for parole ought to be reduced, having regard to the character of the applicant, his conduct while serving his sentence and the nature of the murder for which he was convicted and the victim's impact statement”. It takes only one person out of the jury to say no and that is it.

This is an improvement over the previous legislation where, I believe, two-thirds of the jury had to agree. Now 100% of the jury has to agree. That improvement was made by amendments back in 1997.

In terms of the victim participation in section 745 hearings, we know, even in property crimes, a number of years ago, the victims were not given very good treatment. I can recall situations where people had break-ins to their homes, which is a very traumatic process for anybody who has ever gone through that, and they would get no help in from the police force and not a lot of sympathy in the process.

Particularly in my province of Manitoba over the course of the last 10 years of NDP government, and the Conservative government before that, the rights of victims were improved. The victim had a right to know the disposition of the case and was given updates and counselling, which is very important. I know of a situation where a person was involved in a robbery, whether the gun was real or not, the person to this day has had psychological problems in dealing with the situation. Nowadays there are provisions for people to have counselling when these events happen. This is a very positive for the victims.

Before 1997, it was left to the judge's discretion whether the jury would be able to consider information provided by the victims during the judicial review process. Section 745.6 now allows for the families of victims to provide information concerning the impact the crime had on them during the application hearing. Under section 745.6(3), the family of the victim may provide information, either orally or in writing, at the discretion of the victim or in any other manner that the judge considers appropriate.

Of course, while that is an important part of the process, people are also being victimized again when they have to appear at hearings when the applications for the faint hope clause are made—

Serious Time for the Most Serious Crime Act
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12:35 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker Denise Savoie

Questions and comments. The hon. member for Edmonton—St. Albert.

Serious Time for the Most Serious Crime Act
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12:35 p.m.

Conservative

Brent Rathgeber Edmonton—St. Albert, AB

Madam Speaker, I listened to the member for Elmwood—Transcona quite intently. He talked about the NDP caucus amending the bill at committee with a view to improving victims' rights. As he knows, I am a member of the justice committee and I am very dedicated to promoting, preserving and improving victims' rights.

I am curious if he might be able to give me a preview as to what type of amendments I can expect in committee that would improve the lot of victims in faint hope clause hearings.

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12:35 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, the member will have to stay tuned as the amendments are developed. Certainly, the intention is there. We in the NDP caucus recognize that it is onerous for victims to have to relive the circumstances of the crime each time there is a hearing under the faint hope clause.

First of all, we would like to hear from the presenters on the different parts of the issue and then perhaps look at some sort of provisions that could be put in the bill to help the victims. We certainly have a very open mind on this bill and we will do everything possible to make sure that victims' rights are protected and that victims' interests are looked after.

Serious Time for the Most Serious Crime Act
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12:35 p.m.

NDP

Bill Siksay Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Madam Speaker, I wonder if the member for Elmwood—Transcona might comment on whether or not he has seen any evidence that public safety has been endangered by the faint hope clause in the Criminal Code of Canada. Has he seen any evidence that folks who do become eligible for early parole have reoffended and committed murder again, or does he believe, like me, that this is an indication of the success of our rehabilitation process in prison?

The folks who are successful in this process are the people who have done best and are most successful in terms of the goals of rehabilitation. They are no longer a burden on society by being incarcerated, but are integrated back into society and become contributing members of the community again. Does he agree with that statement?

Serious Time for the Most Serious Crime Act
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12:35 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, since reviews began back in 1987, as of April 13, 2009, there have been 991 court reviews. Of those cases, parole was only granted in 131 cases. It would appear that the tests we currently have are, to some degree, reasonably tough enough, and at the end of the day, not that many people are successful in the faint hope clause applications.

As of April 13, 2009, of those 991 cases, 83 people are out on full parole. Eighteen people are on day parole. That would imply that the people go back into an institution for the evening. Three people have been deported. One person has been temporarily detained. Twelve people are deceased. One person is on bail.

The arguments can be made that the system has worked reasonably well over time, but I still think there is room for improvement and amendment. That is why I favour passing this bill and sending it to committee. Let us hear from the presenters.