House of Commons Hansard #70 of the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was crime.

Topics

Truth in Sentencing Act
Government Orders

12:20 p.m.

Bloc

Réal Ménard Hochelaga, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the whip's office for letting me speak. I am pleased to start the week off by joining in the debate on Bill C-25, which the Bloc Québécois supports.

With our sense of balance and our healthy common sense, we are able to separate the good bills from the bad. When a bill is good for Quebec, we support it, and when it is bad, we do not support it. This is because our only loyalty is to Quebeckers.

We support Bill C-25, a measure we have been calling for since 2007. In 2007, I led a working group for the Bloc that also included the member for Abitibi—Témiscamingue, my colleague from Ahuntsic and my colleague from Marc-Aurèle-Fortin. Together, we built a platform of justice measures that was a far cry from the logic of mandatory minimum sentencing, which we now know has very little positive, deterrent impact.

We put together an election platform consisting of a dozen recommended measures. These measures became an integral part of the party's platform. In the recommendations I made to my caucus, it was noted that, in a way, the court system rewards offenders in pre-sentencing custody by reducing their sentences by two days for every day of custody, once the sentence is known. This makes no sense. It seems to us that this measure is rather implausible and discredits the administration of justice.

The report I submitted to the leader of the Bloc Québécois in 2007 recommended eliminating two-for-one credit, abolishing automatic parole after one-sixth of the sentence is served and making parole contingent on real, conclusive evidence of rehabilitation. We want to tackle organized crime and the fact that our society authorizes the open display of symbols that frighten and intimidate. I am thinking here of the insignia the Hells Angels use to terrorize and intimidate communities.

Those are the measures we have proposed. I will repeat that the Bloc Québécois has never been captivated, enthralled or motivated by the concept of mandatory minimum sentences. I deplore the fact that, in all the bills presented, the government has succumbed to the facile idea that just because mandatory minimum sentences are included in a bill it will make our communities safer.

I wrote a piece for La Presse, published on October 22, 2008, in which I demonstrated that judges can be somewhat over-liberal when granting credit for time served before sentencing. The principle exists and is dealt with in sections 719 through 721 of the Criminal Code. The amount of credit was established by the Supreme Court of Canada in a decision signed by Justice Arbour, on behalf of the majority. She later left the Supreme Court, as we know, to take up responsibilities with the United Nations Human Rights Commission.

In a 2000 ruling, R. v. Wust, Justice Arbour indicated the ratio to be applied when calculating the credit for time spent in pre-sentencing detention. In paragraph 45 of this Supreme Court ruling, in a text which set precedent and was adopted in all lower courts by way of the rule of stare decisis, she wrote:

In the past, many judges have given more or less two months credit for each month spent in pre-sentencing detention. This is entirely appropriate even though a different ratio could also be applied, for example, if the accused has been detained prior to trial in an institution where he or she has had full access to educational, vocational and rehabilitation programs. The often applied ratio of 2:1 reflects not only the harshness of the detention due to the absence of programs, which may be more severe in some cases than in others, but also reflects the fact that none of the remission mechanisms contained in the Corrections and Conditional Release Act apply to that period of detention.

We are talking about conditional release—or parole—and the time counted does not start from pre-trial custody. Justice Arbour added that:

“Dead time” is “real” time. The credit cannot and need not be determined by a rigid formula and is thus best left to the sentencing judge, who remains in the best position to carefully weigh all the factors which go toward the determination of the appropriate sentence, including the decision to credit the offender for any time spent in pre-sentencing custody.

Section 719 would therefore allow a judge to take into account remand custody, and the Supreme Court has validated the time ratio in use in judge-made law. The Supreme Court has created law that was not initially provided for by the legislation voted by Parliament. This is, however, a widespread practice in lower courts. This practice of deducting two days for each day remaining in the sentence might be, on the face of it, excessive.

I wrote an essay that has earned positive reviews. We are living in world where words of praise can be few and far between. This is a time of restraint, when few compliments are paid and showing consideration is something that is falling into disuse. It does wonders for one's self-esteem to be paid compliments. This essay was published in La Presse and resulted in several interviews for me in the various media.

It was based on Project Colisée, an investigation that went on for months and cost $38 million to the taxpayers, which is not an insignificant amount of money. Nowadays, investigations into organized crime can take months, and even years. They involve conducting electronic and in-person surveillance, of course, and often result in mega-trials due to the enormous amount of evidence collected. Project Colisée made it possible to lay charges against six of the most prominent figures of the Italian mafia in Montreal.

We even managed to get the head of the mafia in Montreal, in the person of Nicolo Rizzuto, sentenced. I will explain the perverse logic of pre-sentencing custody in the case of these people who are among society's most criminal element. It is understood that, in the case of the mafia and the higher echelons of organized crime as these people are, we cannot realistically offer them the possibility of rehabilitation.

I would like to tell you something that happened in my childhood. When I was somewhat younger, with my father, mother, brothers and sisters—we were five children—our days were happy, we were a united family and loved each other. In the 1970s, the government of Robert Bourassa set up a televised commission of public inquiry into organized crime—not just the mafia but even the Dubois brothers and the whole issue of tainted meat and other goods. We watched the commission of inquiry on television. At that time, I was not quite 10, but I know how closely Quebeckers followed this trial of organized crime and just how deeply organized crime was unfortunately rooted in our society.

And so, with Project Colisée, we managed to arrest and lock up six prominent figures from the mafia who represented a real threat to public safety. Despite the totally reprehensible record of these people in organized crime and because the rule went as far as the Supreme Court, the judge—if memory serves, it was Mr. Justice Bonin of the Quebec Court, criminal division—had no choice but to grant a pre-sentence credit this October.

I have very specific examples for you. Nicolo Rizzuto, the mafia godfather, an old man with heath problems, but who still had the audacity to do damage—even behind bars, charged with gangsterism and possession of proceeds of crime—was sentenced in 2008 to four years. However, because he was arrested in 2006 and had thus spent two years behind bars before his trial, he was freed at his trial, because two years of custody amounted to four years of pre-sentence credit, which was equal to his sentence.

Do members realize that the rules set by the Supreme Court, because in this case they apply sort of automatically, led to the release of the mafia godfather somewhat prematurely?

I have another example. Paolo Renda, charged with gangsterism and possession of proceeds of crime was sentenced to six years in prison. His sentence was reduced by four years. He had two to serve. The same is true in the case of another underworld individual well known to law enforcement officials, Rocco Sollecito, who was charged with gangsterism, possession of proceeds of crime and complicity. He was sentenced to eight years' imprisonment. His sentence was reduced by four years as a pre-sentencing credit. He had four years to serve.

Francesco Del Baso, Francesco Arcadi et Lorenzo Giordano, charged with gangsterism, possession of proceeds of crime and complicity were sentenced to 15 years in prison. Their sentence was reduced by four years, because they were in pre-sentencing custody. So, two years of custody led to a reduction of four years. They now have 11 years to serve.

Is it acceptable that in our justice system, the people who have successfully risen in the ranks—unfortunately—of organized crime get months or years of credit for pre-sentence time served because the Supreme Court came up with a two-for-one scheme?

I have to say that the government took some good advice when it decided to introduce Bill C-25. It finally listened to the Bloc Québécois, my colleagues and I, who have been campaigning for this since 2007. All the same we do not want to eliminate the two-for-one rule. The Bloc Québécois never suggested that it should be abolished. In general, in the administration of justice, the rule is that when people are arrested, they can be released on a promise to appear. The judge can determine the conditions, of course. They may have to surrender their passport, or be forbidden from leaving town or from meeting with certain people, but the general rule is release on a promise to appear.

In some cases, individuals charged with gangsterism under sections 467.11, 467.12 and 467.13 of the Criminal Code, made pursuant to 1997 anti-gang legislation, cannot be released because the charges are very serious. In some exceptional cases, those charged with terrorism or murder, or who are unlikely to comply with the terms of a conditional release, are remanded in custody prior to trial. They lose their freedom because they are in custody and do not have access to time toward parole or, most importantly, to rehabilitation programs. The reality of prison being what it is, pre-trial custody often subjects people to extremely difficult living conditions because prisons are overpopulated.

Does that mean that, as a society, we expect the two-for-one rule to be applied? Of course not. That is why the Bloc Québécois, in its usual wisdom, suggested a review of the equation in 2007 and recommended a one-for-one formula: reduce the sentence by one day for each day of pre-trial custody. That seemed fair to us.

The bill incorporates that proposal and I thank the government for that. This is one area we can actually agree on. Good ideas deserve to be shared. It is not a question of partisanship when an idea is constructive and benefits society. The Bloc Québécois has made a positive contribution in this Parliament on many issues regarding not only justice, but also intergovernmental affairs, employment insurance and foreign policy. We have always tried to act as enlightened spokespersons defending the values of Quebeckers.

The bill is balanced because, in some situations, judges can decide to grant not only one for one credit, but also one and a half for one. That is possible, but judges must justify their reasons for doing so and indicate them in the docket.

Once again, the Bloc Québécois will support this bill. We examined it very carefully in committee, and we hope it will be sent to the other place and receive royal assent very quickly. We hope to see it become law in the next few months.

Truth in Sentencing Act
Government Orders

12:40 p.m.

NDP

Bill Siksay Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak in this third reading debate on Bill C-25, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (limiting credit for time spent in pre-sentencing custody). The Conservatives have given this bill the nickname of the truth in sentencing act, which can also be used to refer to the act.

I have many problems with this piece of legislation. I do not think that will come as a surprise to anyone. I have often had great difficulty with crime and punishment measures put forward by the Conservative government. This bill certainly fits the kinds of concerns that I have expressed since I was elected in 2004.

This legislation would give people, before they are found guilty or sentenced for a crime, who are held in a pretrial remand centre, extra credit for the time they spend in jail before being convicted. This bill puts a limit on that. We have seen over the years in Canada the process develop where regularly, almost automatically, people are given two for one credit for their time in pretrial custody before they are convicted. This bill would limit that to one day for every day served in pretrial custody, and in certain exceptional cases it would be allowed to go to one and a half days for one day.

I have trouble with that. The key reason goes back to one of the fundamental principles of our justice system: the presumption of innocence. We have to maintain our belief in some of these very fundamental issues that have been developed over many centuries in our justice system. I believe that the presumption of innocence is one of the very key and fundamental principles of our legal system.

This bill is a direct challenge to that. It says that folks held in custody before they are convicted of a crime are not eligible for any consideration for the time spent in jail before they are found guilty or sentenced for the crime they are alleged to have committed. We need to keep in mind the principle of the presumption of innocence. When people are held before they are given the opportunity to face their accusers and the charges in a court of law, we are delaying justice, and we know that justice delayed is not justice served.

I am also concerned that this is another attempt to limit judicial discretion. We have often heard from Conservatives their disdain, that is the only word to use, for judges having any discretion when it comes to sentencing. I happen to believe that it is needed in the system. We can be armchair judges and react to decisions by judges on sentencing, but when we have not sat through the full trial, followed the case from beginning to end, heard all of the evidence or made the judgments about the accused, it is altogether too easy to decide that some judge has let someone off with a light sentence.

I believe, for the most part, that judges do their jobs well, and judicial discretion is crucial in their ability to do that important work on our behalf. It is important for us to have a measure of judicial discretion built into our system. This bill takes aim at that by trying to put a limit on the ability of judges to recognize time spent in jail and remand centres before someone is convicted of a crime or has gone to court. Those are two very important principles that this legislation challenges.

The practice of allowing two for one credits for pretrial custody arose from concerns about conditions in our justice system, specifically conditions in pretrial centres. The people who have taken a look at our prison system in Canada know that pretrial centres are among the worst in the country. Conditions are often unbelievably horrible. One of the reasons the system of two for one credits has come to be is the problems in the remand system.

My colleague from Windsor—Tecumseh, when he was speaking at second reading on this bill, quoted a story from The Globe and Mail. It was an article, an op-ed piece, written by a Toronto lawyer which appeared in the April 1 issue.

That lawyer described the pretrial conditions for one of his clients, a man named Pavel. Here is what he said, and I think it bears repeating:

Pavel slept on the floor next to the toilet. He was smaller than his cell mates, and most nights he didn't dare challenge them for one of the two bunks. He spent 20 hours a day locked with other men in a 12 by 8 cell designed for one. The staff was on strike, so his cell was not cleaned for two months. Because he was too small to fight for space at the table, he ate his meals on the toilet. Living in filth, he developed a skin disease. His hair fell out in patches, but he was lucky, at least he hadn't caught the tuberculosis that was spreading throughout the detention centre.

That is a graphic example, and maybe it is a particular example given the particular circumstances in that detention centre at the time. I believe it was in the Don Jail, but I could be wrong about that.

We know that overcrowding is a regular feature. Certainly in the pretrial centres in British Columbia, double bunking, triple bunking is the usual practice. We know the conditions in the pretrial centres in British Columbia are absolutely unconscionable. They go against everything Canada has committed to under international agreements in terms of its obligations to a standard of one prisoner per cell with full facilities.

I think most of us can appreciate why that would be the best circumstance for someone in custody in our country. We are not making that standard in many jurisdictions in Canada. I think that is why the practice of two for one credit largely has become automatic. It has been tested in the courts. The member for Hochelaga read from the decision from the Supreme Court of Canada on two for one. The judges noted that it came from a concern about conditions. He also noted they were concerned about being too rigid and cutting back on the ability of judges to exercise discretion given the circumstances of the case before them.

I think we need to really pay attention to conditions in the remand centres and in our prison system. We know there are no programs in provincial remand centres. Given the harsh conditions, given the fact that there are no programs for people, this is a very difficult place to be incarcerated. It is not that this should be easy, but this is particularly troubling given our hopes for standards in those areas and given the kinds of conditions that have developed in this country.

The federal correctional investigator, Mr. Howard Sapers, has expressed concerns about the situation in our federal penitentiary system, the system people go to after they have been convicted, after they get out of a pretrial centre if they have been held prior to their sentencing. We know the situation there is not much better. There are many concerns about what is going on in the federal system once people get out.

Mr. Sapers recently told the committee that was looking at this bill:

It bears noting that the pervasive effects of prison crowding reach far beyond the provision of a comfortable living environment for federal inmates. It stretches the system beyond its capacity to move offenders through their correctional plans in a timely fashion. It has negative impacts on the protection of society itself, as offenders are incarcerated for a greater portion of their sentence, only to be released into the community ill-prepared and then supervised for shorter periods of time.

He continued:

As it stands now, offenders have to contend with long waiting lists for programs; cancelled programs because of insufficient funding or lack of trained facilitators; delayed conditional release, because the lack of capacity to provide programs means offenders cannot complete their correctional plans; and more time served behind walls without correctional benefit. This situation is becoming critical. More and more offenders are released later in their sentences too often not having received the necessary programs and treatment to increase their chance of success once in a community.

That is the situation in our federal system after people are sentenced and incarcerated. It bears repeating that much of what Mr. Saper is talking about is not even a consideration in the pretrial system. That gives rise to the very serious concerns that people have had about pretrial incarceration and the conditions people face in those systems.

There were issues raised at the committee when it was looking at this bill about how this legislation would affect particular groups in our society.

Mr. William Trudell, the chair of the Canadian Council of Criminal Defence Lawyers, brought a particular example of how this law might affect women in Yukon and women who are in the criminal justice system. He reported on what a member of the council had reported was happening in Yukon, how this two for one credit was being applied there and why it was important. This is what the Canadian Council of Criminal Defence Lawyers representative said:

Let me just share with you what our Yukon representative said. This kind of puts it in perspective. Men in the Yukon receive 1.5 to one and women receive two to one. This is because they are housed together in one jail. Because the majority are men, the men have access to any programming that is offered--very little, the library, the yard access--whereas women are kept separate and usually get one hour out of their dorm in a day. In addition, there is only one halfway house that provides bail beds, and they do not accept women. Therefore, women have less opportunities for bail than men.

That example makes it quite clear that there is a necessity for taking into account the conditions that women in Yukon face when they are held before trial. The situation is very different from that of men in Yukon. Therefore, the system has developed where there is a different credit for time being served pretrial in Yukon. When there is little or no programming, and the programming in this case was access to a library and an exercise yard and the women did not even really get that, it shows some of the problems that arise when we try to put hard and fast limits on the sentencing provisions, on the two for one credit, and the discretion of judges to respond to the conditions in the system.

We need to consider these particular situations. Aboriginal people are often overrepresented in our criminal justice system and therefore, it is logical to assume that the kind of situations we are discussing in this legislation are more likely to affect aboriginal people in Canada. Certainly we have heard time and time again how the overrepresentation of aboriginal people in our criminal justice system is something that needs to be addressed, it is something that extends from deeply entrenched and systemic racism in this country, and yet this legislation takes no consideration of those factors in looking at the situation of our criminal justice system.

Although we recognize that the application of two for one is often automatic, it is not universal. In the Khawaja case, the judge made a very deliberate statement of not applying any presentencing credit for the time that Mr. Khawaja served in jail and was very clear about why he felt that would be inappropriate. I have to say that the discretion can go the other way, as well. Certainly, Justice Rutherford in that case took it upon himself to make that kind of decision in that case. It is another example about why judicial discretion is an important factor in all of this.

There was an attempt to amend the legislation at second reading but, unfortunately, none of the amendments were accepted by the other parties. I want to thank the member for Windsor—Tecumseh for making a valiant effort to do that.

We could be doing other things to fix the system. We could be trying to ensure a speedy trial for people who are charged with a crime. Prosecutors are overloaded. The provincial government in British Columbia took steps recently to reduce funding for prosecutors, which was absolutely the wrong direction in which to go. If anything, prosecutors need more resources so that they can do their work in a timely fashion and ensure that the system is supported through their able advice and work. Unfortunately, that is not the case in many of our jurisdictions. There is nothing in this bill that would increase the resources available to provinces to ensure appropriate prosecution, to ensure the timelines of that, or even to improve conditions in provincial remand centres.

We have seen the difficulties with legal aid in many jurisdictions. In Ontario legal aid lawyers are taking a very strong stand against the remuneration they are paid. It is another example of a flaw in our system that complicates the system unnecessarily and could be addressed if governments would provide appropriate resources for that. How many people are in pretrial because they are not getting the appropriate legal advice they need and do not have the kind of access they need to a legal aid lawyer who could properly attend to their situation and their case.

Another concern is that the legislation itself may increase backlogs by its very application. The concern is that if we are removing discretion and making the process of getting increased credit for time spent presentence and that a more formal application process for that time is required, that will require more detailed sentencing hearings in the process. Witnesses would need to be called. That process in itself would make certain cases go longer.

This is something that has not been thought through particularly carefully. Also, there is the concern that if we are removing the possibility of this kind of credit, there will be fewer guilty pleas in the system and it will cause the need for more trials and longer and more complicated trials just because of that.

That is another crucial factor we need to take into consideration with the bill before us. It seemed like a good idea until it was fully implemented and some of these problems came to the fore. It does not have the desired effect of making the system fairer or of speeding up the system. Surely one of our goals in terms of the delivery of criminal justice in Canada is to make sure that people have timely access to that, and that the time, if they are being held before their trial, is very limited, that they proceed to trial and have a decision on their case as quickly as possible. I do not think we do enough to ensure that actually happens in our current system.

Maybe if the legislation had said that we might take measures to reduce the credit offered for pretrial sentencing conditionally, if progress was made about how long it takes to go to trial in Canada, if progress was made on conditions regarding overcrowding and programming in pretrial, if there were specific criteria established to judge the circumstances of the criminal justice system and say that the standard that is developed for very good reason has been two for one and because of the conditions, it has almost been automatic, but if certain benchmarks are made in the system, we might consider reducing that.

That might have been a better piece of legislation, to make it conditional on our performance in delivering a fair and just criminal justice system. This bill once again makes an arbitrary decision about what would be appropriate in these circumstances and limits the discretion that is available in these circumstances. I am not sure that is the appropriate direction in which to go.

Across the country there have been stories about people who deliberately delay their trial so that they can take advantage of this two for one sentencing offer. A lot of these stories are anecdotal. There was little hard evidence produced at the committee to support that it was going on. Many lawyers said they would see that as misconduct if they were recommending to a client to do that, or if they themselves were delaying a trial just to take advantage of that sentencing option.

That is the reason for moving on this. We need to see some clear evidence that that is going on. Until then, I cannot accept the fact that it is. I have real problems with this. I have real problems with the conditions in our prison system and in our pretrial facilities. I will not be able to support this legislation.

Truth in Sentencing Act
Government Orders

1 p.m.

Liberal

Keith Martin Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask my hon. colleague if the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, the attorney general of British Columbia, and the citizens of the province of British Columbia have asked for this, if this is going to provide some truth in sentencing, to delineate the provisions that are going to be afforded to those who are in custody before sentencing, to provide that level of security, knowledge and awareness on the part of the public and it is going to increase faith in the justice system, is this not a good thing?

I take his points very clearly on the provincial system. We have asked the federal government to work with its provincial counterparts to deal with many of the problems that exist in the provincial system.

The member knows we in the Liberal Party have championed the early learning head start program. We are the ones who put that forward. It has a demonstrable preventive effect on reducing crime.

Does the member not see that Bill C-25 is actually a good thing for the citizens of our country and the citizens of our province of British Columbia?

Truth in Sentencing Act
Government Orders

1 p.m.

NDP

Bill Siksay Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, it would not be the first time I have disagreed with the current government in British Columbia on an issue.

I want to see evidence that this legislation will improve the safety and security of citizens before I vote for it, and I see no evidence. I do not believe any evidence was presented to demonstrate that. It is incumbent on me as a member of Parliament to look for that kind of evidence before I indicate support for a measure that is being brought forward.

I do not doubt that there are many people who believe that this is a great idea, just as there are many people in Canada who believe that capital punishment is a good idea. I would not be able to support that kind of measure. I am glad that the last time that issue came forward the House did not support it, despite massive public opinion in favour of that option. There was no evidence that it makes people safer, that it does anything to improve the security and safety of our communities and our families. I do not see that in this legislation either. I do not see how this is going to improve the system.

Again, if it had done something about actually addressing the problems that gave rise to this two for one credit system, then maybe it would be supportable, but I do not see any evidence that there has been any attention whatsoever paid to that.

I do have real difficulties with this legislation. I do not think it will accomplish the goals that even the government has proclaimed it attempts to address.

Truth in Sentencing Act
Government Orders

1:05 p.m.

Bloc

Marc Lemay Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened to you very carefully. I was concentrating and I will follow up on the comments of my hon. colleague. Although it rarely happens, the Bloc Québécois will be voting in favour of a justice bill. The Bloc Québécois will vote in favour of Bill C-25, which we are debating here today.

As an experienced criminal lawyer, I can talk about this bill and the mistakes that have been made. What exactly will happen in reality? Consider this example. Someone is arrested and presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond any reasonable doubt. However, the basic principle that has emerged, and has been confirmed and put into practice by the Supreme Court in recent years has been the release of the offender.

When an individual is brought before a justice of the peace to face a charge laid against him, the prevailing principle is that he must be released. As members know, in our judicial system, the general rule that an offender must be released pending trial has evolved over the years. The accused is released, and often the trial is not held for six months, a year or even two years. Because of the complexity of the evidence, such as evidence of fraud or even often in murder cases, it can take one, two or even three years before the accused stands trial. If he is released in the meantime, the damage is lessened and the court will have to take this into account in handing down a sentence if the accused is found guilty.

Section 500 of the Criminal Code, which I will not go over in its entirety, provides for statutory release. However, when the accused is at risk of reoffending or has no fixed address, for example, he may be kept in custody pending trial. There is a whole series of legal provisions and court decisions, right up to the Supreme Court, that cover and provide a framework for this right to release or the obligation to remain in custody pending trial.

I have made a lengthy digression to get to the point at issue. What happens once the decision is made to keep the accused in custody pending his trial? That is when all the principles of Bill C-25 come into play. This is what happens. The accused is held pending his trial. Under the rules that have been established, the accused is not held in the same wing or the same place as convicted offenders. Why? Because he is presumed innocent until proven guilty. Until his trial takes place, if the court decides to keep the accused in custody, he is kept in preventive custody. In legal jargon, this is known as being in remand. After the preliminary hearing or before the trial, the accused can ask to be released.

I have some specific examples. Let us say the accused was kept in custody because he had no fixed address. He can come before the court a week after being remanded in custody and prove to the court that he now has an address. He will therefore be released because the overriding principle is the right to be released until it is proven beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused is guilty.

What happens when someone is kept in custody? If the trial takes place in one month, two months, three months, six months, one year or even two years and the accused in kept in custody, that time counts double.

That is the legal jargon. The Supreme Court and the appeal courts—confirmed by the Supreme Court—have said that since the accused does not have all of his rights, since he does not have the same rights as someone who is put in custody after being sentenced, he therefore has the right to have time spent in pre-sentencing custody counted. Customarily, that time has counted two for one, or at least it did before Bill C-25.

So what happens? For example, an accused is found guilty on 12 counts of breaking and entering. He was held in remand for one year while he was waiting for the case to be sorted out and to appear before a judge. I speak from experience, since in the past I have represented accused persons who were going to plead guilty in their case. So what did we do? Some individuals had been rather busy and had committed crimes all over the place, in several legal jurisdictions. So, while the authorities were sorting out the case, the accused was held in remand. The judge was then told that since the accused had been in remand for six months, the judge should apply the two for one rule. For example, if the court had decided to sentence the accused to one year in jail, and he had already spent six months in pre-sentencing custody—multiplied by two—he would be released immediately.

That has outraged citizens. Those listening realize that, in some cases, there may be excesses. We cannot prejudge, we cannot force them to say so but there have been fortuitous coincidences. Repeat offenders, criminals, decided that they would remain in prison, that is in remand for six months, a year or two years. It happened just a few months ago in Quebec. An alleged mafia leader was kept in preventive custody for two years for drug trafficking, importing and gangsterism. The court told him that it intended to impose a four year sentence. Since he had been in remand for two years—two years times two equals four—the person in question, even though he was accused of very serious crimes, was released because he had spent two years in preventive detention, thank you very much.

Bill C-25 will set limits—which I believe is a good thing—on this right. It will remain but it will no longer be two for one, that is one day in remand will reduce the sentence by two days, or one month by two months, or one year by two years. This bill sets limits and requires the judge to give reasons. The sentence will be reduced by a maximum of one day for every day spent in detention. That is the principle that will prevail with Bill C-25. What will happen? The accused, and therefore probably his lawyer as well, will want to go to court quickly. When a lawyer knows that his client wants to go to trial he may try to do so quickly. We have one concern about this aspect of the bill, which we discussed in committee. Governments must provide the means for courts to move quickly.

At present, the accused quite often has to wait many months to go to trial. That is a fact.

There are, though, a number of places in Canada where an individual charged has little choice but to let his trial drag on for months. I will provide some examples. The court that travels to all the villages along the shore of James Bay and Ungava Bay—Salluit, Puvirnituq, Inukjuak and Kuujjuaq—is called an itinerant court, or a circuit court. Unfortunately for a person charged and in custody there, the court does not travel there every week. And so in the individual's case this can be mentioned, as provided in the bill, and the court can take the conditions into account. It cannot give credit of more than a day and a half for each day of custody.

Let me explain that. If an individual who has been charged has been in custody for three months, the court must take a month and a half into account. If the court wants to impose a six month sentence, for example, it can subtract a month and a half from the punishment of detention and then impose sentence accordingly, explaining it correctly.

There is only one problem with this bill, but we think it is a sizeable one. This bill will pass of course, because the Liberal Party, the Bloc Québécois and the present government support it. It was all very well for the government to want to have this legislation passed, but I have misgivings about the programs that should be put in place and the help that should be provided to the legal system so that cases can go to trial sooner than they do now.

It is no secret that there is currently a huge backlog of trials. Throughout Quebec's court districts and in those I am familiar with in Quebec City, Trois-Rivières, here in Gatineau—or Hull, if you prefer—in Abitibi and in La Tuque, anyone wanting a quick trial has to wait 6 to 12 months.

For instance, a person arrested for impaired driving today, June 8, has very little chance of going to trial before early 2010. It is practically impossible, given the backlog in the courts. This backlog, it must be understood, is not due just to the efforts of lawyers trying to delay cases. It is not due just to the efforts of the accused who want to take their time, are in no hurry and are adding to the number of procedures. It is not that at all.

At the moment, there is a backlog in the courts because there are not enough resources or judges. Judges who have retired or are preparing to retire are not being replaced. There is a real shortage. I am obviously talking about the situation in Quebec, which I know well. In Quebec, at the moment, there are clearly not enough crown attorneys for charges to be considered and pressed within the time frame.

As this problem is part of my background, I can talk about it. There will be a problem with legal aid. We asked the minister whether there would be additional funding to the provinces. It must be understood—and those watching us must also understand—that the administration of justice is a provincial matter. The provinces administer justice. Obviously, circuit court trials are not held every week. In certain judicial districts, a trial may be held only every two or three years, but that is not what we are talking about. We are talking about trials before the Court of Quebec, criminal division. I say, with all due respect, that the current time frame is 6 to 12 months.

Going to trial quickly would not be possible, even if we wanted to, because of a shortage of judges and crown prosecutors. Often, in the cases we are talking about, the accused get little representation, if any. We do not have enough defence and legal aid lawyers anywhere in Canada. There are too few of them to provide the services to which accused persons are entitled.

I understand, as the Conservatives will no doubt remind us, that they are concerned about the victims. I agree, but at the same time those who are accused must not become the victims of a rigid and cumbersome judicial system that is no longer able to administer justice because it is clogged with too many pending cases. That is what this bill deals with. That is why it includes a provision allowing each day spent in custody to count for up to one and one-half days.

We have to be careful, though. Individuals must not have been held in custody because they have a record or for breach of bail. Conditions do apply for each day spent in custody to count for one and one-half days. The individual must not have a record or be detained because of a breach of conditional release. Let me explain this last point.

The general rule is that the accused is released pending trial. Pending trial, the accused has the right to be released. The individual may be released under conditions like abstaining from consuming alcohol, from frequenting certain bars or from driving a motor vehicle, if charged with impaired driving causing bodily harm or death. The individual will be released, but if the court-imposed release conditions are breached, he or she will be held in custody, and the two-for-one or 1.5-for-one rule will not apply.

It is recognized that, in some specific and exceptional situations, it can be appropriate to subtract the days spent in custody before and during a trial from the sentence. I have some examples. The public must understand that an individual in pre-sentencing custody does not have the same rights as an individual who has been sentenced. I had the Minister of Justice acknowledge that none of the programs in Quebec remand centres apply to prisoners in pre-sentencing custody. While awaiting trial, the accused person watches television and plays cards.

The Department of Justice and the Department of Public Safety must absolutely set aside funds so that we at least provide some services. Someone who is in custody on a sixth charge of impaired driving causing bodily harm may have a problem with alcohol. Now, the person in custody receives absolutely no services. We would like the government to set aside money so that remand centres can at least help these people start some kind of rehabilitation.

In conclusion, the Bloc Québécois will support Bill C-25. However, I must note that the government will have to be aware of the problems it could cause. We could end up with overcrowding in remand centres.

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1:25 p.m.

Liberal

Keith Martin Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask a question of my hon. colleague from Quebec.

His province has a very serious problem with organized crime. On the first nations reserve of Akwesasne there is a serious issue in the trafficking and sale of contraband tobacco. It is one of multiple products from which organized crime gangs are deriving their money.

Organized crime on the American side of the border is producing cigarettes that are one-fifth to one-eighth the price of legal, over-the-counter cigarettes. As a result of that, more than 40% of cigarettes in that part of Canada are actually illegal. The impact upon children is huge. It is a huge public health disaster for first nations children and non-first nations children in that area.

Does my friend not think that this is a very serious issue, and that the federal government must work with the Akwesasne First Nation leadership as well as police forces to arrest this cancer that is destroying these societies?

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1:25 p.m.

Bloc

Marc Lemay Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, I think that we have strayed from the subject, but I do agree with my friend from Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca.

There is a serious problem. I am the Bloc Québécois critic for aboriginal affairs and northern development, so I am very familiar with aboriginal issues, especially the Akwesasne issue. The Akwesasne issue was not very complicated. We are the ones who made it complicated. We set up the Cornwall border crossing on the Akwesasne reserve without even talking to the first nations. It was established in 1950.

There is only one solution: either the Conservatives or the Liberals who succeed them will have to listen to people. Somebody will have to make a decision. It is not complicated. The government just has to relocate the Akwesasne crossing. The government has to get it off the reserve and put it somewhere else. That will not stop the sale of contraband cigarettes. There is only one way to fight that. The government has to work with Mohawk police forces, the RCMP, the FBI—because the United States is involved—and the OPP. Everyone has to work together to stop the sale of illegal cigarettes.

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1:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

Questions and comments, the hon. member for Esquimalt--Juan de Fuca, and may I remind him that his question ought to be relevant to Bill C-25.

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1:25 p.m.

Liberal

Keith Martin Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, I think that it actually will be because it relates to truth in sentencing for those who are convicted of very serious offences.

Does my hon. friend not think that the public has a right to know that the amount of sentencing a person receives is actually the time that somebody will spend? One of the issues that is very difficult to understand is that people automatically get a third of their sentences off when they are convicted. Sometimes it could be much more than that, in fact 50%.

Does he not think that time off for so-called good behaviour should actually be based on people's ability to avail themselves of the resources to deal with substance abuse issues or psychiatric problems if they have them, and skills training, and that those should be the requirements and the standards that people should have to meet before they are allowed to have so-called time off for good behaviour?

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1:30 p.m.

Bloc

Marc Lemay Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, as I see it, there are two problems. Allow me to explain. First, we have the time before the sentence and the time after the sentence. An individual in custody awaiting trial has no right to any services. Neither innocent people—I have to choose my words carefully—in custody because of strong evidence against them, nor hardened criminals in remand have the right to any services.

That is why the courts have been told that time served must count. These individuals do not do anything while in custody because there are no programs for them.

The second problem arises once the individual has been sentenced. We raised this issue, and I will continue to raise it in the House. The problem is not going to prison, but leaving prison. People get out too soon. They do not serve their full sentences.

How can we put a program in place to help and rehabilitate people who have an alcohol or drug problem if they are sentenced to three years in jail? The moment they go in, they are told that because they are such good guys, they only have to serve one year. We just cannot do that. I think that we will have to take a closer look at the parole service very soon.

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1:30 p.m.

Conservative

Ed Fast Abbotsford, BC

Mr. Speaker, my friend raised a very good point. He is suggesting that elimination of the two for one and three for one remand credit is not something that is necessarily desirable because individuals are being placed in custody where there are no services. I suggest to the member that if indeed services are not available at the provincial level, as they are at the federal level, then the solution is not to maintain a two for one or three for one credit, it is to enhance the resources at the provincial level.

My question to my hon. friend is this. Why would he not focus in on improving the resources at the provincial level rather than maintaining a sentencing practice that most Canadians find quite abhorrent?

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1:30 p.m.

Bloc

Marc Lemay Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, it does not happen often, but I agree with my colleague. It is rare that I agree with someone from the Conservative Party on matters of justice, but in this case I do. I agree because it all makes sense. We cannot practice piecemeal justice. We must consider the fact that people who are sentenced must serve their time. When judges impose sentences, they speak directly to the offenders. We must trust our judges. I believe they are the best people to identify offenders' problems and tell them how much time they have to serve. If a judge sentences someone to three years, it is not normal that he or she should be released after one year. It is absolutely unacceptable. However, we do have a problem with the Conservatives on one other point. They send many people to prison, even before their trials, as well as afterwards. They want to impose minimum prison sentences, but will not provide the money needed. They are not helping to implement the rehabilitation and reintegration programs these inmates need.

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1:30 p.m.

Conservative

Ed Fast Abbotsford, BC

Mr. Speaker, I will follow up my first question with another one. If in fact my friend is so opposed to custodial sentences, why does he not take note of the fact that it is actually the provinces themselves, the ones that presumably do not have the resources to provide the services to those who are in pretrial custody, like British Columbia, that are demanding that we get rid of the two for one and three for one remand credit? I would like his comment on that.

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1:30 p.m.

Bloc

Marc Lemay Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, I realize that many people are calling for the elimination of this two-for-one crediting of time. I know that. The Bloc Québécois will vote in favour of this, but not because the two-for-one credit is being eliminated and judges are being asked to justify their decisions to impose, instead of a two-for-one credit, 1.5-for-one, whereby one day of detention is worth a day and a half. The problem is that once that is established, we must realize that the provinces are calling for the elimination of this two-for-one credit, except that Quebec and the other regions of Canada must be given the means to implement rehabilitation and reintegration programs. That is what is missing. Those programs currently do not exist. My colleague is quite right. All the provinces are asking to eliminate it, but the Conservatives must remember that the provinces have also asked for reintegration and rehabilitation programs in order to begin working with individuals awaiting trial, who might become inmates in the coming months.

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1:35 p.m.

NDP

Judy Wasylycia-Leis Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak on behalf of my caucus on the final stage of Bill C-25. I want to put on record very clearly that my leader and the New Democratic caucus are in support of Bill C-25. This does not mean there is not a need for debate and discussion. It does not mean there is not and was not a place for amendments.

I want to commend the work of our colleague, the justice critic for the New Democratic Party, the member for Windsor—Tecumseh, for his steadfast work in this area. My colleague has spent hours and hours dealing with this barrage of crime bills coming forward from the Conservatives, which are often narrow in scope, multitudinous in numbers and not always complete in analysis.

In most cases, the bills brought forward by government have needed some changes. They would not have lived up to a charter challenge. They were not necessarily in line with provincial jurisdictions, or they were completely lacking in terms of the comprehensive approach required with respect to crime in our country today.

We have been very diligent in doing our work on this side of the House, trying to improve the bills that have been brought forward by the government when it comes to crime and safety.

This bill is no exception. My colleague from Windsor—Tecumseh worked very hard to improve the bill at committee, but he was unsuccessful.

However, in the final analysis we have always supported the notion of changing the two for one credit in our remand system. In fact, I want to remind members that long before the Conservatives brought forward this bill, an all party delegation from the province of Manitoba, led by the Premier Gary Doer, accompanied by leaders of both the Conservative and Liberal Parties, as well as the mayor for of the city of Winnipeg, came to Ottawa to meet with all parties to present a number of solutions that dealt with crime and public security.

One of those solutions in fact was the two for one question.

My colleagues from the provincial legislature came to this place asking the government to work and move as expeditiously as possible to change the two for one approach.

That matter has also been raised on two occasions at least of federal-provincial-territorial meetings. Back in October 2006 and then again in November 2007 federal-provincial-territorial ministers of justice dealt with this issue among others and reached a consensus to change, to remove, to eliminate the two for one arrangement. The justice minister in Manitoba, the Hon. Dave Chomiak and before him the Hon. Gord Mackintosh were front and centre in the move to make these changes.

Why, despite the fact we think the bill is not perfect, despite the fact we think the government's approach is less than comprehensive and complete, will we support C-25? It has to do with this whole evaluation, the question of value of pretrial custody. The reason we have had this two for one approach, which for all the listeners involved will know, this means for every year, month or day people spend in custody that two years, that two months, that two days are taken off their final sentence.

Over the years we have moved to a two for one and sometimes a three for one arrangement for a couple of reasons and they cannot be ignored because are important reasons.

One is it took into account, and judges had the discretion to do this, the conditions in the remand centre. It took into account the absence of training and health and support networks at the remand centre level. It did not say that it was simply too bad that we as a society had this horrible penal system and terrible remand conditions under one for one. The judges had some discretion to say that, in those horrible conditions, with the lack of supports and opportunities for rehabilitation, we needed to at least change the one for one to two for one or three for one.

Sometimes, we do things that have other effects, which are not always in the best interests of our society. In this case, we run into some problems with the two for one proposal. There have certainly been inconsistent determinations of the value for pre-trial custody. Now we are in a situation where a two for one credit is often routinely imposed without considering whether it is warranted. On top of that, it is absolutely the case, without doubt, that the conditions in remand facilities today are often the same as those faced by sentenced prisoners.

Furthermore, it has been clear throughout this debate that people have taken advantage of this system. There are indications that accused persons who intend to plead guilty intentionally, choosing to remain in remand as long as they can in order to maximize the total amount of the remand credit they will receive. That, in turn, contributes to the problems of overcrowding in remand facilities.

There is a final reason that has to be talked about in this context, and that is the need to maintain the confidence of the public in our system and for people across the country to know we have penal, justice and corrections systems that are responsive to the goals and aspirations that we all hold for our society. They are goals and values that say the following: We as a society must be forever focused on the need to prevent crime in the first place. That is the first aspiration of Canadians on this issue.

Second, as a government and Parliament, we must do everything in our power to protect citizens from crime and unsafe conditions in their homes, neighbourhoods and communities.

Third, Canadians expect us to put in place punishments that fit the crime.

Although it is impossible to deal with all three of those great values and fundamentals of our justice system, the three-legged stool if I can put it that way, through this bill, we can at least acknowledge what Bill C-25 does in terms of those interests.

We can point to other areas that require government action to compliment and support this approach. On its own in isolation, simply changing and removing the two for one credit and moving it toward 1.5:1 or one for one in some circumstances will not fix the problem of overcrowding in the remand centres. It does not necessarily ensure that the punishments handed out to convicted criminals are consistent with the crimes committed. We have to be vigilant on all fronts.

I recognize some of the concerns raised by my colleagues. My colleague for Burnaby—Douglas raises very legitimate concerns about the conditions found in remand centres and in our penal system in general. He described some very horrific situations.

We have all seen the heritage moment on national TV of Agnes Macphail, the first woman to get elected to the House of Commons, who in 1921 or there about, stood in the House and used a prop, which is not allowed, to demonstrate how people in prisons were being whipped, chained and punished beyond any notion of humanity. That changed things in this place. It made people realize that we all had an obligation to ensure our prisons, although places of punishment, were also not so inhumane that we would fall into what many would describe as a third world country conditions.

My colleague from Burnaby—Douglas said we should not embark on something that would take away all judicial discretion. He said that we should not forget about the important issues that bought the two for one credit in the first place. He wants to see the government and Parliament focus on the whole range of options that have to do with crime and safety in the country. That is what we all want. We support Bill C-25 because it takes a step toward dealing with a serious problem in our system today.

We call on the government today to do more than simply bring forward legislation that would require us to build more jails and lock up more people. We call on the government today to start doing what Canadians expect, which is a three-pronged approach focusing on prevention, protection and punishment.

It is not good enough for a government today to stand in this place and say that if we criticize any of its single faceted bills on specific issues in our justice system, that we are soft on crime, or because we have tried to amend something, we are soft on crime. That is hogwash and absolute rubbish.

The Conservatives have to stop playing those games. We are all trying to work together to make the best system possible. We all have the best interests of Canadians at heart. We all know we are dealing with a very complex issue that requires serious and thoughtful answers, not simplistic and narrow approaches.

I call on the government today to give some thought to what is really required. I want to start by asking it about its broken promises.

Why, since the 2006 election, when the Conservatives promised to increase the police force in the country by 2,500 officers, have they done nothing? If the Conservatives are so concerned about protecting the public, where are those police officers? Why, three years after the fact, have no police officers been added?

Why has the government continued to sit on the motion by Parliament to put labels on alcoholic beverage containers, saying that drinking during pregnancy can cause harm, which results in serious disabilities to people who in turn end up, in many cases, committing crimes and being put in jail where there is no support?

How can the Conservatives expect us all to support bills, without a lot of stats and a lot of evidence, just because on face value they appear to get tough on crime, yet turn around and say they cannot put labels on alcoholic beverages because there is no science to prove that putting on labels would deter someone from drinking? What nonsense.

If the Conservatives are serious about a comprehensive approach, if they really care about the fact that we all are interested in preventing crime, protecting the public and punishing those according to the serious nature of the crime, then surely they would take some basic preventative measures.

The Conservative government has sat on this all the time it has been in government. It has been eight years now since that motion was passed by Parliament, almost unanimously. To this day, no government, either Liberal or Conservative, has had the guts to stand up to the beer and liquor lobby groups and say it is time we put some labels on bottles to show it puts its money where its mouth is.

The government says a lot in terms of getting tough on crime. Does it ever talk about the cutbacks it has made in terms of prevention programs and training programs? Does it not realize that it is more expensive to jail children than to provide positive options?

People in the government seem determined to send more kids to jail rather than putting money in programs in terms of preventing the conditions that get them there in the first place. What about the gang prevention programs? What about the rehabilitation programs? What about training programs? What about mental health programs? What about all those things that will actually prevent kids from committing a crime in the first place? Is that not what we should be all about?

I have never heard the government talk about alternatives. I know the member for Abbotsford today talked about the fact that we cannot fix the overcrowding in remand centres through this bill. We have to get to the source of the problem and support with resources and people our remand centres, prisons and programs that help those in the corrections system. He is right. We have to go beyond simply looking at these very specific single measures and get at the roots of the problem.

Where is the government when it really counts? Where is the money for those programs? In its own jurisdiction, why does it not take some measures where it has absolute authority in terms of the federal Constitution? Why does it never mention alternatives to incarceration that have been proven successful in limiting reoffending?

I want to use the words of someone from Winnipeg who has been working very hard at eliminating unsafe conditions in a neighbourhood, which were reflected in a column by Jeffrey Simpson in The Globe and Mail. It is the Point Douglas effort to curtail crime in that neighbourhood.

As Jeffrey Simpson writes:

Two keys unlocked the Point Douglas puzzle. The neighbourhood had to be mobilized to take itself back; and zero tolerance became the order of the day. No criminal behaviour would go unreported; no houses would be left derelict; no windows would remain broken; no guns would be allowed. Community commitment and law enforcement came together in a polyglot community, with aboriginals making up more than half the population.

He rightfully concludes:

The community must be willing to save itself. It means civic authorities, police, and social agencies working together.

It means government involved in this whole project.

He says:

Success might mean that the criminal elements and slum landlords simply go to other areas of the city. But it sure has worked in Point Douglas.

There is a model that has to be considered each day, and I want to quote as well from Shauna MacKinnon, who wrote in a Winnipeg Free Press editorial on March 15:

Youth participation in gangs is a concern in urban centres across the country. Proposed solutions range from the very conservative knee-jerk reactions that lead to “lock em up” solutions, to solutions that tackle the root causes that draw children into gangs.

The research is clear. Access to skill-building recreational activities that develop self-esteem can help protect kids from the lure of gangs. But we don't really need the research to tell us this. All parents know that keeping their kids busy in sports and recreation keeps them out of trouble.

We could go on and on with those important words. I wish the government would begin to understand that it has to someday come forward with a complete response to the issues we are all concerned about when it comes to crime and safety. It cannot continue to focus only on one of the three components of a complete strategy. It cannot simply focus only on punishment. It must look at prevention and protection.

However, as I wrap this up, I will say that we recognize the importance of the step taken by this particular bill. We know that, as Sel Burrows, from Point Douglas, has told me himself, the really hard-core remands figure out to the day how long to stay in remand relative to the likely sentence, to then plead guilty once their double time count gets them released immediately or at least into provincial jail rather than penitentiary. But he went on to say that we need to remember that the poor are the ones terrorized by gangs. We need more alternative sentences for light offences and more time out for society from the hard core until we find something that works to rehabilitate them.

We look to the government for leadership on all aspects of crime and safety in our communities today. We want a multi-pronged approach. We want a government that focuses on prevention and protection, as well as appropriate punishment.