House of Commons Hansard #82 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was information.

Topics

Ending Early Release for Criminals and Increasing Offender Accountability Act
Government Orders

12:40 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

Mr. Speaker, some of the themes my colleague touched upon I would have to agree with in many cases. The rehabilitation of individuals and the resources that are not available for individuals to rehabilitate themselves is one thing that needs to be addressed within our system. Given that the system is about to face some rising costs, there are some added pressures in many regards.

Community activism, in many cases, is not being utilized as much as it can. In my area of Newfoundland and Labrador some of the programs have been extremely successful in engaging youth and avoiding crime. There are instances where people have shown lenience toward abominable behaviour.

I want to get one aspect of the bill that he may have addressed, and I apologize if I did not hear it. One of the things the NDP expressed is the establishment of the right of the victim to make a statement at parole hearings. How does he feel about that and does he feel it can be utilized, which I personally think it is a good thing? How can impact statements at parole hearings be utilized within our society that makes our system better and the fact that we do not utilize that aspect enough to help keep our societies safe?

Ending Early Release for Criminals and Increasing Offender Accountability Act
Government Orders

12:40 p.m.

NDP

Don Davies Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, the New Democrats believe we need to stand up for anybody who has been victimized by crime. Offenders need to hear from victims. They need to know the impact of their crimes. Victims need to have their voices heard and we should enshrine in law their right to do so. Otherwise, they are victimized a second time.

New Democrats also support the rights of victims to access information about offenders. We cannot leave offenders in the dark, fighting for every scrap of information. Knowing that an offender is being rehabilitated is an important step on a victim's road to healing and recovery. Mr. Sullivan pointed out that victims of crime do not care if the person is locked up for an extra six months, nine months or a year. What they really want to know is when offenders get out of jail, they will not be victimized again. What victims do not want is for the government to simply focus on punishment.

I will not quote again the words of former victims ombudsman Steve Sullivan, but that is what victims want and that is what their ombudsman said. He is the voice of thousands of Canadian victims. It was his job to hear from them to ensure their voices were reflected in the chamber, and he did so. I would encourage the government to listen to that voice instead of ignoring it.

Ending Early Release for Criminals and Increasing Offender Accountability Act
Government Orders

12:40 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to follow my colleague, the member for Vancouver Kingsway, in this debate. He raised very important points. I certainly hope the Conservatives opposite, who tend to get only the information that the PMO is willing to give them, consisting of a couple of pages of notes with some lines that they repeat ad nauseam, are actually absorbing the kind of information they are getting from the NDP members who are giving the facts.

The facts are the government manages crime like it manages the budget. We have record budget deficits in our country. The government is applying the same incompetence to the criminal justice system, and I will come back to that in a moment.

What we really have is two debates. The first debate is on Bill C-39. That bill, as we know, has components that we certainly support. These recommendations have been before the government for a number of years. We are glad it is finally acting upon issues such as having victim impact statements inserted into the parole process. That is very important. It is a recommendation that the government has been sitting, but it is finally introducing it. It is an important modification that we support.

There are a number of housekeeping items as well in the bill that we support. The bill could have gone rapidly through the House, but then the government, as it is wont to do, sort of on the back of a napkin, threw a number of elements into the bill that are not helpful. That provokes the second debate on the government and how it approaches criminal justice issues and how it approaches, in a sense, trying to reduce the crime rate, doing the things that other countries have found reduce the crime rate. Instead the government seems to want to stoke the crime rate by removing such important programs as crime prevention. It is absurd. However, I will get back to that in a moment.

It used to be said that people do not vote Conservative except for two reasons: budget management and crime. Those are the only two items.

We would not vote Conservative because we want a better health care system because that is what the NDP has brought to bear.

We would not vote Conservative to support more programs for veterans because the government, as we have seen, guts veterans' programs across the country.

We would not vote Conservative to get a better education program or more accessibility to universities.

We would not vote Conservative to improve the environment or to have fair taxes. With the HST that has been imposed by the Conservative government on British Columbians, the fair system has become less and less fair. Every time there is a middle-class tax cut, user fees go up even more. Every time Conservative governments tackle fiscal issues, the middle class is left with having to pay more through user fees. It is a bit of a shell game. Taxes are cut for the wealthy and they are increased, through user fees, on the middle class.

We would not vote Conservative to get better health and safety protections in the workplace, or to get stronger transportation safety regulations or to get a better quality of life to protect Canadian jobs, to reduce debt loads because under the government's watch the debt loads of Canadian families have increased substantially.

We would not vote Conservative for any of those reasons.

However, the Conservatives promised to bring some fiscal prudence to the management of federal government affairs. Let us look at the top 10 boondoggles from the last few months. There is the HST, as I mentioned. There were corporate tax cuts of $60 billion handed out to Canada's wealthiest corporations, to be transferred to the Bahamas or Panama. We had the G8 and G20—

Ending Early Release for Criminals and Increasing Offender Accountability Act
Government Orders

12:45 p.m.

Conservative

James Bezan Selkirk—Interlake, MB

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I hear absolutely no bearing on the speech that the member is giving as being relevant to the question before us. I ask that you bring him back to order to talk about the bill before us.

Ending Early Release for Criminals and Increasing Offender Accountability Act
Government Orders

12:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer

The hon. member has been speaking for close to five minutes now, so if he could bring his remarks to the substance of the motion before the House, the Chair and the other colleagues in the House would appreciate that.

Ending Early Release for Criminals and Increasing Offender Accountability Act
Government Orders

12:45 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Thank you, Mr. Speaker, but as you well know, the whole issue here is the Conservative misuse of resources, and I will take a moment just to set the case for how badly Conservatives have managed the fiscal direction of the country and how that has an impact on their criminal justice policies as well. I know the Conservative members opposite do not like to hear the facts, but as a financial administrator, which was my profession before I became a member of Parliament, I will say that they are going to have to just accept that facts have to be brought to the table.

We had $1 billion for the G8 and G20 summits. We have had the Senate appointments, of course, the Olympic waste and the overruns in the security budget, and the advertising budget being supersized at multiple times what the advertising budget was supposed to be. We had the absurdity of doorknobs being changed in Prince Edward Island and hundreds of dollars spent on signs advertising that. We had the AbitibiBowater payoff of $130 million and the F-35 fighter jet costs.

Coming back to criminal justice policies, we also have the $9 billion boondoggle on the creation of prisons. That is what the Conservatives say is their criminal justice policy. They have managed very ineptly the finances of the country, but they are saying, “Trust us on crime”. They brought forward this bill that could have received all-party consent immediately, because as I mentioned earlier on Bill C-39, some of the provisions all parties support, but they wanted to throw a few poison pills in it just to provoke more of a debate.

We have to wonder, when they are willing to put $9 billion in prisons, what they are cutting back on. That is the point that I want to make and why it was important to talk about the fiscal ineptitude of the government, because when we look at the criminal justice system we see the same kind of mean-spirited, inept, incompetent approach on criminal justice issues.

What have they cut back? It has not just been the constant verbal assaults on our police officers and police chiefs that we saw during this incredibly divisive gun registry debate. It is also what they have chosen not to put money into. The public safety officer compensation fund was an NDP motion, voted on by Conservatives. Four years after they were elected, they are still refusing to put in place a public safety officer compensation fund so that when police officers or firefighters die in the line of duty, their families are compensated. It is absolutely appalling, but that is their approach, to say to police officers and firefighters, “We do not care about you”. Four years they have been waiting. Every year they come to Parliament Hill. Every year they get the back of the hand from the Conservative government.

The Auditor General's report is very clear about the kinds of investments that are needed for forensic laboratories with the RCMP. What we have seen is an increase of nearly 25% to 30%, depending on the location across the country, in waiting times for important forensic information that leads to crimes being solved. In the Vancouver area, where I come from, the lower mainland of British Columbia, we are talking about now a half a year wait for important forensic information.

It is criminally irresponsible to say, “We are going to throw a bill into the House of Commons but we are not going to provide supports for our police officers. In fact, we are going to verbally attack them. We are not going to put those additional police officers that we promised on the streets of Canadian cities. No, we are going to cut back on that. We are going to cut back on the forensic lab support”.

Even though more resources are called for, they are saying to the Canadian public, “No, we do not want to put more resources into forensic labs so we can get information back more quickly, so our law enforcement authorities will be able to solve crimes more quickly. No, we are going to take all of that $9 billion and invest in new prisons, not in supporting our front-line police officers, not in solving crimes”.

This is absolutely irresponsible, incompetent behaviour, and that is exactly what the government is doing.

It has cut back on courts. We have seen in my own riding of Burnaby--New Westminster, and this is partly federal Conservative but also partly provincial Liberal irresponsibility, that they closed the local courthouse, so we now have more of a backlog in the court system as well.

The front-line police officers are not getting the support they need. The forensic laboratories are not getting the support they need. The court systems are being cut back, so the criminal prosecutors and judges cannot do the work they need to do.

Perhaps the most reprehensible in all of this dumb on crime approach, incredibly short-sighted for all the key sectors that actually need investment of resources, is crime prevention. We have been saying this morning and as the debate has gone on into the afternoon that the Conservative government has cut back on 70% of crime prevention funding.

What does that mean? Looking at the National Crime Prevention Centre, looking at community crime prevention programs, it means that the programs that actually prevent crime are not being adequately funded.

Is that appallingly stupid? Yes, it is. We know, and international studies have shown this as well in case after case, that to put a dollar into crime prevention funding, $6 will be saved later on in policing costs, investigation costs, court costs and prison costs.

On the $9 billion that the government wants to waste on prisons for unreported crime, we must remember that the crime rate has been coming down, despite Conservative ineptness on this issue, because of demographics. As the population ages, the crime rate goes down. It is the same phenomenon we are seeing in western Europe and in the United States.

In terms of cutting back on crime prevention and putting $9 billion into prisons, when one-sixth of that amount would lead to a much more effective approach to criminal justice issues, a much lower crime rate, and most importantly in this corner of the House, fewer victims, should that not be the goal of the government?

That is certainly a fundamental Canadian value. What Canadians want to see in the criminal justice system is fewer victims. They want to see fewer victims of violent crime, fewer victims of property crime.

Yet this government does the exact opposite of what it needs to do and does it by shovelling money like there is no tomorrow, like there is some kind of magical Conservative money tree out there where they can just take $9 billion and build the new prisons for unreported crime. Forget about crime prevention programs and forget about supports for forensic laboratories to actually solve the crimes. Forget about front-line police officers. Forget about compensating the families when those police officers are killed in the line of duty. Forget about all of that because what the Conservatives want to do is build their legacy: $9 billion in brick and mortar prisons for unreported crime. It is an absolutely absurd, irresponsible approach, but that is what the government is choosing to do.

The Conservative MPs here are not ripping up the talking points forced on them by the PMO. They are not supposed to deviate from that or think for themselves. They are not supposed to think for their community. They are not supposed to think in the best interests of the country. No, they are supposed to take what the Prime Minister's Office gives them and read it verbatim.

Every single one of them knows, if they have been consulting with crime prevention activists in their community, that their goal should be fewer crimes and that is done by investing in crime prevention.

Their goal should be a more rapid turnaround and swiftness in justice. That is done by adequately funding the forensic laboratories.

Their goal should be more community policing. The way to do that is to put more front-line police officers in the streets of the city, as they promised years ago and have not delivered.

Their goal should be that when a police officer falls in the line of duty his or her family is taken care of.

Even though they voted on my motion and they said they would bring it in, they have now been stalling for four years in doing that fundamental thing.

What else have the Conservatives cut back on? They have also cut back on programs on drug-impaired driving. It is an absurdity. These are the things they are cutting back on so that they can build nine billion dollars' worth of prisons for unreported crime.

I want to come back to the forensic laboratory. I talked about average wait times of 114 days, and higher in the Vancouver region where it is nearly half a year. How do other countries handle the turnaround for forensic laboratories?

The Forensic Science Service in the United Kingdom has a turnaround of seven days as opposed to nearly half a year. The National Laboratory of Forensic Science in Sweden has a turnaround time of 28 days. The Auditor General's report indicates that even in the United States, which has not been as good at forensic funding as it should be, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation has a turnaround of 80 days. These jurisdictions are adequately funding their forensic laboratories. They are putting the resources in place. They are putting the money where it needs to go.

It is absolutely foolish to say that a priority for the criminal justice system as reflected in Bill C-39, with the little poison pills thrown in by the government as justification for the building of more prisons for unreported crime as the President of the Treasury Board said so clearly, is to spend $9 billion to build these prisons. Yet the programs that are being starved for funding or have received substantial cutbacks in funding, such as the National Crime Prevention Centre, have to go hungry while the Conservatives strive through Bill C-39 to build more prisons.

We in this corner of the House are looking for a smart on crime approach. We need fewer victims. We need fewer crimes. We need to ensure that programs for problem youth are present, because we know these youth can be diverted away from a life of crime at an earlier stage. Study after study has shown that. Yet we have seen cutbacks in key youth crime prevention programs and youth program funding, so there is a greater chance for these youth to go to prison, which is a university for crime. Then we see, as the member for Windsor—Tecumseh said yesterday in the House, the government cutting back on other programs, within the prison system, as well.

If our objective is to reduce crime, to have fewer victims, there are two things we have to do. First, we have to make sure that we head off people, particularly youth, who find themselves drawn into a life of crime. We have to stop that cold. We have to make sure there are fewer victims. Crime prevention programs, sadly cut by the government, actually accomplish that. Second, when these individuals go to prison, we have to make sure that we get the rehabilitation rate up as high as possible.

Nobody who is a risk to society should be released. However, we have to make sure that those who come to the end of their sentence have been completely rehabilitated. How do we do that? We do that through the agricultural program in the prison system that the Conservatives cut back. We do that through psychiatric counselling and treatment. In the estimates of the Correctional Service of Canada, up to 50% of those in the prison system are subject to psychiatric counselling and treatment. They have mental health issues, so we have to provide more support there. Instead, the Conservatives have supplied less. In term of education programs, there again the member for Windsor—Tecumseh said very clearly that what we have seen is less support, not more.

In every single stage of the criminal justice system, the mean-spirited Conservative government has slashed and burned all of the programs that reduced the crime rate and reduced the number of victims in society. Instead, the government offers more crime, more victims, and more prisons. What a foolish concept. What a foolish approach.

Ending Early Release for Criminals and Increasing Offender Accountability Act
Government Orders

1 p.m.

Conservative

Paul Calandra Oak Ridges—Markham, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is truly remarkable. It gives me great confidence in the people of Canada when I hear members of the NDP speak, because in their wisdom, the people of Canada know better than to ever give that group of people the mandate to run this country.

It is truly remarkable that there is a group of people in the Parliament of Canada who would actually suggest that victims want criminals on the street. It is absolutely unbelievable to me.

My seatmate in the House is a passionate advocate for the victims of crime. Has the hon. member ever asked her if she wants to see the person who perpetrated the crime against her family out on the street, or if she feels a sense of sympathy that criminals may have to double-bunk for a couple of years until we build more prisons? I doubt it, because you are too busy talking to the criminals in the prisons who are advocating for better treatment, who are worried about whether they will get certain things. The hon. member should speak to the victims, not the criminals. It is absolutely unbelievable.

The hon. member talked about police officers. Which party do police officers and the brave chiefs of police decide to run with when they run for office? They come to the Conservative Party because they understand that the Conservative Party reflects the values of police. It respects the values of Canadians.The member for Oxford and the former commissioner of the OPP who is running in Vaughan understand what the NDP do not understand, which is why the NDP will always be a rump in the House. They understand that Canadians want a balanced justice system. Canadians want a government, and they finally have one, that puts the rights of victims ahead of the rights of criminals. When will the member finally understand that it costs Canadians--

Ending Early Release for Criminals and Increasing Offender Accountability Act
Government Orders

1:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer

Order. I will just remind the hon. member to address his comments through the Chair. I will have to cut him off there to allow time for a response from the member for Burnaby—New Westminster.

Ending Early Release for Criminals and Increasing Offender Accountability Act
Government Orders

1:05 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is absolutely shameful not only that the member has not listened to anything, but that he is attacking police officers and he is again attacking crime prevention programs. It is absolutely absurd. Admittedly the member's intervention was kind of garbled and I know he is new to the House and has not found his feet yet, but to try to pretend there is some justification for the slashing of crime prevention programs that create fewer victims in this country is misinformed, to say the least, and disingenuous at best.

This is the Conservative litany. The Conservative members have got their notes from the Prime Minister's Office. They are unable to deviate from them. They have not been able to bring a single fact to this whole debate. Why? Because the PMO one-pager did not have any facts. It did not talk about the slashing of crime prevention. It did not talk about the incredible disrespect for our police officers and firefighters by the government's refusal to implement the public safety officer compensation fund. It did not talk about the Auditor General's report and the slashing of the forensic laboratory funding that every other country in the world funds. The one-pager did not talk about any of that. That is why--

Ending Early Release for Criminals and Increasing Offender Accountability Act
Government Orders

1:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer

Order. Questions and comments, the hon. member for Lac-Saint-Louis.

Ending Early Release for Criminals and Increasing Offender Accountability Act
Government Orders

1:05 p.m.

Liberal

Francis Scarpaleggia Lac-Saint-Louis, QC

Mr. Speaker, my question has to do with the asymmetry in the media's coverage of crime.

A while ago I spoke to a gentleman who is now the head of the YMCA in North America. He got his start in my riding many, many years ago. He told me how he got started with the YMCA. There was a shopping centre in my community that was known to be a kind of marketplace for drugs at the time. A few people, including this individual, got a group together and sort of befriended the young people who otherwise may have been lured into drug trafficking or drug taking. They would have coffee with them or would get together for a game of basketball.

These kinds of things do not get reported in the media. We do not see on the front page of the Globe and Mail, “Youth worker has coffee with young person”. What we see is that a bank was robbed or that some other crime was committed. We tend to devalue the capacity of crime prevention, which is a quiet way of doing things, a quiet initiative. We tend to devalue that as a way of combatting crime.

I would like to hear my hon. colleague's comments on that.

Ending Early Release for Criminals and Increasing Offender Accountability Act
Government Orders

1:05 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for his question, which was a much more coherent, fact-based question than the rants we have heard from the other side.

The member has raised a very important point. I was a financial administrator before I became a member of Parliament, and I had to make every dollar count. That is how most Canadian families do their work.

Here we have crime prevention programs that make every dollar count. For every dollar invested in a crime prevention program, six dollars are saved in policing costs, court costs and prison costs later on. It is one dollar to six dollars. Every dollar invested saves six dollars.

The government foolishly, recklessly, irresponsibly, rather than building on those crime prevention programs to reduce crime, to have fewer victims, is doing exactly the opposite. It is slashing and burning the crime prevention programs, and then borrowing $9 billion to build new prisons so it can cut the ribbons when they open. It is absolutely irresponsible. It is exactly the wrong thing to do.

Ending Early Release for Criminals and Increasing Offender Accountability Act
Government Orders

1:10 p.m.

NDP

Don Davies Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, let us talk about facts. The government still has the problem of explaining how when crime rates are going down it wants to spend $2 billion on more prisons to imprison more people. It does not make any sense.

What is missing from this bill is mental health diagnosis and treatment, literacy and education programs, drug and alcohol treatment, and work programs. By the way, the government also cut the prison farm system which also helped to make our communities safe.

Here are a couple of facts for the government, and on which I would like the member to comment. The total spending on drug interdiction activities will hit $34 million this year, up from $100,000 in 2005-06. Meanwhile, total expenditures on substance abuse programs is actually going down, from $11.8 million in 2007-08 to $10.1 million in 2009-10.

With everybody acknowledging that 80% of prisoners in our federal institutions have an addiction, a figure even the other side will acknowledge, what are the member's comments on a government that would reduce spending on addictions treatment—

Ending Early Release for Criminals and Increasing Offender Accountability Act
Government Orders

1:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer

The hon. member for Burnaby—New Westminster.

Ending Early Release for Criminals and Increasing Offender Accountability Act
Government Orders

1:10 p.m.

NDP

Peter Julian Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, the member is certainly one of the bright lights in this Parliament because he actually brings facts and research to bear, which is the responsibility of all of us to do. I am chagrined to see one-half of the House, the other side, not bringing a single fact. Those members just bring their one-pager, whatever the Prime Minister tells them to say, rather than bringing a single fact to bear on this issue. It seems they are incapable of a fact-based approach.

Another example is addiction programs. I talked about the cutbacks to psychiatric care and the disrespect to police officers, the steadfast refusal to bring in a public safety officer compensation fund. There are cutbacks to crime prevention and cutbacks to forensic laboratories. Now addiction programs are being cut back 20%. It speaks for itself how the government approaches—