House of Commons Hansard #77 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was years.

Topics

Document Pertaining to Access to Information Requests
Points of Order
Oral Questions

3:05 p.m.

Conservative

John Baird Ottawa West—Nepean, ON

Mr. Speaker, yes.

Motion to Concur in the Seventh Report of the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology—Speaker's Ruling
Points of Order
Oral Questions

3:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

I am now prepared to rule on the point of order raised on September 30, 2010, by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Government House Leader concerning the disposition of the order for resuming debate on the motion to concur in the seventh report of the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology.

I would like to thank the parliamentary secretary for bringing the matter to the attention of the House and the member for Windsor—Tecumseh for his contribution to the discussion.

The parliamentary secretary, in raising this matter, pointed out that the motion to concur in the seventh report is essentially the same as the supply motion moved by the hon. member for Westmount—Ville-Marie on September 28, 2010 and adopted by the House on September 29, 2010.

Quoting House of Commons Procedure and Practice, Second Edition, at page 560 on the rule of anticipation, the parliamentary secretary argued that to allow the debate to resume on the concurrence motion would violate the principle which forbids the same question from being decided twice within the same session.

Noting that it would be redundant to resume the debate on the concurrence motion at a later date, as required by Standing Order 66(2), he requested that the Chair strike the motion to concur from the order paper to prevent an unnecessary debate and vote.

The Chair has examined the motions in question and agrees with the Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons that they are substantially the same. In his arguments, the hon. member for Windsor—Tecumseh pointed out that, in his view, this does not mean that the rule of anticipation would necessarily apply and outlined reasons for why he believes that in this case it does not.

I listened to the intervention of the hon. member for Windsor—Tecumseh with great interest. As he noted, the debate on the motion for concurrence in the committee report had already begun when the opposition motion was moved.

In deciding that the opposition motion could proceed, the Chair was guided by the long-standing approach of my predecessors who, as described on page 560 of O’Brien-Bosc, have consistently

“...ruled that the opposition prerogative in the use of an allotted day is very broad and ought to be interfered with only on the clearest and most certain of procedural grounds.”

As I see it, at this stage, the Chair is now left to decide how best to proceed so as to respect the principle behind the rule of anticipation which forbids the same question from being decided twice within the same session.

In the present circumstances the House has actually adopted one of the two motions, namely the supply motion of the official opposition. As such, to allow the proceedings on the concurrence motion to continue would violate the fundamental principle by which we are guided. The Chair cannot overlook the critical importance of unwritten practices and conventions in the conduct of business in this chamber.

Accordingly, I have directed the Clerk to remove the order for resuming consideration of the motion to concur in the seventh report from the order paper.

I thank hon. members for their attention.

Comments Regarding the Member for Portage--Lisgar—Speaker's Ruling
Privilege
Oral Questions

3:20 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

I am now prepared to rule on the question of privilege raised on September 22, 2010, by the hon. member for Portage—Lisgar concerning an emailed media release issued by the Press Secretary to the Leader of the Official Opposition.

I would like to thank the hon. member for Portage—Lisgar for having raised this matter, as well as the hon. Government House Leader, the hon. House Leader of the Official Opposition and the hon. member for Outremont, for their interventions.

The member for Portage—Lisgar, in presenting her question of privilege, stated that she believed that in addition to containing comments about her, which she called a grave slur upon her reputation, the media release at issue constituted an improper use of House resources.

The House Leader for the Official Opposition argued that, read carefully in their full context, the statements contained in the media release were reasonable interpretations of comments the member for Portage—Lisgar had made in a CBC radio interview and, thus, were simply matters of public discourse and debate.

Let me deal first with the member for Portage—Lisgar's contention that House of Commons resources were misused in this case. I wish to remind the House that in a ruling on February 12, 2009, at pages 713-4 of Debates, I stated that it is not the role of the Chair to monitor the contents of emails and other electronic communications. I added that:

...one important consideration members must take into account is that communications via the Internet and email may not be protected by privilege and may expose members to the possibility of legal action for material they disseminate.

Obviously, in cases where the staff of a member is involved, it is ultimately the member who bears responsibility for ensuring that House resources are used appropriately.

With regard to the main argument raised by the member for Portage—Lisgar, the Chair wishes to state at the outset that it takes very seriously matters in which the reputation of a member is involved. In adjudicating such cases, the Chair is guided by well-established principles. As is stated in House of Commons Procedure and Practice, Second Edition, at page 111:

In ruling on such matters, the Speaker examines the effect the incident or event had on the member's ability to fulfill his or her parliamentary responsibilities. If, in the Speaker's view, the member was not obstructed in the performance of his or her parliamentary duties and functions, then a prima facie breach of privilege cannot be found.

Consistent with this, in a ruling by Mr. Speaker Fraser from May 5, 1987, at page 5766 of the Debates, which can also be found at pages 111 to 112 of O'Brien and Bosc, it states:

The privileges of a member are violated by any action which might impede him or her in the fulfilment of his or her duties and functions. It is obvious that the unjust damaging of a reputation could constitute such an impediment. The normal course of a Member who felt himself or herself to be defamed would be the same as that available to any other citizen, recourse to the courts under the laws of defamation with the possibility of damages to substitute for the harm that might be done.

In support of her argument, the member for Portage—Lisgar referred to a ruling by Speaker Sauvé from October 29, 1980. But I would invite the House to a closer reading of the ruling at pages 4213-4 of Debates, in which the Speaker stated:

...it seems to me that to amount to contempt, representations or statements about our proceedings, or of the participation of members should not only be erroneous or incorrect, but rather should be purposely untrue and improper and import a ring of deceit.... My role, therefore, is to interpret the extracts of the document in question not in terms of their substance, but to find whether, on their face, they represent such a distorted interpretation of the events or remarks in our proceedings that they obviously attract the characterization of false.

Members will note that in this 1980 case, Madam Speaker Sauvé is speaking about the interpretation of statements made in the course of our proceedings; in the case now before us, the statements at issue were made in the context of a media interview. This is a significant difference.

In the past, when members have raised concerns about comments made outside the House and whether or not they constituted breaches of privilege, successive Speakers have been consistent in ruling that these are not matters in which the Chair intervenes. In support of that, I refer members to the House of Commons Procedure and Practice, Second Edition, page 614.

Speaker Sauvé succinctly summarized the issue in an October 12, 1983, ruling (Debates, p. 27945), when she stated:

Parliamentary privilege is limited in its application.... If members engage in public debate outside the House, they enjoy no special protection. To invoke privilege, the offence must be attached to a parliamentary proceeding.

In view of these key precedents, it is therefore not surprising that there have been very few instances where the Speaker has found a prima facie breach of privilege related to the damaging of a member's reputation. The member for Portage—Lisgar recalled one such instance in my ruling of November 19, 2009, which can be found at page 6982 of the Debates, concerning mailings sent into the constituency of Sackville—Eastern Shore.

However tempting it is to regard that particular instance as analogous to the one currently before us, it did differ materially in several respects. First, that case involved mailings paid for from a central budget in the House. Then, these mailings were sent directly by another member into the complaining member's riding to large numbers of his constituents. Finally, the information in those mailings was factually incorrect, thereby directly distorting the member's position on an issue.

Instead of the case just described, I believe that the ruling I gave on February 12, 2009, at pages 765-6 of the Debates, is more helpful in this case. On that occasion, I stated:

In adjudicating questions of privilege of this kind, the Speaker is bound to assess whether or not the member's ability to fulfill his parliamentary functions effectively has been undermined.... [W]ithout minimizing the seriousness of the complaint or dismissing the gravity of the situation raised by the hon. member, it is difficult for the Chair to determine, given the nature of what has occurred that the member is unable to carry out his parliamentary duties as a result.

On balance, based on the arguments presented in this instance, and given the relevant precedents, I cannot find that the member has been impeded or obstructed in carrying out her duties. While the Chair is sympathetic to the concerns of the member for Portage—Lisgar, in view of the strict exigencies the Chair is bound to observe in cases of this kind, I cannot find a prima facie question of privilege.

The House will have noted that in rising on her question of privilege, the member for Portage—Lisgar did get an opportunity to correct the record: she has been able to dispel any wrong impression of what her true position is on the issue raised in the email media release at the centre of this controversy.

I therefore thank hon. members for their attention on this matter.

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill S-6, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and another Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Serious Time for the Most Serious Crime Act
Government Orders

3:20 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

When the matter was last before the House, the hon. member for Vancouver Kingsway had the floor, and he has eight minutes remaining in the time allotted for his remarks. I call upon the hon. member for Vancouver Kingsway.

Serious Time for the Most Serious Crime Act
Government Orders

3:20 p.m.

NDP

Don Davies Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, before we broke I was talking about the important matter of the faint hope clause that is in the Criminal Code and the desire of the current government to eliminate that provision.

As the vice-chairman of the public safety committee and someone who is the public safety critic for my party, I have had occasion to visit more than 25 federal prisons, not only in Canada but in Norway, Britain and indeed Taiwan. I have visited medium security prisons, maximum security prisons, minimum security prisons, and I have met and talked to dozens and dozens of offenders, many of whom have been convicted of life sentences.

I visited inmates in all institutions. I want to explain why inmates with life sentences exist in all three of those institutions, minimum, medium and maximum security institutions. It is because the designation of offenders and where they serve their sentence is not characterized by their crime but rather by the security risk they present.

I was quite surprised to find that there are many people serving life sentences in this country who are serving their sentences in minimum security institutions, as well as medium security institutions. The reason for that, of course, is that despite the fact that they have committed a terrible crime, a serious and heinous crime, in many cases they have proven themselves to be capable of serving their sentences and improving their behaviour.

One thing I found is that prisons are undeniably very profound places. They are places of justice, social safety and judgment. Prisons in our society are places where society has chosen to send people who have broken the normative laws of our society, and they are sent there for good reason. They are sent there to protect the safety of the public. They are sent there to carry out the sentences they owe to society for breaking the rules.

They are also places of sadness, compassion and mercy. Prisons, when they operate properly in a society, can and should be places of redemption, atonement and rehabilitation. Indeed, I have pointed out in this House on several occasions that the name of our department is Correctional Service of Canada. It is not called “punishment services of Canada”; it is called “corrections”.

The reason for that is that, in a civilized society, we hope that when we send people to prison, one of the goals we hope exists for every prisoner sent is that they can acknowledge the harm they have caused and perhaps correct their behaviour. In most cases, I would say in over 95% of cases, we hope that those people are able to re-enter society and conduct themselves as law-abiding citizens.

I want to talk a little bit about redemption and atonement. This weekend I was at a retreat in Vancouver. A very wise lawyer, someone who practices law in Kentucky and does death row cases, Mr. Don Major, pointed out the Lord's Prayer. He pointed out that part of the Lord's Prayer says that we ask the Lord to forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. It leads to this concept that at some point we must be capable of forgiveness and atonement in as many cases as we can.

Many people who are in federal prisons with life sentences will never get out of prison, and properly so; they should not. However that does not mean that every single prisoner who gets a life sentence is incapable of same.

What the faint hope clause does is it gives the opportunity for that person, those rare people who actually can acknowledge their crime, who can correct their behaviour, who are capable of redemption, to have a chance, just a chance at applying for parole.

I spent a large part of my opening speech going through all the details and the administrative structure of how the faint hope clause works. Any person who reads those sections and listened to that speech will see that there is a very careful, measured, guarded, complicated step-by-step process before anybody even gets considered for a faint hope provision.

I want to spend a moment to talk about the victims. I think all parties in this House agree that victims of crime in this country need and deserve to be protected. They need and deserve to be respected. They need and ought to have the chance to be involved.

Victims in this country deserve to be reimbursed for any expenses they have if they participate fully in the process. They deserve to be informed at every step of the process, and they deserve the right to participate in the judicial process.

We on this side of the House in the New Democratic Party champion the rights of victims to be full participants in the judicial process because, after all, they are the ones who are most wronged and harmed by crime in this country.

I am also mindful of the fact that Steve Sullivan, the former federal ombudsman for victims of crime in this country, stressed after working with many victims that victims do not want vengeance and victims do not want punishment or cruelty. What they want is to be heard, to be acknowledged and to be safe. Most of all, when those offenders re-enter society, what victims want is to make sure our country and our system does everything it can to make sure they do not reoffend. That is their prime goal.

That is why a faint hope clause with all of the protections in the present system can be reconciled with the rights and interests of victims. We can achieve all of the aspects that we hope to. We can achieve redemption and we can achieve justice for victims.

I want to talk about guards. It has been said time and time again that the faint hope clause, by giving hope to offenders, acts as a form of behaviour control in prisons, and that helps keep our guards safe. Correctional officers will say that giving a carrot to offenders to behave well gives an incentive for them to follow the norms and rules in prison. If we take away all hope from someone in prison, we are giving that person a licence to misbehave, and that threatens the safety of everyone in prison and outside.

I urge every member of the House to deal with this issue from a compassionate, rational and caring point of view. Let us make sure that the faint hope clause stays in the Criminal Code, so that we make sure that people in our country have a chance at redemption, when it is appropriate to do so, and make sure that the victims' rights and interest are fully respected and taken into account at all times.

Serious Time for the Most Serious Crime Act
Government Orders

3:25 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from Vancouver for his insights into the faint hope clause. I know it is a difficult subject for many people and I think he gave it a very sensitive treatment and tried to embrace both sides of the debate.

I was in the government operations committee earlier today, where we tried to put a price tag and enumerate some of the many crime bills that have come through this Parliament in recent years, as they will impact the correction services.

The Parliamentary Budget Officer was there to try to explain to us some of the predictable consequences of having many of these bills with mandatory minimum sentences and doing away with the credit for time served in a remand bill and the predictable explosion in incarceration. We are going to be stacking up prisoners like cord wood in these prisons pretty soon or having to build new ones with price tags of billions of dollars.

Some more cynical people have even implied that this is the Conservatives' alternative to the absence of a national housing strategy. They are going to lock up a whole generation of young native kids in prison instead.

The question I have for my colleague is this. People are coming to the conclusion that perhaps what the government is really doing is laying the foundation for a wholesale privatization of the prison system so that companies like Onex or Halliburton can perhaps offer to house a prisoner for $100,000 a year. The government is charging $147,000 a year. It would be pretty tempting, now that they have the member of the board of directors of Onex Corporation advising the Prime Minister in the Prime Minister's office. Who is to say he is not dropping a bug in the Prime Minister's ear, saying this could be a business opportunity. Let us make lemonade out of lemons and turn the prison system into a revenue-generating private business. Onex could build prisons for the government.

Is it paranoid to assume that these people could be laying the foundation for a wholesale privatization of our corrections system?

Serious Time for the Most Serious Crime Act
Government Orders

3:30 p.m.

NDP

Don Davies Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would not want to ascribe base motivations to my hon. colleagues on the other side of the House, but it is instructive to be reminded of the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche's comment that we should distrust anyone in whom the desire to punish is strong.

I also would point out that it is impossible to imprison and punish our way into a safe society. If we could get a safe society by simply imprisoning everyone, then the United States would probably be the safest place on earth and we know that is not the case.

Prison plays a role. Having a corrections system is absolutely an incredibly important part of the justice system where we do need to have a place we can send people from whom society needs to be protected and we need a place of justice where people can pay a penalty for their transgressions.

However, I want to quote William Trudell, the chair of the Canadian Council of Criminal Defence Lawyers, who pointed out that no offender can be released from prison under faint hope provisions unless a jury agrees it is appropriate. So, of course, we have the input of the public, a decision of peers, based into the system.

He also characterized the present bill before the House as:

erosion of discretion in the system moving towards rigidity that is really changing the criminal justice system as we know it

This is from the point of an experienced criminal trial lawyer, and he added:

[e]very situation has got a human story to it and you have got to allow some discretion and weighing of circumstances.

That is what I think is the essence of the faint hope provision, that it allows in the sentencing process the possibility after 15 years that the odd person who has served a life sentence may have conducted themselves in such a way that they are deserving of at least an application for parole.

Remember that a faint hope application does not give the person parole. It allows the person to apply to the National Parole Board with all the attendant safety mechanisms and safeguards that are present in the national parole system. The National Parole Board would never release anyone who did not meet the criteria present in that system.

To conclude, I do not want to point to any negative motivations on behalf of the government. I do think it is well motivated and it does care about victims and wants to take steps that will make society safe. On that, all parliamentarians agree, on all sides of the House. The question is what mechanisms are best taken to do so. I fail to see how removing the faint hope of an offender who has redeemed himself after 15 years in prison to potentially return to society can do anything but make guards less safe, make the public less safe, and frustrate justice.

Serious Time for the Most Serious Crime Act
Government Orders

3:35 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to follow the member for Vancouver Kingsway, who has made an excellent presentation on this bill, as well as the NDP critic, the member for Windsor—Tecumseh, who spoke to the bill earlier today.

As I pulled out my file on what is now Bill S-6, I noticed that it was labelled as Bill C-36 from last year. I have only been here not quite two years yet and already I am finding my files are rather heavy and there are multiple numbers for essentially the same bill. Perhaps this will be the last iteration of this bill. Let us hope that the government does not see its way to proroguing the House again or finding another way that would cause us to have to start this all over again.

This particular bill, now Bill S-6, is an act to amend the Criminal Code and another act. It was given first reading in the Senate on April 20 of this year. The bill would amend the provisions of the Criminal Code regarding the right of persons convicted of murder or high treason to apply for early parole. This is done through the elimination of the faint hope clause by which those given a life sentence for murder or high treason could apply for parole after having served 15 years of their sentence.

A similar predecessor bill, Bill C-36, as I mentioned before, was introduced during the second session of the 40th Parliament but did not become law because of the abrupt ending of the session on December 30 when the Prime Minister prorogued the House.

In terms of the history of section 745.6 of the Criminal Code, it is known informally as the “faint hope clause” because it provides offenders serving a sentence for high treason or murder with the possibility of parole after having served 15 years. We will see later that there are a number of comparable countries to Canada with similar systems that have a much lower number of years for murderers to serve.

In our case, it is 15 years, where the sentence is imprisonment for life without the eligibility of parole for more than 15 years. Offenders convicted of first degree murder receive life imprisonment as a minimum sentence with the earliest eligibility for parole set by law at 25 years. For offenders convicted of second degree murder, a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment is also imposed, with the judge setting parole eligibility at a point between 10 and 25 years. Those serving a life sentence can be released from prison only if granted parole by the National Parole Board.

Unlike most inmates who are serving a sentence of a fixed length, for example, 2 years, 10 years or 20 years, lifers are not entitled to statutory release. If granted parole, they remain subject for the rest of their lives to the conditions of the parole and supervision of a Correctional Service of Canada parole officer. Parole may be revoked and offenders returned to prison at any time if they violate the conditions of parole or commit a new offence.

Not all lifers are in fact granted parole. Some are never released on parole because the risk of their reoffending is too great. In fact, I will look later at the numbers of people involved in this situation and we will find that a very small number of people in prison, at the end of the day, would get parole.

During the years following its initial introduction in 1976, the faint hope provision underwent a number of various amendments. Now the criteria for the possible release on parole of someone serving a life sentence are as follows.

The inmate must have served at least 15 years of the sentence. As a matter of fact, the member for Windsor—Tecumseh pointed out this morning that it is usually around 17 years before applicants normally apply and that in fact very few people actually do apply even at that point.

An inmate who has been convicted of more than one murder, where at least one of the murders was committed after January 9, 1997 when certain amendments came into force, may not apply for a review of his or her parole ineligibility period.

To seek a reduction in the number of years of imprisonment without eligibility for parole, the offender must apply to the chief justice of the province or territory in which his or her conviction took place.

The chief justice, or a Superior Court judge designated by the chief justice, must first determine whether the applicant has shown that there is a reasonable prospect that the application for review will succeed. The assessment is based on the following criteria.

One is the character of the applicant. We have already mentioned that we have excluded multiple murderers from the applying in this case, so the judge has to look at the character of the applicant. If the character is bad, that person would not qualify.

Another criterion is the applicant's conduct while serving the sentence. I am assuming that if the applicant has been involved in something like a prison riot or some other altercation with other inmates within the prison or just has not co-operated, that too would disqualify him or her from applying.

Next is the nature of the offence for which the applicant was convicted. That too, would vary with the individual.

Another one is any information provided by victims at the time of the imposition of the sentence or at the time of the hearing under this section. So once again we are looking at victim impact statements. The judge then has a better opportunity to look at the total picture of each and every situation.

Finally, any other matters that the judge considers relevant in the circumstances can be considered.

If the application is dismissed for lack of a reasonable prospect of success, the chief justice or judge may set a time for another application not earlier than two years after dismissal, or he or she may declare that the inmate will not be entitled to make another application.

The point here is that it is not a simple process. It is a long, involved process and there has to be an exemplary situation on the part of the inmate for him or her to get through all stages of the process and achieve release.

If the chief justice or judge determines that the application has a reasonable prospect of success, a judge will be assigned to hear the matter with a jury. In determining whether the period of parole ineligibility should be reduced, the jury should consider the five criteria that I have outlined. The jury determination to reduce the parole ineligibility period must be unanimous.

Evidently, before, that was not the requirement. I believe it was two-thirds, but now it has to be unanimous on the part of the jury.

The victims of the offender's crime may provide information either orally or in writing, or in any other manner that the judge considers appropriate. This is also an excellent provision of the rules.

If the application is dismissed, the jury may, by a two-thirds majority, either set a time not earlier than two years after the determination when the inmate may make another application, or it may decide that the inmate will not be entitled to make any further applications.

We see within the bill that there are some changes to these provisions later.

If the jury determines that the number of years of imprisonment without eligibility for parole ought to be reduced, a two-thirds majority of that jury may substitute a lesser number of years of imprisonment without eligibility for parole than the number then applicable. The number of years without eligibility for parole that they can assign can range from 15 to 24 years.

Once permission to apply for early parole has been granted, the inmate must apply to the National Parole Board to obtain the parole. Whether the inmate is released, and when, is decided solely by the board, based on a risk assessment, with the protection of the public as the foremost consideration.

We can see from each of these steps that if there is a red flag popping up at any of these stages, that should end the process. The process should not continue beyond that.

Board members must also be satisfied that the offender will follow specific conditions, which may include restriction of movement, participation in treatment programs, and prohibitions on associating with certain people, such as victims, children, and convicted criminals.

One of the points we have continually made is that progress can only be made if the people in the prisons are actually being rehabilitated. The fact that they are participating in rehabilitation programs is something that we as a society want. We do not want people sitting in the prisons for years and years and refusing to take part in programs. By taking part in programs, the inmate enhances the possibility that at some time, away in the future, there could be some faint hope down the line.

It has been mentioned several times today that Colin Thatcher, a former Conservative member of the legislature in Saskatchewan, had been in jail since 1984. In fact, he wrote a book while he was in prison. He served 22 years or more for the murder of JoAnn Wilson. At the end of the day, I believe the faint hope clause did apply to him only two or three years from the time that his 25 year term would have expired.

Serious Time for the Most Serious Crime Act
Government Orders

3:45 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB

If you can rehabilitate a former Tory cabinet minister, you can rehabilitate anyone.

Serious Time for the Most Serious Crime Act
Government Orders

3:45 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

As the member for Winnipeg Centre has said, if we can rehabilitate a former Conservative cabinet minister, we can rehabilitate anybody. I think this would apply to anybody from any party, because that was a very sad case.

I followed it very closely at the time. I used to go out to Saskatchewan quite a bit during those periods. It was very sad for the family, the children and everybody. It is just that this case brought excessive amounts of publicity by virtue of who Colin Thatcher was. If it had been another person who did not have his fame, we probably would not even remember the case today.

The faint hope clause review then is not a forum for a retrial of the original offence, nor is a parole hearing. A favourable decision by the judge and the jury simply advances the date on which the offender will be eligible to apply for parole. As stated:

The Supreme Court of Canada has stated that the purpose of this review procedure is to re-examine a judicial decision in light of changes which have occurred in the applicant’s situation since the time of sentencing that might justify lessening the parole ineligibility period. Section 745.6 of the Criminal Code gives the jury broad discretionary power to consider any matter concerning the offender’s situation, and the Supreme Court has provided guidelines for the exercise of this discretionary power, namely that the jury must consider only the applicant’s case and must not try the cases of other inmates who may have committed offences after being released on parole. The Court has also stated that it is not the jury’s role to determine whether the existing system of parole is effective.

The point is to counter the misinformation spread by agents of the Conservative Party and the media, which like to give the impression that prisoners are basically in a revolving door, that they are standing in line at the prison, ready to get out and move next door to law-abiding citizens or across the street. Anyone listening to these steps can see it is very rare that someone will be able to follow through on all of these steps and walk out of prison under this program.

The argument of many here, including the member for Vancouver Kingsway, is that maybe only 1% of 2% will get out, but as long as 100% have hope that someday they might get out, they probably will behave a lot better. They will try to rehabilitate themselves and stay out of trouble. We have it on record that the prison guards actually support that. The prison guards of Canada feel the last thing we need are people in prison without hope, who will resort to doing things they should not do, which might endanger the guards, other prisoners and people who should not be endangered, if this system is not in place.

The faint hope clause was put in for very good reasons, dating back to the days of Pierre Trudeau, and I will get into the history of it now.

A lot of us here today were around in those days. This is not an environment for a lot of young people. We do not see young people being elected to the House. The odd person does, but most start in the city council areas, the school boards and the provincial legislatures and work their way up. By the time we get into the federal House of Commons, we have earned that grey hair.

In July 1976 Parliament voted to abolish capital punishment, and I remember how controversial that was at the time, for Criminal Code offences as opposed to the death penalty for military offences, which was abolished in 1999. The Criminal Code was amended and the categories of murder were changed from capital and non-capital to first and second degree murder.

Mandatory minimum sentences for murderers were introduced. The compromise arrived at between the supporters and the opponents of the death penalty was its replacement with long-term imprisonment without parole. The faint hope clause was adopted in 1976 in connection with the abolition of the death penalty.

Speaking in favour of the abolition of the death penalty and the addition of the faint hope clause in the Criminal Code was the solicitor general of the day Warren Allmand. I could read his quote, but it was well said and made sense, certainly for that period of time. The faint hope clause was added to the Criminal Code in the hope that it would provide an incentive for long-term offenders to rehabilitate themselves and therefore afford more protection to prison guards.

The provision is also said to represent Parliament's awareness of how long persons convicted of murder who were imprisoned in other countries served before allowing them to apply for parole. These countries are our peers. I think most people understand that we are not talking about Third World countries, with systems that are radically different from ours. In fact, we are talking about Australia, part of the Commonwealth, Belgium, Denmark, England, New Zealand, Scotland and Switzerland. Key persons convicted of murder are imprisoned an average of 15 years before they may be paroled.

That is why we have heard many speakers today talk about the chart, which shows these countries, on average, keeping people in prison for 15 years, where in Canada it is 25 years. Canada is higher than all those other countries. In fact, the member for Windsor—Tecumseh pointed out today that people stayed longer than 25 years in prison. It is more like 28.5 years.

The first judicial review hearing under the faint hope clause was held in 1987. People want to know how many people are involved in this. As of April 12, 2009, 991 offenders have been deemed eligible to apply for a judicial review. Court decisions have been rendered in 173 cases and 143 inmates have been declared eligible to apply for earlier parole. Of these, 130 were granted parole, representing just over 13% of those who had been deemed eligible to apply for a review of their parole date.

The most recently published Correctional Service Canada statistics concerning the fate of prisoners released on parole under the faint hope clause, as of April 12, 2009, show that of the 130 offenders who had been released by that date, 101 were being actively supervised in the community. They are not running around on their own. Fourteen of them had been returned to custody because they had not behaved themselves. Eleven were deceased, one was on bail and three had been deported.

These statistics also showed that out of a total 22,000 offenders under Correctional Service Canada jurisdiction at the time, 4,495, or 19%, were serving life sentences, almost all of them for murder.

By comparison, in July 2009, 140,000 people, or 9% of the total prison population, were serving life sentences in the United States.

My time has run out, although I find it hard to believe that was a full 20 minutes. I am sure the clocks are off by just a bit.

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3:55 p.m.

Mississauga—Erindale
Ontario

Conservative

Bob Dechert Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice

Mr. Speaker, I listened very carefully to my hon. friend and he mentioned some statistics. If he had been listening earlier today when I was speaking, he would have heard some statistics that I quoted about a study done in 1996. Of the 204 offenders then eligible to apply for faint hope, 79 actually did apply and 55 were successful. That is a success rate of 75%. The member said that it was very rare, but certain statistics contradict that.

In addition, I would like to ask the member a question about the impact of the constant threat of a faint hope application to the loved ones of the victims of crimes. Currently a convicted murderer can apply at least five times, after the 15th year, 17th year, 19th year, 21st year and 23rd year of their incarceration, under the faint hope clause. Could he comment on what it would be like for the loved one of a victim who had been horribly murdered when the murderer could apply five times? The loved ones would have to go back five times to relive the horror of the loss of a loved one. Canadians would like to know about the impact on victims. We hear a lot about rehabilitation from the member's party, but we never hear very much about the impact on victims. This government stands up for victims.

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3:55 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, we are extremely sympathetic to the victims. In fact, the Conservatives appointed Steve Sullivan as the ombudsman for victims and after three years, they did not renew his contract. He has criticized them for not performing, not doing what they said they would do to help victims.

We are sensitive. Today the member for Windsor—Tecumseh talked about victims and the fact that victims should be compensated if a hearing were cancelled. A lot of administrative things can be done to deal with victims.

The bill will go to committee fairly soon. It does have, as the member knows, provisions which would reduce the number of attempts a prisoner would have in the future to actually apply under the faint hope clause. He knows that is the case.

However, we will bring forward amendments at committee to deal with these issues. Our utmost concern is the rights of victims. The Conservatives oversold their position on the rights of victims because Steve Sullivan would not be as critical as he is right now had they not.

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3:55 p.m.

Liberal

Alan Tonks York South—Weston, ON

Mr. Speaker, both my colleague and a previous speaker referred to the very low percentage of those under the old regime who had applied for parole and received it. There was a caveat, though, that another percentage were given parole, who did victimize others when they were on parole and were sent back to jail.

How can we err on the side of caution and on the side of victims to attempt to totally minimize those who would be given parole and would go out and commit further crimes, even after they had been found guilty of very serious crimes? Does the member not feel we should find every opportunity possible to protect those who have been victimized and to ensure that those who are on parole do not victimize others? The Canadian public deserves to have an explanation of how we feel as legislators about the potential that even one could get out and would victimize further. Do we not owe it to those we represent to ensure that it does not happen, to leave no stone unturned?

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4 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, the member is absolutely correct. That is what governments do in terms of reviewing legislation, reviewing practises.

We have a bill before the House that will go to committee where we will hear witnesses who will deal with different issues. Amendments will be brought forward by that member's party, our party, the Bloc and maybe even government members.

I agree 100% with my colleague that even one person is too many. We should always try to improve the system. No system is perfect and when we find a flaw or an open door we should move to make some adjustments. We should not just throw out the whole concept because of an ideological prism through which we are viewing the whole thing.

The fact is that the faint hope clause is there for a reason. It was put in by the Liberal government of Pierre Trudeau when the death penalty was abolished. It was designed to give 100% of inmates some glimmer of hope, even though most of them do not apply even after 15 years. It is a very small number apply. I went through all the hoops that they must go through and it is very hard to make it through all the way. As the member said, there is always the potential for the odd person to make it through, and perhaps we ought to look at making some more adjustments, but we should not just throw out the whole concept.