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 victims.

Topics

Serious Time for the Most Serious Crime Act
Government Orders

1:35 p.m.

Liberal

Keith Martin Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, my hon. colleague gave an excellent speech.

We can take a look at early interventions that will have the most profound impact upon the trajectory of individual lives. We know right now that what happens in the first five years of a person's life will have a profound impact on his or her life.

Subject a child to violent sexual abuse, improper nutrition, or improper parenting and the trajectory of that child's life will change significantly. Ensure that the child is in a loving, secure environment with proper nutrition, is subjected to a healthy environment, and that child will be the best that he or she can be.

Early learning head start programs have the most profound impact upon the trajectory of that child. When it comes to youth crime, an investment in early childhood intervention will actually decrease youth crime by 50%.

I would like to ask my colleague a question. Does the member not think one of the most powerful things the federal government can do is work with the provinces to ensure that Canadians from coast to coast will have access to early childhood education?

Serious Time for the Most Serious Crime Act
Government Orders

1:35 p.m.

Liberal

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

Mr. Speaker, my colleague asked a great question. We have touched on many other subjects today. He mentioned a 50% reduction in youth crime where there is an early childhood education component. It is of vital importance. We are now seeing the studies and data that prove to us the benefits of early childhood education, and I mean for the very youngest, even before a child is one year old. The trajectory dictates that with the right amount of education, a person will have a more fulsome and healthier life, and so on and so forth, as my colleague pointed out. The problem is that in this country right now we do not target the investment in this particular type of education.

What bothers me about this is that there is a satchel of money that is provided for day care, but that is not the point. The point is that the federal government does not say that it believes in early childhood education. It just gives a bit of cash and people can do with it as they may.

On the surface, it sounds like it is a wonderful thing that the government gives people money to do with as they want, but we also have to provide some of that money to people who are early childhood educators. They provide such an invaluable service. Since I am not an early childhood educator, I do not know the full benefits of what it is educators provide, but I can say they provide fantastic benefits and one of them is the reduction in crime that my hon. colleague spoke of.

Serious Time for the Most Serious Crime Act
Government Orders

1:40 p.m.

Liberal

Keith Martin Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, as a follow up to my colleague's response, fetal alcohol spectrum disorder is the leading cause of preventable brain damage in neonates. The fact is it is entirely preventable.

The federal government believes that in matters of health, the province is the lead manager, and it is correct, but nothing precludes the federal government from using its convening power and its financial levers to work with the provinces to develop innovations in health care that would improve the health of our citizens. Because these problems are transboundary, nothing precludes the federal government from doing this. We desperately need this type of leadership to deal with problems like FASD.

If FASD is the leading cause of preventable brain damage in children, does my colleague not think it is crucially important for the federal government to use its power, work with the provinces and implement best practices?

I have worked in jails as a guard and as a physician. The average IQ of somebody with FASD is 67. How on earth are people with an IQ of 67 able to integrate, engage and be productive members of society? They cannot.

As a matter of humanity and being progressive in our country to deal with a fundamental issue that is so trying and difficult for those who work in the judicial system and the medical system, does my colleague not think that the federal government should work with the provinces to implement best practices in the prevention of FASD?

Serious Time for the Most Serious Crime Act
Government Orders

1:40 p.m.

Liberal

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

Mr. Speaker, after that speech I think my colleague should be one of the ones to lead the charge. I certainly put the compassionate argument. I will go back to what I said in my speech. One of the benefits of being a member of Parliament is that we have access to resources and people who work within the industry, people who are experts, people who know more than we do. Believe it or not, some of us actually believe there are others out there who know a lot more than we do. Because of the member's personal experience, he is able to bring the matter of FASD into this House and certainly give it the full debate it deserves. That goes back to the idea of the faint hope clause.

It is an incredible way to debate this issue through the measures he mentioned. The convening measure, the first ministers conference, is certainly something that can bring the whole country together, not to be divisive but to lift the bar on how we can address rehabilitation for people who commit the serious crimes and for people who are victims of FASD, and the member talked about IQs.

That being said, the federal government has that power through the Canada health and social transfer. It can become one of the driving agents behind this. There is nothing wrong with that, because by being in the driver's seat on this particular issue, let us face it, we also safeguard the five principles of health care across the country, which is universal to all despite in which territory or province people live.

I commend my colleague for bringing this up. I think that is all part of the debate within this House. Sometimes we do not give these issues the debate they deserve. It becomes a series of sound bites and cute little slogans that we use from time to time to gain ourselves momentum into the next election. Unfortunately, that may be what I would call the negative aspect of a minority Parliament, if indeed we want to use that. However, there are positives of a minority Parliament and the positives include fulsome debate in order to get something passed. Otherwise, if we do not have the numbers, we have to have honest debate.

Am I convinced that we are using this House in a situation like Bill S-6, the faint hope clause, which was formerly Bill C-36, and the idea of rehabilitation, or protecting victims or allowing victims to receive the justice they so desperately deserve? We need within this Parliament to give these people the voice that they deserve. If we surround it with sound bites and politics and divisiveness, which we see normally on the 10 o'clock news, then they become the ones to whom we have given short shrift. That is the unfortunate part of this.

I implore my colleagues, this is the big reason that I want to send this bill to committee, so that we can discuss these issues. Unfortunately, we did not have that chance before, but now we do.

Serious Time for the Most Serious Crime Act
Government Orders

1:45 p.m.

Conservative

James Lunney Nanaimo—Alberni, BC

Mr. Speaker, since the debate has gone all the way from the faint hope clause to fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, I want to ask the member a question about that. Indeed, we are all concerned about fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. However, recent evidence has shown that a simple folic acid supplement helps to reduce the methanol content that is also in the alcohol products, which seems to be the main problem contributing to fetal alcohol spectrum disorder.

Would the member therefore recommend that Canadians at risk and people in communities where they are at risk take a folic acid supplement to mitigate that risk and to help prevent that syndrome from happening in the first place?

Serious Time for the Most Serious Crime Act
Government Orders

1:45 p.m.

Liberal

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

Mr. Speaker, I am not really aware of that part of FASD and how to treat it in that particular sense. Quite frankly, as I said earlier, I am just not qualified to say that at this point. The member has brought up a good point. I suggest that he press this point even further within this House. If it is okay with him, I would like for him to send me the information that he is speaking of because I think it is a valid point.

That being said, in the spirit of providing a decent debate within this House, I want to thank the member for bringing that up. I can guarantee, thanks to Google, that I am going to try to figure out what it is he is talking about. I think that will add to the debate of FASD as to how we can reduce it, especially in the most vulnerable societies.

Serious Time for the Most Serious Crime Act
Government Orders

1:45 p.m.

NDP

Don Davies Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour for me to stand and speak on behalf of my party and the constituents of Vancouver Kingsway to this important bill, Bill S-6, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and another Act, sub nomine, serious time for the most serious crime act.

Bill S-6 amends provisions in 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 so-called faint hope clause as it is commonly known by which those given a life sentence for murder or high treason could apply for parole after serving 15 years of their sentence.

A similar predecessor bill, Bill C-36, was introduced during the second session of this Parliament but did not become law before that session ended when the current government prorogued Parliament at the end of 2009.

It is important when we discuss profound issues, particularly ones that involve critical issues of crime and punishment and proper approaches to our carceral system, to have a very sound understanding of the structure and facts. I will spend a little time reviewing what the current law is.

Section 745.6 of the Criminal Code, known as the faint hope clause, provides offenders serving a sentence for high treason or murder with the possibility of applying for parole after having served 15 years when the sentence that they have been imprisoned for amounts to life without eligibility for parole for more than 15 years.

Offenders convicted of first degree murder receive life imprisonment as a minimum sentence with the earliest parole eligibility date 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 being able to set parole eligibility at some point between 10 and 25 years. Judges have that discretion in our Canadian courts.

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 link, for instance two, five or ten years, lifers are not entitled to statutory release.

If granted parole, those convicted of a life sentence remain subject for the rest of their lives to the conditions of parole under the supervision of a Correctional Service Canada parole officer.

One thing that is important to point out is that in this country, those who are given a life sentence do have a life sentence. That sentence is and will be applied to them for the rest of their natural lives. The question is whether or not and when they will be permitted to serve that sentence in the community as opposed to being incarcerated.

Parole may always be revoked and offenders returned to prison at any time if they violate the conditions of parole or if they commit a new offence. Of course, not all people who have been given a life sentence are granted parole. Some offenders are never released on parole because the risk of their reoffending is too great and that is appropriately so.

During the years following its initial introduction in 1976 the faint hope provision underwent a number of amendments so that now the criteria for the possible release on parole of someone serving a life sentence include the following. The inmate must have served at least 15 years of his or her sentence. An inmate who has been convicted of more than one murder where at least one of the murders was committed after January 9, 1997, which was 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 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. This assessment is based on the following criteria: the character of the applicant; the applicant's conduct while serving his or her sentence; the nature of the offence for which the offender was convicted; any information provided by a victim at the time of the imposition of the sentence or at the time of the hearing under this section; and any other matter that the judge considers relevant to the circumstance.

If the application for early parole 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 the dismissal, or he or she may declare that the inmate will never be entitled to make another application.

On the other hand, 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 and does consider the five criteria I just mentioned. The jury determination to reduce the parole ineligibility period must also be unanimous.

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.

If the application is dismissed, the jury may, by a two-thirds majority, either set a time again 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. Furthermore, if the jury determines that the number of years of imprisonment without eligibility for parole ought to be reduced, then 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 may assign can range from 15 to 24 years.

After all that extensive process, once permission to apply for early parole has been granted, the inmate must apply to the National Parole Board to obtain parole. Whether and when the inmate is released is decided solely by the board based on a risk assessment, with the protection of the public as the foremost consideration. Board members must also be satisfied that the offender will follow specific conditions, which may include restrictions of movement, participation in treatment programs and prohibitions on associating with certain people, such as victims, children and convicted criminals and the like.

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

This section, of course, has been considered by the sharpest legal minds of our country, the Supreme Court of Canada. 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 that have occurred in the applicant's situation since the time of sentencing that may justify lessening the parole ineligibility period.

Section 745.6 of the Criminal Code gives the jury broad discretionary power to consider any matter governing the offender's situation, and the Supreme Court has provided guidelines for the judicious exercise of that discretionary power. The jury, for instance, 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 faint hope clause was added to the Criminal Code in 1976 in the hope that it would provide an incentive for long-term offenders to rehabilitate themselves and therefore afford more protection to prison guards, as well as fundamentally achieve greater justice in our country. The provision is also said to represent Parliament's awareness of how long other countries imprison persons convicted of murder before allowing them to apply for parole. For example, Australia, Belgium, Denmark, England, New Zealand, Scotland and Switzerland keep persons convicted of murder in prison for an average of 15 years before they may be paroled.

The very first judicial review hearing under the faint hope clause was held in 1987. Here are some statistics that the House might find instructive.

As of April 12, 2009, 991 offenders had 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 dates.

I spoke about comparing Canada to other countries, and there are some other instructive facts that would be helpful for parliamentarians as we consider this difficult matter.

In 1999, an international comparison of the average time served in custody by an offender given a life sentence for first degree murder showed that the average time served in Canada is 28.4 years. Moreover, that is greater than in all countries surveyed, including the United States, with the exception of offenders in that country who serve life sentences without parole.

Here is the average time spent in custody by offenders convicted of first degree murder: New Zealand, 11 years; Scotland, 11.2 years; Sweden, 12 years; Belgium, 12.7 years; Australia, 14.8 years; United States for life sentence with parole, 18.5 years; and United States for life sentence without parole, 29 years. Once again, Canadian inmates convicted of first degree murder served 28.4 years.

I know the government is fond of saying where Canada sits on the world stage. It uses those facts when it thinks they are helpful. Let us then take a look at this fact: Canada keeps its first degree murderers in prison longer than every country on earth except for the United States.

Those who favour the retention of the faint hope clause have a number of arguments. They argue that judges and juries who consider whether to reduce the parole ineligibility period often take into consideration the circumstances that have led criminals down the wrong path, factors like poverty, fetal alcohol syndrome, low cognition, and other factors. They also recognize that mistakes can be made in court rooms from time to time resulting in innocent people being convicted.

Those who commit murder do deserve to be treated severely. Despite the government's constant attempt to try to simplify any argument other than its own or its attempt to make up straw person arguments that are easy to beat up, let it be said that there is no parliamentarian in this House who does not think that someone convicted of first degree murder ought to be treated severely. Of course they should. Anybody suggesting that any parliamentarian thinks otherwise is simply trying to mislead the Canadian public.

However while acknowledging that, people who favour retaining this section believe that offenders should not necessarily be utterly robbed of all hope, since one of the aims of punishment is rehabilitation. They believe, in other words, that justice must be tempered with mercy.

Serious Time for the Most Serious Crime Act
Government Orders

1:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer

The hon. member still has eight minutes left to conclude his remarks. As it is just about 2 o'clock, we will start with statements by members, and the hon. member will have the floor after question period.

Breast Cancer Awareness
Statements By Members

1:55 p.m.

Conservative

Patrick Brown Barrie, ON

Mr. Speaker, the Canadian Breast Cancer Network is urging all parliamentarians to recognize October 13 as the first national metastatic breast cancer awareness day. As part of this initiative, the Canadian Breast Cancer Network hosted a metastatic breast cancer awareness event on Parliament Hill today.

Metastatic breast cancer is an advanced breast cancer that appears in other parts of the body. An estimated 30% of women globally who are first diagnosed with earlier stages of breast cancer develop it. Women who receive this diagnosis often feel isolated, without specialized information, proper psychological support or timely access to treatment.

I encourage my colleagues to support the efforts of the Canadian Breast Cancer Network and recognize October 13 as metastatic breast cancer awareness day in Canada.

May I also say how proud I was of the 2,109 Barrie residents who attended the annual CIBC Run for the Cure in support of breast cancer research this past Sunday. This year's run raised $319,000. Congratulations to everyone involved.

Small Business
Statements By Members

2 p.m.

Liberal

Navdeep Bains Mississauga—Brampton South, ON

Mr. Speaker, this government is not in tune with the needs of small business in Canada.

When the Minister of Finance created a task force to examine soaring credit card fees, this same task force was charging small businesses up to $45,000 just for the privilege of being consulted.

The Liberal Party has a plan to do things differently. It will find better and easier ways to make investments in new equipment and new processes. It will give Canadians access to ongoing skills development training. It will invest in key sectors. It will cut red tape and develop an international network to create opportunities around the world.

The Liberal Party cares about small businesses, and will work with them to build a better future, at no cost to them.

National Youth Centre Day in Quebec
Statements By Members

2 p.m.

Bloc

Nicolas Dufour Repentigny, QC

Mr. Speaker, last Saturday marked the 13th annual Journée nationale des maisons de jeunes du Québec. The event was set up in 1997 at the initiative of young people between the ages of 12 and 18 who wanted to raise awareness of youth centres, where they get together.

On the first Saturday of October each year, thousands of young people get busy promoting the way they see society today. Across Quebec, 175 youth centres opened their doors to the community to demystify urban legends about them. Visitors could see for themselves that these places are important to many young people, because they bring them out of isolation, help integrate them into society and promote their independence. In short, the centres make young people responsible citizens.

I myself attended open houses at several youth centres in my riding. I hope that in my own way, I helped people see our youth in a new light, as active, engaged individuals.

Holyrood Community League
Statements By Members

2 p.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan Edmonton—Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, Edmonton's community leagues have long served our families and neighbourhoods, running children's sports programs and providing a voice for community concerns. Recently, the Edmonton—Strathcona leagues have been providing clear leadership in greening their parks, play spaces and facilities to reduce their environmental footprint.

One great example is the Holyrood community green space project, beginning with a small naturescape in their elementary school. Buoyed by their success, they launched a project to transform their neighbourhood park into a vibrant community hub. It includes a playground, naturalized landscape and picnic area. Coming soon will be a community garden, systems to capture rainwater and an energy retrofitted community hall.

Even more extraordinary is their effort to consider the health and wellness of senior and disabled residents. Holyrood has actively partnered with Extendicare Holyrood, the Greater Edmonton Foundation and the South East Edmonton Seniors Association to design and deliver recreation programs for seniors.

Hats off to Holyrood and its partners.

National Family Week
Statements By Members

2 p.m.

Conservative

Candice Bergen Portage—Lisgar, MB

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to recognize National Family Week.

Canadian families are diverse and come in all shapes and sizes. Over the years, we have seen a dramatic shift in what the typical family looks like, but one common goal all families share is the desire to provide love and care and see the health and well-being of each family member flourish.

During our greatest challenges and our greatest successes in life, so many times our greatest strength comes from our family. Indeed, all of us in this House depend on the support of our families to do our job here each day.

Let us never forgot the importance of families in Canada and the pivotal role they play in our society. There is no replacement for the stability that families provide, and we must do all we can to support them.

I would like to invite all members to join us in celebrating the family at a reception after question period.

Lou Gehrig's Disease
Statements By Members

2:05 p.m.

Liberal

Lise Zarac LaSalle—Émard, QC

Mr. Speaker, ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease, is the most common cause of neurological death in Canada. About 3,000 Canadians over age 18 currently live with ALS and 80% die within two to five years. Some people die within a few months and 10% of those affected may live 10 years or more.

ALS affects the whole family. People living with ALS need expensive equipment and care, and 90% of care is provided by family members. ALS has a huge impact on informal caregivers' physical, emotional and financial resources.

This disease has touched us here in the House. Richard Wackid, the Liberal whip's chief of staff, succumbed to this terrible disease last year.

Our society is afflicted by so many of these diseases. Whether it is ALS, respiratory diseases or breast cancer, we must as Canadians do everything that we can to alleviate the suffering by providing comfort and support, not only to those who are afflicted but also to those who provide care for them.

World Sight Day
Statements By Members

October 5th, 2010 / 2:05 p.m.

Conservative

Paul Calandra Oak Ridges—Markham, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am proud to stand in the House today to welcome members of Vision 2020 Canada who are here with us to celebrate and bring awareness to World Sight Day 2010.

World Sight Day is an international day of awareness to focus attention on the global issues of avoidable blindness and visual impairment. This year's theme is “Countdown to 2020”.

Vision 2020 Canada will mark both the successes and the work that still needs to be done in the ambition to eliminate avoidable blindness across the globe by 2020.

Vision 2020 is the global initiative for the elimination of avoidable blindness, a joint program with the World Health Organization and the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness with an international membership of NGOs, professional associations, eye care institutions and corporations.

The many successes of Vision 2020: The Right to Sight, have been achieved through a unique cross-sector collaboration which enables public, private and not for profit interests to work together helping people all over the world to see.