House of Commons Hansard #116 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was haitian.

Topics

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

11:50 a.m.

Some hon. members

Nay.

Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

11:50 a.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

In my opinion the nays have it.

And five or more members having risen:

Pursuant to Standing Order 93, the division stands deferred until Wednesday, December 15, 2010, immediately before the time provided for private members' business.

Suspension of Sitting
Criminal Code
Private Members' Business

11:50 a.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

The House will now suspend until 12 o'clock.

(The sitting of the House was suspended at 11:55 a.m.)

(The House resumed at 12:00)

The House resumed from December 10 consideration of Bill S-6, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and another Act, as reported (with amendments) from the committee; and of the motions in Group No. 1.

Serious Time for the Most Serious Crime Act
Government Orders

December 13th, 2010 / noon

Bloc

Marc Lemay Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, since I have only 10 minutes and we are at the amendment stage, I will address that particular topic right away. The government proposed three amendments and I would like to set the record straight once and for all: we will be voting against those amendments, which would reinstate the short title. The government has a tendency to politicize things in these matters. The title of Bill S-6 begins with “An Act to amend the Criminal Code”. We have no problem with that. Where we do have a problem is with the short title: “Serious Time for the Most Serious Crime Act”. Clearly, we will vote against these amendments. Clearly, we will vote against Bill S-6. Clearly, this government has no direction and is using this bill to try to appeal to the public.

Bill S-6 pertains to the faint hope clause. I would remind those watching us that in 1976, Canada abolished the death penalty for those who commit the most appalling, most serious crime in the Criminal Code: murder. Under the Liberals, the bill that abolished the death penalty also introduced what is known as the faint hope clause. Here is what it is all about. After a certain amount of time, after serving between 15 and 17 years in prison, offenders have the right—I hope they will still have this right—to apply to the Superior Court for the district in which the original sentence was handed down to be granted the opportunity to appear before the parole board. I am saying all this because Bill S-6, a bill from the Senate, is just not right. It makes absolutely no sense.

The bill does not make sense and I hope the Liberals will wake up. I hope the Liberals will hear the truth and hear what is being said today and what will be said on this bill in the coming weeks, or months if necessary. In any event, this bill absolutely must not be passed. The faint hope clause, and I am quoting from the Library of Parliament:

...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.

I can understand where the Conservatives are coming from. They say they are in favour of protecting victims and that we absolutely must protect victims. They keep saying over and over again that we absolutely must protect victims.

Therein lies the problem because the faint hope clause is working quite well. I hope my Conservative friends will listen, I cannot help it if they do not, but we will repeat this ad nauseam in the coming months: as of October 10, 2010, because the death penalty was abolished, there were 4,774 inmates serving life sentences in Canada. Contrary to what our Conservative friends think, and I hope the Liberals will finally hear the truth, those convicted of and serving time for murder are not sentenced to 25 years in prison. That is not true. They are sentenced to life imprisonment—for the rest of their days. I know that the Conservatives will never listen and never understand that.

These individuals will remain in the custody of the Correctional Service of Canada for the rest of their days. I repeat: it goes without saying that, for the rest of their days, these individuals will remain in the custody of the Correctional Service of Canada and the National Parole Board

I only have five minutes for my speech and then there will be a five-minute period for questions, which I will be pleased to answer. I would like to provide some statistics. I did not make them up; they are from the Correctional Service of Canada. I asked the Conservatives to provide statistics to rebut the CSC data, but no one came up with any.

In Canada, there are 4,774 inmates serving life sentences. Of these, 1,508 were eligible for judicial review. The death penalty was abolished in 1976, and therefore we had to wait 15 to 17 years before the first hearing was held in 1987. Since then, 181 decisions have been made: 146 resulted in a reduction of the ineligibility period for parole, and 35 were refused. Proof that the system works lies in the fact that it protects the public and therefore the victims.

I will continue with the Correctional Service of Canada statistics: 144 inmates have now reached their revised eligibility dates and 135 have been released. Half of those released, or 68 inmates, have not posed a problem; they have reintegrated into society and been rehabilitated. Thirty-five had their parole suspended, but not revoked. They had minor breaches of conditions, such as returning home at midnight instead of 10 p.m. The rules are very strict and the National Parole Board monitors them very closely. Thus, 23 had their parole suspended, but afterwards things went smoothly. Only 23 of the possible 4,000 inmates had their parole revoked. Only 2 of those 23 out of the 4,000 were convicted of other violent crimes, such as aggravated assault or assault with a weapon, but not murder.

So the system is working well. I do not understand the decision of this side of the House, the Liberal side. The Liberals are the ones who introduced the faint hope clause in 1976 after they abolished the death penalty. And it has been working so well that even the farthest-right, right-wing Conservatives are unable to provide us with any statistics to show that murders have been committed by parolees. This has not happened since 1987. The murderers who have been released from prison have all respected the conditions of their parole.

I know that we are at the report and amendments stage, but I will come back to this later. I will certainly have the opportunity to rise in the House again and speak out against the cheap populist approach that the Conservatives are taking with this bill. It is a cheap populist approach to say that anyone can be released on parole when such is not the case. The organizations that are currently taking very good care of the public and victims are the National Parole Board and the Correctional Service of Canada. They manage to keep criminals who are not ready to return to society from doing so.

I will gladly answer any questions.

Serious Time for the Most Serious Crime Act
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12:10 p.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would say to my colleague from the Bloc that as we took the evidence at the justice committee it seemed to me very clear. I do not think that anybody who is objective about the evidence we heard could deny that the faint hope clause and the system we built up under it, in terms of how one is able to apply for and get that result, has been as successful as any program in our correction services, bar none. The rate of recidivism is the lowest of any program we have.

I know my colleague from the Bloc has practised criminal law for an extended period of time before being elected selected to this House.

Does he feel there is a better system than the faint hope system?

Serious Time for the Most Serious Crime Act
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12:10 p.m.

Bloc

Marc Lemay Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from Windsor—Tecumseh for his comments and question, as well as for the work he does on the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. In my opinion, there is no better system. It is the best system.

Even though this system works well, the Conservatives are getting ready to increase violence in prisons and take all hope away from inmates with this bill. They are going to take away all hope of returning to society. There are 135 former inmates who have been released under this system and today are functioning members of society. I even know some who are doctors. I argued such cases. These people returned to society and are now doctors. Yes, they committed murder, the worst crime a person can commit, but they came back into society after spending 17 years in prison.

With the Liberals' support, the Conservatives are getting ready to destroy a system that works very well. I hope the Liberals will think again.

Serious Time for the Most Serious Crime Act
Government Orders

12:10 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am beginning to wonder how much the public really knows or understands about this whole issue about the faint hope clause. Does the public really understand that in 1997 the Liberal government changed the law to eliminate faint hope clause applications for multiple murderers so that it would never apply to multiple murderers like Clifford Olson, who are in prison right now?

Does the member think the public also understands that the changes the government is bringing in, in this bill, would not take effect for 15 years?

In actual fact, there is a lot of smoke and mirrors here. The government is trying to present to the public that it is tough on crime, that it has eliminated the faint hope clause, which, as I said, had already been eliminated for multiple murderers in 1997, and the faint hope clause elimination for individual murderers would not actually be applied in Canada for 15 years, long after most of us would be gone from this House.

Serious Time for the Most Serious Crime Act
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12:10 p.m.

Bloc

Marc Lemay Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member is quite right. This bill will not prevent Clifford Olson from applying and saying that he has the right to do so. It will not change anything. With this bill, the government would have us believe that it is being tough on crime, but the bill solves nothing.

If only this bill at least addressed some issues. I can understand the minimum sentences the Conservatives are calling for. They are playing politics. But Bill S-6 not only fixes nothing; it will create problems in our prisons.

If the member for Beauce listened carefully—God knows he should listen so he can talk to his colleagues, instead of plugging his ears—he would understand. I hope he will be able to tell his colleagues that Bill S-6 solves nothing. The Conservatives are going to create problems in very short order, because when an inmate realizes that he has no more hope and no chance of returning to society, he is going to go to work for the worst of the worst in prison. So there will be big trouble in the coming years.

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

Liberal

Marlene Jennings Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to participate in this debate on the government's Bill S-6 at report stage.

The government, through its Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, was all over the media yesterday denouncing the three opposition parties and claiming that the opposition was delaying government bills in general, and Bill S-6 in particular.

I would like to put certain facts before the House. Bill S-6 in the previous session of the 40th Parliament was Bill C-36. The government tabled it in the House. The bill went through the three stages in the House, was adopted and sent over to the Senate. The government, in its wisdom, did not move second reading in the Senate. Instead, the Prime Minister decided to prorogue the House in December 2009. The House was prorogued for close to two and a half months.

When the second session of the 40th Parliament began on March 3, there was a throne speech. Did the government at its first opportunity reintroduce Bill C-36? No, it did not. It waited 48 days after the throne speech before tabling its legislation again. Then after tabling it 48 days after the throne speech, it let the bill sit, collecting dust, for 99 days before it moved second reading debate. If anyone has held up this bill it is not the opposition, definitely not the official opposition, but the government itself.

The government counts on the fact that most Canadians are not paying enough attention to what is actually happening in the House and what the procedures are to realize that it is their own government that is holding up its own justice legislation.

One could speculate on the reasons the Conservative government has for doing do that. I speculate, given that every end of session in December and June for close to the last five years, the minister of justice, whoever he or she has been under the Conservative government, has gone to the media to claim that the opposition is holding up the government's justice bills and if the opposition would be conciliatory and work with the government, the justice bills would get through.

When we look at each of the bills the government identifies at each one of those periods, June and December of 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 and now 2010, those are the very bills that the government itself has held up, either by letting them sit at first reading and not moving second reading debate, or by not even introducing them initially.

With those facts on the record, I would like now to speak to the content of Bill S-6.

We know that victims and their families want the faint hope clause to be abolished. No one wants those found guilty of serious crimes to get out of jail without serving a long enough sentence. It is for that reason that when we, the Liberals, were in government, we placed restrictions on the faint hope clause so that anyone found guilty of multiple murders would not be eligible. Contrary to the claims of the Conservative government, the amendments it is proposing to make to the law will not apply to dangerous criminals such as Clifford Olson. Russell Williams also will not be able to avail himself of the faint hope clause to obtain a judicial review because of the changes made by the previous Liberal government.

The faint hope clause, also known as judicial review, gives inmates who are serving a life sentence the opportunity to request a judicial review after 15 years of incarceration in order to determine whether or not they may apply for parole. Parole is not automatically granted. The application must first be heard by a jury selected from members of the community where the crime took place. If the 12 jurors unanimously agree, the inmate may apply to the National Parole Board. If the inmate proceeds, the National Parole Board determines whether the inmate, once released, may pose a risk to society or if release will contribute to his or her rehabilitation.

The Liberals believe that a balance must be struck between punishment and rehabilitation in our correctional system. We would like the government to invest more in crime prevention and programs for the victims of crime. Although the faint hope clause helps make our prisons safer and contributes to the rehabilitation of offenders, we believe that access to it must be limited.

The government is not taking into consideration the facts around the faint hope clause. Despite this clause, someone convicted of premeditated murder in Canada serves 28 years in prison on average. That is longer than in any other country that imposes life sentences with possibility of parole, including the United States. Prison guards feel that the faint hope clause helps keep them safe. The Correctional Investigator of Canada believes that the current faint hope clause serves the purpose for which it was conceived.

The Liberals proposed amendments to the Conservative bill in response to calls from various victims' groups. These groups told us that they live in a constant state of anxiety because of the faint hope clause, so we amended the bill to require that the Commissioner of the Correctional Service of Canada notify victims when an inmate applies for judicial review of his case. The commissioner already notifies victims' families when an inmate applies for judicial review. But under the current law, the commissioner is not required to notify victims' families when an inmate does not apply. Under the bill, once the inmate's opportunity to apply has passed, he must wait five years before reapplying.

The Liberal amendment moved and passed with the support of the Bloc and the NDP was as follows.

When an inmate does not exercise his right to apply for a judicial review under the faint hope clause, the commissioner should notify the families and indicate the next date on which the inmate will be eligible to apply. Unfortunately, the Conservatives on the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights voted against this amendment. I am puzzled by that.

We also proposed a second amendment that would extend the 90-day period for applying for a judicial review to a maximum of 180 days when the judge feels that extraordinary circumstances beyond the inmate's control prevented him from applying within the 90-day period.

I will stop here, because I see that my time is up. I invite hon. members to ask me questions.

Serious Time for the Most Serious Crime Act
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12:25 p.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am going to ask my colleague who also sits on the justice committee with me the same question as I asked the Bloc.

With regard to the system whereby the faint hope clause is available, I know the member has analyzed this and listened to all the evidence that we heard at that point. Is she aware of any other system within corrections, parole or probation that has been as successful in terms of limiting recidivism? By that I mean not only the very minor breaches that sometimes occur but in particular there have been only two cases, in all of the cases where the faint hope clause has in fact been used, where there is even a suggestion of a serious crime being committed by individuals who are released under that program.

Serious Time for the Most Serious Crime Act
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12:25 p.m.

Liberal

Marlene Jennings Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from Tecumseh for the question he asked. According to the evidence we heard from justice officials, from victims groups and from organizations that work with inmates and with people who are out on parole, no, we did not hear of any other program within our sentencing regime and our Criminal Code that pertains directly to the Correctional Service of Canada that appears to work as well as the faint hope clause regime does and has proved itself to do--

Serious Time for the Most Serious Crime Act
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12:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

Questions and comments, the hon. member for Elmwood—Transcona.

Serious Time for the Most Serious Crime Act
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12:25 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member for another excellent speech on the bill.

I want to make a Hansard correction. The member for Windsor—Tecumseh pointed out that I inadvertently indicated that the Liberals changed the faint hope clause, removing the faint hope clause option for multiple murderers such as Clifford Olson, and it was in 1997. I know I have mentioned that several times already, but I evidently have used a different year. Therefore, I want to correct that in Hansard.

However, the Liberal government did change the faint hope clause in 1997 to remove that option for any multiple murderers like Clifford Olson, like Mr. Williams. The fact of the matter is I do not know how much the public knows or understands about that.

This particular bill is to remove the faint hope clause for other murderers, but 15 years from now. The Conservative are going to campaign on the issue that somehow they have removed the faint hope clause. The reality is that it is going to take 15 years for it to take effect.

I would ask the member to comment on that particular piece of information.

Serious Time for the Most Serious Crime Act
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12:25 p.m.

Liberal

Marlene Jennings Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, QC

Mr. Speaker, I welcome the question from the member from the NDP and I am glad that I now realize that I misstated the name of the riding of my earlier colleague from the NDP. It is not Tecumseh, it is Windsor—Tecumseh. So for the record I would also join in correcting a misstatement.

The member is quite right that if one looks at the bill, the repeal of the faint hope clause will actually only have effect 15 years after the coming into effect of this legislation, should it pass all Houses, be adopted and receive royal assent. Clearly the Conservative government has no interest in educating the public, educating groups that represent families of victims and victims themselves of the actual facts of this case.

It is not surprising. We see it with a number of other pieces of legislation, such as the white collar crime bill, which the Liberals, the Bloc and the NDP were clamouring for back in 2007-08. The government finally brought it through after letting it sit for 216 days before actually pushing it forward. That is a bill that Liberals attempted to amend in order to remove the early release at one-sixth of the sentence. The Conservatives voted against it. How about that?