House of Commons Hansard #47 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was nuclear.

Topics

Criminal Records Act Review
Private Members' Business

2:05 p.m.

Conservative

Daryl Kramp Prince Edward—Hastings, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is pleasure to rise today in support of the motion from the hon. member for Surrey North who, for many years, has been a strong advocate for victims' rights and has been deeply committed to strengthening the justice system while helping young people who are at risk of becoming involved with gangs or the criminal justice system to lead better lives. I am confident that her motion will receive the support it so richly deserves.

The motion asks the House to take a long, hard look at the Criminal Records Act with an eye to strengthening it in order to ensure that the National Parole Board puts the public's safety first in all its decisions.

None of us need to be reminded as to why this is so important in today's world. Putting safety first, of course, is something that our government has committed to do ever since we were first elected in 2006. We have done it in a number of ways. We have given police and law enforcement officials the tools and resources they need to do their job. We have done it by getting tough on crime and offenders. We have passed legislation to stiffen sentences for people convicted of drive-by shootings and murders connected to organized crime. We have passed the Tacking Violent Crime Act to better protect 14 to 16 year olds for the first time from sexual predators. We have recently introduced measures to further protect our children and help victims by strengthening the national sex offender registry and the national DNA data bank.

We will also be pressing onward over the coming months with other important initiatives, including ending house arrest for serious crimes, and repealing the faint hope clause to spare victims from having to relive their terrible experiences.

We have also introduced legislation to keep violent and repeat young offenders off the streets while they are awaiting trial and ensure the courts consider appropriate sentences for youth convicted of the most serious and violent crimes.

All of those measures are designed to do one thing: to ensure that Canadians are safe in their own homes and in their own communities.

As our recent Speech from the Throne notes:

For many Canadians, there can be no greater accomplishment than to provide for their children, to contribute to the local community, and to live in a safe and secure country.

Our government shares and supports these aspirations, which is one reason that this motion is before us today and, as parliamentarians, it should be for all of our attention.

The way the pardon system currently works means that the majority of applicants are granted one after a certain waiting period provided they are not convicted of another crime, and, in the case of indictable offences or serious offences, can demonstrate to the National Parole Board that they are of good conduct.

The idea behind the waiting period and the need for an offender to remain conviction-free or show they are of good conduct is sound enough. However, we want to ensure that each offender who applies for a pardon has committed to living in society as a law-abiding citizen. That is one safeguard in the present system that plays a role in protecting public safety. The question we must ask ourselves today is whether that is enough.

Hon. members will know that another key safeguard within the present system originated with the hon. member for Chilliwack—Fraser Canyon. Back in 1997, he introduced a private member's bill stipulating that the records of sexual offenders should be flagged in the justice system so that an organization working with children, seniors or other vulnerable members of our society would be able to tell if an individual who might have applied for a job with them had a sex offender background.

It took a lot to get this measure passed, including the co-operation of the government of the day, which saw the value in my colleague's bill and introduced its own legislation to implement this important safeguard. This measure came into force in August 2000, thanks, in large part, to the commitment of the hon. member for Chilliwack—Fraser Canyon to enhance public safety.

In 2006, our government implemented a review of the pardon system and put in place further safeguards with regard to sex offenders based on what was known at that time.

In particular, the National Parole Board enacted new measures calling on two board members instead of one to approve or reject applications from sex offenders. In addition, measures were put in place to ensure that the board undertook more rigorous consultations with police in the cases of sex offenders in order to determine if there were any recent and relevant information available on the offender.

Our government has therefore always been committed to putting public safety considerations at the centre of the pardon system in the country, but we can and will do more based on what we know today. This is not a case of simply responding to sensational headlines. It is a case of looking at the present system, evaluating it and asking ourselves whether it responds to the needs of Canadians, given that a serial sex offender can apparently receive a pardon under the same legislative rules and as readily as anyone who has committed a less serious offence.

Is that right? Obviously, we believe not. All of us need to ask ourselves what more we can do to ensure that public safety considerations are front and centre in decisions made by the National Parole Board, as they should be for all aspects of our criminal justice system. The way the current system is set up means that we can and do differentiate in a limited way. Offenders convicted for life or an indeterminate sentence, for example, cannot apply for a pardon, while other offenders serving shorter sentences can.

What we perhaps also need to look at is whether, in the interest of public safety, we should also differentiate between offenders who commit certain crimes over an extended period of time and those who may have committed an offence only once. There is quite a difference. That is one thing we need to look at.

We need to ask whether the National Parole Board needs more discretion to look at the pattern of conduct or to look at the offences themselves, if there were more than one, as well as the potential impact on victims. We need to ask whether these and many other safeguards are sufficient. Are these all important issues to address over the coming weeks? I would certainly hope so.

I therefore look forward to working with all hon. members and especially the mover of this bill to strengthen the system of pardons in this country. I urge all members to support the motion put before us today by the hon. member, who has demonstrated quite clearly that this is a motion that is not only true to the heart and soul but also true to the essence of fairness and safety in this country.

Criminal Records Act Review
Private Members' Business

2:15 p.m.

Saint Boniface
Manitoba

Conservative

Shelly Glover Parliamentary Secretary for Official Languages

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to support the motion introduced by the hon. member for Surrey North.

Like all Canadians, I am proud to live in the safest country in the world. I am also proud to be part of a government that has done so much to ensure that Canada remains the safest country in the world. It is a country where we can walk down the streets in our communities without fear, a country where parents can feel comfortable sending their kids off to school in the knowledge that they will make it back home safe, a country whose public parks and playgrounds echo with the sounds of joy and laughter from children and families enjoying time together worry free.

We know that all members in this House think these are important features for our country to have. They are at the heart of our freedom, of what defines Canada and makes us the envy of the rest of the world.

We also know that to ensure this freedom, we must remain ever vigilant. As soon as we take our freedom for granted, it becomes jeopardized. That is why public safety is, and will always be, this government's top priority. The public expects nothing less of us.

And therein lies the importance of this motion. It is all a question of vigilance. We should be constantly seeking ways to enhance public safety and protect the rights of all citizens—the accused, the convicted, the victims and, of course, the public.

Our justice system must ensure this protection and it must be seen to be doing so. Citizens must be confident that our justice system is able to keep them and their families safe and that it is fair and properly balanced.

All of the members know that the public's confidence has been shaken by recent events. The public is questioning the system's fairness and balance.

The pardon granted to Graham James, a convicted sex offender, prompted many legitimate questions from Canadians across the country. The responses that they received did nothing to appease them. Quite the opposite.

We are all aware of the value of pardons. We live in a civilized country and, as citizens of this country, we believe in giving someone a second chance.

I am sure we all agree that someone who commits a serious crime, recognizes that what he did was wrong, pays his debt to society, is sorry for what he did and proves beyond the shadow of a doubt that he will never commit such a crime again deserves a second chance.

These are the criteria the current system is based on. But people are still wondering today whether they are enough.

That is the very legitimate and very important question raised by the motion moved by the hon. member for Surrey North: can we do more to ensure that the National Parole Board considers public safety in its decisions?

Today, someone found guilty of a summary conviction offence can apply for a pardon after serving only three years of his sentence. The pardon is granted if the person has not been convicted of another offence during that time. This is the only factor taken into consideration. The National Parole Board has no discretionary authority.

Someone who is convicted of a crime, regardless of the seriousness of that crime, can apply for a pardon after a five-year waiting period. Once again, the National Parole Board has very limited discretionary authority. If the person is not convicted of another offence during the five-year waiting period and is of “good conduct”, as stated in the Criminal Records Act, he is considered to be rehabilitated.

The pardon granted to Mr. James has raised some very reasonable questions among Canadians. Is the legislation too lenient? The people in my riding of Saint Boniface are definitely asking that question. Is it appropriate to grant pardons almost automatically in all cases? When it comes to the National Parole Board's decision-making powers, do we have the assurance that it is putting the safety of the public first when making its decisions? Is anyone taking into account the repercussions of the crimes on the victims? That is very important to our government.

Should a person with a lengthy criminal record for serious offences have the same right to a pardon as someone convicted only one time for smashing a car window and stealing an iPod?

For the public, for our government, and I am sure for all the members of this House, the answer to that question is very clear. That is why the hon. Minister of Public Safety has introduced a bill to amend the Criminal Records Act.

The first amendment involves changing the name of the process. “Criminal record suspension” is a much more accurate and appropriate term. It sends a clear message to offenders, and especially to victims, that the offences committed and the harm they caused are not being forgotten.

Another change is that the waiting period before an offender can apply for a record suspension would be extended to five years for summary conviction offences and 10 years for indictable offences. This change would allow offenders to truly prove to us that they deserve a second chance and would provide us with the assurance that our justice system takes the seriousness of the offence into account.

These changes will give the National Parole Board more investigative powers, which will allow the board to make truly informed decisions, specifically when it has to rule on cases of serious offences. With regard to the most serious offences, crimes that society as a whole finds absolutely heinous, in other words, sexual offences against our children, the changes propose extending the waiting period and even eliminating the right to a record suspension.

I have to say with regard to that modification that I spent four and a half years investigating child abuse, including sexual abuse against children, and it is high time Parliament considered this kind of a modification because those children suffer for a lifetime. What is forgotten is the suffering of the parents as well, because no parent can ever forget the consequences of sexual abuse of their children.

I am very proud today to support what our minister and the hon. member for Surrey North have put forward, because I have seen this and lived this and it has gone unchecked far too long. I am very pleased to stand here and speak on behalf of this fine member.

Thanks to the proposed changes, the justice system will continue to be something Canadians can be proud of. They can have confidence in this fair and balanced system that makes public safety the top priority and reflects our country's respect for victims' rights.

Those are the objectives of the motion moved by the hon. member for Surrey North. I urge all hon. members to join me in supporting this motion.

Criminal Records Act Review
Private Members' Business

2:25 p.m.

Conservative

Royal Galipeau Ottawa—Orléans, ON

Mr. Speaker, thank you for giving me the floor today.

Like my colleagues, I am pleased to have this opportunity to congratulate the hon. member for Surrey North on having moved this important motion. It truly deserves the support of every member of the House.

The motion is straightforward:

That the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security be instructed to undertake a review of the Criminal Records Act and report to the House within three months on how it could be strengthened to ensure that the National Parole Board puts the public’s safety first in all its decisions.

This does not seem at all controversial to me. It is an important and timely motion.

I do not think it would be an exaggeration to say that millions of Canadians were shocked to learn that, a few weeks ago, the National Parole Board granted a convicted sex offender a full pardon. We are not talking about just any offender, but a notorious sex offender who never showed a hint of remorse or apologized to his victims.

People across Canada have kept asking the same question: how could that have happened?

Obviously, the answer is “very easily”. Under the Criminal Records Act, the National Parole Board had no other choice but to pardon the unrepentant sex offender, who had abused a number of adolescents. It was not the response hoped for by Canadians and they let the authorities know that it is not the response they wish to see in future.

Consequently, I believe that the motion introduced by the member for Surrey North is the appropriate response. His motion deserves to be supported by all members of this House.

Criminal Records Act Review
Private Members' Business

2:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the order paper.

It being 2:30 p.m., the House stands adjourned until Tuesday, May 25, 2010, at 10 a.m., pursuant to Standing Order 24(1) and 28(2).

(The House adjourned at 2:30 p.m.)