House of Commons Hansard #62 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was research.

Topics

Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes Act
Government Orders

1 p.m.

Bloc

Marc Lemay Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Madam Speaker, my colleague is quite right. I have worked with Inuit and Algonquin people in my career, and they do not understand what a criminal record is. In their mind, once they have served their sentence after committing a crime, there is no longer a problem; it is resolved.

My colleague is quite right. Everything concerning the parole service and criminal record suspensions will be very difficult to explain. It is already difficult to explain. Heaven knows there will be a lot of work to do in the north, a lot of development work. I do not know how this will all be done in the next few years, but clearly some work will be needed when it comes to criminal record suspensions, especially with first nations and Inuit communities. It is already extremely complicated for white people, white Canadians, that is, francophone and anglophone non-natives. Indeed, most people will remember events that happen today or tomorrow, but in a year and a half or two years, they will have forgotten everything. Someone who serves a sentence will forget it completely six years later. This is what they need to remember. The law must be open enough in that regard.

Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes Act
Government Orders

1:05 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to speak to Bill C-23.

First, I thank our party's critic, the member for Vancouver Kingsway, who has done a very good job in the research on the bill. As he has indicated, we will be supporting this bill at second reading, getting it to committee so we can initiate the process of having witnesses appear and proper professional opinions given on this whole area. We certainly support a thorough study of the pardon system by the committee. In the next few minutes I will outline the history of what the government has done in this area.

We also want to look at extending the ineligibility periods for certain kinds of offences.

We also support giving the Parole Board more discretion to deny pardons, particularly in cases that would shock the conscience of Canadians.

We also want to hear from correctional experts, from victims, from police and from other groups to ensure our pardon system is strengthened and fair.

The government has held itself out as being very sympathetic and on the side of victims. Yet three years ago, when it appointed Mr. Sullivan as the victims rights' advocate, it proceeded to ignore his advice, to the point where in the last several months, it refused to renew his contract because he criticized it for not being supportive of victims' rights and being more concerned about the punishment side of the equation. I think that speaks volumes of where the government is on this issue. It talks a great line out in the public about how supportive it is of victims, but at the end of the day, it does not come through for them.

The fact is Mr. Sullivan is now no longer working in that job because he did his job and he stood up for victims. He was rewarded by the government by being fired, in essence, because his contract was not renewed.

We have proposed that the government introduce urgent legislation that would immediately stop pardons from being granted in outrageous cases, while preserving the process of study for the rest of the bill. We have taken language from the Conservative bill and strengthened it by referring to crimes that shock the conscience of Canadians, which is language not present in its bill.

We know the bill will not pass all of the various readings before we break for the summer, and Canadians are concerned about the potential for Karla Homolka getting a pardon. As a result, we have said that we would support the government bringing in an immediate bill dealing with this issue. We want to immediately stop pardons from being granted in outrageous cases. The Karla Homolka case is certainly one that fits within that category and would be covered by the proposal of our critic, the member for Vancouver Kingsway. Then we would separately study the rest of the bill in the committee. That is our proposed.

We have offered the government this option and we are prepared to move on it today. However, the government has rejected it. What the purpose and reason is for it to take that kind of attitude on the bill beyond me when we have offered it the solution to what we see as the immediate problem.

We not support a U.S.-style three strikes and they are out correctional system because, and only because, it has never worked where it was tried. It was the flavour of the month, flavour of the decade, back in the Ronald Reagan administration. We saw many American prisons become privately owned. The new prison development became private prison development. Under the three strikes and they are out, the Americans built more prisons and filled them up. At the end of the day, the crime rate in the United States went up. It did not go down.

After all these years of a proven failed system, there are situations like Governor Schwarzenegger, who I was fortunate to speak to at the governors' conference in February in Washington. His state is on bankruptcy notice. He is being forced, as are other jurisdictions in the United States, to let people out of jail. They cannot afford to keep them in jail anymore because of the enormous cost involved.

What do we have here? We have the Conservatives following a discredited system that does not work.

Our members have said over and over again that we need to look at best practices. The Conservatives are great about talking about best practices in business. Let us scan the world and find out what works in other jurisdictions and let us try to do the same thing.

We know there are programs that work in certain countries in the European Union. With respect to the area of auto thefts, we know different jurisdictions in Canada have tried different ideas. Some work better than others.

We found in the province of Manitoba that by having a combination of a gang suppression strategy involving the police force identifying the top 50 car thieves, keeping them under surveillance, picking them up and keeping them in custody, it reduced our car theft rates dramatically to the point that last year we had zero car thefts on one day.

Four or five years ago an immobilizer program with Manitoba public insurance was not working well. If people installed immobilizers, they would get a break on their car insurance. Guess what? People were not taking up the program. The government woke up one day and decided to make it mandatory for people to install immobilizers and the government paid for them and gave people a reduction in their insurance. There was some grumbling, but by and large it has been widely accepted in Manitoba. Now hundreds of thousands of cars have immobilizers and the thieves cannot steal them cars anymore

This problem will take care of itself because over time, as all the old cars are taken off the road, new cars will have the proper immobilizer systems in place at the factory, where it should be done. In fact, the Manitoba government deserves credit for mandating immobilizers in new cars effective last year.

This is something that could have been foreseen. The insurance bureaus in Canada and in the United States have known for years that we could put immobilizers in cars in the factory for say $30. However, to save the $30, the car companies preferred to let the public pay $300 for immobilizers if they wanted them. This could have been done, yet the insurance industry kept paying the claims and people kept paying higher insurance rates. What kind of an insane system is that?

We could have been on top of this 20 years ago had we put these requirements on the car companies to bring in proper immobilizers. It would have saved the public an awful lot on insurance rates and it would have cut down the death rate. When people steal cars, they can get into car accidents and kill people. All this could have been foreseen.

However, we go back to Ronald Reagan who told the car companies that they did not have to attain certain standards. He reduced the standards. This is the same president who brought in the “three strikes and you're out” program. The Conservatives are back to Ronald Reagan's days.

In any event, we have offered a solution to the government and we still would prefer to get an answer as to whether the Conservatives would prefer to bring in this bill today. We will support the bill to stop these pardons from being granted in outrageous cases. We feel that would be a big part of the solution, not to follow the discredited policies of the past.

Bill C-23 would renames “pardons” as a “record suspension”. It also would increase the eligibility period, which must pass before a pardon application could be submitted, from the current five years to ten years for indictable offences and from the current three years to five years for summary offences. It would also prohibit those convicted of four or more indictable offences from ever receiving a pardon. It would prohibit anyone convicted of one or more offences from a designated list of sex offences from ever receiving a pardon. With respect to pardon applications for indictable offences, the Parole Board would be required to deny a pardon if granting it would bring the administration of justice into disrepute.

On that last point, this is the section that would apply to Karla Homolka, which is already in this existing Bill C-23, but nothing in the rest of the bill would serve to deny her a pardon. The increased waiting periods proposed will require her to wait five more years before applying, but only that one section will actually stop the pardon from ever being granted.

If the House were to adopt the NDP's suggestion, then we could deal with it summarily, we could deal with it today, and the problem would be at an end. Then we could follow the bill through to committee where we would deal with the issue as we should.

In 2006 the government, under the former public safety minister, oversaw a review of the pardon system in response to the Clark Noble case, a convicted sex offender. At the time, the government made a big issue of the case. It was a new government and it would to review the pardon system. After all this, one would think there would be some revolutionary change by the government, but that is wrong. At the end of the day, the 2006 review by the former minister of public safety led to just minor changes, including a requirement for two Parole Board members to review the pardon applications from sex offenders. Ultimately the tough on crime minister and government signed off on the current system as adequately protecting public safety.

What happened after that is that a government member, the member for Surrey North, who has a lot of credibility on this issue, introduced Motion No. 514. It is a very good motion and is still before the House. We support the motion, which states:

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.

Not only did the government do its review in 2006, which did nothing, but, rather than introduce this bill, Bill C-23, to solve this problem, it had a government backbencher introduce a motion asking for a review of the pardon system. Then all of a sudden the Graham James issue came to the fore, and overnight this became a serious issue again and the government brought in Bill C-23, essentially cutting the rug out from under the member for Surrey North, a government member.

The government did not even give the member for Surrey North a fair hearing. She did a lot of work on her motion which is before the House, and the government short-circuited it. The government said that the agenda has changed because people are interested in an issue that just popped up and calls for Bill C-23 to be brought in, regardless of the fact that a member with some credibility on the issue brought forth a motion which is the proper way to look at it. The member is asking for a review of the Criminal Records Act and for a report within three months to strengthen the system. At the end of the day, we all support the member's motion.

The public can be forgiven for being somewhat confused about what goes on around this place and what goes on with the government as it lurches back and forth not only on its crime agenda but on its whole legislative agenda. Let us look at the priorities of the government right now. One of its priorities is to close down six prison farms. Another priority is to spend $1 billion for the G20 and G8 summits which should be held on a military base or at the United Nations. To spend $1 billion of public money when the government is running a deficit of $56 billion just defies all logic.

We are looking at a government that definitely has misplaced priorities. It has no plan, or if there is a plan, it is certainly not letting us know what it is. The public must be confused about where the government is going on this issue.

We have offered to solve the problem but the government has said no. We are going into the summer recess. This bill will be in committee and nothing will happen with it until the fall and then we will be starting over. There is no sensibility as to how the government operates.

In terms of the provisions, we have suggested that this bill move quickly. The government knows that it cannot pass this bill through the committee and the Senate--it has to get through the Senate as well--before the summer recess. We know that all parties will not give unanimous consent; that is pretty much a given around here.

Once again, we brought forward a specific targeted bill to make these changes, to prevent the granting of pardons that would shock the conscience of Canadians and bring the administration of justice into disrepute. That is exactly what this House calls for at this point to solve the problem. We provided the solution, and we are waiting for the acceptance of the government on this point.

Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes Act
Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

NDP

Niki Ashton Churchill, MB

Madam Speaker, I would like to commend my colleague from Elmwood—Transcona on his thoughtful speech in which, as a member of the NDP, he conveyed the stance that we have taken.

He spoke a great deal about the Conservatives' approach to crime and their emphasis on punishment. Their approach to pardons or anything, quite frankly, when it comes to their justice and crime agenda has been extremely one-sided. Not only is there an emphasis on punishment, but there is no commitment when it comes to prevention or rehabilitation.

I would like to hear the member's thoughts on the complete lack of commitment when it comes to supporting prevention efforts among aboriginal peoples and communities that have disproportionately high rates of incarceration. I would like to hear his comments on how one-sided, imbalanced and wrong an agenda is that seeks only to punish, in many cases without a fair approach by any means, and yet does not seek to prevent individuals from falling through the cracks in our society.

Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes Act
Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, what the government did and how it acted surrounding Mr. Sullivan, the victims advocate, speaks volumes about the government. The Conservatives pretend that they support the rights of victims. To give them credit, they did hire the first victims advocate. However, at the end of the day, after three years, the victims advocate walked away without getting his contract renewed and criticized the government for not being supportive of victims' rights in this country.

Clearly, it was all for show. It was a sham. The government does not support victims' rights. Even though the Conservatives constantly advertise that they do, we know that they do not.

We in the NDP are extremely concerned about the rights of victims. As a matter of fact, the criminal injuries compensation fund in Manitoba was set up by Premier Ed Schreyer way back in 1970. The criminal injuries compensation fund is certainly a very important part of the victims' rights process. For the last 10 years, the NDP in Manitoba under Gary Doer went a long way to involve victims in terms of victims' impact statements and their being able to let people know what happened in the crime.

We have shifted and the whole country has shifted toward a greater focus on the role of victims. However, the Conservatives' pretense that they are somehow the paramount leaders in this area came to a crushing end with the departure of Mr. Sullivan and the exposure of their commitment as being not as strong as they like to pretend that it is.

Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes Act
Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Yukon, YT

Madam Speaker, the member referred to this tangentially. Does he think this bill will ever actually get through? As I think he mentioned, the government keeps on delaying its own crime agenda. It either prorogues Parliament or calls an election and all the crime bills and things that it believes will make us safer die. Some of the things the government thinks would make us safer probably would not and it is probably good that the government lets them die. Does he think this bill will actually get through?

Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes Act
Government Orders

1:25 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, that is why we are so concerned. We want to offer that solution and simply pass the measures required so that we do not take that risk.

We have no guarantee. For example, we have suggested that the government introduce urgent legislation that would immediately stop pardons from being granted in outrageous cases while preserving the process of this bill. It would not matter what happened to the bill in committee. We would at least have this part in place right now.

After the G8 and G20 summits next week, the Prime Minister may wake up one day and decide to call an election and we will be right back to square one again.

The member for Yukon is 100% correct. It is the Conservatives themselves who keep torpedoing their program and then they attempt to blame it on us. I do not know how they can possibly get away with that. Maybe they could get away with it once, but it is certainly not going to work repeatedly the way they have been operating for the last couple of years.

Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes Act
Government Orders

1:30 p.m.

NDP

Chris Charlton Hamilton Mountain, ON

Madam Speaker, I want to commend the member for Elmwood—Transcona on yet another very, very good speech in the House. I think he must hold the record by now on the number of bills a member has spoken to or commented on.

I know he watches the proceedings in the House very carefully, so he will know that the government of the day is one that constantly talks about wanting to get tough on crime, yet what I am hearing from my constituents is that people would much prefer if the Conservatives actually got smart on crime. Smart on crime is much, much better because they would be focusing on things like crime prevention and support for the victims of crime. Frankly, they would be supporting law enforcement officers to ensure that they can do their job effectively. Yet instead, we again are forced to deal with issues that are tough on crime only.

Unfortunately, as we are debating Bill C-23, let us recall what precipitated the bill. It was not a legal matter. It was a public relations nightmare for the Conservatives when the story of Graham James hit the news. It was after that story hit the news that people started to be concerned about what would happen with respect to Karla Homolka. Instead of dealing with those issues as they are, individual incidents that needed to be addressed, the government brought in omnibus legislation that changes the entire pardon system in the country.

I have to say, before that time not a single person contacted me to say that the pardon system was not working. Now we are confronted with a bill where we are throwing the baby out with the bathwater. What we ought to be doing is severing the bills to deal with people like Graham James and Karla Homolka. In those cases, by all means, let us put the brakes on. Let us look at the implications that this bill has for the broader justice system. Pardons are an imperative part of the correctional system. They are an important part of that toolbox.

I wonder whether the member would take a minute to talk about the motion that the NDP introduced in the House last week to do exactly that: sever one piece of the bill and let us send the other piece for further study so that we can act responsibly and be smart on crime.

Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes Act
Government Orders

1:30 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, the member for Vancouver Kingsway introduced a motion, and I will read it, because it is important: “That, in the opinion of the House, urgent changes to the Criminal Records Act are required to prevent pardons from being granted that would shock the conscience of Canadians or bring the administration of justice into disrepute, and therefore the government should immediately introduce legislation with the specific purpose to empower the National Parole Board to deny pardons in cases where granting a pardon would shock the conscience of Canadians or bring the administration of justice into disrepute, with cooperation and support from all parties to move swiftly such legislation through the House and the Senate before the Parliament rises for summer...”.

That was the suggestion of the NDP. I do not know how more clear we could be that we want action on this issue, we want action now on this issue and we simply are waiting for the government to say yes or no.

Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes Act
Government Orders

1:30 p.m.

Bloc

Nicole Demers Laval, QC

Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to rise to speak to Bill C-23. Like my colleague from Abitibi—Témiscamingue who spoke earlier and my other colleagues who have debated this subject in the House, I think it is important that we be able to debate this bill in committee and decide what rules should govern the act relating to pardons and the act relating to suspensions of records. The surprising thing about this bill is that it has been presented to us at the end of the session because they are upset that someone was granted a pardon when they had broken the law by committing heinous acts against minors. I would ask that we remember that when it comes to record suspensions, in all cases where the person has committed acts against a minor or crimes relating to pedophilia, the criminal record can be suspended, but special attention is paid to that record.

When the criminal records of people we want to hire or take on as volunteers are checked, that is when we are informed that the person has something specific in their criminal record. We are entirely able to ask the Minister of Public Safety to explain the exact situation regarding the criminal record to us. The reason I am talking about it that way is that I worked for several years with a home support cooperative. When we talk about home support, we are talking about support for vulnerable people, elderly people, people who are ill. All of the people we hired had to complete a hiring process in which we asked the police to do an investigation. That was part of the hiring process. The people we wanted to hire had to go to the police station, apply for a certificate and pay for it, because there are in fact fees associated with the certificate. They had to ask the police to investigate them so they could prove to us that they had no criminal record or outstanding charges. Of course, when you do this research, you realize that first, when people have been granted a pardon, very few of them reoffend. You see that 97% of people who have been granted a pardon have never reoffended. The 3% figure is quite respectable, but when we think that 97% of those people did not reoffend, that really is a system that works relatively well.

And those are the people we are talking about. With this new law that our colleague is proposing, no one could ask for a pardon for at least five or ten years, depending on the crime committed.

I remember quite well that the people who committed crimes did so when they were young and carefree. The crimes they committed did not necessarily have a significant impact on society. But they were still crimes that resulted in a criminal record. These people, when they turn 20, 22 or 23 and want to take their place in society again, go to school, start a relationship and maybe get married, must think seriously about asking for a pardon. If they ask for it, it is important that they be able to get it, because we see how it can affect training and even automobile and home insurance applications. It can also affect work, your job and promotions if you have not asked for a pardon and you have a criminal record. A lot of young people think that because they were not charged or convicted that they do not need to ask for a pardon. However, if their fingerprints were taken, they would immediately have a record or their fingerprints somewhere. If they do not ask for a pardon, those fingerprints are there for life.

If they apply for a visa or a passport—for their work, for example—they will have a hard time obtaining them.

The Bloc Québécois has always said that it is important to support victims of crime. What is important is the guarantee that we can rehabilitate those who commit crime. We have to ensure that crime is reduced. This will not happen spontaneously simply because people are scared. It must happen steadily and over the long term because people realize that there is more to life than committing petty crime.

In many cases, people who commit crimes are those who are not necessarily fortunate enough to be among those who have an easier time of it in the labour market. Members of aboriginal communities have a very hard time getting an education and finding a job. They may turn to petty crime because it is easier. Then they go to jail and get caught in a vicious cycle.

Many of the aboriginal people who serve time in jail do not have access to rehabilitation programs. For the past few years, unfortunately, more attention has been paid to the risk of reoffending than to anything else. We know that people from aboriginal communities are less likely to pass these tests because they are more likely to reoffend once released from jail. People in their communities are very poor and do not have opportunities for paid work. Unable to find a meaningful goal, they will do what they have to to survive.

Last weekend, aboriginal peoples met in Ottawa to accept the government's apology, which they requested last year. Their forgiveness is unconditional. The pardon that aboriginal peoples granted the government is an act of generosity, love and respect. Why must the government always place a dollar value on forgiveness and manipulate public opinion to make people believe that it cares about the safety and well-being of victims?

All this government has done is introduce divisive bills and ensure that victims do not really get government support. Recently, the government cut funding for a number of victims' groups. Help centres for victims of sexual assault and other crimes do not have the funding they need to help victims recover. Victims do not have the funding they need to recover.

My colleague introduced a bill to give victims and their families more time to recover. Why does the government not agree with us when it comes to helping victims? They seem to find it much easier to punish criminals.

It would be much easier to work on rehabilitation and reintegration into society in order to ensure there are no more victims, as we do in Quebec with much success. All they do here is ensure there will be more criminals who remain criminals longer. Rather than making sure there will be no more victims by working on the reasons and the symptoms, we ensure that criminals stay in prison. There they do not become any less criminal. If they do not get the treatment, training and all they need to integrate back into society in a constructive way, they will remain criminals.

We should work together to find better ways of containing crime and ensuring that victims are protected in all ways and crime is further diminished.

By reducing poverty and ensuring there is social housing and gainful employment, we also do a lot to reduce crime. Much petty crime is due to the fact that people are struggling to survive. We should work on these issues, as well as on having programs to fight drugs and help people who want to get off drugs and away from prostitution. We need not only to punish people and put them in jail but also ensure they have the tools they need to start over and not just continue down the same old path. I think we are doing miracles in Quebec in this regard, given the paucity of support from the federal government. Luckily there are people like those in the Bloc Québécois and the NDP who believe in rehabilitation and think that individuals who have made mistakes can be rehabilitated because we all make mistakes.

I know someone who was charged with robbery in the 1960s. That person was sentenced to 15 years and spent eight in prison. They were not finally exonerated and found innocent until 2009. It is incredible to think that this person spent all those years in prison knowing they were innocent. They lived far away from their relatives and it destroyed their family and their relations with their daughter and son. It broke up their marriage. They separated. This person is still trying to get compensation from the government for all the years they spent in prison. We too make mistakes sometimes and harm people.

The committee should study all the ways of ensuring that criminals who should stay in prison do so but also that those who can be helped to get out and be rehabilitated do so as well and become full members of society.

Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes Act
Government Orders

1:45 p.m.

NDP

Niki Ashton Churchill, MB

Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague for her speech, which was dynamic, as usual. She brought up some points that this government needs to hear about its crime agenda, and also about the way we should address the challenges facing people in our society.

The member mentioned that we must focus on prevention and support for those who are themselves victims of unfortunate situations. She spoke about how we needed to envision an equal society and a society that does not simply want to punish everyone. We must obviously look at how we can improve the situation or support people so that they can change for the better and not always have to live with the crime they committed or the unfortunate situation they found themselves in. I would like to hear what she thinks the government could do about this.

Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes Act
Government Orders

1:45 p.m.

Bloc

Nicole Demers Laval, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague, who is also very knowledgeable about all the harm that can be done by inappropriate sentencing, especially in the community she represents.

In the case of female inmates, they are mostly women from aboriginal communities. Once again, we see that there is no equity, that there is no justice for the aboriginal peoples of this country. We must ensure that the aboriginal communities at least have the necessary resources to educate themselves and to transmit their culture and values.

With regard to Indian residential schools, we must ensure that healing takes place. We must ensure that aboriginal communities have running water and safe drinking water in their communities. We must ensure that education and health programs are provided consistently.

Some programs, such as smoking cessation programs and programs to combat fetal alcohol syndrome, have been cut. And yet these programs are essential. Without these programs, the people cannot break the cycle. Without these programs and without a significant investment in social housing, they cannot break the cycle. When 10 or 15 people live in one room, it leads to a certain promiscuity and despair. Sometimes, it leads to criminal acts.

We must ensure that there is justice for everyone. We must ensure that rehabilitation is an important component of the decisions we make to fight crime.

Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes Act
Government Orders

1:50 p.m.

NDP

Bill Siksay Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Madam Speaker, does my colleague believe that the change in the bill from using the word “pardon” to using the words “record suspension” is a significant issue? In my way of thinking, this is a very significant issue in the legislation.

I know there is divided opinion in the House. Some members think that is not a very significant issue, but to me the word “pardon” has a depth of meaning that cannot be encompassed in the term “record suspension” and an important meaning in terms of the end of the rehabilitation process and the successful conclusion of that, and the conclusion of someone paying their debt to society for a mistake they made earlier in their life.

I wonder if the member might comment on that change in language which I believe is a very significant issue in this legislation.

Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes Act
Government Orders

1:50 p.m.

Bloc

Nicole Demers Laval, QC

Madam Speaker, we are very familiar with the concept of pardon. Quebec Catholics are well aware of what “pardon” means, and what it implies.

A pardon is truly a gift of great generosity and open-mindedness from those being asked to do the pardoning. It also requires great candour, authenticity and humility from the person asking to be pardoned. They have to ask themselves what drove them to commit certain acts. It requires introspection. When one asks for a pardon, one reflects on the acts one has committed. If we eliminate the concept of pardons, perhaps we are also eliminating the opportunity to involve that person and forgetting about the human dimension to the process.

I do not have enough legal knowledge to determine the appropriateness of eliminating the word “pardon”. The concept of record suspension is also quite close to what the bill is calling for. I do not have enough legal knowledge to properly answer that question. I will leave it to my colleagues who are more knowledgeable about this than I am to answer on my behalf.

Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes Act
Government Orders

1:50 p.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Yukon, YT

Madam Speaker, I support Bill C-23. The pardon system does need to be improved with respect to some serious situations.

A number of experts have said that this bill, like other crime bills put forward by the government, is a knee-jerk reaction. The bill is not well thought out, which is why opposition parties want it to go to committee where we can make some of the changes suggested by criminal lawyer organizations and LEAF.

LEAF made the important point that delaying pardons for minor cases may actually backfire. If we make changes that would allow individuals to be stigmatized further, that could remove all of the investment we have put into rehabilitation, which is the highest goal we would like to achieve because Canadians would be safer.

This legislation would have no effect internationally. Hopefully, we will consider the seriousness of a crime when imposing a sentence because that criminal record will have a major effect on an individual's life.

I want to spend the rest of my time talking about the effect this legislation would have on aboriginal people who are sometimes forgotten in legislation. There is no aboriginal lens on crime bills and that is because aboriginal people are overrepresented in the criminal justice system. This fact has been raised many times but the government has taken no initiative toward rectifying the problem or dealing with that inequity.

Therefore, as this proliferates throughout the justice system, whatever we do will have a larger effect on aboriginal people in Canada because the government has made no attempt to rectify this problem. This fact has raised itself, unfortunately, in a number of cases.

When the ombudsperson for the correctional system reported to committee a number of recommendations that it had made to remove the inherent discrimination against aboriginal people, the recommendations were not followed up on. Opposition members complained vehemently about that and tried to follow them up.

The minister extended the aboriginal justice strategy for a couple of years. However, permanent people need to be in the courts just like judges. This funding should have been made permanent. We would not ask judges, policemen or lawyers to apply every couple of years for their funding to be reinstated. They are just part of the system.

The government cut back on alternative sentencing, which was very effective with respect to aboriginal people. It reduced recidivism and made Canadians safer. It reduced re-victimization and made it much better for victims and yet the government is cutting back on this once again.

Bill C-23, as with other government efforts relating to the criminal justice system, would disproportionately affect first nations, Inuit and Métis. This should be taken into consideration as this bill moves forward, as it should with all bills relating to the criminal justice system. Aboriginal people are grossly overrepresented in the criminal justice system and yet the government has not made the necessary changes to deal with this disparity. It could just bring forward another bill that would exacerbate the situation.

An Inuit witness appeared at committee a few weeks ago from an area where there is chronic underemployment. A lot of government jobs are available but these jobs require criminal background checks. This witness made it quite clear that this bill, which would delay pardons in some minor instances, would exacerbate the problem.

That is an example of how this bill was not thought out in detail and why it needs to go to committee. We need to look at the ramifications for employment in general and to recognize the rehabilitation people have made, when they have made a mistake and have tried to go the right way, and whether they could be held back by this particular bill and be further stigmatized, and whether it would work contrary to the goals that we are trying to achieve.

I have one official message for the clerk of the committee, probably the justice committee. I would ask that the committee ensure there are appropriate aboriginal witnesses from the first nations, Inuit and Métis communities to explain for us the effect this will have on them. I also ask that the committee call appropriate expert witnesses on the employment of Canadians regarding what effect this bill would have on those people, and appropriate experts from the rehabilitation societies, such as the John Howard Society, to explain what effect the bill might have on those people and ensure it is not counterproductive to the things we want to achieve.

Stephen Leacock Memorial Medal for Humour
Statements By Members

2 p.m.

Conservative

Bruce Stanton Simcoe North, ON

Madam Speaker, last Saturday the 2010 Stephen Leacock Memorial Medal for Humour was presented at a gala reception near the city of Orillia, the home of the Leacock Museum.

Each year, the Leacock medal is awarded for the most humorous book published in Canada in the previous year. Its winners have included literary icons, such as W.O. Mitchell and Mordecai Richler, and contemporary humorists, such as Stuart McLean and Arthur Black.

This year, the Leacock Associates have awarded the medal and its $15,000 prize, courtesy of TD Bank Financial Group, to Will Ferguson for his recent book Beyond Belfast. In so doing, Will becomes the fifth author to win the Leacock a third time.

I invite members to join me in congratulating Will Ferguson for this great achievement, because we recognize, as Leacock himself did when he wrote, “Writing is no trouble: you just jot down ideas as they occur to you. The jotting is simplicity itself--it is the occurring that is difficult”.

I congratulate Will.