House of Commons Hansard #57 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was trade.

Topics

Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes Act
Government Orders

6:20 p.m.

Bloc

Serge Ménard Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Mr. Speaker, our goal is to ensure that there are fewer victims, and rehabilitation is the best way to do that. The hon. member for Abbotsford said we do not often talk about the victims. That is not true; we talk about them all the time. I started by talking about everything I have already done to combat organized crime. There is absolutely no doubt that when we fight organized crime, we are helping reduce the number of victims.

Besides, he has seen the statistics, just as I have. In Quebec in 2001, after operation Carcajou was over, the number of gang murders went down from 38 to 7, and 15 the next year. Now those are results.

The government talks about victims all too often, and always in a way that plays with people's emotions. It is as though, if we do not say the word “victim”, it means we do not care about them. Clearly, when we fight crime, we want fewer people to become victims. I completely agree that we need to balance mercy and justice.

Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes Act
Government Orders

6:20 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, earlier when I asked a question I think in the back of my mind it was prompted by something a member said about certain members speaking in the House and shifting the debate to getting tough on crime and to protecting victims versus criminals, et cetera. I do not think that is what the bill is all about.

There is an issue here and it is one of the reasons that I thought this bill would have gone to committee before second reading if the government is convinced that it is necessary to respond to the public interest so that we do not get off track and use it simply as another political tool. I wonder if the member would care to comment.

Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes Act
Government Orders

6:20 p.m.

Bloc

Serge Ménard Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Mr. Speaker, I completely agree with what was just said, and with what was said by the previous speaker. There needs to be a balance between justice and mercy.

Why was this bill introduced? Because one event was sensationalized and very poorly received. In showing that it is tough on crime, the government is not looking for an appropriate way to reduce crime in the future; it is looking for more votes at election time. It is tough, but it need not be as tough as the United States, which has proven that it is tough on crime to the point of being stupid about it.

Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes Act
Government Orders

6:25 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I wanted to have the member comment on the Conservative government's new-found interest in the pardon system. Interestingly enough, in 2006 the former public safety minister conducted a review of the pardon system in response to the pardon of Clark Noble, a convicted sex offender. That led to a minor change, including a requirement for two parole board members to review the pardon applications from sex offenders. Ultimately, the minister gave the pardon system a clean bill of health and we moved merrily forward for another four years.

Just a month ago, the member for Surrey North introduced Motion No. 514, which we debated, in which she directed the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security be instructed to undertake a review of the Criminal Records Act and report back to the House within three months on how to strengthen the act and ensure that the National Parole Board puts public safety first in all of its decisions.

What did the government do? It took the rug right out from under her and brought in Bill C-23 as a response to--

Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes Act
Government Orders

6:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer

Order. The hon. member for Marc-Aurèle-Fortin.

Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes Act
Government Orders

6:25 p.m.

Bloc

Serge Ménard Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Mr. Speaker, because we will be studying it in committee, I believe we should study it thoroughly by looking at the success stories, the statistics, the jurisprudence in cases where it was granted and the jurisprudence established by the decisions of the National Parole Board. We have to look at the details so that the public understands how the system works rather than just remembering one thing, the Graham James case.

The public may perhaps compare the case of Graham James to that of Robert Piché, the pilot who was pardoned and today flies commercial aircraft. This excellent pilot who flew aircraft under difficult conditions was at one point a drug trafficker. However, he went back to work, and did an exemplary job when two of his airplane engines failed in mid-ocean. He managed to land safely and today they are making a movie about him.

That is one person who benefited from a pardon. It is not just about Graham James. I believe there are more people like Robert Piché who have been pardoned than there are people like Graham James.

Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes Act
Government Orders

6:25 p.m.

Bloc

Marc Lemay Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened closely to my colleague, with whom I sit on the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. I find him very interesting.

I would like my colleague to comment further on one point. I may not have heard him talk about this because I arrived after he began his speech. In Bill C-23, the government seems to want to photograph and fingerprint all people who get arrested, regardless of whether they are suspected of having committed a crime. The police arrest people, take them to the station and fingerprint and photograph them before they are convicted or found guilty by a court.

What does my colleague think about that, and what should the committee's position on this issue be?

Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes Act
Government Orders

6:25 p.m.

Bloc

Serge Ménard Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to be very brief and say that we will see once this goes to the committee. We should not go overboard with fingerprinting because we might end up fingerprinting everyone.

I am sure that Ms. Stoddart will explain to us in detail which rules apply. But I know that back in the day when I was practising law, when people were acquitted, they could have their fingerprints destroyed. I think that there were good reasons for that, and for those same reasons, we should not be fingerprinting everybody all the time.

Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes Act
Government Orders

6:30 p.m.

NDP

Don Davies Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to stand and speak to Bill C-23 on behalf of the New Democratic Party.

In short, the New Democrats support the bill at second reading. We support the bill at second reading because we believe fundamentally in four critical and profound points.

One, New Democrats believe, given a lot of the attention given to the pardon system in this country over the last several weeks and months, that a thorough study of the pardon system is in order. Canadians want parliamentarians to take a close look at the way pardons are granted in this country, and New Democrats are ready and able to do that.

Two, New Democrats want to look at extending the ineligibility period for certain kinds of offences. As Canadians know, there are currently only two time periods in the Criminal Records Act that apply to someone seeking a pardon. They are three years for those convicted of a summary conviction offence and five years for those convicted of an indictable offence. New Democrats are again interested--

Bill C-2--Notice of time allocation
Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act
Government Orders

6:30 p.m.

Prince George—Peace River
B.C.

Conservative

Jay Hill Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I apologize to the member for interrupting his speech.

However, I would like to advise that an agreement could not be reached under the provisions of Standing Order 78(1) or 78(2) with respect to the report stage and third reading stage of Bill C-2.

Therefore, under the provisions of Standing Order 78(3), I give notice that a minister of the Crown will propose at the next sitting a motion to allot a specific number of days or hours for the consideration and the disposal of the proceedings at the said stages.

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-23, An Act to amend the Criminal Records Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes Act
Government Orders

6:30 p.m.

NDP

Don Davies Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, I was on the second point regarding what the New Democrats believe in.

We are prepared to look at extending the eligibility periods for certain kinds of offences, because it could be the case that we may need an offender to demonstrate a longer period of good behaviour before being eligible for a pardon. We are prepared to look at that.

The third point is that New Democrats believe that the National Parole Board needs to have more discretion when evaluating whether a pardon ought to be granted. It is our view that the current pardon legislation does not give the National Parole Board sufficient discretion. That results, we think, in there being certain injustices that may occur.

I will say right now that I think all Canadians will immediately think of people like Karla Homolka, who under the current pardon legislation, would likely be granted a pardon. We in the NDP do not think that this is a just or fair result. Certainly someone like Karla Homolka, in our view, should not receive a pardon in this country, and we are prepared to amend the pardon legislation to ensure that this does not happen.

As I will expand on a little later, New Democrats propose what is the toughest wording when it comes to preventing people who ought not to get pardons from getting them. I will say right now that the government has proposed legislation that contains words that would give the National Parole Board the discretion to refuse a pardon when to do so would “bring the administration of justice into disrepute”. That is the language proposed by the government. The NDP thinks that is good language.

However, New Democrats would go further. We would add the words, “or would shock the conscience of Canadians”. That would give two separate grounds under the Criminal Records Act for the National Parole Board to deny a pardon. We think that is important for ensuring that we have credibility and faith in our pardon system.

Fourth and last, New Democrats believe that we need to hear from correctional experts, victims, police, offenders, sociologists, and every single person who has expertise and knowledge about the current Canadian pardon system. They need to come to the committee and have a thorough and intelligent discussion about each one of these points to ensure that we strengthen our pardon system in this country and ensure that it is fair.

New Democrats last week drafted a motion, and presented it to all parties in the House, that would have allowed a particular amendment to the Criminal Records Act to pass through the House quickly, before summer. It is a surgical, targeted amendment that would simply change the Criminal Records Act to say that the National Parole Board would have the power to refuse or decline a pardon where to do so would bring the administration of justice into disrepute or would shock the conscience of Canadians.

The NDP has done this because the government has been asleep at the switch for the last four years. Karla Homolka is eligible for a pardon this summer. The government waited until June 7 to introduce legislation in the House that would prevent her from getting a pardon. Of course, the government will not be able to get that legislation through the House, so it has proposed Bill C-23, which proposes many changes to the pardon system, many of which are undesirable or misguided or require further study.

New Democrats came forward with surgical, targeted legislation that would allow us to make one change to the Criminal Records Act to ensure that pardons are not given to people in this country who ought not to get them. It could be done without moving precipitously and ending up harming the pardon system that plays a very important role, not only in the justice system in this country but in keeping communities safe.

This bill would do a number of things. Some things are good, some are questionable, and some are, without question, misguided and undesirable.

This bill would rename pardons and call them “record suspensions”. We will have to study that to see what the impact would be. At this point, it is hard to know exactly what that would do, good or bad. It could be a cosmetic change. It could be something that has ramifications. New Democrats want to study the impact of that change.

It increases the ineligibility period that must pass before a pardon application can be submitted to ten years from the current five years for indictable offences and to five years from the current three years for summary offences.

The New Democrats believe that there may be cause and good grounds to increase the probation period for some offences. I am thinking, for instance, of a repeat sex offender. It may be the case, once we hear from experts and people knowledgeable in the field, that we may want to have that person demonstrate a longer period of good behaviour before he or she is eligible for a pardon. We are prepared to look at that. However, to have a blanket rule that extends the time period for every single person in all circumstances represents the kind of blunt instrument the government uses for an issue that requires intelligence and nuance.

It prohibits those convicted of three or more indictable offences from ever receiving a pardon. This shows the government's continuing attachment to the American, U.S.-style approach to justice that does not work. This is a “three strikes and you are out” policy. That is what it is. I think everybody in this House who is paying attention and most Canadians know that most of the U.S.-style approaches to justice issues brought in by right-wing Republicans during the 1980s and 1990s are now being rejected by Americans across that country, because they are bankrupting the country, and more importantly, they are not having any impact whatsoever on making U.S. communities safer.

I will give an example. There could be a 19-year-old young offender who steals a car, who, in the course of being arrested, may resist arrest and may end up with an assault charge from resisting arrest. That kind of person, at 19 years old, under the government's legislation, would be prevented from ever receiving a pardon. That is obviously not an intelligent approach to a pardon policy in this country.

This legislation would prohibit anyone convicted of one or more offences, from a designated list of sex offences, from ever receiving a pardon.

Currently, under the eliminating pardons for serious crimes act, anybody who receives a life sentence is prohibited from ever receiving a pardon. The government proposes to expand that list. New Democrats are prepared to look at that.

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. Once again, this is the kind of section that would be used that would otherwise prevent someone such as Karla Homolka from getting a pardon. However, it is too little, too late from the government. I wish it had brought in this legislation a year ago or two years ago, because it was no secret that Karla Homolka was approaching the fifth year after the conclusion of her sentence. Again, this government is a bad legislator and a bad policy-maker. It was asleep at the switch and is playing politics with crime.

I do not know whether the government understands that the pardon system plays a critical role in our justice system.

Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes Act
Government Orders

6:35 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

They reviewed it in 2006.

Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes Act
Government Orders

6:35 p.m.

NDP

Don Davies Vancouver Kingsway, BC

One would think that the government would know that, because as my hon. colleague from Elmwood—Transcona has pointed out very accurately, the government, two public safety ministers ago, looked at the pardon system in a circumstance very similar to the one we have today. There was a convicted sex offender who was granted a pardon, and the government, again, in a knee-jerk reaction, sprang into action and did a quick review of the pardon system. However, it did not do it in an intelligent, policy-oriented way. It did not put it before the public safety committee, which has 12 MPs from all parties on it. It did not hear from sociologists, academics, corrections officers, and parole officers, the people with knowledge of the criminal justice system. It just reviewed it.

What did the former public safety minister do after that review? He did virtually nothing. What the former public safety minister did was make a couple of changes. He increased the number of people on the National Parole Board reviewing certain kinds of offences from one person to two people. That is about the net sum of what the government did.

Therefore, I ask, and Canadians ask, if the Conservative government reviewed the pardon system in 2006, found it fine, and made just a slight change, what is the difference now? Again, it is politics. Canadians know that the government uses public safety and crime as a political issue. It does not really care about making a criminal justice system in this country that works, keeps Canadians safe, is fair to victims, and is fair to everybody involved in this system.

The pardon system is an important part of our justice system. It is an important part of keeping us safe. It balances the punitive aspects of the penal system with the redemptive aspects of the pardon system. This helps because, as New Democrats say time and time again in the House, when an offender comes out of prison, we want the offender never to reoffend again.

Once someone has offended and has been given a sentence, the only intelligent, wise approach to take as policy makers, the only wise and reasonable approach to take to keep people safe in this country is to do what we can to make sure the person does not reoffend. Part of that process is to give the person who offended a reason, an incentive, a carrot for good behaviour. It is not just punishing bad behaviour which is important. It is ensuring that the person has an incentive and is rewarded for good behaviour. The pardon system is part of that. It allows a person to come out of prison and engage in good behaviour and respect the law and reintegrate into society as a law-abiding citizen. At the end of that, it allows the person to get the benefit of a pardon. That is an important part of our system. If we get rid of that or make changes to that system that are counterproductive, it will make people less safe in this country--

Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes Act
Government Orders

6:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer

The hon. member will have six and a half minutes to finish his remarks the next time this bill is before the House.