House of Commons Hansard #120 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was regard.

Topics

Serious Time for the Most Serious Crime Act
Government Orders

12:40 p.m.

Bloc

Serge Ménard Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask the member who just spoke to explain how his party can be in favour of this bill when previous governments believed in the law and improved all aspects of it. It is giving extraordinary results. He said that there have been two cases of recidivism. We should add that neither case involved murder; one offender was convicted of robbery and the other of a serious offence. The law has been an all around success. Despite this fact and the improvements that have been made, in cases of death sentences commuted to life in prison, the average length of imprisonment has increased from seven years, before 1968, to 28.4 years today, or longer than in any other civilized nation.

I have the impression—and he will try to give another reason—that it is because they are afraid of the Conservatives' demagoguery on these issues. Am I mistaken?

Serious Time for the Most Serious Crime Act
Government Orders

12:45 p.m.

Liberal

Brian Murphy Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Mr. Speaker, after 18 years of elected life, I do not think I will ever be afraid of demagoguery, if that is the word. So, no.

The issue is that there have been two offences and perhaps that is two too many. The issue is that the people in Canada, and not just the Conservatives who do not really care about the evidence, and despite the propaganda from the Conservatives, think that a life sentence is a sentence of life imprisonment. It is not. The sentence is really 25 years eligibility and the vast majority of those incarcerated get out at that time. A very small number stay in prison, otherwise the average would not be 28.4 years.

As I said earlier, perhaps it is an issue of how the people perceive it. When people are asked what life in prison means, all of this has to be explained. Maybe this debate will serve the purpose. However, 25 years for first degree murder is the sentence that Parliament settled on. If a person is convicted of first degree murder, the person more than likely will serve 25 years. I do not know how to explain that any better but there is the perception, which the member must feel even in Quebec, that people misunderstand this section.

We are the party of the middle, the party of compromise and we understand that people feel that the section is mis-described. We do not go all the way with the Conservatives in thinking that it is a huge problem. It has been a serious problem for two victims, which is perhaps two too many, but in the history of criminals and criminality in Canada, there is a lot more victimization going on right now in Canada that the government could more about. It could be more effective, more surgical, more co-operative with us, more surgical in giving more funding to police officers, and finally, like the ad about not cooking with cheese, the government could just stop proroguing.

Serious Time for the Most Serious Crime Act
Government Orders

12:45 p.m.

Bloc

Serge Ménard Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Mr. Speaker, today we are examining a purely doctrinaire bill that seeks to strike down a piece of legislation and measures that have met all the objectives set, that ensure public safety and that incorporate decisions made by juries representing a wide cross-section of the population. In addition, no studies have been conducted that show the failings of this legislation; we are acting on mere perception. I find it shocking that the members who spoke before me based their remarks on misperceptions. As legislators, what should we do in this type of case? I think that the voice of conscience must take precedence over public rumour.

Certain important things, such as liberty, justify me in listening to my conscience over public rumour, especially since the rumour in question is volatile and could change quickly, as evidenced by complaints about unanimous decisions rendered by juries.

What does this legislation do? It ensures that people who have been convicted of first or second degree murder cannot apply for parole.

First degree murder, which is currently defined as voluntary and planned homicide, is the most serious. First degree murder also includes murders committed in certain very serious circumstances, such as murder committed against a police officer or prison guard, murder committed as a terrorist act or murder involving sexual assault. The mandatory sentence for first degree murder is life in prison. However, those who have committed this type of murder can be eligible for parole after 25 years. It is important to note that these individuals are not freed after 25 years. In fact, most first degree murderers who apply are not granted parole; those who are can apply only after 25 years and so their application is reviewed only after a certain period of time has passed.

The minimum sentence for second degree murder is also life in prison; however, the judge who hears the case determines the parole ineligibility period, which can vary from 10 to 20 years. Nevertheless, those convicted of second degree murder cannot apply for parole until they have served 15 years in prison.

In 1976, the government thought that this legislation was necessary when it decided to abolish the death penalty. We still needed some kind of penalty that was a deterrent and life in prison certain was a deterrent. A parole system already existed, and it was decided that in the case of murder, the period before being eligible for parole needed to be much longer. That is why we have the periods that I mentioned.

In 1997, the legislation was amended to ensure that someone who committed multiple murders, or murders in some other circumstances, were not eligible for parole before 25 years. What was the purpose of that law? The Minister of Public Safety, who was known at that time as the Solicitor General, said it best.

He said:

A period of incarceration, with hope of parole, and with the built-in additional incentive for the inmate, and protection for the guards, of a review of that parole eligibility after 15 years is necessarily better than a sentence of death because it removes the possibility of an irreversible error of execution.

Thus, this 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.

It seems as though this goal was accomplished. There must always be some kind of hope when someone receives a sentence that could, in most cases, make them desperate and, since they have nothing to lose, cause them to do something worse.

But why 15 years? We realized that in countries such as England, Australia, Belgium, Denmark, Scotland, New Zealand, Switzerland and Sweden, that the average prison time was 15 years, and 12 years in Sweden.

And what were the results? One thing is certain: it cannot be said that this law was abused. In April 2009, when statistics were studied in order to review the law, it was found that although 991 offenders had been deemed eligible for judicial review—people sentenced to life in prison without any possibility of parole depending on whether they had committed first or second degree murder—court decisions had been rendered in only 174 of the cases. I have taken these numbers from a Library of Parliament study. Of these 174 offenders, 144 had been declared eligible to apply for parole. So 30 were not eligible to begin with. Then, only 131 were granted parole, representing just over 13% of those who had been deemed eligible to apply for a judicial review. Can we really deprive all those convicted of murder in Canada of all hope and not allow 13% of them to be completely rehabilitated?

We really need to understand that the murder cases we hear about are always the worst ones. But not all murderers fill us with the same horror as the case of Clifford Olson and the more recent case of Colonel Williams. In fact, we know that in 84% of murder cases, the murderer knew the victim. In my career in criminal law as well as prosecution and defence since 1966, I realized that murder is a peculiar crime in that it cannot be said that it is usually committed by people who would be considered criminals, meaning that they have led a criminal life or that they are regularly involved in criminal activities. They are not all street gang or organized crime members. Quite the opposite. People kill for all sorts of reasons: often it is out of vengeance, on impulse, for money, but quite often the murderer knows the victim, and some examples in Quebec last year prove that. The most serious example is that of the mafia godfather, Nicolo Rizzuto, who was evidently killed by a very competent hitman.

But there is also the case of the surgeon in Saint-Jérôme who had an outstanding reputation and who was loved by his patients and the community. But when his wife, also a doctor, left him, he could not accept it and turned on his two children, killing them.

There was also that terrible family tragedy in Lac-Saint-Jean, where the father and mother of a family were desperate and decided that life was not worth living, either for them or for their children. They bought enough drugs to kill the entire family. When the police entered the home, the entire family had taken the drugs. The police were able to revive the mother, but the father and two children were dead. The mother was convicted of this triple murder. It is also thought that some murders, for which the trials are not over yet, are honour killings.

Obviously there is a whole host of situations that lead people to kill. In many of these cases, it might not be so bad after 15 or 20 years to see whether we could trust certain individuals again, especially considering the financial and social costs involved. In my opinion, the social cost of incarceration is much greater than the financial cost, which in and of itself is not insignificant.

I am told that the average cost of incarcerating an offender in Canada is $110,000. It is probably higher in maximum security penitentiaries. Only 2% of that money goes to the various programs for the rehabilitation and well-being of the inmates. Most of the money is required for satisfying security rules: walls, barbed wire, electronic systems, armed guards, three shifts and more for covering vacations, etc. All of this runs up considerable costs.

Let us be clear: when individuals are granted parole, they are not entirely free; they are under mandatory supervision. When people go to a halfway house, which is no different than prison except for the absence of bars and walls, they are still not free to move around. They have to eat and sleep as they are told, just like in prison. They are denied their freedom. They are far from being entirely free.

Of those who have benefited from this measure—only 13% of all those sentenced to life in prison for murder—that is, the 125 offenders who have been released on parole so far, 95 were actively supervised in the community and 15 were reincarcerated for breaching a condition of their parole.

So this is proof that they are closely supervised and that they must respect their conditions. However, of those 15 individuals, only two committed an offence. One committed an armed robbery and the other committed a drug-related offence. As we can see, public safety was not at risk.

In addition, the bill abolishes the system. Of course the system cannot be abolished for those who have already been sentenced by judges, who surely must have taken into account the fact that these people could eventually apply for parole. Furthermore, in cases of second-degree murder, the judges would have had to determine the length of the sentence before the accused could apply for parole.

So, there are still some people in the system. This means that if we were to pass this bill today and it were to receive royal assent, the legislation would not come into force for 15 years. In fact, it would apply only to those who commit crimes after it passes. Considering the time it would take for the bill to be passed and approved, it would probably take about 17 years for it to be fully enforced. It will eventually be enforced and this will complicate matters for the remaining offenders already in the system. First of all, inmates engaged in a rehabilitation process, who are under the care of psychiatrists and other staff, are sometimes told to wait a little longer because they need to be examined a little longer before they apply. This will no longer be possible, because the rules will be rigid and absolute. Inmates will have to apply after 15 years and will have only 90 days to do so.

After 15 years, the inmate has often been moved. Preparing his file takes several months. Some lawyers who deal with these cases testified before the committee in this regard. Furthermore, Correctional Service Canada acknowledged that preparing a file could take more than six months, but the application must be made within 90 days. The government has argued a great deal that offenders can apply for parole repeatedly, every two years. That is not true. Under the current law, offenders can go before a jury only if they obtain the permission of a judge, who must determine whether there is a reasonable prospect that the application will succeed. In the bill before us, it must be shown that there is a substantial likelihood that the application will succeed.

Then the jury must make a decision. If it refuses to grant parole, the jury may determine a period of time during which the offender is not entitled to make another application for parole. Thus, the idea that offenders can apply after 15, 17, 19 and 21 years is not true in practice. The government has been unable to give a single example where there have been such repeated requests.

I would like to point out that, on the weekend, we received a copy of a letter to the Prime Minister from the Church Council on Justice and Corrections. This organization points out that the government's plan to send more Canadians to prison for longer periods is not a good solution and that higher levels of incarceration in society in general do not have a deterrent effect. There must be a deterrent; however, prison as a deterrent must be used in moderation. I am quickly summarizing. I agree with them that this does not respect the fundamental principles of religion, such as caring for one's neighbour and its ramifications, and forgiveness. They believe that man is imperfect, a sinner, but that he can rehabilitate himself.

The bill is useless and not supported by any study, whereas the law the Conservatives want to amend has given good results. There is only one reason for what they are doing: they want to flog their ideology. I would remind my colleagues that everyone the minister said he met with could very well be called to be on a jury that hears these cases. I do not understand why, suddenly, the minister is afraid of their opinion and does not want more offenders to go before them.

Serious Time for the Most Serious Crime Act
Government Orders

1:05 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I always appreciate the input of the hon. member in debates on justice issues.

We have had this debate many times before. It has to do with a government that has not been governing but rather campaigning on slogans and one of its slogans is that it will be tough on crime. However, many of the bills have been recycled, delayed and reconstituted, Some may not at the same position but may be part of an omnibus bill in some cases.

The justice committee has been backlogged with so many bills that probably many of them could have been consolidated. If the government were serious about an agenda to address crime, it would have put these matters forward in a fashion in which they would become law within a reasonable period of time.

Not only has the government not done that. It is building prisons because of rising levels of unreported crime by unreported criminals. The issue here is that the purpose of our justice system is to deal with not only the punishment of crime but the rehabilitation and the reintegration of people, because eventually they will be released and the safety of society depends on that happening successfully.

Perhaps the member might want to comment.

Serious Time for the Most Serious Crime Act
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1:10 p.m.

Bloc

Serge Ménard Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Mr. Speaker, the member is right. I completely agree with him. The government's game of introducing bills, killing them with prorogation and then introducing them again makes complete sense in light of their philosophy. Its philosophy does not involve tackling crime. It does not aim to reduce the number of crimes committed. In fact, the Conservatives noticed that in the United States, being tough on crime pays off in terms of votes.

Therefore, when a bill is introduced and is given first reading, then second reading, then it is killed and introduced again, and so on, the government is pandering to a public that wants to be tough on crime. But being tough on crime can be completely stupid. What is important—and I love this expression from the Liberal Party—is being smart on crime.

Serious Time for the Most Serious Crime Act
Government Orders

1:10 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, to follow up on that point, it is important to be smart on crime as well. It is very important that the public interest is served but public interest is not served when the government puts forward a minister who parrots lines of an election and uses some hot button phrases and yet none of its members speak to the bill because they have been told not to. This is the fallacy of its commitment to be tough on crime. It is to be tough on electioneering and campaigning.

The House deserves to get answers. When the member for Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe asked two straightforward questions of the minister, the response was a litany of electioneering slogans. The bill was last reported back from committee before committee members had the benefit of a government study, survey and report, data which reported and demonstrated the weakness in the arguments made by the government on the legislation. The member may know about that.

Serious Time for the Most Serious Crime Act
Government Orders

1:10 p.m.

Bloc

Serge Ménard Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Mr. Speaker, I completely agree with the member who asked this question. This government's Minister of Justice has become the minister of propaganda. There are many examples. He is constantly saying that they support victims and that we support criminals. This is completely untrue. No one can say such a thing in good faith, knowing that they are telling a blatant lie. We have different opinions on the best way to deal with crime. The Conservatives follow the United States' tough on crime model. It was profitable for American representatives to campaign against crime, so much so that the incarceration rate in the United States is now seven times higher than in Canada.

Let us take the cost of correctional services and multiply it by seven to see how much such a campaign would cost us. Is the United States obtaining better results? Not at all. The homicide rate in the United States is three and a half times higher than in Canada and, might I add, five times higher than in Quebec.

Although this is clearly a very bad example to follow when dealing with crime, it is profitable because people always form their initial opinion based on emotion. However, once they consider the issue more carefully, they form a more rational opinion. The Conservatives are doing what they are doing because it is profitable for them.

Serious Time for the Most Serious Crime Act
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1:10 p.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, as I was listening to the minister in his opening speech this afternoon, I could not help but think of my many years in court and that if this issue were ever put before a court in this land, any court, whether a criminal court or a civil court, it would get dismissed on a preliminary motion for want of any factual basis. It would not make it past a preliminary motion because there is no evidence, none whatsoever, to justify doing away with the faint hope clause.

We have to look at this issue historically and where it came about, to look at the point where this legislature decided that it would do away with the death penalty. We recognized that we had to deal with the issue of sentencing with regard to murder, first degree and second degree and manslaughter, and we did that.

It is interesting to go back and read some of the evidence that was put before the justice committee at that time. It is clear that the committee knew at that time that across western democracies, the ones with societies similar to Canada's, people convicted of first or second degree murder were being incarcerated for between 10 and 15 years on average before they were eligible for parole. That was the situation back in the 1970s when we decided to do away with the death penalty.

There was great pressure at that time from various elements of society that that was not acceptable. Therefore, the compromise was that we would fix it at 25 years for first degree murder before eligibility for parole, but that we would allow for those exceptional cases to apply after 15 years. That is where the current 15 years in the Criminal Code comes from, allowing people who are convicted of first degree murder and, in some cases, second degree murder, and sentenced to 25 years, or more than 15 years, to be able to apply at 15 years.

In addition to the compromise that was reached at that time, we also fixed very rigid terms as to how a person could become eligible to apply for parole. It would not be automatic. A person would actually have to go through two steps, and that is still the situation today, but it will be done away with by this bill. First, the person has to convince a judge in the area where the murder was committed that he or she at least has a reasonable case for release. If the judge says yes, then the case goes on to a judge and jury, where the jury decides whether the person is going to be allowed to apply for parole. The parole board still has to deal with it.

Those hearings are always held in the same communities where the murders were committed. And at that time, we gave juries in those communities the right to have all the evidence of the facts around the murder and all the evidence with regard to how the convicted murderer had functioned in the prison system after being convicted and sentenced and incarcerated.

At that time, we gave juries the authority not only to grant the application for early parole but also the right to turn the application down, which they do on a regular basis. We also gave them the authority to tell the person that he or she cannot apply again for up to 25 years. Juries do that occasionally as well, Clifford Olson being one example.

Hence, what we are doing here with Bill S-6 is in effect saying to those juries that we do not trust them to do this right, even though they have in fact done an excellent job in dealing with these cases, and that we no longer trust the judges to do it either. We are going to fix the time here absolutely at 25 years: no one is going to allowed to apply for parole, no matter how well the person may have in fact rehabilitated themself while in custody for that 15-year period.

When we look at this system, there is no other methodology that we have used in our corrections system that has been more successful than this one in terms of avoiding recidivism. This one has absolutely been the most successful. Of all the people who have been released, and they are not a large number, only two have committed violent crimes. In only one of those two cases were there actual physical injuries to the victim.

There have been other cases where parole has been revoked, which again I think clearly demonstrates that system works. We heard from the people who work in the system and actually know it that the vast majority of those cases in which there has been a revocation of the parole, it has usually been because of alcohol or drug abuse, or non-compliance in other ways with the conditions that were imposed upon them by the parole board, things like their required place of residence and oftentimes a requirement not to associate with certain other individuals. The person breaches those, usually repeatedly, so their parole is revoked. It has worked because other than those two cases, there have been no violent crimes.

Since this clause came into effect, there have been somewhere in the range of about 4,000 individuals, although the figures are not completely accurate, who could have applied under the faint hope clause. In fact, only 181 of those who applied were ever granted it in the first round. Of those, 35 were denied by the jury and, interestingly, another 35, even after the jury recommended they could proceed, were turned down by the parole board. We have had only a little over 100, about 115 or 116, who have actually got out under this. We have only had two cases where anybody applied more than once, although there is a suggestion there was a preliminary hearing for two other ones.

When we hear the justification for this by the government, it is all about protecting victims. However, when we look at the facts, we have to ask, where are the victims who are being victimized by this process?

The Conservative Party and conservative elements in this country, including a number of media personalities, have gone across the country, fearmongering that every first degree murderer and second degree murderer who has more than 15 years is going to apply for the faint hope clause, when the evidence is overwhelmingly to the opposite. That information is not given out. We have to ask, if we are really worried about the families of the victims being afraid of what might come, why would we not do something as simple as educating them and advising them that this is the way the system has worked for over 20 years. Why wouldn't they be told? Rather than stirring up the fear of what might happen, tell them in fact what does happen. The government and that political party have never done that--never.

Instead, we have the justice minister and the Minister of Public Safety leading the charge, and the Prime Minister assisting them in it, stirring the pot and raising the fear when the reality is just the opposite.

When we look at those facts, we have to ask, as my colleague from the Bloc just did, why the Conservatives do it. They do it because politically they have been able to make it work for themselves. By raising the fear level in this country among the families of murder victims they have been able to garner political support. That is reprehensible. If we are going to protect the victims, let us be serious about doing it. Let us not use them as photo ops, as the Conservatives repeatedly do.

I challenged the minister when he was here earlier this afternoon that this issue was before the committee the first time, before the Conservatives prorogued Parliament, and let it die. Conservatives on the committee brought forth two witnesses. Everyone was expecting them to get on the stand, under oath in some cases, and say, “We absolutely support the government in doing away with the faint hope clause”. The Conservatives were shocked. The grandmother of one of the murder victims was very forceful about being opposed to the continued use of the faint hope clause.

The other gentleman, interestingly, about a month before he testified before the justice committee, had the opportunity to be on a panel. He was an advocate for victims' rights, and he had done a fair amount of work. His daughter had been killed, and he had spent a good deal of his time advocating for greater assistance to victims of crime and the families of victims of crime. Because of the work he was doing, he was asked to sit on a panel to talk about these issues. Also on the panel was another individual who was a convicted murderer and had been released under the faint hope clause. In the course of the debate, the father of the victim came away convinced that there were occasions, because he saw this other individual who appeared to have been rehabilitated and was doing good work in the community, when the faint hope clause made sense. That is why we put it in in the first place, because there are occasions when people rehabilitate, even convicted murderers. Interesting enough, he thought about it after that panel discussion, and when he came before us, he was quite honest to tell us that story and to say why he, in effect, had changed his position.

I cannot help but think, and I say this from my professional experience as a lawyer for a long time and the number of clients I had who had suffered the loss of loved ones as a result of murder, that when people can step over the need that we all have as a human element in our makeup for vengeance and punishment and look at it as a whole, what happened to that gentleman is usually what happens to the families of victims.

Again, we all use Clifford Olson and Paul Bernardo as examples, or Mr. Pickton. There are those examples where we know we cannot do anything to retrieve that individual. They will stay in custody for the rest of their lives. There are others like that. They are not the only three.

We also know there are times with the treatment that people are given in the course of incarceration that some of them are eligible to be treated as having been rehabilitated and treated as being eligible to return to society as a whole. That reality was why we brought in the faint hope clause. That reality is why we still need the faint hope clause.

I have to say to my colleagues in the Liberal Party and I do not want to use too strong a term, I really am sorry and I feel sad that they are not prepared to stand up to that bullying that is coming from the government side. It was one of their governments that brought this in originally with the support of the NDP at the time, clearly. It has worked. Again, back to my opening comment, there is no reason to believe that in a courtroom we would have no ability to convince a judge that it would not continue to work.

We look at what the consequences would be and we heard it from the Liberal spokesperson earlier this afternoon. We are going to have more people who have been convicted of lesser crimes who will have less access to needed services for rehabilitation coming out of prison, not necessarily the convicted murderers, although even some of them, who do not get treatment until they are nearing the end of their sentence as we heard from the ombudsman for Corrections Services. Prisoners do not get services, particularly mental health services, until near the end of the time of their incarceration.

That will spill over into all of the other people we have incarcerated. There is no indication from the government that it is going to spend any money on anything other than bricks and mortar to build more prisons to incarcerate more people. It is not talking about any programming dollars coming into play. The scarce dollars that are there now, which are grossly inadequate, are going to remain at the same level and more people will need them. That is one of the consequences.

It is interesting to look at the government's punitive approach. Ideologically this is all about looking at punishing people, not rehabilitating people.

I understand the Liberals taking this position, but in this case it is not valid. I understand that constant need of our responsibility as elected officials at the federal level, being responsible for the Criminal Code and for dealing with crime in the country. We constantly have to balance the need for society as a whole to respect the system and to support it, to believe that it is a just one and the need to actually treat antisocial behaviour in the form of criminality.

It is a constant balancing. With some basic public education, it would be easy to convince the Canadian public that this is a system that works. It is a just system that recognizes the loss of their loved one that the families have suffered.

Another fact that we should be telling the public with regard to how the system works is that of those people who apply for this faint hope clause, the vast majority do not apply until around year 19. That is the mean average. It is not at year 15, when they first could. Again I would remind people that somewhere around 87%, which I think was the last figure, of people convicted of first degree murder, never apply. They serve out the 25 years and on average spend 28.4 years in custody. Around 87% never apply.

This fear that we hear from the Conservatives that at the 15-year mark, the 17-year mark, the 19-year mark, the 21-year mark, the 23-year mark the family of the victim, their loved one, will be faced with this application is absolutely false. The average person convicted of first degree murder applies at year 19.

The system takes so long going through those three steps: the judge alone, the judge and jury, and then the parole board, that it takes more than two years.

We saw some statistics on the last five years, up to 2009. In those five years, of the 13% who applied and again a number of those did not get very far in the process, who did get released, were incarcerated from 21 years to 23 years. In fact, in 2009, the person released actually served 25 years. They had applied and got out at the 25-year mark.

We have all of these facts with absolutely no evidence supporting the bill, but both the government and the official opposition are supporting the bill. It is a really sad day for justice in this country.

Serious Time for the Most Serious Crime Act
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1:30 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member raised some interesting points that made me think of one other discussion point. It appears that the government has assumed that everyone who has committed a murder is a heinous animal that has to be thrown in prison and the key thrown away.

I spent five years on the board of Interim Place, which is the shelter for battered women in our community, and I have worked with it for many years since. There was a case where an abused mother of a couple of young children killed her husband. This person is not a risk to society. After a period of punishment, which is necessary in our system, but in the best interest of society, those two children need a mother or someone to care.

I wonder if the member would like to comment on whether or not the faint hope clause was ever intended to deal with those cases where clearly there was no risk to society and it was in the best interest of the rehabilitation of the person as well as the safety of society that the faint hope clause be retained.

Serious Time for the Most Serious Crime Act
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1:35 p.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, any jury in this country would be given the facts. The evidence would be put before them about the murder incident, how horrendous it was and all of the facts about the individual asking to be allowed to apply for early parole. There would be 12 men and women from the community where the incident took place. Would we say to them or to this legislature that they would not take into account whether this individual is a risk to their community because the chances are that is where he or she would most likely end up. Of course, it is absolutely certain that would be a major consideration. Have the individuals redeemed themselves? Are they rehabilitated? The crucial issue is if they would be a risk to the community.

As a juror, they and their family live in the community. Would they let someone back into their community if they thought that individual would pose a risk to the community? The answer is obviously no. They would not do that and they do not do that.

Serious Time for the Most Serious Crime Act
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1:35 p.m.

NDP

Alex Atamanenko British Columbia Southern Interior, BC

Mr. Speaker, I know the member has worked very hard on this file and I often see in our caucus meetings the thorough analysis that he and his staff provide on various crime bills that come before us. It is done with a measure of objectivity and knowledge because he has served in the legal system for many years.

It seems that we now have a policy under the government to put more people in prison and spend more money building prisons. However, at the same time, we read that there are fewer people eligible for rehabilitation under the current system. The crime rate is decreasing, yet, as the member mentioned in his speech, somehow there is a campaign to make us all afraid so that we can support measures such as this and build more prisons.

Does the member feel there is a trend within the government with all these bills to take away the power from the legal system and from the judges and juries to make decisions?

Serious Time for the Most Serious Crime Act
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1:35 p.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, there is no question that is what has been happening because the Conservative Party, as opposed to its predecessor the Progressive Conservative Party, has been taking its lines, ideologies and standard of conservatism from the Reagan-Bush people in the United States.

What has happened there is interesting. On January 7, Newt Gingrich, along with Pat Nolan, who I believe is a member of the House of Representatives in Texas, blogged this piece, which is two pages of hard copy. They went through an analysis of what the U.S. government was following. There are some really interesting points, but the bottom line is this. Newt Gingrich, a Republican in the House of Representatives, an arch conservative, stated that it did not work, that it had to change because Americans could not afford to do this. He and Mr. Nolan are very blunt about it. I remember being attacked by the government over making the same points.

The government points to a number of states in the U.S. and says that it is interesting to look at these states. Some of them greatly increased their prison population and the crime rate went down a bit. However, if we look at other states that did not increase their prison population nearly as much but spent money on prevention and enforcement, their crime rates went down even more.

That is the history in Canada. The Conservative government is on the verge of cutting funds for the prevention of youth going into street gangs. The funds will not be in the next budget. It has made that very clear and it will dump it on the provinces. However, when we have spent that money, we have been effective in cutting the crime rate. By incarcerating more people, we do not do that. We take them out of the system and bring them back into society as hardened criminals and they commit more severe crimes.

Serious Time for the Most Serious Crime Act
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1:40 p.m.

Liberal

John McKay Scarborough—Guildwood, ON

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member always provides a very thoughtful analysis of whatever bill is in front of the House. I have heard probably more facts out of the hon. member in his 20 minutes than I have heard in literally dozens of speeches from government members opposite, who seem to operate in a fact-free zone with everything being ideology.

I was thinking over the break about what it was the government would achieve by this, other than creating an atmosphere of fear. People in an atmosphere of fear stop thinking and therefore consent to doing things they might not actually otherwise do if they have analyzed the evidence. I thank the hon. member for standing up for a system of justice as opposed to a system of punishment.

The hon. member knows that inevitably the government will be pushing a prisons agenda and robbing from the criminal justice portfolio's police and program services. Inevitably what will happen is there will be more people incarcerated and punished and our system of justice will diminish as a consequence.

I would be interested in the hon. member's analysis with respect to the creation of the atmosphere of fear when the facts do not support the initiative.

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1:40 p.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, I certainly agree with the comments about the thrust being all about punishment and not about rehabilitation.

I want to go back to some of the points Mr. Gingrich made in his article to support that. He used the comparison between Florida and New York. Florida increased its incarceration rate by 16% and New York decreased its rate by 16% in the same period of time. The crime rate in the state of New York fell twice as fast as it did in Florida in the same period of time. The United States spent $68 billion in 2010 on corrections. That was a 300% increase in 25 years, right at the time when Reagan came in as president.

That is what the Conservative government is starting to do. It is going to do exactly the same thing. It is absolutely arrogant on its part and not based on any facts. It is going to spend $9 billion on prisons, bricks and mortar. It is going to incarcerate more people and under the faint hope clause, they are going to be incarcerated for longer periods of time. For what purpose? It is simply so the government can stir the fear in the electorate to try to get more votes. It is disgusting.

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1:40 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to address Bill S-6 this afternoon. It is an interesting bill, to say the very least. When we read it, it states, “serious time for the most serious crimes”. There is no doubt in my mind that the Conservative Party, over the last number of years, has taken the position that it wants to be tough on crime. To try to reinforce that, the Conservatives have come up with creative sayings in their bills, which, when they give their speeches to their constituents, give the impression that they were getting tough on crime.

When we look at what Bill S-6 would do, it is an interesting thing. I think the Conservatives have a good sense in terms of what public expectations are, but they cannot help but look at the title. I believe the title is an attempt to communicate a very strong message that the Tories are actually tough on crime. The bill would do nothing to really address the issue of crime. There would not be any crimes prevented as a result of it.

At the end of the day, it allows the government to send a very interesting message to its constituents when its members go across the country and cite the title of the bill. What we really are talking about is the faint hope clause.

I understand it was former Prime Minister Jean Chrétien who made an amendment to the legislation. We acknowledged that there was a need to put some restrictions in place. We saw that because, in good part, we wanted to listen to what the citizens were saying. That is why it was amended a number of years ago to recognize the value of putting in restrictions that would not allow for the faint hope clause to be applied to anyone who wanted to apply for it. Under certain circumstances, individuals would not be able to apply for it.

At this point, the government has as amended it even further. At the end of the day, we support what the bill attempts to do. However, I have many reservations with regard to the way the government tries to deal with the issue of crime and safety and the use of legislation to try to reinforce that it is being tough on crime. This is an issue which I want to highlight.

Recently in Winnipeg North the government decided not to reinvest in a number of programs. Those programs dealt with some of the crimes happening in our constituencies. They allowed for former gang members to participate in programs that would, hopefully, get them back on the right track. This is when government really has the opportunity to impact the types of crimes being committed in our communities.

On the one hand, we are debating an important bill, Bill S-6. The bill tries to appeal to those who want to see the faint hope clause diminished. It is not to undermine the importance of addressing that issue, but rather to highlight the need to get into our communities and do something that would prevent some crimes from occurring. That is why I thought today would be a wonderful opportunity for me to provide some comment on this issue.

A story in the Winnipeg Free Press indicated that some programs could be lost in the community of north Winnipeg and beyond. These programs assist individuals in getting out of gangs and other types of criminal activities by supporting good, non-profit organizations that really have an impact. On the one hand, we are debating this bill. On the other hand, the government fails to recognize valuable programs that prevent some of these crimes from taking place.

I want to highlight the difference in terms of approach in dealing with the whole issue of crime.

I understand the legislation was in front of the House before it was prorogued. The government is now attempting to get it passed through the second time. I suspect it will be more successful this time in getting it passed. We will just have to wait and see.

I cannot help but note that during the 2006 federal election campaign the government initially talked about getting rid of the faint hope clause. It has taken a number of years for the government to get it to this stage. One could question as to why the government has taken the legislation on the course that it has in terms of not bringing it to the House in such a fashion as to get its agenda dealt with quicker or its sense of commitment to passage. The government cannot blame opposition parties in the sense that the bill was before the House prior to proroguing just over a year ago.

It is important for us to recognize that there is some value to the faint hope clause. In many situations, different organizations, different stakeholders supported the rationale that was used in the creation of the faint hope clause, noteworthy organizations such as the John Howard Society and the Elizabeth Fry Society.

As the province of Manitoba's justice critic, I had the opportunity to meet with representatives of those organizations. These two stakeholders have an interest, like no other, in trying to get those who have committed crimes reactivated into society in a more positive way. I recognize they do not see Bill S-6 as a positive bill. They understand and appreciate why it was brought into the House in the first place.

In many ways it is felt that by offering that branch of hope, if I can put it that way, it would affect the way people might behave or participate in a more positive way while incarcerated, believing that good behaviour and upgrading their skills and education in jail might assist them in getting out of jail earlier so they can become a part of society outside the prison walls and be more productive.

Representatives from both of those organizations will no doubt be somewhat disappointed with the passage of this bill. However, at the end of the day, we recognize how the faint hope clause has impacted the victims and their families and we understand the public perception of the faint hope clause and the need for restrictions. Those restrictions have been talked about over the years in terms of the need to have additional restrictions. By having additional restrictions back then, we recognized the need for changing this legislation.

As we go forward, I suspect there will always be a need for modifications to improve the law so we can find the balance in terms of legislation that gives our prisoners the opportunity to better educate themselves and be more positive in that prison environment so that when they are released into society they will be better able to participate in a more positive and acceptable manner. We believe that is very important. If there are things we can do to enhance or improve that, I believe we should be moving in that direction.

A number of my constituents are guards with Correctional Service of Canada. I can recall one occasion when the faint hope clause came up for discussion with a correctional officer. I found that he was fairly supportive of its concept. He did not necessarily agree that prisoners should have the opportunity to have their sentence reduced but he supported the concept. which is something we need to talk more about. How can we improve our prison system to ensure a higher percentage of individuals who leave our prisons do not return to prison? When we talk to many correctional officers and administrators of our prisons, we often get into a discussion about the revolving door syndrome and what we can do to stop it.

Those are the types of things that we need to explore. The faint hope clause was one of those tools that provided encouragement, that tried to say to those people within the prison walls that, under certain situations, they will ultimately be better equipped and better able to conduct themselves in a better way.

However, I do have concerns about other things that the government is doing at the same time as we are debating this legislation. It is important for me to emphasize to the government, whenever I get the opportunity, what I believe was the number one concern in Winnipeg North during the last by-election and, I would argue, is still a concern today, and that is the issue of crime and safety. I was disappointed recently in the government's failure to provide the funds necessary to provide the programs that would allow individuals who are on the off side or may be affiliated with gangs and want to get out of gangs, or individuals who are having a difficult time in their communities and are being attracted to environments that are not good environments to be attracted to. There are three specific programs that need funding and the ear of the government and I would suggest that the government act on those programs.

At the end of the day, focusing on crime prevention, looking at these types of programs, along with dealing with legislation of this nature would be a good thing. I am not convinced that the government is as interested in dealing with the necessary programs as it is in terms of sending a message that it can be tough on crime.

Talk is cheap. I would suggest that the government has a responsibility that goes beyond just passing legislation that gives the impression that it wants to be tough on crime. It needs to start dealing with the programs that prevent crime from occurring in the streets.