Debates of Jan. 31st, 2011
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.
- Question Period
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- Constituents of Dauphin—Swan River—Marquette
- George Vari
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- Criminal Code
Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB
Mr. Speaker, I know the member would like a simple yes or no answer to the question but he will not necessarily get the yes or no answer from me at this point.
What I can tell the member is that many gang activities involve murder. Yes, I can assure the member that there are in fact gang members who commit murder. I would suggest that the principle of encouraging better behaviour within our prison system is to better educate prisoners and provide them with the opportunity to gain skills so that once they are released there is less likelihood of them repeating their crimes. We are very supportive of trying to beat the revolving door syndrome.
Through time, legislation needs to be changed but we need to be sensitive in terms of the realities of the different stakeholders and the expectations of the Canadian public. I suspect that in time we will find out exactly how the Liberal Party will be voting on the bill.
Marc Lemay Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC
Mr. Speaker, over the past six years, I have heard some interesting things in the House, but the argument being made by my colleague from the Liberal Party is, with all due respect, extremely flawed. His argument does not hold water and it is inconsistent with Liberal Party philosophy.
I am liberal-minded because for 35 years, I was a criminal defence lawyer. I have defended many murder cases.
There are some things I do not understand. In 1976, the Liberal Party agreed to vote in favour of abolishing the death penalty and instituted what we call the faint hope clause. Decisions on this have gone all the way to the Supreme Court.
The Liberal Party is starting to realize it is being tricked. If the Liberals vote in favour of Bill S-6, they will be opening the door to reinstating the death penalty. Is that clear enough? That is where the Conservatives are going with this. I hope my colleague will consult with his colleagues who were on the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. I can give him some arguments to convince his colleagues.
These numbers do not come from the Bloc, the Liberal Party, the Conservative Party or the NDP. These numbers were complied by the Correctional Service of Canada. As far as I know, the Correctional Service of Canada is neutral. It deals with inmates and ensures that those who are released on parole deserve to be.
The Conservatives do not understand the first thing about the faint hope clause. I hope my Liberal colleagues will understand. The Conservatives want to defend the victims. There is nothing better than the faint hope clause, which was implemented in 1976, to ensure that victims are respected.
Allow me to explain. The faint hope clause was adopted in 1976. The first hearings were held in 1987 because the inmates had to serve their sentences after all. Since 1987, there have been 181 hearings. As of October 10, 2010—
Daniel Paillé Hochelaga, QC
At 10:10 a.m.
Marc Lemay Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC
Practically at 10:10 a.m., as my learned colleague from Hochelaga says. As of October 10, 2010, 4,774 people were serving life sentences in Canada. Since 1986, 181 offenders have gone before the board. The Conservatives claim that not enough is said about the victims, but 181 applications were heard. Many more people could have applied, but some did not because they knew that they, like the Clifford Olsons of this world, would not succeed. There are a number of them.
Of these 181 cases, 146 had their sentences reduced and 35 were rejected. That is close to 1%. But that is not all. Of the 146 inmates whose eligibility date for parole was moved forward, 144 have now reached the revised date for day parole eligibility.
Parole has been granted to 135 people. We will do our job and state the facts: 135 individuals out of 4,700 have been paroled. Just wait, that is not all. Of these 135 individuals, 68—just about half—have never had problems. We need to explain something that the Conservatives will never understand, and that I would like the Liberals to realize. When offenders are sentenced to life, when they are incarcerated for the rest of their days, they fall under the parole system, the Correctional Service of Canada system. Therefore, they are monitored and under the jurisdiction of the Correctional Service of Canada not just while they are in prison, but to the end of their days, until they die.
Thus, 68 individuals have been released, 35 have had their parole suspended but not revoked—I will return to that—and 23 have had their parole revoked. Thus, 23 out of 135, out of 181, out of more than 4,000. Only 23. I will continue. Of the 135 paroled, seven committed non-violent offences, and two committed new violent offences. Naturally, the Conservatives are focusing on those two. Two out of 141, two out of 4,000, committed violent crimes. Naturally, we wanted to find out if the offences were murder. They were not.
Since 1987, no one released through the use of the faint hope clause has committed murder. And that is a good thing, of course. Two individuals committed violent crimes. We asked the Correctional Service of Canada what type of crimes these were. There had been assault causing bodily harm and armed robbery. Clearly, these two individuals returned to prison and will probably stay there for the rest of their lives.
Why did I quote these figures? I did it because the faint hope clause works. The Conservatives have not understood this, but I hope that the Liberals will wake up and ensure that this bill never goes to third reading, that it gets no support and is defeated in the House.
The faint hope clause is a system that works. Generally, the Criminal Code is amended to adapt it, for example, if there are computer-related crimes or an increase in car theft, armed robberies or street gangs. Also, there were Hells Angels and the mafia. So we take measures to amend the Criminal Code. We have a system that works and that works very well. Why amend it? I say that it works very well because the parole board would never release someone convicted of murder if there were a possibility that the person would reoffend. It would never happen if there were a chance the person would reoffend.
There are significant steps that an individual must take before being released. Under the faint hope clause, the individual must first submit an application to a judge in the district where he or she was sentenced 15 or 17 years previously. It is the judge who determines whether the person is eligible to apply. If the Superior Court judge is convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that the individual is eligible, the judge empanels a jury. Despite what the Conservatives may say, it is not true that it is up to the jury to determine whether an individual is eligible for release. The only thing a jury can do is to determine whether the sentence should be reduced or whether the individual should be granted permission to ask the parole board for parole after one, two, three, four or five years. The jury would determine the timeframe.
The faint hope clause found in section 745 of the Criminal Code has been so clearly defined that I am wondering why we would now want to abolish it. This is not my opinion, but that of reporters, and I would like to cite a passage in support of this argument. Manon Cornellier, a reporter for the newspaper Le Devoir, stated the following in an article published on June 10, 2009: “What if a lack of hope were to destroy a convict's desire for rehabilitation, resulting in more violence and more problems in our prisons?”
It is obvious to us that if we deny the possibility of the faint hope clause to those who have been convicted of murder, they will have no hope of being reintegrated into society. The faint hope clause: the name says it all. The wording is clear. It means that such individuals can think about returning to society after 15, 17, 18 or 20 years have passed, but they cannot do it alone and they would have to be deemed ready to return to society.
I do not understand why the Conservatives want to do this. Actually, I did not understand why until I read that the Prime Minister stated that he was against capital punishment except in certain cases. Then I understood everything. I understood why this bill was being introduced: it is the beginning of the return of the death penalty in Canada. This is extremely dangerous. This door must be closed immediately. The only way to close this door is to vote against Bill S-6. We must vote against this bill because it removes the opportunity for individuals to be reintegrated into society. I have argued many cases and clearly murder is the worst crime in the Criminal Code. A life has been taken. The person responsible should not be allowed to return to society until they understand the seriousness of their actions, before they are ready to return and have served a minimum sentence.
Let us again look at the numbers. I did not make them up. Statistics have been compiled since the death penalty was abolished in 1976. Canada kept track because keeping statistics is one of our strong suits. The average incarceration time for first degree murder, before the slightest possibility of eligibility for parole, is set out in a study by the Correctional Service of Canada. This data does not come from the Bloc, the Liberals, the NDP or the Conservatives. It comes from the Correctional Service of Canada.
The average time served is now 22.4 years. This means that offenders, even if they have the right to apply for parole after 15 or 17 years, serve on average 22.6 years before even being eligible for parole. This means that the Correctional Service of Canada and the National Parole Board are doing a good job. And the government wants to change that? It makes no sense.
It works so well that we have very few cases of repeat offences. Since 1987, two violent crimes have been committed by individuals who have been released and 23 individuals have violated their parole conditions. They returned to prison. Here is what the Conservatives do not get: someone who is handed over to the Correctional Service of Canada for murder is imprisoned for life. I encourage my Conservative and Liberal colleagues to read section 745 of the Criminal Code. It clearly states that someone who is convicted of murder is sentenced to imprisonment for life. As far as I know, a life sentence is not 1, 2, 15 or 18 years in prison, it is life in prison. The individual is under the control of the Correctional Service of Canada for the rest of his life. As we say, he had better stay on the straight and narrow.
I have handled many cases and files that I could spend an hour talking about. The people from the Correctional Service of Canada who came to the committee asked why we were tinkering with a system that worked really well. The Conservatives responded that they wanted to be tough on crime. That makes no sense. Murder is the worst crime and a convicted murderer is sentenced to life in prison. He cannot get out unless he is ready to return to society.
The Conservatives claim to protect victims. But the victim's biggest advocate in this case is the Correctional Service of Canada and its parole board, which, since 1987, has been on the ball. They are good. Everyone released under the faint hope clause has behaved well, with the exception of two people. Two out of 181 is less than 1%.
If the House wants me to speak for another half-hour I would be happy to. In conclusion, I urge the Liberals, who brought in the faint hope clause, to think about this carefully. If Bill S-6 is passed, I guarantee that we will soon see the return of backbenchers' bills aiming to bring back the death penalty. That is unacceptable and we will never go along with that.
Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB
Mr. Speaker, I think the member hopes he will be able to appeal successfully to the Liberals. I would suggest he give up on that idea. I think the Liberals have already decided that they will follow the Conservatives in this venture for short-term political gain and will give up on the history of their party, going back to 1976 when it did show leadership on this issue.
It is interesting that this all comes about at a time when the United States is starting to reassess its system. When right-wing leaders such as Newt Gingrich, who was one of the top Republican leaders a number of years ago, and still is, come up with conclusions that basically agree with what the NDP and the Bloc have argued in the House on a number of crime issues, that is pretty amazing. He uses examples in the United States where the Republicans have come together with the Democrats to look at systems that actually work and have reduced the number of people in the prison populations in certain states. There is a lower rate of crime as a result of this and it is a much less cost to the taxpayers.
The government is looking at spending $9 billion on new prison construction. It is going against where the world is moving, especially when we look at the United States right now.
Would the member like to comment on those points?
Marc Lemay Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC
Mr. Speaker, I have defended lost causes. It has happened that the court said it would re-examine a case in detail and that arguments have been brought before it that may not have been seen before. That is exactly what I have been doing. Some Liberals may tell their colleagues that they established the faint hope clause in 1976; that it was their political party that has defended it tooth and nail since then, despite all the attacks; that they are the ones who enforced respect for the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and the ones who put it in place in 1982.
And we are the ones who are afraid to be tough on crime? I cannot agree with that. Voting against Bill S-6 does not mean we are not tough on crime. On the contrary, it means we respect the Charter. I repeat that the faint hope clause works very well and has proven to be useful. We do not need Bill S-6 to get rid of what is working well.
Daniel Paillé Hochelaga, QC
Mr. Speaker, I would like to acknowledge my colleague's experience and way of speaking. His eloquence was clear as he began by saying that his remarks would sting. It reminded me of the day that I went to his riding when we began our prebudget consultations. He told us to hang onto our hats because it was going to hurt.
Knowing his characteristic seriousness, I was surprised and impressed that this distinguished criminal lawyer used figures. I would like to draw a parallel. He said that the current system put in place by our Liberal colleagues works very well and he asked why the government would change it. We could ask the same thing about Canada's securities regulatory system, which works well. Why change it?
Has my distinguished colleague given any consideration to the fact that the Conservatives have a habit of not fixing things that are broken, but attacking things that work fine?
Earlier, my colleague asked for an additional half an hour. I will quickly take my seat and ask him to keep up the good work and convince our Liberal friends to vote as we will and to continue to uphold the law that currently exists. I turn the floor over to my colleague, who is extremely eloquent.
Marc Lemay Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC
Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague from Hochelaga, who has skilfully replaced our colleague Réal Ménard. I learned a great deal from Réal Ménard, and I sat with him on the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. Mr. Ménard is not a lawyer, but he was definitely eloquent when it came to his files.
Since I became a member of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights in 2006, we have been swamped with bills. It is incredible. I was shocked. We are unbelievably busy. We seem to agree on some things. For anything related to cybercrime, things move quickly; we agree on that. I say we do away with parole after one-sixth of a sentence is served. I am a criminal lawyer—I defend criminals—but I agree with eliminating the one-sixth rule. I even used to tell my clients that they would get three years, but with the one-sixth rule, they would get out after six or seven months. We now realize that serving one-sixth of a sentence is not that. That is what shocks people. What shocks people is not the sentence that a criminal receives, but rather that he does not serve his sentence in prison.
With this bill, what happens is the opposite, because with the faint hope clause at this time, not only do offenders serve their time, but for the rest of their lives, they will not be released unless they can demonstrate that they are fully rehabilitated and fully capable of returning to society. At present, the Correctional Service of Canada controls that and it works. I do not see why we would change that.
January 31st, 2011 / 4 p.m.
Raynald Blais Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, QC
Mr. Speaker, I have a question based on what I just heard. Why would anyone want to change that? Why such eagerness and interest? The people listening to us talk about this issue would really like to get to the truth of the matter. What is the strategy behind all this? Is there one? Can we see a strategy? What is the real reason for creating so much confusion that after saying one thing, they turn around and do the opposite?
Marc Lemay Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC
Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague.
It took hearing the interview with the Prime Minister. He was asked whether he was in favour of the death penalty. He said no, that he would never reopen that debate, but that there were times when the death penalty might apply. That is when I understood where they were going with Bill S-6. It is the cornerstone. It is opening the door to reinstating the death penalty in Canada. That is precisely what is happening. This is the first step.
With all due respect, what I do not understand about the Conservatives is this idea of being tough on crime. Of course certain criminals deserve to go to prison. I have no problem with that. The problem is that we have to make them serve their time. Even if an individual is given an additional two years, he is still eligible for parole after one-sixth of his sentence. We just saw that with Mr. Lacroix from Norbourg. That guy was sentenced to 13 years, but he served only two. Why? Because he was eligible after one-sixth of the sentence. He is not dangerous. He was not violent in detention.
In the matter before us, a person who kills someone commits the worst crime under the Criminal Code. It is the worst crime a person can commit. Before that person has any chance of returning to society, we have to be sure that he is ready and able to return. That is exactly how the faint hope clause works. It was implemented in 1976 and it works very well. Again, out of more than 4,000 individuals who have had the right to apply for it, only 181 have done so. Out of that 181, only 147 have been successful and there have been only two recidivists. I was looking for this information earlier. Here it is: assault with a weapon charge in one case and robbery in the other case. I can assure you, we checked, these individuals are still locked up. The situation is under control. Eliminating the faint hope clause is unacceptable.
Megan Leslie Halifax, NS
Mr. Speaker, I have really enjoyed my time in the House this afternoon, particularly listening to the speech of my colleague from Abitibi—Témiscamingue.
He may want to know that I received an email from one of my constituents who is at home watching the debate on CPAC and who said that the member for Abitibi—Témiscamingue was very refreshing and that it was nice to see someone speaking in the House on this issue who made some sense. I congratulate him.
The member already went over a lot of the numbers. I know I will repeat some of them, but they absolutely bear repeating, especially when we had Don Head testify at committee. He is the Commissioner of the Correctional Service Canada. He is not partisan. He is not working for us, or the Bloc or the Conservatives. He was there as the commissioner. He said that, as of October 2010, there were 1,508 offenders with cases applicable for judicial review.
Here are some of the numbers he brought to committee. Since the first judicial review hearing in 1987, there had been a total of 181 court decisions. Of those 181, 146 of the court decisions resulted in a reduction of a period that must be served before parole eligibility and 35 of them ended in a refusal.
Since 1987, we have only had 146. That is about six a year. To put things in context, since 1987, of the literally thousands of offenders who were eligible for parole early, only 181 applied. Of those 181, 146 received a reduction in their sentence.
This is really important. Less than 15% of the people who are incarcerated with no eligibility of parole for 25 years have even made the application. In addition, most applications do not commence at the 15-year mark. In fact, most of them start at the 17 or 18-year mark.
Those are some of the numbers. As we can see, it is not a great horde of inmates who use this as a loophole or a get out of jail free card. They are serving their sentences. Some are applying, some are being approved and, consequently, some are being rejected, like with any good process for decision making. The system is not broken.
Something that the numbers do not show, and if there is time I will get back to the numbers, is the purpose of the faint hope clause. It increases the safety of fellow inmates. It increases the safety of workers. It makes our federal prisons a better place to be, where people are engaging in good behaviour and, more important, rehabilitative behaviour. It promotes good behaviour because it holds out faint hope, which is exactly the point.
If people are convicted of murder, and frankly it does not actually matter whether or not they committed the murder, why would they comply with treatment? Why would they listen to the guards or their doctors about what kind of treatment or programs were needed?
If people receive a 25 year sentence and if they think they are there for 25 years, there is absolutely no reason to engage in good behaviour or in rehabilitation programs. Faint hope holds out exactly that, faint hope.
Addiction counselling, anger management, mental health supports, why would inmates even bother engaging with that stuff if they know they are in prison for 25 years and there is no hope. There is no reason to get along with fellow inmates because there is no chance, no hope and no reason for good behaviour because good behaviour will not actually help them.
It is not just about good behaviour; it is also about rehabilitation. If that is the case, why would an inmate engage in the rehabilitation process. If that is what is happening, if there is no reason to be involved, then we have to own up to the fact that when we release inmates after they have served their time, they are not necessarily rehabilitated.
There is a huge flaw in the thinking that this is sound public policy. It does not make any sense.
Time and time again, on crime and punishment issues, the government takes its cues from the U.S., from the failed policies of the United States such as more prisons, “three strikes, you're out”, mandatory minimums and, in particular, mandatory minimums for drug offences, which evidence shows do not work.
I sat in the justice committee and I listened to testimony about mandatory minimums on drug offences. Over and over again, we heard that they did not work. We heard in fact that policy-makers in the United States were retreating from that line of thinking. However, here we are following them when we know it is not working, when we know that what works is the four pillars approach: harm reduction, prevention, treatment and enforcement. We know that works, but instead we will do something that is outdated and that has been proven not to work.
Testimony at justice committee showed that it did not work, yet the Conservative government says that it is a great idea, that it will go ahead with it, that it will follow failed policies.
It is not about what is working, clearly. It is not about what does not work. What the government is about is ideology.
For those of us who do not asbscribe to that ideology, do we give up hope? Does this ideology mean that the Conservatives will never see reason, that they will never be reasonable?
Interestingly, I do not think that is what that means necessarily. We heard earlier from some of my colleagues that Newt Gingrich, if we can believe, recently wrote an article with Pat Nolan about this issue. I think it was in the Washington Post on January 7. If Newt Gingrich can come around, surely to goodness those guys can come around. Plain and simple, the article is remarkable. I want to read from it because I think anybody who is listening at home and my colleagues here will be so surprised. The article states:
With nearly all 50 states facing budget deficits, it’s time to end business as usual in state capitols and for legislators to think and act with courage and creativity.
We urge conservative legislators to lead the way in addressing an issue often considered off-limits to reform: prisons. Several states have recently shown that they can save on costs without compromising public safety by intelligently reducing their prison populations.
We joined with other conservative leaders last month to announce the Right on Crime Campaign, a national movement urging states to make sensible and proven reforms to our criminal justice system--policies that will cut prison costs while keeping the public safe. Among the prominent signatories are Reagan administration attorney general Ed Meese, former drug czar Asa Hutchinson, David Keene of the American Conservative Union, John Dilulio of the University of Pennsylvania, Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform and Richard Viguerie of ConservativeHQ.com. We all agree that we can keep the public safe while spending fewer tax dollars if we spend them more effectively.
The Right on Crime Campaign represents a seismic shift in the legislative landscape. And it opens the way for a common-sense left-right agreement on an issue that has kept the parties apart for decades.
They are doing it in the U.S. They are reaching across the House. They are working on issues together.
There is an urgent need to address the astronomical growth in the prison population, with its huge costs in dollars and lost human potential. We spent $68 billion in 2010 on corrections – 300 percent more than 25 years ago. The prison population is growing 13 times faster than the general population. These facts should trouble every American.
Our prisons might be worth the current cost if the recidivism rate were not so high, but, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, half of the prisoners released this year are expected to be back in prison within three years. If our prison policies are failing half of the time, and we know that there are more humane, effective alternatives, it is time to [fundamentally] rethink how we treat and rehabilitate our prisoners.
We can no longer afford business as usual with prisons. The criminal justice system is broken, and conservatives must lead the way in fixing it.
Several states have shown that it is possible to cut costs while keeping the public safe. Consider events in Texas, which is known to be tough on crime. Conservative Republicans joined with Democrats in adopting incentive-based funding to strengthen the state’s probation system in 2005. Then in 2007, they decided against building more prisons and instead opted to enhance proven community corrections approaches such as drug courts. The reforms are forecast to save $2 billion in prison costs over five years.
Members will note that we are going to build more prisons.
The Lone Star State has already redirected much of the money saved into community treatment for the mentally ill and low-level drug addicts. Not only have these reforms reduced Texas’ prison population – helping to close the budget gap – but for the first time there is no waiting list for drug treatment in the state. And crime has dropped 10 percent from 2004, the year before the reforms, through 2009, according to the latest figures available, reaching its lowest annual rate since 1973.
Last year we both endorsed corrections reforms in South Carolina that will reserve costly prison beds for dangerous criminals while punishing low-risk offenders through lower-cost community supervision. The legislation was a bipartisan effort with strong support from liberals, conservatives, law enforcement, the judges and reform advocates. The state is expected to save $175 million in prison construction this year and $60 million in operating costs over the next several years.
Some people attribute the nation’s recent drop in crime to more people being locked up. But the facts show otherwise. While crime fell in nearly every state over the past seven years, some of those with the largest reductions in crime have also lowered their prison population. Compare Florida and New York. Over the past seven years, Florida’s incarceration rate has increased 16 percent, while New York’s decreased 16 percent. Yet the crime rate in New York has fallen twice as much as Florida’s. Put another way, although New York spent less on its prisons, it delivered better public safety.
Americans need to know that we can reform our prison systems to cost less and keep the public safe. We hope conservative leaders across the country will join with us in getting it right on crime.
I can barely believe I stood and read something written by Newt Gingrich. I am holding it forward as a sound public policy, but it is so much more sound than what the Conservative government is doing. It is absolutely remarkable to me.
Time and time again the NDP has stood in the House and said that it is not about being tough on crime; it is about being smart on crime. I have heard my colleague from Elmwood—Transcona many times say “smart on crime”. Our justice critic the member for Windsor—Tecumseh is always talking about smart on crime. Our public safety critic, the member for Vancouver Kingsway, talks about smart on crime. Here we have Newt Gingrich saying that we have to be right on crime. It is the same thing. It is unbelievable. He is right on crime.
I would like to go back to some of the testimony given at justice committee, particularly the testimony of Don Head. He talks about Correctional Service Canada and how it supports the judicial review process. He says that CSC supports the judicial review process that is governed by a particular directive. He says that 12 months before the offender's judicial review eligibility date, the institutional parole officer would meet with an offender to determine whether he or she was planning to submit an application. The staff would advise the offender at that time of his or her responsibility to actually engage with legal counsel. The staff of Correction Service Canada also works with the offender to facilitate a transfer to the jurisdiction where the hearing would be heard if the offender actually requests a move.
Next in the process is staff would advise the inmate to request access to his or her file through Access to Information so the information could be shared with legal counsel. Then the primary worker or the internal parole officer works to ensure that a psychiatric and/or a psychological assessment is completed in the 12 months leading up to the application as well as a judicial review report. That makes good sense to me.
The judicial review report follows the form that the department uses to determine parole eligibility and it covers six different areas: the offender's social, family and criminal background; sentence administration dates; summary of transfers and any disciplinary actions; summary of the offender's performance and conduct; any assessments done by psychiatrists, psychologists or elders; and finally, the offender's personal development.
Earlier I talked about these incentives, the faint hope clause being an incentive for good behaviour, but also being an incentive to actually engage with rehabilitation services. It is right there in the judicial review report. One wants to ensure that all the boxes are ticked, that there is a good record and that the required assessments have been completed. It makes perfect sense.
Another reason I bring up the actual process is to show that CSC works really hard to help determine whether an offender is a suitable candidate for parole. I have a copy of Don Head's testimony. When he testified in committee he said on the record, “As always, public safety is our paramount consideration”. This is not just a matter of submitting an application online and an answer of yea or nay coming back. This is a lengthy, detailed and thoughtful process and as he said, public safety is of paramount consideration. He went on to say:
The offenders in our care all come from communities across this country, and most will return there. It is the job of Correctional Service of Canada to manage their sentence from the day they enter our facility through their incarceration and out into the community. And we do so with a constant eye to achieving good correctional results for Canada and Canadians.
When one hears about the process, one thinks this is achieving good correctional results for Canada and Canadians. When one hears about why the faint hope clause exists and the benefits it can give to the prison population as a whole, as well as to the workers in prisons, it makes good sense. It achieves good correctional results for Canada and Canadians. It is sound policy.
In 2005, Guy Bourgon from Corrections Research prepared a document on average time incarcerated for first degree murder convictions. In preparing this document, he asked the question: How long, in comparison to other countries, do offenders sentenced to first degree murder in Canada spend incarcerated? That is a really great question.
Clearly, if the government is introducing this piece of legislation, Bill S-6, then it must think that something is wrong, that something must be broken. It is a great question. Maybe the case is that in Canada people are being let out way too early and in other countries offenders are staying in prison much longer. It is a good question to explore. I will flip to the answer that he discovered.
This went to committee from Mr. Sapers. In the first part, he looked at some research by Andrew Harris in 1999 and found that in Canada the accountability and performance measurement sector of Correctional Service Canada. It reported that offenders serving time for a first degree murder conviction spent, on average, 28.4 years incarcerated.
In contrast, 16 other countries around the world were surveyed for the same first degree murder charge or its equivalent and those who were eligible for release. Those who were sentenced to death or offenders sentenced to life without parole were excluded. They spent an average of 14.3 years incarcerated. Only Japan, Austria and the U.S.A. have offenders serving life sentences without parole in reported averages of 20 years or longer.
It is not even that we in Canada are way behind the rest of the world when it comes to sentencing for first degree murder. In fact, in Japan it was 21.5 years, Austria was 20 years and the U.S.A. was 29 years. We are at 28.4 years. We are behind the U.S.A. by just a few months. It is crazy when we think about it that way.
We know that we are not wildly out of sync with other countries around the world when it comes to our sentencing provisions. We know this is something that works. It keeps our workers safe in prisons. It gives people incentives to try to rehabilitate. It keeps our communities safer in the long run.
I urge all members of the House to reject what it is that Bill S-6 is trying to do.
Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB
Mr. Speaker, the member made an excellent speech on Bill S-6. Her commentary about the article written by Newt Gingrich and Pat Nolan should be required reading for all members of the House, particularly those on the government side. When I read the article, I thought Newt Gingrich had stolen my speech because we are practically in lockstep. I never thought I would ever see the day when that would happen.
If members read the article, they would see that he is taking a realistic approach to the problem. He is crossing party lines. He is working with Democrats to arrive at best practices. That is something we should all be trying to achieve regarding any aspect of spending money. We should be looking at what works and best practices, which is what the Americans are doing. After the Reagan administration, they have realized that the 25 years of “three strikes and you are out” has not worked. Jails are full of people and the crime rate is going up. Now they are looking at best case scenarios and reducing the prison populations in many states, reducing costs and getting results. That is what we should be doing in Canada. It is painfully obvious.
The member for Abitibi—Témiscamingue is very upset that he has lost the Liberal Party. The Liberal members are looking at short-term gain. They are worried about an election happening in a few months and are going to follow the Conservative Party to eliminate this bill. That is straightforward. However, all the evidence south of the border proves we should be looking at it in a different light.
Megan Leslie Halifax, NS
Mr. Speaker, I share the member's amazement with the Newt Gingrich piece. It makes perfect sense.
When we hear testimony at committee about what works and what does not work, often we know it does not work because we actually look at the experience in the U.S. Certain states have done everything wrong on different issues. I suppose it is useful. We can look at it to say that it does not work, that in fact crime rates do not go down, that it does not make sense that there is an increase in rehabilitation.
The faint hope clause does encourage rehabilitation. That is what we are here for. Because we live in a just society, it breaks my heart to think that some of my colleagues in the Liberal Party are going to support Bill S-6 because it is the political thing to do. This is an absolutely unjust bill. I think of Gandhi who said that an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind. What we are doing here is punishing for punishment's sake. It does not make good sense and it is unjust.
Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB
Mr. Speaker, when one considers it, at the end of the day, through this long, rigorous process that must be followed, only 1% or 2% would ever get out under the system. However, potentially 100% of the prisoners would behave themselves because of the belief that they might eventually be one of that 1% or 2%. To me it is a small price to pay, giving those people a semblance of hope to encourage them to stay out of trouble and engage in rehabilitation, which is what we want them to do. We must ensure that these prisoners are not a danger to others in the prisons nor a danger to the guards. I do not see anything wrong with the idea that somehow 100% of the prisoners will do the right thing, rehabilitate and behave themselves in the hope that they may be part of that 1% that gets out at the end of the day. That is obviously what the member for Winnipeg North's former leader, Pierre Trudeau, was thinking of when this legislation was dealt with. However, for short-term expediency, the Liberals have jumped on the Conservative bandwagon in fear when they should be looking at what is going on in other parts of the world, such as the United States.
It is interesting to note that Newt Gingrich and the NDP have aligned and the Liberals, not surprisingly of course, are following the Conservatives on this particular issue.
Megan Leslie Halifax, NS
Mr. Speaker, the member for Elmwood—Transcona has been here throughout the whole debate. He knows a lot about this issue and is very passionate about it.
One thing we forget is that in Canada a life sentence is a sentence for life. Even those offenders who are released into the community after they have served their time in prison are supervised until the time of their death. It is a life sentence.
When it comes to time served in prison, the average time served in prison for first degree murder in Canada is 28.4 years. That is one of the longest average times in the world. In comparison, the U.S. average time incarcerated is 23 years. In New Zealand, Scotland, Switzerland and England, the average time spent is under 15 years.
We are taking it seriously in Canada. There are many good, sound public policy reasons for keeping the faint hope clause.
We have to remember history. We have to remember the past. The faint hope clause was tied to the abolition of capital punishment and the concept that individual offenders are capable of change and rehabilitation. It is the just thing to do to stand up in the House and reject this proposition and to reject Bill S-6.