House of Commons Hansard #121 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was judge.

Topics

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders Act
Government Orders

11:30 a.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Madam Speaker, I am sure my colleague from Scarborough—Rouge River will not mind if I go ahead of him, and I am sure he will stay in the chamber and pay very close attention to all of my comments, as I will to his comments shortly.

Just to be clear about the position of the NDP, we still have grave reservations about the bill. A number of members of our caucus are leaning to support it and a number are leaning to oppose it. Once the debate is completed, we will make a final decision in that regard.

What has happened here is classic example of the way the government, as well as the Conservative Party, approaches the issue of crime. It tends to be obviously ideological in many cases, and in a number of cases, it is emotional, as opposed to an approach based on good public policy, good planning, on how to cope with those people in our society, going all the way to the extreme, who are prepared to commit murder.

The bill is really designed to go after the Clifford Olsons, the Paul Bernardos and the Picktons of the world. That is the way the Conservatives portrayed it. That is the way the Conservatives sold it to the public.

However, we have heard stories today of the multiple murderers who do not fit that pattern at all. We heard in the last few minutes from the Bloc about the situation in Quebec up around Saint-Jérôme, where a well-known, well-respected surgeon killed his two children after his marriage broke up. We heard of another instance from one of the members from Scarborough about a situation that was, in effect, infanticide; but again, it was a multiple murder of two children by a mother.

Under the existing law the faint hope clause does not apply to multiple murders, including the two circumstances I just described, which of course we do not hear from the Conservatives. In those cases, therefore, those murderers will spend 25 years in custody before becoming eligible for parole. Because they cannot apply for parole until the 25th year, they will probably spend another year, maybe more, in custody. On average, even where it is clear they are rehabilitated and clearly not a risk to society at all, they will spend 26 years of their lives behind bars in those fact situations.

They say that maybe there are exceptions, but they still have to be sure to get the Olsons of the world. However, the reality is that roughly 80% of all murders are committed by people in the latter category, not the Olson category, that is, they know the victim and the victim knows them. A lot of it is inter-family or, at the very least, among acquaintances.

What the government is doing with the bill is trying to solve a problem related to Clifford Olson that will, unfortunately, in other cases, cause an injustice.

I will use the reaction we saw in the Latimer case, where we had a repeated battle in the courts over whether there was some way he could be released before the 10 years, the minimum he had to serve, based on the crime he was convicted of at that time, the murder of his daughter. There was a great discussion in the country. It went both ways. I think the country was roughly evenly divided. As much as 50% of the country said that in that circumstance, and I want to be clear that it was not a position I supported, maybe he should be allowed, once convicted, to spend less than the absolute minimum of 10 years.

We have any number of other cases, when the facts are presented to our society as a whole, where they would say the same thing, that 10 years is fine; 15 years is too much; and 25 years definitely too much.

Canadians are basically a fair people. They look for justice and they certainly want it to be clear in our society that there are going to be consequences for whatever crime one commits and, obviously, serious consequences if it is a murder, if someone takes another's life. There is no question about that: they see that as fair, they see that as just. However, from all my experiences and all the reading I have done, I also believe they want everyone to be treated fairly. If the person is Clifford Olson, they want him kept in custody for the rest of his life. It is the same with Paul Bernardo. However, if it is the Latimer case, that certainly would not be the consensus in the country.

Thus the bill is clearly designed for a problem that we recognize exists. The consequences of the bill, though, will create many more problems, and the government is not seeing that.

It really is the difference between multiple or double murders and single murders. Perhaps I should put this statistic on the table. On average, in Canada, every year we have between 14 and 16 multiple murders. The vast majority of them are not of the serial killer type; the vast majority of them are the husband or the partner losing control and killing, almost always, both his partner and the partner's new lover. Those are the majority of cases.

When we look at that, most Canadians would say that the existing system, the faint hope clause, which will disappear if the bill we were debating yesterday is passed, combined with this bill will create very many more problems and injustices, as I think the average Canadian would say, if he or she looked at the individual cases.

We cannot consider this bill just in light of itself. We have to look at Bill S-6, because the Liberals are clearly going to support it, along with the government, and it is going to pass. We are going to end up in a situation where judges are going to be confronted, in the multiple murder situation, with having to make the decision. My colleague from Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe was right about this. There are going to be very few cases where the judges in this country are going to be prepared to use this bill, this law, if it goes through, which obviously appears to be the case. I suppose this is a point one has to make if one is going to support the bill. It will be on the basis that it is probably going to be used properly by our judges.

In spite of the disrespect we constantly hear and see from the government, and we see it in this bill, when it speaks of our judiciary, it is at least equal to the best judiciary in the world, and it arguably is the best judiciary in the world, at both levels, that of provincial appointments and federal appointments. It is not perfect, but it has no superior bench anyplace in the world. It may have a few peers, but it has no superior.

Therefore, those judges, on an individual basis, when confronted with the reality of a multiple murderer before them and a conviction they have registered after a full-blown trial, will have to decide whether they are going to send someone to jail for 50 years for three murders, or 75 years. In the vast majority of cases, as I say, with the exception perhaps of Olson, they are not going to do that.

The evidence in committee from lawyers and people from organizations like the John Howard Society and Elizabeth Fry Society was interesting. It was very clear that at the time of sentencing judges knew that it was impossible to say what would happen 25 years down the road. If it is a multiple murder, they know that the person under our existing law would not be eligible to apply for parole up to 25 years.

The vast majority of judges, very near 100% of them, would say that they do not know, with any degree of certainty, what a person will be like 25 years from now, where psychological and psychiatric treatment will be 25 years from now in terms of the ability to cope with someone like this and be sure the offender goes back into society without being a risk. Judges will say that they will not invoke the provisions of Bill C-48, which will happen in the vast majority of cases.

It may happen occasionally if there is a Pickton or Olson in front of the court. Members who want to support the bill could perhaps assuage their consciences by saying it will rarely be used and based on the trust we have in our judiciary, it will only be used when appropriate.

One other point will be in the minds of the judges but obviously is not in the mind of the government. I say that because there are alternatives, such as the way we could deal with serial killers, and I will come back to that in a few minutes. What is going to be in the mind of the judiciary is the need to be sure that our criminal justice system does not become a point of ridicule, that by sentencing a serial killer in particular to 200, 300 or 400 years, and nobody lives that long, they do not expose the court, the judiciary and the criminal justice system to the kind of ridicule that could produce, as we have seen in the United States.

In some states in the U.S. people can be sentenced to 100 years for each murder. Someone who has committed two or three murders can be sentenced to life in prison with no eligibility for parole for up to 300 or 400 years. That is not uncommon in the United States and it draws ridicule from outside the U.S. on its system.

That will be in the minds of the judges every time they consider this. They will look at whether they know what a person will be like 25 years from now. In the vast majority of cases, they will say no. They will then ask themselves if they should risk the possibility of bringing the system under ridicule and disrepute. Again, they will want to decide on the basis of safety that they do not invoke these provisions.

Another reason for supporting the bill is because there is judicial discretion.

There is another point in the bill, which quite frankly shows the ignorance of the Conservative government. It has put in a provision without understanding how trials work in the country, murder trials in particular. The provision is that judges are required to put to jury, after the conviction, if it wants to make a recommendation as to whether the person should spend multiple periods of time without eligibility for parole. It actually has the wording that the judge must read to the jury.

What the government does not understand is the reality of what jury members have just gone through. They have oftentimes sat through one to several weeks of what can be extremely stressful testimony around murders. They are very tired and stressed out, but right after the conviction judges are required to read this direction to them and inquire as to whether they want to make recommendations. There is no psychological basis for them to be able to do that.

The other point the government does not understand is how this works. There is no evidence given to the jury at that point about this person. The person, in most cases, does not testify, so there is no psychological or psychiatric evidence before the jury as to what is an appropriate way to deal with the person or whether the person can be dealt with at all. In comes down to the fact that the jury has to make this decision completely in the dark.

Then, after saying those two things on the weakness of what the government has proposed for this system, it is only a recommendation and not binding on the judge. The Superior Court judge has the final decision and it is entirely within that person's discretion. As I said earlier, I believe that in the vast majority of cases judges will opt not to invoke the multiple periods of time.

Therefore, what are we doing here? It is obvious that we will pass the bill. The Liberals and the Bloc members have already announced that they will support it, along with the government. However, we are creating a system that is not going to be used very often, but that has a major risk of being used in situations where the average Canadian, knowing the facts, would say that it is not appropriate and further puts us at risk of our system being ridiculed, much as the system in the United States is in some cases.

On the alternatives, we have heard from other members of the House and the evidence at committee about these facts. Our system of dealing with murderers goes back to the mid-1970s when we opted, as a society, to do away with the death penalty. At that point, we said that this was the way we would treat murderers, depending on whether it was manslaughter, second degree or first degree murder. That was when we brought in the faint hope clause. At that time, it was fixed at 25 years spent, without the faint hope clause, for first degree murder.

The faint hope clause allowed application for parole at 15 years if it could be justified first to a judge, then to a judge and jury and then ultimately to the Parole Board. It was a three-step process. That was the system, but we made some changes to it to deal with the multiple murderers in 1997 to exclude them from that process.

In the mid-1970s, and again in 1997, we knew that we were sending people to prison much longer than all the countries to which we were compared, with the exception of some of the states in the U.S. that are close to us. The majority of the states in the U.S. have life sentences that are shorter than ours. Every other jurisdiction, England, all of western Europe, Australia and New Zealand, countries that have societies that are very similar to ours, have much shorter periods of time for people being sent to custody. The average is running around 15 years, but in a number of countries it is less than that. I think in New Zealand it is 12 or 14 years now. Currently, in England it is 14 years. On average, we are at 28.4 years.

There is an alternative as to how we deal with the serial killer, and that is to use the dangerous offender section of the code. It needs to be changed so it is specifically available to our judges, courts, police and prosecutors. If we made that available to them in the serial killer case, it would solve the problem that we are trying to address here, but not doing so very effectively.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders Act
Government Orders

11:50 a.m.

Liberal

Sukh Dhaliwal Newton—North Delta, BC

Madam Speaker, the hon. member for Windsor—Tecumseh mentioned family murderers and murderers like Olson. There was a particular case in Surrey in the fall of 2007. When Ed Schellenberg was doing his plumbing job, he was innocently caught in a gang-related murder and was murdered. As well, a neighbour, Chris Mohan, was shot when he happened to go out to play hockey.

How would the hon. member like to see that the proper and appropriate punishment has been given to those people who commit murders like this?

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders Act
Government Orders

11:50 a.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Madam Speaker, I know this situation quite well. I have met with family members of two of the victims of that incident.

I was getting into the answer to the question as I was finishing my speech. I will not claim to know all the facts, but in my opinion, and from the facts I have, that is where the dangerous offender provision comes in. I think we have had one conviction, if not two, because there were six perpetrators involved in those murders. In my world, they would clearly meet the test of and be convicted of first degree murder, from what we know up to this point. In addition to that, there would be a hearing on whether they could be declared dangerous offenders.

The provisions of the dangerous offenders are much more effective in keeping people in custody than under our parole system. People convicted of being dangerous offenders are responsible for proving they should get out. By comparison, under the parole system the onus on the convicted murderer is much lighter. Under the dangerous offenders sections, when we have used it, which we cannot use in the murder situation because of legal technicalities, rarely does anybody get out. The last time I looked at it on a 100% basis, I think three people got out although one may not have. Most of them die in prison.

That is the kind of provision at which we need to look. The bottom line is there is nothing we can do to rehabilitate certain members of our society. There is nothing we can do to ensure that when they go back into society they will not reoffend, including violent crime up to murder. We are capable of identifying those individuals and keeping them in custody. The dangerous offenders section is the one to be used.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders Act
Government Orders

11:55 a.m.

Conservative

Ed Fast Abbotsford, BC

Madam Speaker, I would like to challenge my colleague from Windsor—Tecumseh on the statement he has just made. He has suggested that dangerous offender legislation is more appropriate to sentence multiple murderers. In fact, he knows that a sentence for a dangerous offender is actually indeterminate and that applications can be made on an ongoing basis for that offender to be released from prison.

Whereas, if we have consecutive sentencing or consecutive parole eligibility periods, a multiple murderer can not apply for parole for at least 50 years. Therefore, there is a guarantee that for 50 years there will be no applications for early release, and victims are actually asking for that.

I have spoken to Steve Brown the brother-in-law of Mr. Schellenberg who died in the Surrey six slaying. He is very much in support of this kind of legislation. He is in support of mandatory minimum sentences.

I would challenge my colleague from Windsor—Tecumseh to justify why he would suggest using dangerous offender legislation rather than consecutive sentencing for multiple murderers.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders Act
Government Orders

11:55 a.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Madam Speaker, I thought I had made it clear, but perhaps I did not. I recognize that the dangerous offender provision as we have it now is not able to be used in the murder situation. If a person is convicted of murder in our country and is serving a life sentence, the dangerous offender clause is not allowed to be used in those circumstances.

I am proposing that we look at being able to use it in those circumstances. In addition, to deal with the problem my colleague has just raised of being able to reapply repeatedly, we would be putting very clear restrictions on what that would be, including that the application cannot be made, that the application would come from Correctional Service Canada or from the court.

There are other ways of dealing with the problem, recognizing that we do not want the families of the victims of murder to have to face repeated applications. Families are currently faced with that situation at the 25-year mark for an individual murder case. I am sure there are ways of doing it.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders Act
Government Orders

11:55 a.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, when there are multiple deaths and a person is convicted in one or two cases but the law does not pursue the other cases, we have situations where the families of the victims are very upset. I wonder if the member has any comment on how the system should deal with that particular scenario.

There are many situations like this where the law is satisfied with one conviction. The person is put away in jail, and the rest of the victims' families are told that he is in jail and cannot get out. Their case is left and not prosecuted. I think it is a question of the resources that have to be put into the cases. The Pickton case is an example of that. There was a conviction on several deaths which is only a fraction of the total number he was accused of.

I am not sure of the direct application here, but I know the member is very experienced in these affairs and I would like to hear his opinion on this particular situation.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders Act
Government Orders

11:55 a.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Madam Speaker, it is extremely distressing to families of murder victims to be told by the prosecutor that they are not going to proceed with an attempt to convict the person on that particular murder because that person has already been convicted of two, three or more other murders. It obviously does not happen very often. As I said earlier, we have very few multiple murders. They tend to be in the range of two rather than the Pickton type of situation.

The reality is that in most cases where there are multiple murders and the courts have not proceeded with all the cases, it is usually not because of financial resources. That is probably true in the Pickton case, but in most cases it is because the evidence on the other murders, even though the prosecutor is convinced of the person's guilt, leaves serious reservations as to whether there is going to be a conviction. That tends to be the situation. Fortunately for our society it happens rarely.

Let me make one more point about that. I have been doing some work recently on suicide. The psychologist I was working with most closely raised the issue that serial killers are much more common in North America than they are in any other place in the world, which I found interesting. It is not just the United States, although we tend to point the finger at them. North America has more multiple murderers in the form of serial killers than any other continent.

It is one of the issues that I believe we do need to look at more closely, more so in the United States but also in Canada.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders Act
Government Orders

Noon

Liberal

Derek Lee Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Mr. Speaker, we are continuing debate on Bill C-48, a bill dealing with consecutive periods of parole ineligibility. That sounds fairly clinical. The area we are dealing with is unfortunately circumstances that follow the conviction of individuals for a second or third first degree murder.

Currently, a life sentence is imposed following a conviction of first degree murder. However, there is a fair bit of misconception about that life sentence. To keep it simple, in my view a life sentence is simply that, a sentence for life. The individual will never be out of sentence. There will never be a sentence expiry. There will always be a connection between the state and the individual, whether the person is in a prison, some other location or, in some cases, released under a reporting scenario.

What has muddied the waters on this is the fact that the Criminal Code imposes a parole ineligibility period of 25 years for someone convicted of first degree murder. That means that the person is not eligible to even request parole. Having said that, we have the procedures involving the faint hope clause. Therefore, I must put an asterisk beside that.

However, just in terms of basic sentencing, someone who is convicted of first degree murder has a life sentence. That is essentially forever, so long as the person lives; in other words, the person may not apply and is not eligible for any type of parole before the expiry of the 25 years. That applies whether the person is 20 years old or 50 years old when convicted. The sentence is for life.

The bill deals with the parole ineligibility period of 25 years. In the past there has been some suggestion that the parole ineligibility period should be increased in cases where an individual has committed more than one murder. As I understand it, most people presently working in corrections take the view that once people have been sentenced to life they are on the hook forever. Their considerations are all of the normal sentencing considerations, including deterrents, denunciation, safety to the community and those types of things.

There is no automatic release after 25 years either. For a person who is given a life sentence, 25 years is simply the period for which he or she is ineligible to apply for parole. Therefore, there is no automatic release after 25 years. The phrase “life 25” does not mean that prisoners are released after 25 years. It means they are ineligible to apply for parole within that timeframe. The Parole Board can only consider parole for an individual after the 25 years of imprisonment. Therefore, for many, “life 25” means forever. Offenders will never be released. For some it means 30 years and for others 40 years in prison. That is how it works and it has developed the population inside the prison system. They are referred to as “lifers”. It is actually a fairly stable population group within the prison system. Everyone wishes there were fewer of them. However, they exist and it is a somewhat stable population. Some say the reason it is stable is that prisoners are aware they will remain in prison for a long time and they do not want the prison system upset. They like stability.

These individuals also foresee the possibility, remote for some, zero possibility for others, that they will be released at some point before they die. They appear to like that smooth run up to when that period of potential release is there.

I have had the privilege as a member to visit many prisons across the country. By the time many of those individuals get there, they do not have a lot of incentive to leave. It varies from offender to offender. It is a sad circumstance when someone 70 years old and not considered to be a danger to the public simply does not want to leave and stays incarcerated. Some people would say that is fine, let him or her rot. In terms of the way we run our prisons that is not necessarily in keeping with the standards. However, I am diverging slightly from the bill.

Lest anybody has any doubt, the bill does not deal with individuals already convicted of multiple murders. It only applies to people who are convicted subsequent to its passage. It does not deal with people who have already served 25 years of a life sentence. Those people will continue to be dealt with under the current law, and should they apply for parole, they have the ability to try and convince the Parole Board they should be released on some basis, not that their sentence ends but that they be released on some basis.

The bill does not have anything to do with the procedures related to the faint hope clause. There has also been legislation before the House dealing with that. The faint hope clause does not apply to multiple murders in the first place and the individual has to apply to a judge to be able to get approval to apply to the Parole Board. The individual has to get permission from a judge and from the Parole Board and then he or she has to make an application. This bill does not actually affect the faint hope clause at all.

It is important to note that the bill does not automatically impose a second 25 year period of ineligibility for parole. Right now the parole ineligibility period is 25 years. The bill does not say that if someone commits a second murder, that individual would have an automatic additional 25 year period of ineligibility. The bill does not do that. That is one of the reasons the bill has a chance to pass, and I get the impression that it will pass.

Bill C-48 would impose some discretion. Although my colleague from Windsor—Tecumseh did not find the procedural provision helpful in section 745.21, an explicit instruction is given to the jury in these trials where it is asked to comment. The jury is asked to provide its recommendation if it so wishes as to whether or not the judge should impose a second 25 year ineligibility period. The instruction reads:

You have found the accused guilty of murder. The law requires that I now pronounce a sentence of imprisonment for life against the accused. Do you wish to make any recommendation with respect to the period without eligibility for parole to be served for this murder consecutively to the period without eligibility for parole imposed for the previous murder? You are not required to make any recommendation, but if you do, your recommendation will be considered by me when I make my determination.

The jury in the second trial is invited to make a recommendation and most people would find that quite reasonable, although as has been stated here, it will be difficult sometimes for a jury to make a recommendation in a circumstance like this when it has not had the benefit of hearing from the accused. In this particular circumstance the accused will have already been convicted, but just. That person may or may not have taken the stand and all of the evidence will have come in from third parties. There will be no psychiatric or other medical evidence pertaining to the individual.

Most juries would find themselves underequipped to make a recommendation but in some cases a jury will make a citizen's judgment, if I can put it that way. We have heard the circumstances of those very sad, tragic killings in Surrey of innocent people who quite innocently came up against a gangland group, and a jury might say that it had heard enough to make a recommendation.

Anyway, the recommendation, if made, is made and then later on the judge must make a decision. The wording there says that a judge may, having regard to the character of the offender, the nature of the offence and the circumstances surrounding its commission and the recommendation, if any, made by the jury, order that the periods without parole eligibility are to be served consecutively.

There is the discretion on the part of a judge and if a judge does not decide to make these periods consecutive, he or she must give reasons. I would have thought that we might have wanted to have reasons either way but I am sure the judge will give reasons either way because in murder convictions there is a high probability of scrutiny of that judgment, potential for appeal, and a judge would not want to be seen making any decision, one way or another, without giving appropriate reasons. I am sure all Canadians agree with that perspective.

There will be a considered and rational decision made by a court about these parole ineligibility periods and it will be based on information brought out at the trial, either in the trial itself or in the sentencing phase.

I am prepared to give the bill guarded support because there is this discretion and not because I believe that the legislation in its execution will make the public any safer. I do not think anybody is seriously suggesting that this is public safety related. I should not say nobody because the bill has a short title where the government says that this bill may be cited as the protecting Canadians by ending sentence discounts for multiple murders act. The government somehow believes that this would make Canadians safer. I actually do not see that.

The second thing is that the judge, in making a decision about a second parole ineligibility period, cannot simply increase it by five, ten or fifteen years. The legislation only allows the judge to double it. I would either be 25 years or 50 years. Many of us think that is kind of dumb. It is actually more likely to make the judge decide not to impose the 50 years. I am speaking from my own experience, but we must keep in mind that this is judicial discretion. While the pretence here is that we are throwing the book at the convicted person, the fact is that there will be a jury, with or without recommendation, and there will be a judge who will be making a discretionary decision. We tried to vary this at the committee but without success, which is too bad.

What is the real effect of this on the street? Fortunately, there are not many of these multiple murders in our society. Regrettably, of course, there are some but there are not many and, because they are so notorious, we know about them all and we remember them. It becomes a litany over a quarter century of all of these terrible killings. They are truly sad but we remember them more than most of the others.

It seems to me that what will happen over time is that after 25 years the same logic and rationale that is currently used by the Parole Board in determining whether a person can be released on parole, whether it is murder or any other conviction, but let us just focus on second degree and first degree murder, the Parole Board will exercise its judgment as to whether the person, having regard to all of the circumstances, the denunciation, the deterrence, the public safety, can be safely released from prison.? That is what the Parole Board does all the time and it makes a whole lot of good decisions.

Is there a mistake once in a while? There could be. Do judges make mistakes? Maybe they do once in a while.

I remember that when I was first elected to this place in the late 1980s there were two separate cases of parole releases where very bad things happened. There were also prison escapes where some very bad things happened. However, the corrections system has improved and I think it is managing things much better.

I think that the same logic that is used by the Parole Board will actually be transmitted over to judges. The judges will begin to think the same way. When it comes time to either impose or not impose the second 25-year period of ineligibility, they will be thinking: Can this person be dealt with via the single parole ineligibility period? In other words, will we see him or her released in some fashion on parole, not end of sentence, after 25, 30 or 35 years? The only other alternative, if they impose the second 25-year period, would be release after 50 years and for many people that will be never. Judges will need to take on the challenge of thinking this way. I have every confidence that they will do it properly within the law and in the public interest and will serve each of the communities they in which they serve.

However, will it make a difference in deterrence? Beyond any shadow of a doubt, and I am not trying to make light of this, I cannot imagine that any prospective killers will pull out their copy of the Criminal Code before they commit the murder to try to determine whether they might or might not have a second period of parole ineligibility. This just will not happen and it is illogical to think that it would happen. Will there be any direct deterrence by this? I suspect not.

I also accept that many people in society like the mathematical simplicity of being able to see what a period of hard time in prison is in relation to the criminal act they have committed. If they rob a bank they will get five years, if they rob two banks they will get ten years and if they rob three banks they will get fifteen years. I can subscribe to the mathematical simplicity of that and a sense of justice, or whatever it is, not retribution. However, in this case we must keep in mind that we are not dealing with the sentence. The sentence is life. It always has been and still is. We are only dealing with a parole ineligibility issue.

While much of this, and some of the other legislation with which we have had to deal, is a sham, is posturing and is pretence, this one has a very small tweak to it. I do not think there is any sense of discount. We just need ask Mr. Olson or Mr. Bernardo if there is a discount there for them. There is no discount. This is a lifetime enterprise for them. They are in jail and I do not think the Parole Board is going to see it any other way.

I regret that we need to deal with 10 or 20 separate Criminal Code bills. The government seems intent on trotting out every little vignette, scenario and bill number with a very sexy title. I think it is a bit of a distortion of how we can work around here.

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders Act
Government Orders

12:20 p.m.

Conservative

Ed Fast Abbotsford, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague, who is on the justice committee, for his intervention on this bill and his cautious support of the legislation that would allow consecutive sentencing for multiple murderers.

He referred to the whole notion that the bill would not lead to deterrence. People do not open up the Criminal Code and say that they were going to commit multiple murders but decided not to because the penalties are more severe than they expected. However, I do know that the purpose of this bill is not primarily deterrence. It is incapacitation and protection of the public and, perhaps even more important, eliminating the re-victimization of the families of victims who are victims themselves.

Once the parole eligibility period starts, inmates can apply time and time again to be released from jail and each time the families of the victims are essentially re-victimized by being forced, by their concern for this person being released, to go to parole hearings. It is that re-victimization that is really the focus of the legislation.

Does my colleague on the justice committee agree with me that the purpose of this bill is to ensure that the families of murder victims are not victimized again and again by repeated parole applications?

Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders Act
Government Orders

12:20 p.m.

Liberal

Derek Lee Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Mr. Speaker, I do not subscribe to that logic. I understand what the member has said, but if the government truly believed that a parole application constituted a re-victimization of a family member of a victim, it would get rid of all parole applications, every one of them.

This bill only deals with multiple murders. How many do we have? I can probably count them on my two hands. There may be a sense of avoidance of re-victimization for a few families in Canada but what about the other thousands who are, according to the hon. member, re-victimized every time a parole application happens? The problem with that logic is that we cannot accept a parole application as always being a re-victimization. It may be involved at times but not in every case.

Therefore, I do not accept that this bill is the great solution to all re-victimization. It only is for a very few families, as sad as all of that is and as much as I sympathize with the whole issue that the member raised.

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12:25 p.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, out of the 13,500 people in our federal prisons, we have approximately 4,000 people serving a life sentence. Of the multiple murderers, not people who have committed two murders, even though it is more than one, they are different from what the member for Abbotsford is going after. He is going after serial killers. My friend from Scarborough—Rouge River is right. There are very few of those in Canada currently.

I want to make another point with regard to sentencing offenders to prison for longer periods of time and keeping them there longer that spills over into this bill. Newt Gingrich and Pat Nolan from Texas just said this month that this was tried in the United States and it has been a total failure. The U.S. cannot afford it, number one, but it does not work anyway. The rate of recidivism is going down. In the states that did not go down that route, the crime rate has actually dropped more than in the states that did take that route.

Would my colleague from Scarborough—Rouge River comment on that and on whether he sees any reason for Canada to follow the U.S. model, which is what the Conservative government seems to be absolutely determined to do?

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12:25 p.m.

Liberal

Derek Lee Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Mr. Speaker, I tend to agree with the member for Windsor—Tecumseh.

Although the bill purports to seek some kind of mathematical symmetry in sentencing, this approach totally undermines the approach to sentencing which Canada and all other enlightened countries have had, which is that once the guy is in jail, he is there. He is not on the street. He is not leaving jail until it is safe to let him go. That is why we have dangerous offender legislation and long-term offender legislation built into the Criminal Code, all of which has been added within the last 25 years.

It undermines the sense of justice. Warehousing and sentencing and just getting the guys off the streets undermine the whole balance and rest of the sentencing regime, which is calculated to release an offender when it is safe and appropriate to do so. We have systems in place to do that.

If it is just going to be warehousing and sentencing with mathematical symmetry, there would be no need for a parole board or to teach the inmates anything. They could be kept in jail and when their sentence was up they would be put out on main street where they could get on the same bus as our daughters. This we do not do in Canada.

We have to be careful with this mathematical symmetry and just putting people in jail and the heck with how long or how appropriate the sentence is.

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12:25 p.m.

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to speak on behalf of the Bloc Québécois to Bill C-48, which deals with the possibility of making periods without eligibility for parole consecutive in the case of multiple murders.

On October 28, 2009, the Minister of Justice introduced Bill C-54, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and to make consequential amendments to the National Defence Act, which was intended to protect Canadians by ending sentence discounts for multiple murders. It had been introduced at first reading and died on the order paper at the end of 2009 because the Conservative Party and the Prime Minister decided to prorogue the House, thus putting an end to all bills.

Bill C-54 is therefore the ancestor of Bill C-48. The Conservative Party did not think Bill C-48 was very important, since it waited until October 5, 2010 to introduce it. Even if it had the intention, it was not a major priority of the Conservative Party since prorogation put an end to Bill C-54. In spite of the fact that the House resumed in February-March 2010, the government waited until October 5, 2010 to introduce Bill C-48.

The new provisions would authorize judges to impose consecutive periods without eligibility for parole on individuals convicted of more than one first degree or second degree murder. Under the existing rules, individuals who are sentenced for multiple murders receive simultaneous periods without parole eligibility. I say this to make it clear that judges could now extend the period without eligibility by making the periods consecutive. It would then be longer before the criminal could be eligible for parole than under the present legislation.

Judges would not be required to impose consecutive periods, but they would have to make their decision having regard to the character of the offender, the nature of the offences and the circumstances surrounding their commission, and the recommendation, if any, made by the jury. They would also have to give reasons either orally or in writing for not imposing consecutive periods. Judges are allowed that latitude. That is why the Bloc Québécois supports Bill C-48 in principle, because it is judges who will decide.

Bill C-48 deals with the most serious crime, the one that has the most severe consequences for victims and affects the public most strongly: murder. Its aim is to allow sentencing judges to make periods without eligibility for parole consecutive in multiple murder cases.

First, the most serious crimes deserve the most serious penalties and are therefore subject to imprisonment for life. The Bloc Québécois is firmly opposed to sentences that are too light or parole that is too easy, such as parole after one-sixth of sentence, for example. Twice, our party has introduced bills in the House to have criminals serve their full sentence and not be able to get parole after one-sixth of sentence.

In the news, we saw white collar criminal Vincent Lacroix become eligible for parole last week. He is now in society, in a halfway house in Montreal.

We consider that to be completely and utterly appalling. Criminals like Vincent Lacroix have stigmatized their victims for the rest of their lives. These victims lost all their money, although there was a settlement before the courts thanks to the banks and companies that processed the funds. It was essentially an out-of-court settlement with no evidence presented.

No evidence-based trial was ever contemplated because these companies quite simply did not want to be saddled going forward with a bad corporate image. The companies instead decided to settle for the full amount of the victims' losses. The fact remains, however, that for five years these victims were traumatized. Moreover, Vincent Lacroix, the ringleader, a criminal, is on parole after serving one-sixth of his sentence, because the parole officers quite simply did not consider him to be a criminal who presented a danger to society.

Vincent Lacroix obviously did not murder anyone, but he did commit a very serious crime: he defrauded his fellow man and traumatized the majority of his clients. In the eyes of the Bloc Québécois, this is a crime for which the perpetrator should be forced to serve out his entire sentence with no possibility of parole. In fact, the whole concept of parole and being eligible for release after serving one-sixth of one's sentence undermines the credibility of the entire judicial system and only gives credence to the misguided notion that criminals are treated better than their victims.

There is the rub, particularly in the case of Vincent Lacroix. Once again, a criminal has been handed a sentence and yet does not serve out this complete sentence behind bars. He is rehabilitated and deemed reputable because he has been paroled. He can re-enter society on certain conditions, but the fact is, he is now there, in society. I repeat, these criminals should serve out their full sentence.

Bill C-48 deals only with criminals who have committed the most serious crime, murder. It seems unusual that a second murder would not result in an additional sentence. Logic dictates, however, that it is not possible to serve out two life sentences. Under Bill C–48, the judge would at least have the option of imposing consecutive periods of parole ineligibility.

Under the current legislation, even if someone has been handed one, two or three life sentences, that person is eligible for parole, regardless of whether the parole is associated with the first sentence. It is not possible to impose consecutive parole ineligibility periods by virtue of the fact that a person has been handed several life sentences for his many crimes. The judge is not permitted to make an order that such a person will be ineligible for a specific number of years. Under Bill C-48, it would be possible to increase the period of ineligibility so that the most violent criminals are forced to serve out their complete sentence.

In addition, the Bloc Québécois thinks that punishment cannot be the sole objective of the legal system, to the neglect of rehabilitation and reintegration. Parole, even for murderers, is an important step in the rehabilitation and reintegration process because these people end up returning to society some day. It is very important, therefore, for them to have the best possible treatment to ensure that their reintegration is safe for the rest of society.

There is no question, therefore, of asking for the pure and simple abolition of parole. It is what enables criminals to be treated and reintegrated into society. Life sentences inevitably mean that offenders can be reintegrated into society after 25 years.

The Bloc Québécois is going to support the bill, but not in order to increase the range of penalties at a judge’s disposal to punish a crime. Despite what the minister says, we know very well that these measures have no dissuasive effect, especially in cases of recidivism, which are very rare. This is an exceptional measure, therefore, for exceptional cases where the jury provides its opinion and judges keep their discretionary powers. That is why the Bloc Québécois will support this measure: in the end, it is the jury that makes the recommendation and judges keep their discretionary powers.

We want to point out, though, that recidivism is rare and it is very expensive to keep people in prison after they have served long sentences—nearly 30 years on average—even though the recidivism rate is very low. In addition, not all victims feel comforted by extended prison terms. Maybe we could do more for them, rather than looking upon prison as the only solution to crime. We should also be able to look at what the victims go through so that judges can have an array of choices in passing sentence, depending on the consequences of the crime.

According to the legislative summary, the most serious crimes in the Criminal Code can be punished by life sentences. For some crimes, such as treason and murder, life in prison is the only sentence provided and is therefore the minimum sentence.

Homicide is divided into several categories: murder, manslaughter and infanticide. Murder is the most serious kind of homicide. It is an act committed with the intention of killing or mortally wounding someone or an illegal act that the offender knows is likely to cause death. There are two kinds of murder: first degree and second degree.

First degree murder is premeditated and deliberate, a planned murder. Other kinds of murder are automatically equated with first degree murder under the Criminal Code. This applies in particular to the murder of a police officer or a prison guard and murder that occurs in the course of an airplane hijacking, sexual assault, or a hostage taking.

Manslaughter has occurred when there is no intention to kill but there is negligence. For example, it could include firing a gun through a hedge with no concern for whether there is someone on the other side.

When it comes to sentencing, the Criminal Code is clear. Anyone committing murder in the first or second degree is guilty of a crime and must be sentenced to life in prison. Only the parole ineligibility period may vary depending on whether a first or a second degree murder was committed. In the case of first degree murder, parole is not permitted for a minimum of 25 years, as I previously stated. In the case of second degree murder, the judge determines the parole ineligibility period within a 10- to 25-year range.

The maximum sentence for manslaughter is life behind bars, and there is no minimum term of imprisonment, except when a firearm is used. Nor is there any minimum parole ineligibility period. The regular rules therefore apply.

Under the current system, multiple murderers serve out their life sentences simultaneously and are therefore subject to a single 25-year parole ineligibility period. The only exception currently is when a murder is committed in prison by a person who has already being convicted on murder charges. What is important to understand is that if a person were to commit two murders, the judge would be able to extend the ineligibility period beyond the 25-year mark. Such an individual could end up spending the remainder of his days behind bars.

It is important to remember that even inmates who have been given early release are subject to lifelong supervision and may be put back behind bars for any transgression. It is also worth noting that, to date, among the many people who have been granted early release, only one has reoffended, the crime in this case being armed robbery. It should be noted, however, that under the Criminal Code persons sentenced to life in prison with no possibility of parole for over 15 years may ask the court, once they have served a minimum of 15 years of their sentence, to reduce the parole ineligibility period. The government is attempting to scrap this measure by way of separate bill, Bill S-6.

Once in effect, this legislation would enable judges to hand down consecutive periods of parole ineligibility to persons convicted of several first or second degree murders. In other words, if a person were to commit two murders, the judge would be able to order two periods of ineligibility, one 25-year period for the initial sentence and a further 10 years for the second sentence, or two 25-year periods, for example.

Judges would not be required to impose consecutive periods but would make their decision on the basis of the character of the person being tried. All this amounts to saying that judges retain their freedom, that is to say, it is up to them to decide whether to impose successive periods of ineligibility for parole. They do this on the basis of the character of the person being tried, the nature of the crimes committed and the circumstances surrounding them, and any jury recommendation. Judges would also be required to state orally or in writing why they did not impose consecutive periods of ineligibility.

The Minister of Justice said he wanted to ensure that serial killers and recidivists pay the price for their actions. He said the purpose of the bill was to put an end to what he calls “sentence discounts” for multiple murderers. The government should stop using this kind of language, which serves only to discredit our legal system, which he should be defending. We do not think it makes sense to talk of sentence discounts, although it is strange that the sentences for these crimes are regularly served simultaneously.

We also want to take advantage of this opportunity to raise a few more points. In regard to recidivism, between January 1975 and March 2006, 19,210 offenders who had served a sentence for homicide—9,091 for murder and 10,119 for manslaughter—returned to the community, either on parole or on statutory release. Of these 19,210 offenders, 45 were later convicted of another 96 homicides in Canada. The reoffenders therefore amounted to 0.2% of the 19,210 people convicted of homicide who were released into the community over the last 31 years. During this period, police forces in Canada were apprised of more than 18,000 homicides. The criminals who reoffended while on parole by committing another homicide therefore accounted for 0.5% of all the homicides committed in Canada over the last 31 years. The figures show, therefore, that there is no basis for all the exaggerated arguments focused on safety.

Since the last death sentence was carried out in Canada in 1962, the period served by offenders convicted of murder prior to full parole has increased dramatically. Offenders serving life terms for murders committed before January 4, 1968 were paroled after seven years. Offenders serving life terms for murders committed between January 4, 1968 and January 1, 1974 were paroled after 10 years. Thereafter, the period varied between 10 and 25 years, depending on the kind of murder committed.

In addition, the average term of incarceration for offenders sentenced to life for first degree murder shows that the average served in Canada is longer than in all the countries examined, including the United States, except for American offenders serving a life sentence without possibility of parole. In addition to the countries referred to in the legislative summary, we must include Sweden, at 12 years, and England, at 14 years, while the average time spent in custody in Canada is 28 years and four months.

In terms of hope, as we said during debate on Bill S-6, we should encourage inmates serving a life sentence to behave well and seek out rehabilitation programs. That is how we will contribute to improving the safety of guards and other employees in the correctional service. It is therefore important that a parole system remain, so it is in criminals’ interests to improve themselves in prison, because without that system it would be difficult for the entire prison system and especially for the employees who work in it.

The government is not standing up for victims. It is using them to push its penitentiaries policy. Some people may in fact support an application for early parole by an inmate who has already served a very long period of incarceration. For example, when the victim and inmate are related or know each other, as was the case in 84 percent of solved homicides in 2007, or when the murderer is very young, the victim’s family may approve of parole after a long period of incarceration.

Bill S-6, not the bill that is before us, but another bill introduced in the Senate, would eliminate all possibility of early parole for all inmates, regardless of the circumstances and the views of the victim’s family.

In the case of Richard Kowbel, which was heard in the British Columbia Supreme Court, the young man had attacked his family, killing his mother and seriously injuring his father and sister. Both his father and his sister testified in support of his 15-year review application. We think judges should give reasons for their decisions in all cases, whether to make periods without eligibility consecutive or not. It will be understood—

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12:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer

I must interrupt the hon. member.

The hon. member for Thunder Bay—Rainy River.

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12:45 p.m.

NDP

John Rafferty Thunder Bay—Rainy River, ON

Mr. Speaker, I support this bill at this stage because it does a couple of things. It maintains the ability of judges to have discretion. I talked about it yesterday in the House. It is very important. Also, it does give the judiciary an extra tool for sentencing.

I wonder if the member feels the same as I do, that a bit of the problem with the bill is what it does not do. It does not help law enforcement reduce crime in any way, nor does it do anything to assist the families of murder victims.

I wonder if my colleague and friend would like to comment on that.