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 years.

Topics

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

10:55 a.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Madam Speaker, it was interesting listening to my colleague from Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe talk about the short title in this bill. It is one that I find quite offensive. I find it offensive as a lawyer who has practised in our courts for a long period of time. More importantly, I find it very offensive to the judiciary in this country. If anybody, particularly the government of the day, thinks that a term could be used that is a direct accusation that our judiciary discounts the lives of Canadians by giving lesser sentences, it is grossly offensive.

It was moved in committee that we delete this, as we have done with several other bills that had offensive or misleading short titles like this one. At committee the member voted against the motion to delete, so the title stays and that offensive wording will go on, because it appears that the Liberals, the Conservatives and the Bloc are going to vote for this bill.

I would ask the hon. member, given his opening comments today, how he justifies having voted the way he did to not delete that title and, in effect, to not support the judicial component of our society.

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

February 1st, 2011 / 10:55 a.m.

Liberal

Brian Murphy Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Madam Speaker, the member will recall, even though he is the dean of the justice committee, that he has never brought a motion since I have been there to strike these ridiculous hyperbolic titles. Frankly, I was the first guy to strike the title, and that was a few bills ago. I think the message has been received by the Conservatives.

As I said, the only thing I agree with the Minister of Justice on is that debate on the title is silly. I would ask them, in their next bills, to stop bringing us silly titles. That was the message sent.

Unlike my friend from the NDP, we want some legislation to get through. We want it to get through. We have voted for some of this government legislation. Sometimes the NDP is so fixed on the position of being against everything that they do not know what they are for. What we are for is law and order.

I will pick the fight on the short titles with the right person at the right time. I am not going to fight with him on this.

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

10:55 a.m.

Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles
Québec

Conservative

Daniel Petit Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice

Madam Speaker, I have a simple question for my colleague.

The Liberal opposition has proposed an amendment to the bill. I would like my colleague to explain the whys and wherefores of the original bill and to do it in the simplest possible terms so that the public can understand why they want this amendment and what difference it makes to the original bill.

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

10:55 a.m.

Liberal

Brian Murphy Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Madam Speaker, the amendment, as I thought I covered in my speech, was an amendment to allow periods without eligibility to be given over to judicial discretion for the choice between 25 years and 50 years. The difference would be that a judge would be given the discretion to choose a period between 25 and 50 years. The bill, as it currently stands, chooses either 25 years or 50 years. The amendment was with regard to that issue.

I would say that the department did not look into this at all and that the government never thought of it at all, but after five years it rushes to the six o'clock news to say it is going to prevent Clifford Olson from getting out when he would never get out anyway.

The government did not do its homework to see if the bill could have this sliding discretion in it because judges, under judicial restraint in Quebec and in the rest of Canada, would choose 25 years instead of 50 years. They might have chosen something in between. It was a good amendment. The government should have crafted it in its bill, and it should do more homework.

Now the government has two parliamentary secretaries for justice. My friend is a very smart and capable man. I suggest that he be allowed to give some advice to the government, which is clearly not very interested in the substance of bills but very much interested in the shiny surface of them.

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

11 a.m.

Liberal

Alan Tonks York South—Weston, ON

Madam Speaker, my colleague talked about judicial discretion. My question relates to linking judicial discretion or restraint and rehabilitation. My colleague makes an excellent point with respect to the culture of penitentiary life, imprisonment, and the implications that has on those who are serving us as employees in these penitentiaries. He makes a very good point that under the circumstances they will feel very insecure with respect to their own personal safety.

If the amendment giving discretion to 35 years has been turned down by the committee and is not entrenched in the legislation, what can we do with respect to the issue that he has raised? If it is now only up to judges to apply a 25-year or a 50-year sentence, there still is no resolution to the issue of those who are entrusted with the security in those penitentiaries. Under those circumstances, there is nothing that would assuage their fears. I think the quality of their life and the life of victims needs to be balanced against the issue with respect to this legislation. For me and, I am sure, for those who are following this debate, they will be very concerned about this legislation as it relates to the security in the prisons.

Never mind whether those inmates actually get out or the Parole Board makes a decision with respect to allowing them parole, it is a question of the safety in the penitentiaries. What can be done to address that particular issue?

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

11 a.m.

Liberal

Brian Murphy Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Madam Speaker, under this legislation, nothing. The cake has been taken out of the oven and it is baked.

However, with respect to other measures, the Conservatives are the government. They can commit money to rehabilitation. What they seem to forget in everything they bring forward is that the incarcerated person is in prison and is facing good Canadian correctional officers. If the incarcerated person gets out, then they are in a community.

The member knows better than most as he was the chairman of the largest city in Canada, metro Toronto, and his father was the mayor of his city. He knows, like most municipal politicians, that issues such as this, offenders in the community, hit first up against municipal governments and the communities. Zoning applications are needed for halfway houses, for instance, enough police officers are needed and ensuring that correctional officials are minding the Parole Board officials to see where these people are. He knows more than most in this chamber about the real impact of offenders released and offenders within the facilities who have had no treatment.

The answer to his question is that not with this legislation and not with anything that I have seen from the government. However, surely it will get the message that people eventually get out of prison and that while they are in prison they better have had some treatment to make them better citizens so that public safety is enhanced. That is the real problem.

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

11:05 a.m.

Bloc

Serge Ménard Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Madam Speaker, I would like to say right away that we agree. This is a good bill and we will therefore vote in favour of it.

We feel that this is not at all the spirit that motivates the government. It is still motivated by the political benefit that can be derived. It is clear that this bill is being introduced for the second time so that the government can publicly state for the second time that it opposes sentence discounts. That is a disgraceful term to use in regard to our legal system and, besides, there is no truth to it. They want us to think a life sentence comes at a discount. It is not at a discount. Does someone have two lives if there are two victims? It is nonsense. Once again, they are taking their cue from the Americans, who have the ridiculous habit of imposing totally unrealistic sentences, such as 175 years in jail. For example, a lawyer told his client on leaving not to worry, he only had to do what he could.

The Conservatives are still using expressions that are pure propaganda. This title is pure propaganda. It is untrue. There are no sentence discounts for murder in Canada. It is true that there are multiple murders, but usually there is just one murder victim per person.

What we should remember is that, ultimately, this bill will not have much effect on the prison term that offenders serve because that decision—and this is why I think the bill is quite good—is made by the people who were there for the trial, that is to say, the judge and jury. At the end of a trial, the jury is asked whether it thinks the period of ineligibility for parole should be extended, in other words, the time until the offender can apply for it. The judge must take this opinion into account and give his reasons.

It would be better, as the hon. member for Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe suggested, if the judge had a bit more discretionary power to vary the sentence in some cases and did not have to decide between 25 and 50 years, as is currently the case. But it does not matter that much in the end. In any case, if the judge did not do it, the National Parole Board would ultimately take it into account.

We need to recognize that there are multiple murders that are less serious than single murders and there are single murders that are more serious than multiple murders. The existence of multiple victims is certainly one of the most important circumstances to be taken into account when a decision is made whether to grant parole. However, current events offer some glaring examples of this difference.

Members know that the man who was considered to be the leader of the Hells Angels, Maurice “Mom” Boucher, gave his permission to go after prison guards. He encouraged someone to go to prisons and kill two guards who were transporting prisoners. Two people showed up: one drove the motorcycle and the other was on the back. They killed the first prison guard. When they came around to kill the second, the gun jammed. Thus, Maurice “Mom” Boucher was found guilty of complicity in the murder of a single guard.

Consider another case from the news. Members will recall the horrific case in Saint-Jérôme last year of the young surgeon who was well loved in the community and deeply in love with his wife, also a doctor. When she left him, he killed their two children. That was obviously an act of desperation. One has to wonder why.

He absolutely deserves a sentence and should spend a considerable amount of time in prison. And he will, because in this case, he will not be able to apply for parole after 15 years; he will not be able to apply for 25 years because it was a multiple murder. However, it is clear that we do not need to treat the surgeon the same way as the leader of the Hells Angels, “Mom” Boucher.

There is another recent example. A poor, desperate family in Lac-Saint-Jean asked for help, but no one reached out. They eventually came to the horrible conclusion that life was not worth living, either for the parents or their children. They got enough medication to kill four people. They were eventually found in the house, and all of them were unconscious. Doctors were still able to save the woman. She survived and was charged with murdering her husband and two children, which makes sense. She was convicted. That said, there is a difference between this woman and “Mom” Boucher. Clearly, her behaviour was abnormal in psychiatric terms, but that does not justify what she did and did not render her incapable of making decisions. Consequently, it was not an admissible defence against criminal charges. But her actions were still not the same as those of “Mom” Boucher.

Think about the killer in Tucson and imagine if that happened here. In that case as well, there were multiple murders. That is very important. And there is the case of those who planted the bomb that exploded on the Air India flight. Clearly the fact that there are multiple murders will be taken into consideration by those who have to rule on parole. Obviously it is an important factor, but one that has been taken into consideration and always will be, even if this bill is not passed.

However, I see an improvement here. Currently, the decision is left up to the Parole Board concerning multiple murder cases. I think that the fact that, in future, the jury that heard the trial and the judge who will make the decision will be asked for their opinion is an improvement in the law.

Another case of appalling multiple murders is the case of Colonel Williams.

That said, in the language used by the government, a little rigour is needed. The current Minister of Justice is really not of the same calibre as many of his predecessors. He always manages to lower himself to the same level as an alley cat, with his political battles. He is in fact the one who is inspiring all these titles, which are more like propaganda slogans than informative titles for bills. Once again, he continues to show his contempt for judges and for the system. Using an expression like “sentence discounts” is, once again, an expression of his contempt in an effort to gain a slight political advantage, to show just how tough he is on crime. This is becoming a habit of his. I remember another bill the Conservatives loudly applauded that he called the “Ending House Arrest for...Serious and Violent Offenders Act”. No judge would ever allow serious and violent offenders to serve their sentences at home. It is already prohibited under existing legislation. The first criterion a judge must consider before allowing an offender to serve his sentence at home is the danger it would present to public safety.

In my opinion, if a serious and violent offender were to serve his sentence at home, that would pose a risk to public safety. So judges to do not impose such sentences.

The title of the bill clearly indicates that it is an insult to the judiciary. The member is laughing at us because we care about titles. Yes, we care about titles that are propaganda. Why does he use false propaganda in his bill titles? In my opinion, this shows once again that he has not achieved the same level of wisdom and excellence that previous justice ministers achieved—people like Guy Favreau, Pierre Elliott Trudeau and Mark MacGuigan, among others. He is not of the same calibre as his predecessors.

However, his bill does include one improvement, that is, the role of the judge and jury that heard the case. That is the only improvement it contains, but few changes were made.

In his arguments in favour of this legislation, the government member spoke of the victims who will have to continue attending National Parole Board hearings and listen to the account of the crimes of which their loved ones were the victims. A victim's family members are not required to attend these hearings. Usually half the victims decide to attend and the other half choose not to. However, there is nothing stopping those who decide not to attend from sharing their thoughts in writing or otherwise.

In that respect, there is a quick fix to all this. In fact, it might already be included in the law, but I am not sure whether this applies to Olson. Currently under the law, when someone sentenced to life in prison applies for parole before the end of his sentence—let us say that person is allowed to apply after serving 15 years—the jury making the decision on the initial application can effectively determine how long the offender will have to wait before he can apply for parole a second time. It seems to me this also applies to Olson, but perhaps not, since he has already served a minimum of 25 years. There simply needs to be a provision similar to the one that already exists under the law for those who apply 15 or 25 years after their prison term begins, in order for the jury to make its decision. In a case like Olson's, it is obvious. If ever Colonel Williams decided after 25 years to apply for parole every two years, all we would need is a provision whereby the jury hearing the initial application could determine how long Mr. Williams would have to wait before making another request. That way, the jury would lift this burden from the victims' families.

When we are dealing with this legislation it is important to remember that for the past 40 years in Canada, murderers have been serving the longest sentences. It is surprising to see that since the death penalty was abolished, murderers are serving much longer sentences than those served by murderers who had been sentenced to death, but whose sentence had been commuted. Before 1968, the average length of sentence served by murderers sentenced to death whose sentence was commuted was seven years. From 1968 to 1974, the average increased to 10 years. Since 1974 and with other reforms, the average has increased to 28.4 years. In civilized countries comparable to Canada—such as the United States—the average is roughly 15 years. For example, the average is 14 years in England and 12 years in Sweden.

When amendments were made in 1976, this information was used to establish that a decision to sentence a person to life in prison without any possibility of parole should potentially be reviewed after 15 years. Fifteen years was slightly longer than the average time frame in other civilized countries.

It is significant that Canada is the country with the longest time frame. It seems that the Conservatives' goal is to also make Canada one of the countries with the most severe sentences. I would like to remind members that we have a way to go before we catch up with the United States, the country that currently incarcerates the highest number of people, per capita, in the world. It used to be Russia, but the Americans now have a higher incarceration rate. The incarceration rate in the United States is currently seven times higher than in Canada.

Members have also spoken about the role and influence of the media. I would like to remind the media that they should perhaps be a bit more careful about criticizing court decisions. For example, the Parole Board of Canada has a gradual release program that involves sending offenders to halfway houses. There is only one difference between offenders' liberty in prison and their liberty in a halfway house: the halfway house does not have any walls, barbed wire or armed guards to ensure that offenders do not leave. However, as in prison, offenders living in a halfway house must eat when they are told, eat what they are given, do what they are told throughout the day, and live with other offenders. They are deprived of most of their freedom. After a time, these offenders may be allowed to have employment, but they have to work during the hours prescribed and they must return to and sleep at the halfway house. Little by little, offenders are given more freedom. It is important to understand that offenders who are released on parole do not have the freedom they had before they went to prison.

Newspapers generally refer to a change in status when an offender is released from prison. They say that the person has gained their freedom. That is false because it is a very limited freedom. This needs to be taken into consideration. The expense is an important consideration because the average cost of keeping an offender in prison is $110,000 compared to $30,000 if they are in a halfway house. It is possible to restrict the freedom of a good number of offenders who are not dangerous enough to be kept in the traditional maximum security setting of a prison.

In committee, we finally managed to impose an amendment on the government. It should be very clear that the opposition members find it an outright insult that judges must provide written or oral reasons for their decision in the event that they refuse to impose the most severe measure. It is customary for judges to provide reasons for their decisions in one way or another, but why impose an additional requirement if a specific measure is not applied?

This is in the same vein as the titles of laws implying that, in Canada, we give sentence discounts, as if there were sales on goodness knows what, or that judges allow serious and violent offenders to serve their sentences in the community, even though this is prohibited by law.

It is always the same story. This is something new for the Conservative Party. I do not believe that former Prime Ministers Joe Clark or Brian Mulroney adopted this habit of scoring political points at the expense of judges or the parole system.

We have had many intelligent discussions in Parliament about the role of parole. The fact remains that the parole system has been of great benefit in dealing with crime.

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

11:25 a.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Madam Speaker, I would like to hear my colleague expand on what he was saying.

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

11:25 a.m.

Bloc

Serge Ménard Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Madam Speaker, the Conservative government decided to score political points by blaming judges and jury rulings, which I think is shameful. But that is not why I am a sovereignist. I am not condemning how things are done in the criminal justice system. I still think that Canada is a civilized country and we inspire many other countries that wish to achieve a level of civilization similar to what we have achieved. The Conservatives should be ashamed of themselves for acting that way.

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

11:25 a.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Madam Speaker, I wonder if my colleague believes that it is possible to introduce a bill that differentiates between murders committed by a family member or friend of the victim and murders committed by people like Mr. Olson, Mr. Pickton or Mr. Bernardo, who all committed multiple murders? Would it be possible to have a bill that stipulates that if someone commits a crime like Mr. Olson's, he will be incarcerated for life, without any possibility of parole?

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

11:25 a.m.

Bloc

Serge Ménard Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Madam Speaker, we do not need a bill to obtain such a result. Let us allow the system to work the way it is currently working. People like Clifford Olson and Colonel Williams will not be granted parole. Some American states can render decisions in which there is no possibility of parole, and I do not think that they are achieving better results than we are. These states are driving up the homicide rate in the United States. The overall homicide rate in the United States is three and a half times higher than in Canada, and surely it is even higher than that in the specific states in question.

I do not believe that this bill is necessary but I am not against it either. It is not a bad idea to have the judge and jury who heard the case determine when an offender can apply for parole.

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

11:25 a.m.

NDP

Carol Hughes Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, ON

Madam Speaker, in his speech, the Conservative member said that it would be up to the judges to give their reasons for the decision to not give such a sentence to an offender. Does my Bloc colleague think that the judge should be responsible for explaining why such a sentence was not imposed?

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

11:30 a.m.

Bloc

Serge Ménard Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Madam Speaker, it makes sense for the judge to give the reasons for making this very important decision on whether to extend the parole ineligibility period. Either way, it is a good thing for the judge to give the reasons because this is an extremely important decision. The Conservatives' attitude sort of blames the judge, who is required to explain why he is not handing down the harshest sentence. Once again, the Conservatives should be ashamed of themselves.

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

11:30 a.m.

Liberal

Derek Lee Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Madam Speaker, we are debating Bill C-48 today, which is a short bill thankfully, but the topic is interesting. This legislation deals with what would happen following a conviction for first degree murder for those who are--

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

11:30 a.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker Denise Savoie

I regret to interrupt the hon. member for Scarborough--Rouge River. I erred. The hon. member for Windsor--Tecumseh was standing and he would be in order of priority. I regret that error.

The hon. member for Windsor--Tecumseh has the floor. I apologize.