House of Commons Hansard #130 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was offenders.

Topics

Funding Application for KAIROS
Points of Order
Routine Proceedings

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

Bob Rae Toronto Centre, ON

I am sorry, it is. I can show you the transcript, Mr. Speaker. It is a completely different explanation.

The minister has to explain how it would be that three signatures would appear on a document, all of which would appear to be agreeing with the “not” when, in fact, the minister is stating today that two of the officials did not agree with the decision she has made.

Funding Application for KAIROS
Points of Order
Routine Proceedings

3:15 p.m.

Ottawa West—Nepean
Ontario

Conservative

John Baird Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, in response to the comments of my friend from Toronto Centre, the minister has indicated that there was a “not” on the document. It was a way to agree but not to disagree, so she made that change. In the very best traditions of the House, her statement is strong, unequivocal and it speaks for itself.

Funding Application for KAIROS
Points of Order
Routine Proceedings

3:20 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

I do not think it is the time for questions. In any event, the minister has made a statement to clarify the position. Obviously the committee still has the material before it or has been looking at the material. It could be pursued there or in question period tomorrow. However, I think that is the appropriate thing to do if there are to be questions on this issue. Submissions on a point of order are one thing, but questions, in my view, are another.

Funding Application for KAIROS
Points of Order
Routine Proceedings

3:20 p.m.

NDP

Nathan Cullen Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am a bit confused. In terms of the minister's response, what is most critical in this statement is the funding that was serving some 5.4 million in Canadian aid in foreign countries.

The question is this. Mr. Speaker, you have admonished the minister for potentially misleading the House. She has just now not only reiterated that it was not her fault, that in fact the “not” that was put in and the signatures that were then placed on top of it was entirely her own doing.

In your ruling, Mr. Speaker, and in seeking for clarity in this place which we all require is that the minister be forthcoming. Yet today, again, we have an apology that is not an apology. We have an excuse that is not an excuse.

Funding Application for KAIROS
Points of Order
Routine Proceedings

3:20 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

I would suggest the hon. member perhaps read it over. I think the minister did say that she instructed the “not” to be put there and then signed the document. The member can check her wording. I do not think a dispute like that is something the Speaker is going to settle.

I made no ruling that said there was a breach of privilege in this case. I said the contrary in my ruling. Hon. members can check out the words of the ruling.

The minister has offered some clarification, and I think it can be taken as that. If members have other questions about it, they can ask the questions either in the committee or in question period. I am sure the minister will answer.

I think that solves the matter for the moment.

The House resumed consideration of the motion.

Disposition of Abolition of Early Parole Act
Government Orders

3:20 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

When this matter was last before the House, the hon. member for Abbotsford had the floor. There are four minutes remaining in the time allotted for his remarks.

I therefore call upon the hon. member for Abbotsford.

Disposition of Abolition of Early Parole Act
Government Orders

3:20 p.m.

Conservative

Ed Fast Abbotsford, BC

Mr. Speaker, before question period, I was highlighting the many different initiatives our Conservative government had taken since 2006 to make our communities safer, such as bills that strengthen our justice system and efforts to put more police officers on the streets and the funding that is required for that.

I also talked about the bill before us regarding accelerated parole review and looking to eliminate because of serious concerns that Canadian citizens have expressed.

I have discussed the first difference between an accelerated parole review process and a regular parole review process. I would like to now talk about the other two. Let us look at the second major difference.

For most offenders, applying for parole means attending a parole review hearing in person. They must appear before the Parole Board and persuade it that they are ready to live in society as law-abiding citizens. It is quite different for white-collar and other non-violent offenders. That process involves only paperwork. The reviews are done on paper. There are no hearings for the individuals to attend. There is no need for offenders to plead their cases to officials face to face. Again, this is akin to a two-tiered system.

We are telling these offenders and all Canadians that fraud and white-collar crime really is not so bad, that stealing hundreds of thousands and, in some cases, millions of dollars from hard-working Canadians is not such a serious crime. This is unfair to victims. Canadians who have lost their retirement savings are telling us to make changes to the system. That is exactly what we are doing.

Finally, I come to the third key difference between an accelerated parole review and regular day parole. It is perhaps the most shocking one.

As I mentioned at the very beginning of my speech, under accelerated parole first-time offenders convicted of fraud can apply for day parole after serving just one-sixth of their sentence. They can then apply for full parole after serving only one-third of their sentence.

Allow me to do the math on this. Someone convicted of 12 years in prison for defrauding seniors, for example, can apply for day parole after serving only two years in jail. Canadians are shocked. Individuals and families who have lost their retirement savings, their nest eggs, cannot recoup those loses in only two years. In many cases, the loss can be a devastating blow that tears families and relationships apart. Two years later, they continue to struggle with the significant impact of the crime, while the offender is now able to apply for day parole.

How does this compare with the system currently in place for regular day parole? These offenders can only apply for day parole six months before they are eligible for full parole. This means they have to serve almost one-third of their sentence before they can even apply for day parole. It is only fair that non-violent white-collar offenders have to wait the same amount of time before applying for parole.

Therefore, by amending the Corrections and Conditional Release Act, we are recognizing the severity of white-collar and other non-violent crimes and ensuring that the Parole Board of Canada applies the same rules to all criminals. We are sending a message to those who plan to defraud Canadians out of their hard-earned money that they will face the same system of justice as everyone else.

It is time we abolish accelerated parole review and ensure that the time spent in prison fits the crime. That is what Canadians have asked us to do and we are delivering.

I call on my colleagues in the House to work together to ensure the swift passage of Bill C-59.

Disposition of Abolition of Early Parole Act
Government Orders

3:25 p.m.

Liberal

Mark Holland Ajax—Pickering, ON

Mr. Speaker, the first question I have for the member is this. At the justice committee two years ago, why did the Conservatives not support the amendments we put forward to ensure that those who were large scale white-collar criminals would not have the accelerated parole review provision at their disposal?

Second, if he wants to close debate and have no discussion, what are the costs? How much will this cost? Could he give us those figures and, if not, how on earth can we be asked to vote blind?

Third, I agree we have to eliminate the accelerated parole review process for large scale fraudsters. However, the fact is all evidence has shown that for individuals who are first-time non-violent offenders the process helps with rehabilitation and actually makes communities safer. Given that, can the member demonstrate any evidence, and by “any” I mean of any kind, that shows eliminating it will actually make communities demonstrably safer? In fact, I can offer many examples of the exact opposite. Therefore, could he offer one scientific study, or one jurisdiction or one example where this has worked? I can give boatloads of evidence to the contrary.

Disposition of Abolition of Early Parole Act
Government Orders

3:25 p.m.

Conservative

Ed Fast Abbotsford, BC

Mr. Speaker, the member has asked three different questions. I do not think we have time to answer all of them, but it bears noting he is a member of a party that has consistently preferred the rights of criminals over the rights of victims.

Time and time again, I listen to Liberal members talk on our criminal justice bills and virtually never do we hear the word “victim” used. This Conservative government is here to stand up for victims and to protect victims of crime.

The member suggested that somehow removing early parole makes communities safer. That is hogwash. When we incapacitate serious criminals such as the Earl Joneses of this world who want to defraud seniors of their life savings, when we take them out of our communities for longer periods of time, our communities are, by definition, safer.

Disposition of Abolition of Early Parole Act
Government Orders

3:25 p.m.

NDP

Nathan Cullen Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, the premise from the New Democrats' perspective is a bill designed to go after Mr. Jones, or Vincent Lacroix , or others. As we have done before in the Karla Homolka case, the House can design something to make sure that a specific thing does not happen such as Earl Jones getting out on early release or parole after serving one-sixth of the sentence that my colleague talked about.

The problem with the bill the government has presented today is the process it is using which is closure, shutting down debate. Any testimony or witnesses have been restricted dramatically. Also, this will affect more than 1,000 people a year and we do not know the effect that will have because the government has not supplied us with any information.

The New Democrats are interested in dealing with the government on the principle of the bill, removing early parole and early sentence release, but we have reservations about the process that is being used. Closure is the most dramatic procedure that can be used in the parliamentary system. The government is ramming the bill through, closing off debate, allowing no witnesses or testimony. Can my colleague understand that?

Can he understand why this is an abhorrent form of governance? This is the thing we fight against, which his party fought against before. There are many quotations from former Conservative-Alliance members criticizing the then Liberal government for using closure. I am sure my hon. colleague actually spoke against this very procedure being used in the House.

Disposition of Abolition of Early Parole Act
Government Orders

3:30 p.m.

Conservative

Ed Fast Abbotsford, BC

Mr. Speaker, I do not believe Canadians will take any lessons from the NDP on how to protect communities and get tough on crime.

As chair of the justice committee, I can say that the New Democrats oppose our efforts to get tough on drug-related crimes. They oppose our efforts to get tough on sexual crimes against children. They oppose mandatory sentences on the most prolific and dangerous offenders in our communities.

This is an effort on the part of the NDP and the Liberals to delay this legislation, which would allow people like Earl Jones to get out on accelerated release. That is exactly why we want this legislation to pass now, not six months from now.

We are getting the job done. We are standing up for the victims of crime in Canada and our Conservative government will continue to seek new ways to protect Canadians against violent as well as non-violent crimes, including fraud.

Disposition of Abolition of Early Parole Act
Government Orders

3:30 p.m.

Liberal

Mark Holland Ajax—Pickering, ON

Mr. Speaker, particularly after the last intervention we should take a look at the history of this matter.

The reality is that more than two years ago at the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights Liberal members moved amendments that would see the accelerated parole review eliminated in cases where there was large-scale white collar crime. We would make sure it would be eliminated for large-scale fraudsters. We pushed for that two years ago. We said those changes were important and we were ignored.

Some long period of time later an omnibus bill dealing with a whole host of matters was brought forward to the Standing Committee on Public Safety. I have heard several times today Conservative members stand in their place and talk about how the public safety committee delayed the bill. Here is the truth. Government members had every opportunity to bring that bill forward, but they did not do that. In point of fact, when they were given the opportunity with more than half the days to advance the bills they wanted to, the bill never made their list. Never once in committee did Conservative members talk about the urgent and sudden need for the bill.

What changed? Mr. Lacroix was let out. Something that should have been dealt with a couple of years ago was not. Mr. Lacroix was released. The government was caught with its pants down by not acting. Suddenly there was a flurry of interest. We had to fix it and we had to fix it now. No questions were to be asked. As a result of the government dropping the ball, it told us that the bill was to be passed overnight.

Good legislation is not written on the back of napkins. Good legislation is not rammed through in a few hours with little consideration to its outcome or impact. The decisions that we make in the House have profound and lasting implications not just on community safety, but also on the budgetary capacity of this country.

With respect to this bill, the notion that we would engage closure, that we would shut down debate when the government has refused to act for so long, is reprehensible.

To the Bloc Québécois members who say we have to do this right now because of Earl Jones, that we only have two months to act, I can tell them that Mr. Jones would not be eligible for these provisions until some years from now. These considerations are electoral and political. They are not in any way based on some urgent need to fix the situation with Mr. Jones.

I said we stand firm on the principle that for large-scale fraudsters these provisions should not be in place. But it is worth mentioning why this provision exists in the first place.

One of the reasons accelerated parole review was brought in was that it is so costly to look at the alternative. We have to remember that we are talking about first time, non-violent offenders.

According to Correctional Services Canada's data, in 2006-07 the cost on average of incarcerating somebody was $93,000. The cost can range from about $85,000 to a high of about $160,000, but the median is $93,000. The cost of conditional release is $23,000. That is a difference of some $70,000 a year per offender.

If we are going to toss out conditional release in these instances, we had better be pretty darned sure we are getting a good result, that we are appreciably making a difference in improving community safety.

Yet when we look at Correctional Services documents around why it says that accelerated parole review is actually needed it says:

The intent of Accelerated parole review is to provide for formal recognition in law that non-violent and violent offenders should not be subject to the same conditional release process.

It also states:

The main focus of APR was to address public safety and reintegration. It was designed to ensure that lower risk offenders were released at the earliest possible date in their sentence to allow the Correctional Service and the National Parole Board additional time for dealing with more serious offenders.

Studies have shown there is a tendency for low risk offenders to be negatively impacted by the prison experience. In other words, changing this would not only cost more than $70,000 for every inmate but, according to Correctional Services Canada and according to all data I have been able to see on this, for first time non-violent offenders, incarceration is the worst place to go for protracted periods of time.

We would end up putting a minor criminal who has had that first interaction with the law in for a protracted period of incarceration and turn out a major criminal. We are turning our prisons into crime factories.

If this were some debate in the abstract, some debate where we were debating philosophical differences, unsure of the outcomes of what we were talking about, this difference could be intellectually tolerated. In point of fact, this plan has been tried before. I am going to come to that point in a minute, but before I do want to look at some of the other ways.

It is really interesting that the government has invoked closure on a motion to ram the bill through when there are so many other elements dealing with white collar crime that it refuses to act upon. Not only did it refuse two years ago to act on our move to end it when it came to serious white collar crime, but it made cuts to the RCMP task force on white collar crime.

I had interviews today about cuts that have been made to the national police service, in general. At the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security, we recently made improvements to the sex offender registry. Yet, we find now that the federal government is throwing more of the burden of funding things such as the national sex offender registry and funding for the RCMP task force on white collar crime to the RCMP, so that the RCMP is having to cut from its services to make up from the shortfall and cuts that are being made by the federal government.

The government is waving around a big stick, saying how tough it is by moving a bill like this one, and at the same time, it is cutting things that actually stop these crimes from happening. How crazy is that? Basically, this is a government that is slashing from the things that stop the crimes, slashing from the things that stop there being victims in the first place and then loading it all up on the back end, throwing them all in jail and allowing the problem to get worse.

This is what is so offensive about the Conservatives standing and saying that the different opposition parties do not talk enough about victims. Do they not realize that if we had less crime, we would have fewer victims? I did not think that was something that we had to spell out or put on paper. Is there not an understanding that if we invest in things like prevention, or if we invest in the RCMP white collar task force on crime, or if we invest in the things that actually stop crimes before they happen, we have fewer victims?

Let us think about this. If we have fewer people in prison, we ultimately have a safer society because there are fewer criminals, and fewer criminals mean less crime.

What I find particularly concerning about this is that there is another bill that we have been dealing with for a long time, on lawful access. The House has been saying for years that we need to modernize our laws to allow law enforcement agencies to go after criminals who are conducting business through electronic media. Technology has changed dramatically but our legislation has not. Police officers have been begging for these tools. Yet, bill after bill gets killed by prorogation, by election, and it continues to languish here--

Disposition of Abolition of Early Parole Act
Government Orders

3:35 p.m.

Conservative

Lee Richardson Calgary Centre, AB

By the Liberals.

Disposition of Abolition of Early Parole Act
Government Orders

3:35 p.m.

Liberal

Mark Holland Ajax—Pickering, ON

Somebody said, “by the Liberals”. I would ask the member to take a look at it because we have been begging for this bill to come forward. It was a prorogation by the Conservatives that killed it not once, but twice. We have now been waiting for over a year for that bill to come back.

Police beg for those tools that are important to go after large-scale fraud and other crimes committed online, yet no priority is assigned to that whatsoever.

One of the most fundamental things in a bill, particularly when we are asked to vote on it on the spot, overnight, at lightning speed, is what is the cost? What is the financial implication of the bill before us?

It would shock Canadians to know that the House is being asked to vote on a bill that has had no cost analysis done on it whatsoever.

The Conservatives say not to worry about the cost, that it is manageable, that we should just trust them.

I remember when the House was told that before on a crime bill. I remember the minister standing in his place, talking about the fact that a bill was going to cost $90 million. That was the two-for-one remand credit. The House was told that over a five-year period the cost would be about $90 million.

That did not sound right to me. I called the Parliamentary Budget Officer and after conversations, I made a formal request for the real costs to be analyzed.

When the Parliamentary Budget Officer agreed to do a study on the costs of not only that bill but the overall crime agenda, suddenly the minister said that he had made a mistake, that the cost was not $90 million but $2 billion. That is not a little wrong, that is a universe wrong. However, after eight months of blocking him from getting information and not releasing data, the cost was not $2 billion but $10 billion to $13 billion.

We could just keep ramming these bills through and not think about them. The net result would be exactly what happened to California, a state that is nearly bankrupt, that has no money for health care, education or infrastructure and is ravaged by the impacts of these policies.

We cannot ask Parliament to vote with a blindfold on. We cannot tell Parliament to swallow whatever bill is thrown in front of it because there are some lines we want to use or some politics we want to play. If we are going to make intelligent decisions as a House, we need to have real and honest information.

That brings me to the second point. The Conservatives say that there is no cost that is too great, that it does not matter how much it costs, that we need to vote for it because it will make us safer. All evidence says the opposite. This stuff does not make us safer. In point of fact, it makes us much less safe.

If we look at statistics on rehabilitation, and we are again talking about first-time non-violent offenders, all statistics from anywhere in the world tell us that things like conditional release lead to lower reoffending rates. So that I can do the math for Conservatives who will stand and attack me for not talking about victims, lower reoffending rates mean less victims, lower reoffending rates mean less crime, lower reoffending rates mean there is less victimization. We can play games with it but the point we are driving at is that we want a safer society, one where there are less victims and less victimization.

Again, I am not talking about Earl Jones. We have already agreed that for large scale fraudsters this should be off the table. That was proposed two years ago, if members will remember. What we are talking about is for the more minor offenders. The path to ensuring they do not reoffend and that they get back on track as good taxpaying citizens who contribute to their communities and societies does not occur through long periods of incarceration.

Let us look at some real world examples. Let us take a look at the father of this whole prison punishment agenda, Newt Gingrich. He gave birth to this particular philosophy and agenda. What is he saying now? In an article in The Washington Post dated January 7, 2011, he states:

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 per cent 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....

Mr. Gingrich goes on to say:

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 per cent, while New York's decreased 16 per cent. 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.

As stewards of the nation's dollars and as stewards of public safety more broadly, is that not the objective? Are we in this House not charged with facilitating public safety and to do it in the most cost effective, intelligent way possible?

We all agree on this. I cannot out-punish the Conservatives but if we take that logic to its ultimate conclusion, where does it go? The Conservatives stand in the House and say that they are tougher and harder. Keep taking it out and where does it go? Where does it end? Punishment should not be at the heart of our agenda. What should be at the heart of our agenda is public safety, effective public policy and wise and prudent use of public dollars.

In the United Kingdom it is the Conservatives who are now undoing this type of punishment, this backward agenda that I have been talking about. In the United Kingdom I recently met with a delegation that came over to study Canada's low crime rate and, simultaneously, low incarceration rate. They were here to emulate that. They saw it as something to look to like a beacon to copy and emulate. When they got here they were shocked when they found out that we were tossing it all in the garbage and that we were chasing the very thing they were trying to run away from.

One of the people in the delegation said to me, “My God. Do not do it. It is so hard to undo”. As the United Kingdom now tries to undo that, it is finding enormous difficulty reversing the course because once all of those new prisons are built and all of those new costs borne, the cost of providing effective programming and effective rehabilitation is very low. Instead of focusing it on violent offenders and using incarceration to protect society, there is now a catch-all with prisons that are overflowing and bursting at the seams, situations like that of California where the Supreme Court of California had to release 4,000 inmates onto the street because there was no more room for them. Everybody is tossed into a giant pot with no money to make them better and with populations ever-growing because it feeds itself like a giant beast. In fact, in California it has seen the rate of recidivism now cross over 70%. Is this what we want to emulate?

We can look at states like Texas that is now reversing these policies. We have to scratch our heads and wonder why Canada, alone in the world, is chasing after this Californian disaster. Why, when the rest of the world has recognized that it does not work, do we keep running after it at full pace, with abandon, without asking any questions? Why are we moving things like closure motions to say how dare we even have a debate about what is best or how we best move forward, where debate, instead of being an honest exchange of ideas where we say that we are concerned with people like Earl Jones and we do not want him to get an early pardon, how do we achieve that mutually and in a bipartisan way? Instead, that debate of honest concerns about the bill, honest desire to have dialogue, is made farcical.

We are attacked as if somehow we want to release Earl Jones, even though we do not. I have come to the conclusion that the desire is not for good legislation. The desire is to play politics. It is almost as if there is a nascent desire on the part of the other side, hoping that we will vote against it because there are so many egregious problems within the bill. They hope to create some kind of political caricature instead of actually addressing the major issues that are important and where there lies common ground.

Soon this bill will have the opportunity to go before committee. I implore members of the Bloc Québécois, who have been deliberate and largely intelligent and thoughtful on these bills, to take a moment to think about what is being passed and to join with us in saying that amendments probably will be necessary to be sure that we do not ensnarl a whole bunch of other people who are not intended in this process, but to go after a problem that is legitimate and does need to be fixed.

It is not us saying this. It is not the rest of the world recalling a disaster. Even here in Canada, churches from coast to coast have united in condemning these types of bills.

Health care providers have come forward and have unanimously condemned these bills. People on the front lines of rehabilitation who actually making people better are asking not to do this.

The bottom line is that we cannot vote in the dark. We should not be forced to vote for things that we already know will not work. Where there is consensus, let us be honest about the consensus and focus the debate on real differences.