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 parole.

Topics

Disposition of Abolition of Early Parole Act
Government Orders

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

Harold Albrecht Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Madam Speaker, in the earlier part of his speech, the previous speaker said something about differentiating between major crimes and minor crimes and not putting people who are so-called guilty of minor crimes in prison with the people who commit major crimes.

Does the member not consider people who lose their entire life savings to be victims of a very major crime?

Disposition of Abolition of Early Parole Act
Government Orders

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

Mark Holland Ajax—Pickering, ON

Madam Speaker, if the member had listened to my comments, he would have heard yes, absolutely, which is why two years ago we said that we must fix this, that we must end it.

For people, like Mr. Jones, who are large scale fraudsters, let us end this. We have been pre-eminently clear on this point for several years now, ever since it was first raised as a concern. I think our biggest concern is that it has taken this long to actually address it.

My problem is that I was reading about other criminals. I was reading from a Correctional Service Canada document that was talking about the implications and importance of the accelerated parole review for first-time non-violent offenders. For the member's edification, I will re-read the particular quote. It reads, “The main focus of APR was to address public safety and reintegration” by enabling Correctional Service Canada and the National Parole Board to focus their attention on dangerous offenders at a high risk of re-offending. Studies have shown that there is a tendency for low risk offenders to be negatively impacted by the prison experience.

Therefore, for large-scale offenders, absolutely. For others, where all evidence shows us that in fact longer periods of incarceration do nothing other than create more crime and less safe communities, no.

Disposition of Abolition of Early Parole Act
Government Orders

3:50 p.m.

Bloc

André Bellavance Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

Madam Speaker, the Liberal member who just spoke always defends his opinions very fervently. He is often very convincing but, this time, he has convinced me of the Liberal Party's inconsistency on this issue.

In September 2009, the Bloc Québécois introduced Bill C-434 on the abolition of automatic parole after one-sixth of a sentence is served. We asked for the unanimous consent of the House. The Liberals and the NDP supported us but the Conservatives did not. We reiterated this request on March 4, 2010. Once again, the Liberals and the NDP supported our request but the Conservatives did not.

Now, just when we have managed to convince the Conservatives, all of a sudden, the other two parties have done an about-face for all sorts of reasons. The hon. member has presented arguments. He said that it will cost a lot of money to keep certain people in prison. Why were these arguments not discussed in the House when we asked for unanimous consent and obtained their support?

Everyone agrees that we must abolish automatic parole after one-sixth of a sentence is served; however, for reasons I do not understand, things have changed. I would like the hon. member to explain to me why, all of a sudden, they no longer agree with this.

Disposition of Abolition of Early Parole Act
Government Orders

3:55 p.m.

Liberal

Mark Holland Ajax—Pickering, ON

Madam Speaker, first of all, if the Bloc Québécois wants to work with the Liberal Party, it needs to talk to us. The discussions between the Conservative Party and the Bloc Québécois were held in secret. The Liberal Party did not have a chance to talk to the Bloc Québécois. If we had had the chance to do so, I would have certainly said that it is very important to resolve issues like the cases of Vincent Lacroix and Earl Jones, who committed very serious crimes. It is clear that there is a consensus there.

However, I would like to point out that there are a number of people who commit less serious crimes and we must therefore keep the existing process and ensure that our rehabilitation system is working properly. They should work with us and if there are things that are not working properly, the bill can be amended in committee.

Disposition of Abolition of Early Parole Act
Government Orders

3:55 p.m.

NDP

Nathan Cullen Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Madam Speaker, the argument of the Conservatives to this point is that there is a great need for urgency. This is why they are doing this super closure motion that denies all debate. It does not allow parliamentarians to do the very thing we are in the House to do, which is to scrutinize laws and try to understand their implications.

When we have asked government members for evidence on costing, on how many criminals we are talking about and who they are, they come back with PMO spin lines, which is not very much of a debate at all.

The other argument is the government blames the opposition for any delays that may have happened. However, the bill was killed twice at the government's own hands. Every time it kills it, it adds another 6, 12, 18 months to the whole process. Yet the government pretends that those prorogations, that shutting down and locking of the doors of Parliament, never happened. On the argument of urgency, obviously this was not urgent for the government because it killed it twice.

The argument of efficacy is that this will do something to better Canadians and stop the Earl Joneses of the world. It is too late to stop Lacroix because he has already been released. The Conservatives say that the effectiveness of this bill will somehow be everything that Canadians need with respect to white-collar crime.

On both of those arguments, we have asked the government members time and again to give us some shred of evidence that the urgency is needed now, that we must ram this through without debate, or that when this does come into law, it will actually do what the government promises to do.

My colleague sits on the committee. Has evidence been brought forward that proves this must happen now? If the bill does come into law, because of the new coalition arrangement between the Bloc and the Conservatives, will it somehow stop the Earl Joneses of the future from doing what he did to our pensioners?

Disposition of Abolition of Early Parole Act
Government Orders

3:55 p.m.

Liberal

Mark Holland Ajax—Pickering, ON

Madam Speaker, the hon. member's questions are extremely important questions.

The reality is the Bloc and Conservative members went off to negotiate and conjured up some deal that did not include the rest of the parties. They then stormed out the doors and said that the bill needed to be passed now, that there was no time to think, just ram it through and off we go. This is particularly curious, given the fact that there has been a long-standing debate on this.

One of the Bloc members quite rightfully pointed out that the House had dealt with the issue before. Many times it was brought up by us, including at committee, to try to stop people like Mr. Lacroix from getting out.

As I said earlier, the truth is the Conservatives were caught with their pants down. They did not fix this. They did not listen to recommendations made in justice committee or in the House to shut down these provisions for large scale fraudsters. Now they are embarrassed by it and are trying to ram something through overnight. This is about politics. The idea we have to do this overnight is a sudden urgency that has appeared out of nowhere.

As I have said, the bill has been languishing without the government making any effort to push it forward until the Lacroix case came forth.

What I find particularly disturbing is this. I hope at some point in the debate a member from the Conservatives will say something other than he or she is too busy to answer questions.

We want to know some very basic stuff. First, how much will this cost? Give us the breakdown and show us an analysis of where those costs come from. Second, from a perspective of rehabilitation, show us an analysis that the government has done that shows how this will demonstrably improve public safety. If it cannot do either of those, then perhaps it is time for it to consider how fast it is trying to move the bill.

Disposition of Abolition of Early Parole Act
Government Orders

4 p.m.

Liberal

Andrew Kania Brampton West, ON

Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague for standing up for recent analysis and reasonable criminal justice legislation. He is the subject matter of personal attacks almost every day in the House of Commons because the government refuses to answer in a logical and lucid manner.

I would like to ask him about Bill C-21. In the justice committee last fall, Liberal amendments were put forward that if passed and accepted, would have eliminated the one-sixth accelerated parole review. In fact, Mr. Lacroix would not have been released if the Conservatives and the Bloc had not voted to defeat those amendments. The fact is both parties are arguing for closure today for Bill C-59, which only went through first reading on February 9, Would my colleague to comment upon that logic and consistency?

Disposition of Abolition of Early Parole Act
Government Orders

4 p.m.

Liberal

Mark Holland Ajax—Pickering, ON

Madam Speaker, the hon. member is absolutely right. We need honesty in this debate. If there was an honest interest in blocking someone like Earl Jones from getting access to accelerated parole, after we introduced the idea two years ago, the Conservatives could have come to us and said that they agreed with us and that we should try to make it happen. We would have said “of course”.

However, the Conservatives did not choose that course of action. They decided to go to the Bloc Québécois. Instead of getting rid of it for the cases they are talking about, they are getting rid of it in every instance. Therefore, we are now put into this situation where Bloc members are adopting something I am not even sure they have fully thought out. Perhaps they have been duped by the Conservatives.

This needs a bit more time than it is being afforded in the House today.

Disposition of Abolition of Early Parole Act
Government Orders

4 p.m.

Conservative

Harold Albrecht Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to join in the debate today and to support the motion before us. I am splitting my time with the member for Brant.

I listened with great interest to the comments of several of our hon. members and I appreciate this opportunity to set the record straight on a number of fronts. Some of our colleagues today suggest that the motion before us is somehow not in the best interest of a free and open debate. The implication is that our government is not listening to Canadians, that we are just moving forward without time to hear what people are telling us.

That is patently false. Canadians have spoken loud and clear since our government was first elected, and our government is listening. Canadians have told us that they want us to take action to keep our streets and our communities safe. Our government has delivered on our commitment to build safer communities in a number of different ways.

Canadians have told us that they want us to work together to get tough on crime. Again, our government has listened and we have introduced and passed a wide range of bills to deliver on our commitment to get tough on crime.

Canadians have told us that they want a justice system that will work the way it should. Again, our government is taking action to ensure that it does. That includes keeping dangerous offenders behind bars, not releasing them into the streets automatically before they are ready. That is why we have introduced new laws to end early parole for offences of murder and to prevent potentially dangerous offenders from serving their sentences in their homes.

Previously, there was a practice for offenders to be granted extra credit for the length of their sentences for time they had served before or during their trial. That was not acceptable to many Canadians, and our government is listening. That is why we have delivered legislation that limits credit for time served in pre-sentence custody.

We have also introduced legislation to tackle property crime, including the serious of crimes of auto theft and trafficking in property obtained by crime. I am proud to note that our government has passed legislation to help reform the pardon system. In particular, we have ensured that the Parole Board of Canada has the discretion it needs to determine whether granting a pardon would bring the administration of justice into disrepute.

In addition, our government has passed legislation to strengthen the National Sex Offender Registry and the National DNA Data Bank so all sex offenders are registered. After all, our government has taken significant action that achieves results in tackling crime in our communities, and we will continue to do more.

We are doing more because that is what Canadians have told us they need. They want a government that listens. Our government has. They want a government that takes decisive action. Our government has done just that, and that is what we are doing again today.

We have heard for several years that many Canadians want to do away with the current system of accelerated parole review. We have heard it from victims of crime and other white-collar crimes, many of whom have seen their entire life savings disappear in the blink of an eye. Many Canadians are outraged that fraudsters, con artists and swindlers can be reviewed for parole after serving just one-sixth of their sentence. Many Canadians ask why offenders should be treated differently from others just because they use a balance sheet rather than a gun as a weapon.

Canadians want answers. They want us to listen and, most of all, they want us to take action today. They do not want us to take action next year. They do not want us to delay taking action. The truth is all of us know what needs to be done. Canadians want results, and, again, our government is listening and taking action. Bill C-59 is all about that. It is about standing up for victims, and that includes victims of white-collar crimes and fraud.

Today, someone who commits fraud, in other words, someone who preys on hard-working, law-abiding Canadians and perhaps swindles their life savings from them is treated differently from other offenders. These offenders receive what sounds like a stiff sentence, but the sentence does not always reflect the amount of time an offender will actually spend in prison.

Today, a white-collar criminal might receive a sentence of 12 years, or perhaps in some cases more, but the reality is many are released on parole before other offenders who might receive a similar sentence.

Unlike other offenders who are generally eligible for day parole six months before full parole, white-collar or non-violent criminals can be free just after a few months in some cases. The general rule of thumb is they can access a process called accelerated parole review after serving one-sixth of their sentence and full parole after one-third of their sentence.

What makes the review process expedited is that these accelerated parole reviews are accomplished through a paper review by the National Parole Board of Canada, whereas regular parole reviews are normally done by way of a hearing in person. The test for accelerated parole review is also lower.

The National Parole Board of Canada only has to have reasonable grounds to believe that the offender will not commit a violent offence, whereas with other offenders the test is whether the person is an undue risk to commit any type of crime upon release.

The bottom line is that the parole board, when dealing with these cases, has limited discretion. The test is whether someone is going to commit a violent offence.

Even if the parole board believes someone will commit another fraud, the board is still compelled to release that individual under supervision at one-sixth of the sentence. That means in many cases people who are convicted of crimes that have had devastating effects on the lives and livelihood of Canadians often spend very little in prison.

The end result is that offenders convicted of white-collar crimes are often released under supervision after a few months. Fraudsters are given lengthy sentences, but these sentences do not result in much time spent in prison.

No wonder Canadians' faith in the justice and corrections system is shaken. No wonder they want change. That is what our government is doing today.

Bill C-59 would abolish accelerated parole review and repeal sections of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act that govern the accelerated parole review regime.

It will mean that offenders who commit non-violent or white-collar crimes are put on the same footing as other offenders. They will be eligible for regular day parole review six months prior to full parole eligibility and full parole review after serving one-third their sentence.

Rather than being subject to a paper review, they will be subject to an in-person hearing. The test as to whether he or she should be released will be whether that individual presents an unmanageable risk of committing another crime.

The changes which our government is proposing will mean that Canadians can have faith that offenders convicted of white-collar crimes will not escape full accountability for their actions. These changes will mean that Canadians can have faith that their voices are being heard and that our government is taking action to deliver on our commitments.

I am therefore very proud to support the motion before us today so all of us can ensure that Bill C-59 receives the expeditious passage for which Canadians have called.

Disposition of Abolition of Early Parole Act
Government Orders

4:10 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Madam Speaker, I appreciate the member's speech at second reading, but we have not reached that stage yet. We are dealing with a procedural motion on the bill, which would close down debate and prescribes that we will not spend very much time debating the bill.

The member is probably aware that finance committee has asked for a costing of the various justice bills and that request has been denied on the basis that it constitutes cabinet confidence, that it is a state secret.

Would the member care to explain to the House and to Canadians why information about the impact of a piece of legislation in this place will not be available to members of Parliament so we can make good laws and wise decisions?

Disposition of Abolition of Early Parole Act
Government Orders

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

Harold Albrecht Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Madam Speaker, it is interesting to note that whenever colleagues across the way are opposed to some action, they will always find a reason to throw up obstacle after obstacle.

In this debate, we need to get to the heart of what we are trying to accomplish. We are trying to reintroduce a measure of accountability and responsibility on the part of those who have been sentenced. Before individuals automatically become eligible for parole, they will have to show some evidence that the right has been earned. There has to be some evidence of an offender's participation in a rehabilitative program, evidence that he or she has the actual desire for change so when released, he or she will not simply re-enter society and perhaps victimize others.

We agree that white-collar crime is not a violent crime in the sense that there is physical injury. However, one cannot argue that when seniors lose their life savings to one of these people it is incumbent upon the Government of Canada to stand up and protect those victims. The best way to protect them is to not allow that person out so they can continue their schemes.

Disposition of Abolition of Early Parole Act
Government Orders

February 14th, 2011 / 4:10 p.m.

NDP

Tony Martin Sault Ste. Marie, ON

Madam Speaker, I ask this question of the member because I know he is a thoughtful person.

I have sat through a number of debates in this House where we have moved aggressively to make it rougher and tougher for people who come in conflict with the law. We buy into an approach to criminal justice that has been tried in other jurisdictions and found to be wanting.

A police friend from Los Angeles told me how gangs are dealt with there. They tried the tough on crime approach, of giving people longer sentences, not allowing for parole and probation, that kind of thing. He found that it made the situation worse.

Would the member share with me why we would be moving with such haste on a subject on which perhaps we should be talking about what is better for the whole of society? Where do healing and reconciliation come into his scheme of things? Does he not think we should be spending more time thinking about that and looking at ways where that might be the end result? He and I know that when healing, forgiveness and reconciliation happen, we are all better for it, including the perpetrator and the victim.

Disposition of Abolition of Early Parole Act
Government Orders

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

Harold Albrecht Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Madam Speaker, I accept that question in the spirit in which it was asked.

On this side of the House we are very concerned about a balanced justice system, one that, yes, does consider preventive measures. We have invested millions of dollars on prevention schemes, such as drug prevention programs, and so on.

We also are very concerned about rehabilitation. To say that keeping someone in prison is a harsh message of punishment I think misses the point. All along our members have been arguing that what we are asking for is protection for victims and potential victims. There is a huge difference between punishment and simply keeping that potential offender away from the possibility of reoffending.

Personally, I am all for forgiveness and as an individual, I can do that. However, these people have a debt to pay to society, in terms of not being reintroduced to society until, as the material suggests, they have given evidence that they want to change and that they are actually participating in a rehabilitation program to ensure that kind of change occurs.

Disposition of Abolition of Early Parole Act
Government Orders

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

Phil McColeman Brant, ON

Madam Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to rise today in support of the motion which will help ensure that we pass Bill C-59, An Act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act into law in the most timely way possible.

Accelerated parole review has been a topic of discussion and debate both here and in the public, including the media, for some time now. We have all heard the heart-wrenching stories about how hard-working Canadians have been deceived into voluntarily handing over their life savings and how their lives, and ultimately their futures, have been destroyed by the white collar criminals who defrauded them.

Canadians have told us that they want action on crime. They want the punishment to fit the crime. They also want to ensure that the rights of offenders are balanced with the rights of victims and law-abiding citizens. The bill would do just that. This legislation would ensure that white collar offenders are held accountable for their crimes and would increase justice for victims by providing tougher sentences for those responsible.

Just a few years ago fraud was considered by many to be a faceless crime as it was seen typically to be committed against big business and multinational corporations. Today, however, victims of fraud are coming forward to tell their stories about how their lives have been changed forever. These individuals and groups are working hard to protect others from suffering the same loss of financial security and confidence that they have endured.

Fraud comes in many forms, including securities-related frauds, such as Ponzi schemes, and mortgage and real estate fraud. In all cases, it involves deception as well as dishonest conduct that deprives the other person of his or her property or puts his or her property at risk.

Fraud can have a devastating impact on the lives of victims, including loss of life savings and feelings of humiliation for having been duped into voluntarily handing over their property or their finances. For many victims of fraud, their lives will never be the same. The crime has damaged them not only financially, but emotionally.

Currently, as hon. members know, offenders convicted of non-violent offences can apply for day parole at one-sixth of their sentence and full parole at one-third of their sentence through an expedited process called accelerated parole review. This can only occur if the Parole Board of Canada is satisfied that there are no reasonable grounds to believe that the offender, if released, is likely to commit an offence involving violence before the expiration of his or her sentence. This means an offender convicted of a serious white collar crime, for example, could be eligible for this type of early release.

Bill C-59 is an opportunity for all of us to change the current system and to stand up for Canadians who have been victimized through this type of crime. Standing up for victims of crime is, and always has been, at the forefront of this government's public safety and justice agenda.

The Government of Canada is committed to supporting victims of crime and to ensuring that victims have a greater voice in the criminal justice system. As a demonstration of this commitment, the government has contributed $52 million over four years to enhance the federal victims strategy. This will go a long way to better meet the needs of victims.

Furthermore, in 2007, the federal government created the Office of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime, an independent resource for victims in Canada. This office was created to ensure that the federal government meets its obligations to the victims of crime.

Additionally, the Policy Centre for Victim Issues at the Department of Justice works with other federal government agencies, as well as provincial and territorial governments, to help victims and their families understand their role in the criminal justice system and the laws, services and assistance available to them.

The National Office for Victims, which is within the Department of Public Safety, is a single national point of contact for victims who have concerns about offenders and questions about the federal correctional system and the Canadian justice system. This is a starting place for them to ask their questions and get them answered.

The National Office for Victims is a central resource that offers vital information to victims through a toll-free line which victims or members of the general public may call free of charge from anywhere in Canada or the United States. The office also provides input on policy and legislative initiatives, education about victims' issues for members of the criminal justice system, and networking and support for the Correctional Service of Canada and the Parole Board of Canada.

We are also helping victims get the information and services they need online through a victim services directory, which is housed at the Department of Justice. Through this directory, victims and service providers are able to locate the necessary services and organizations they may require in their area. Through these services, this government sincerely wishes to lighten the load of Canadians who have been victimized by providing valuable information and resources that are only a click or phone call away.

We are also cracking down on crime and have introduced numerous pieces of legislation to support our agenda. Furthermore, this government has passed legislation to help combat identity theft and identity fraud which has been identified as a fast-growing problem throughout North America.

We have also introduced legislation that would ensure victims can have a voice at Parole Board of Canada hearings, while ensuring that offenders cannot withdraw their parole applications 14 days or less before a hearing date. Victims of crime have called on this government for changes to the current system and our government has delivered. Bill C-59 would only further build on and strengthen our history of standing up for Canadians who have been victimized.

Many victims of white collar crimes and fraud in particular are shocked and appalled to discover that the individuals who commit these types of crimes can be eligible for supervised release into the community shortly after they are sentenced. Unless the Parole Board of Canada has reason to believe offenders will commit violent acts if released, it must release them into the community under conditions. This means that offenders convicted of serious white collar crimes can be eligible for this type of early release.

As it stands, an offender sentenced to 12 years could be released into the community on day parole in just two years and fully paroled in four years. Is justice being served to Canadians who have been victims of this type of crime? The answer is simply no.

Canadians lose faith in the criminal justice system when they feel that the punishment does not fit the crime. Canadians must believe that our justice and corrections systems are working for them. That is why our government has made the rights of victims and the protection of society our priority. That is why we have introduced Bill C-59.

Bill C-59 would abolish the current system of accelerated parole review whereby offenders who commit non-violent crimes such as fraud can be released on day parole after serving as little as one-sixth of their sentence. Under the proposed legislation, offenders who commit fraud and other white collar crimes would be eligible for regular day parole at the earliest six months prior to full parole eligibility. Through this legislation, this government is sending a strong message to white collar offenders that if they commit the crime, they have to face the consequences of the law.

Canadians have spoken and we are listening. Above all, Canadians want us to work together to take immediate action to ensure that the changes our government is proposing are passed into law. This would mean victims of fraud and other white collar crimes could in fact see that justice is served. I call on all hon. members to support the bill before us today and to work together to ensure Bill C-59 receives speedy passage.

Disposition of Abolition of Early Parole Act
Government Orders

4:25 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Madam Speaker, the arguments are becoming clear. A number of examples have been given of other jurisdictions which have increased the time served by those who commit non-violent crimes and the evidence appears to be that the recidivism rate actually goes up. In Florida that is the case. In New York it was the reverse. The time in prison was lowered and the recidivism rate went down.

I wonder if the member could assist the House by providing the basis for saying that keeping people in jail longer is going to protect people, when in fact the expectation, based on hard evidence, is that the reoffending rate is going to go up.