House of Commons Hansard #131 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was parole.

Topics

Abolition of Early Parole Act
Government Orders

3:55 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, the member knows full well that when the Conservatives were in opposition five years ago and the Liberal government of the day brought in closure, they rebelled at the idea. They did not approve of it. They did not like it one bit. Now they see nothing wrong with jumping in bed with the Bloc and forcing closure when there is absolutely no need for it in this situation. It would take maybe two or three extra days, but we could have proper committee hearings.

We will have the spectacle tonight of a committee meeting starting at 10 o'clock and ending at 3 in the morning. Is this allowing for public input?

In my province of Manitoba, we have committee meetings at normal hours when bills are dealt with. The public is invited. The member knows that, as he is from Manitoba. Any member of the public is invited to show up and make a 10-minute presentation to that committee. We do not set up our meetings to start at 10 a.m. and run until 3 a.m. Whom are we going to invite? What experts are we going to invite at that hour to get proper input on this bill? This is a bad way to conduct business, and the member knows it.

We have asked the member about the cost of this bill. The member must have some sort of costing because governments do not introduce legislation without having information at their fingertips.

Could the member tell me the projected financial cost of the implementation of this bill?

Abolition of Early Parole Act
Government Orders

February 15th, 2011 / 3:55 p.m.

Conservative

James Bezan Selkirk—Interlake, MB

Madam Speaker, I find it a little rich that the member for Elmwood—Transcona, who was in the Manitoba legislature, would talk about having committee meetings at all hours of the night. A few years ago, the agriculture committee was holding hearings on a moratorium on the hog industry. Those hearings went through the night. Over 300 farmers and people in the community wanted to appear before that committee, but the meeting dragged on and on. People were not able to stay in the middle of the night to make their presentations. It was really unfortunate that people were not provided with a true opportunity.

Different procedural moves and antics are often used by all parties of the House to make sure that debate is not turned into a filibuster. That is essentially what the NDP wanted to do here.

I am chair of environment committee and we just went through this process while studying a private member's bill. The opposition parties worked as a coalition and limited the amount of time that any party could speak on any clause within the bill. If Conservative members were to share their time equally, they were limited to speaking not more than one and a half minutes on a particular clause.

If the member wants to talk about stifling debate, that stifled debate. That prohibited other members from being able to get up and voice their concerns about particular clauses in a troublesome bill, namely Bill C-469.

I am surprised that the member never rose and asked me a question about the importance of bringing this bill to fruition and that we actually get rid of the accelerated parole review.

I want to turn his attention to what some of the victims are saying.

The Earl Jones Victims Organizing Committee actually put out a press release saying:

The elimination of the so-called 1/6th access to early day parole for crimes committed by non-violent offenders not only better protects these victims, but also serves to provide the strongest deterrent in our society against any acts of serious fraud, and theft resulting from such fraud, from white-collar criminals.

One of the victims from Lac-Saint-Louis, Quebec, is quoted as saying:

As a victim of the Earl Jones Ponzi Scheme I know first hand how devastating the effects that white collar crime has had on the lives of the victims, their families and their descendants. Almost every week there is a new Ponzi Scheme discovered in Canada and to date there is little incentive in our current criminal code to discourage criminals from taking this lucrative path. White collar crime is fast becoming the most debilitating crime for Seniors in the country. We have been left without our savings and have been shamed and ridiculed in the press. Time is of the essence in this matter.

Thus we are hearing directly from victims that we must do this, that we must make sure that these fraudsters play by the same rules as violent offenders and every other criminal in our federal penitentiaries. Stony Mountain Institution is in my riding and I have attended parole board hearings. It is a thorough and just process and there is no reason why fraudsters, the people out there stealing money from Canadians and seniors, should not have to go through the same process as every other convict.

Abolition of Early Parole Act
Government Orders

4 p.m.

Conservative

Ben Lobb Huron—Bruce, ON

Madam Speaker, that was certainly a thorough answer, if I have ever heard one.

The member for Selkirk—Interlake is obviously very passionate about this bill and the possible benefits it will have for victims and victims' rights. The member for Elmwood—Transcona, though, is dead wrong.

It is a minor point, but the meeting does not start at 10 o'clock. It starts at 6:30 p.m. just down the hallway. He is welcome to sit in and watch, if he would like to.

What is interesting is that we never hear about the victims from NDP members. Nothing in his question was about victims. We never once hear about the victims from them. Then they talk about sending the bill to committee or something else, but the fact is that they drag their feet. I am on the public safety committee and at least three bills have been dragged along by the coalition since the fall, and we cannot move them along.

I would like the member for Selkirk—Interlake to tell the House and viewers at home a bit more about how this bill will help the victims and victims' rights, and also about the antics of the coalition in dragging its feet on these bills in committee. It is outrageous.

Abolition of Early Parole Act
Government Orders

4 p.m.

Conservative

James Bezan Selkirk—Interlake, MB

Madam Speaker, that is a great question. It is rather disturbing that there is so much legislation before the House that gets shuffled off to committee, and so often what we are seeing are the antics of opposition parties to slow down and stall legislation. The justice committee is completely overwhelmed with bills and cannot deal with them, because the opposition either continues to call witnesses and does not put closure on hearing from them or essentially shuffles it off the agenda completely.

It is important that we take our jobs seriously and deal with legislation in a timely manner and address all the concerns people have. However, we need to ensure that we get bills moving through the process and not stall them deliberately.

Abolition of Early Parole Act
Government Orders

4 p.m.

Liberal

Derek Lee Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Madam Speaker, while the hon. member may have given a good speech, he really has not described how this bill helps victims.

As I read the bill, it would alter parole eligibility date for federal convictions from one-sixth of a sentence to two-sixths. I am trying to figure out how that helps victims, particularly in light of the fact that when we are dealing with white collar crime, when the money is gone the money is gone.

Abolition of Early Parole Act
Government Orders

4 p.m.

Conservative

James Bezan Selkirk—Interlake, MB

Madam Speaker, the member knows full well that by changing the parole review system in determining eligibility, we are giving victims the opportunity to actually attend the Parole Board hearings and have their input and their victim's statement read into the record on whether those individuals will ever be released. Therefore, we are empowering those victims.

Earlier I quoted from the press release from the Earl Jones victims support organizing committee. It says that if we want to put in place strong deterrents, we need to ensure that these fraudsters are not eligible to get out there and do it again. By changing the system, we are also providing an opportunity to close the window for those individuals to go out and commit another crime that involves fraud.

We are not just talking about eligibility based upon people committing a violent crime, because these criminals are only fraudsters and not likely to commit violent offences, but now it would be all offences. Will these individuals go out and commit fraud again? Will they go out and set up another Ponzi scheme that will take money away from even more Canadians and more seniors and people's savings? That is what the bill is all about.

Abolition of Early Parole Act
Government Orders

4:05 p.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Madam Speaker, I will be sharing my time with my colleague from Elmwood—Transcona.

Bill C-59 deals with an issue that we have needed to address for at least the five years that the government has been in power. However, it sat on its hands and passed all sorts of other silly laws, including in the area of criminal law, which in its mind took precedence over this particular bill.

I find it surprising that the Bloc members never acknowledged the fact that these amendments were initially introduced under the Mulroney Conservative government in 1992 and then introduced in 1997 by the Liberal government. During that time in 1992, the Bloc members, who were Conservative members at the time, voted for those amendments. In 1997, the whole Bloc caucus voted for the amendments that affected the types of victims that we are hearing so much about today. Of course that was done after they had been victimized. However, any number of steps could have been taken, both at the federal and provincial levels of government, to prevent these types of crimes. I will address that a bit more toward the end of my speech today.

The issue that we have before us today with regard to changing these provisions for early release is that we are doing it almost totally in reaction to one case, the Earl Jones case out of Montreal, Quebec. Earl Jones will be eligible for early release somewhere between December 2011 and the spring of 2012. It is not as though it is tomorrow or next month. We have at least nine months, if not a full year, before we attempt to stop him from being able to use it.

As an aside, whether in debate or in private conversations, I have not heard of one member of the House, including my entire caucus, who is opposed to ensuring that Earl Jones does not serve only one-sixth of his sentence. We all agree that we should be doing something about this. However, as is so typical of the government, especially in the criminal justice area, there is much overreaction and overkill. I castigate the Bloc members for agreeing to this on the basis of the few facts that we have.

We do not have answers to a series of questions that we have posed. We have some partial figures and partial facts but we have nowhere near a clear picture, nor will we get it this evening at committee. For instance, we do not know how many people are released on an annual basis under this one-sixth provision. We do not know how many of those released are in full parole, how many are in day parole or how many are spending their time in halfway houses, which is another form of detention. We also do not know what crimes they have committed before being released.

Every Conservative member who I have heard speak to this, and I think the Bloc is making the same mistake, assumes that the offenders who are eligible are white-collar criminals. I can say that is absolutely not true but I must admit that I do not know how many of the offenders committed the stereotypical white-collar crime and how many were incarcerated for other reasons. We know they are crimes of a non-violent nature, because that is the criteria for eligibility, and that it has to be a first offence. We also know that the offenders must show that they are not at risk of committing a violent crime. All of those criteria are written in the statute of the corrections act now.

However, we do not know what crimes those offenders have committed or what their individual factual situations are. We have some indication that a good number of those who are eligible for this had originally committed the crime because of addictions, whether it be gambling, alcohol, drugs, et cetera. However, they are eligible because they have since dealt with those issues while in custody or, in some cases, even before sentencing. However, all of those are unknowns in terms of absolute numbers.

We have a figure of approximately 800 people who get this benefit each year. We do not know how many weeks, months or years it takes off their sentences, so we do not have a sense of how much it will cost if they stay in the full-blown prison for an extra few weeks, a few months or a few years. It costs, on average, $93,000 per inmate per year. If we do the math, that is $93 million. The number may be higher than that or a bit lower but we never hear the Conservatives, when they are talking about victims, say how much it will cost the Canadian taxpayers. The only answer we ever get is that they are prepared to pay the price. That is false. All we have to do is look to the United States where we are seeing state after state changing their laws to reduce their prison population because they are bankrupting themselves by putting many more prisoners in prison for lengthier periods of time.

We need answers to those questions. We do not know, for instance, the effect it has on the rate of recidivism, which is a straight public safety issue. The individuals who benefit from this commit fewer crimes. The figures we do have on that indicate that their rate of recidivism is lower than if they serve their full one-third or up to two-thirds sentence. By extending this, by passing the bill, we may be creating greater risk to the Canadian citizenry.

There is a number of questions as to how should we deal with this. We have certainly put forward suggestions. Are there specific crimes that should be excluded from the use of this section? We passed a few months ago in the House the Conservative answer to white-collar crime, which was not that to any significant degree, but in that we put in that if people steal a million dollars or more they will spend at least a minimum of one year in jail. We could be putting that type of provision in the Corrections and Conditional Release Act to say that the one-sixth does not apply if a person has committed this crime. That is what is in there now with regard to other crimes, but with regard to white-collar crime, we could put a very specific section in that would say that a person is not entitled to it if the person has done this. That is a very simple amendment and it would address the current crises that we have, in the minds of the Bloc Québécois and in the minds of the Conservatives, with regard to Earl Jones. It would solve that problem right there. It is simple enough.

For the long term, what we should be doing with the one-sixth is that at the time of sentencing the judge should be allowed the discretion, which we will have to write into the Criminal Code, to say that the crime is so serious, even though it is non-violent, and with so many victims, or whatever other criteria we want to build in, that the individual will not be entitled to a one-sixth reduction. It is gone for those people. That would be step number one.

Step number two would be to give a very similar discretion to the Parole Board, which it does not have now. The Parole Board, as it stands now, is required to establish the three criteria of an offender: first offender, non-violent offender and not likely to commit a violent crime before he or she is allowed out. The board has to prove why a person should be held back. We should be taking away the reverse onus on the Parole Board and giving it a general discretion. If the person is not likely to be a risk to society and he or she meet certain criteria, then the board has the right to release the person. However, if it is felt for any reason, it would be that broad of a discretion, it would not release the individual. There are things like that which can be done.

There are other specific crimes. We are hearing anecdotally that some members of organized crime, organized syndicates, biker gangs are able to take advantage of this because of what they were convicted of. That should not be allowed. I can envision quite easily amendments that would prevent them from accessing it.

There are ways of fine-tuning this, tailoring it for those people who, I think Canadians would generally agree, should be entitled to this. We can let them out, but restrict the others.

I see my time is up. Hopefully my friend from Elmwood—Transcona will be able to cover the issue around the prevention of these crimes.

Abolition of Early Parole Act
Government Orders

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

Ed Fast Abbotsford, BC

Madam Speaker, my colleague from Windsor—Tecumseh serves a useful role on the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights that I chair. We have had a chance to work through many different bills.

The bill before us is intended to eliminate accelerated release so that white-collar criminals cannot get out of jail early. In other words, they cannot get out on day parole after serving only one-sixth of their sentence.

My colleague mentioned that there are a number of cases that have focused our attention on this bill. However, it was actually a case in British Columbia that dealt with a drug dealer convicted of a non-violent crime.

Perhaps my colleague from Windsor—Tecumseh could comment on whether these kinds of individuals deserve day parole after serving only one-sixth of their sentence.

Abolition of Early Parole Act
Government Orders

4:15 p.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Madam Speaker, the member obviously was not paying attention to the latter part of my speech when I specifically addressed the issue of drugs and organized crime members.

I want to make the point that we in the NDP are very clear that there are provisions within the existing corrections act around the one-sixth provision that need to be changed. I made that very clear. I spoke of it yesterday. My colleague from Vancouver spoke on it today.

That is why we are quite prepared today to vote as a caucus to send the bill to committee this evening, but we want to be very clear, and this is what the member who just asked the question is missing. This bill excludes everybody. It is not just the drug dealer in his area of the country, but everybody else. There are certain people who should in fact qualify for this.

Abolition of Early Parole Act
Government Orders

4:15 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

Madam Speaker, I am always compelled by the international examples and I have always liked the expression that there is nothing new under the sun.

The member gave a few examples that were primarily American, but he could refer back to the example where this has been done before. In the case of Bill C-59, there is nothing new under the sun.

I was wondering if he could again give some examples of how other states within the United States went about doing this and are now, in many cases I suspect, scaling back from that.

Abolition of Early Parole Act
Government Orders

4:15 p.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Madam Speaker, what is happening in the United States is interesting. We had a witness, a private consultant who works closely with the Mennonite Central Committee, in front of our justice committee last week. He was going to California, which is one of the more notorious states in terms of an increase in their prison population over the last 20 to 30 years with about a 300% increase in the prison population. He was going there to describe some of the provisions that we have here.

The United States generally does not have this kind of provision that I am aware of in any of its states. However, California was forced last spring to release something like 40,000 to 45,000 prisoners, including drug dealers and other people who had committed violent crimes. They are having to do that, but mostly they are closing prisons and releasing people. They are changing their drug laws, doing away with mandatory minimums in most cases and shortening the length of time that people can be sentenced, particularly for drug crimes. That is what is happening in the United States.

In other parts of the world, western Europe, the democracies of Australia and New Zealand, no one has gone down this route to any significant degree with the kind of mandatory minimums that the Conservative government is using. They just do not do it. If they do, they always leave residual discretion in the hands of the judiciary to deal with individual cases, which is really what this section is about. It allows that discretionary role to be played if the person has cleaned up his or her act, is not a risk to society, is able to contribute when he or she gets back into society, is rehabilitated and does not commit more crimes. That is what we need to be doing.

This section is such an over-reach that it is throwing the baby out with the bath water.

Abolition of Early Parole Act
Government Orders

4:20 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker Denise Savoie

Before resuming debate, it is my duty pursuant to Standing Order 38 to inform the House that the question to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment is as follows: the hon. member for Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, Persons with Disabilities.

Abolition of Early Parole Act
Government Orders

4:20 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to follow the member for Windsor—Tecumseh in speaking to Bill C-59. Our party supports sending this bill to committee.

We as a group passed Bill C-21 recently. That bill dealt with providing a mandatory minimum two year sentence for white-collar criminals involved in schemes and thefts over $1 million.

Today government members have continually asked what the victims want. The victims want their money back. They did not want their money stolen in the first place.

This bill deals with the issue after the fact, after the money is gone. We need proper regulation of financial institutions, banks and investment salespeople in this country to prevent this type of thing from happening in the future.

Twenty-five per cent of the members in the House, excluding myself, are lawyers. We all know how lawyers' trust funds are dealt with. We all know how real estate brokers' trust funds are dealt with. They are dealt in trust because of past abuses. The provinces have brought in laws to define how trust funds have to be dealt with.

My understanding of the Earl Jones case is that he was not registered. How can a person invest money on behalf of clients for many years and not be registered under any authority within the jurisdiction in which he is living? Mr. Jones was dealing with financial institutions and those financial institutions should be responsible for policing their salespeople.

What was the bank's responsibility? What was the financial institutions' and the insurance companies' responsibility? What was the responsibility of the people that he was buying these investments from on behalf of his clients?

Most investors in this country are protected in case a financial adviser makes off with an investment. Most people would be compensated by the Investment Industry Regulatory Organization. That organization has a plan to compensate individuals when dealers run off with money. Banks and institutions have a corporate responsibility. We need to tighten up on the front end before the money disappears. In a five year period in the United States, 1,200 people, including Conrad Black, were sent to prison. In Canada, there were five.

This problem did not just start with the Conservative government five years ago. The Liberals faced the same problem for many years. They recognized the problem because in 2003 they set up the IMET program. Six groups operate under this particular unit within the police force. After a five year period it had only five successful convictions and imprisonments to show for its time in office. I am not saying it was a bad idea. It just did not achieve great results during that period. It should be studied and improved upon.

We also have to look at our regulatory environment. We have to start appointing to the regulatory bodies people who are not playing golf with the very people they are regulating. An incestuous relationship can develop anywhere one looks in society if we do not have the proper balance.

When we get a regulatory body, be it the Ontario Securities Commission or the national securities agency that we are debating in the House on an ongoing basis, if those regulators are not on the ball and if they are not actively trying to pursue abuses, if they are not fearful of arresting some of their friends, then we will have results. We will have activity and the arrest rate will go up and people will be put in prison in this country. Once people like Earl Jones recognize that it is going to be a one-way trip to a prison sentence, then we will see better protection.

The point is we have all these protections. We have protections in insurance. We have protections in real estate. We have protections for the law society. How difficult can it be for us to examine this area a little more and put in these protections to stop people like Earl Jones? That is how we should consider approaching this problem at the front end as opposed to the back end.

We have a lot of issues and very limited time to deal with them. I definitely want to deal with the issue of what works in crime prevention and enforcement and what does not.

A situation has developed in the United States where Newt Gingrich, who helped to create the problem, is now providing an answer from the right. The fact is it goes back further to Ronald Reagan's days and the "three strikes and you are out" that he brought in as Governor of California, and how their system developed into a warehousing system for criminals in the state. At the end of day it resulted in a higher crime rate and almost bankrupted the state in the process.

Newt Gingrich has recently changed his position on this. Not only him, but Ed Meese and other right-wing Republicans in the United States have actually come around to the NDP's approach on crime, as surprising as that might be.

We only have to look at Texas as an example. In Texas in 2007 the Republicans started to work with the Democrats. What a novel idea that is. It is like a minority government here. Why cannot all parties get together? The Gary Filmon government did it in Manitoba a number of years ago. It was a Conservative government. It worked successfully.

By the way, I ran into Gary Filmon over the Christmas holidays. I asked him if he ever contacted the federal government. He said he had sent a long email when the Conservatives came to power, but he said he had never heard back at all.

In 2007, the Democrats and Republicans in Texas decided against building more prisons. Instead they opted to enhance proven community correction approaches such as drug courts. We have those here in Canada, but I guess they did not have them in Texas. The reforms were forecast to save $2 billion in prison costs over five years. Also Texas redirected much of the money saved into community treatment for the mentally ill and low-level drug addicts. We are doing that here in this country.

These reforms reduced the Texas prison population. Now there is no waiting list for drug treatment in the state. Crime dropped 10% in the period from 2004, the year before the reforms, through to 2009. The crime rate is now at its lowest level since 1973.

In South Carolina, Newt Gingrich is talking about taking prison beds for dangerous criminals and punishing low-risk offenders through lower-cost community supervision. This is not a left-wing person talking. It is New Gingrich. It is the people that Conservatives like to follow. That is where they take their direction from, and I have an even better example. I hope I have time to provide it. I may have to wait until my questions and answers.

That is the issue of the crime rate in Florida versus in New York. Over the past seven years Florida's incarceration rate has increased 16% while that of New York's has decreased 16%.

The crime rate in New York has fallen twice as much as the rate in Florida has, but New York spent less on its prisons and delivered better public policy. In other words, the crime rate was higher in Florida and the cost was higher. New York had a lower crime rate and a lower cost.

Those are great examples. The members opposite should brush up on them.

Abolition of Early Parole Act
Government Orders

4:30 p.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, I know my colleague was unable to get through all of it.

I just want to ask the member about a preventive approach to white-collar crime, so that people like Earl Jones would not be allowed to operate. There could be a system that would require them to register. They would have to show their registration. They would be monitored. They could not receive any money unless they were registered and met certain qualifications to be able to advise and direct investment.

Added to that kind of a structure, beyond the initial registration, would be a monitoring structure, much as lawyers have their trust funds monitored and the funeral industry has its trust funds monitored. It could be that kind of an approach and strict enforcement if there was a breach.

Could the member comment on that?

Abolition of Early Parole Act
Government Orders

4:30 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, that is a very good point. That is essentially what I have been talking about.

After 9/11, we saw almost immediate changes to the way people set up bank accounts. If people in business went to the bank to try to change their bank account, they would have to dig up their articles of incorporation, et cetera. That is how strict we are.

How could a guy like Earl Jones set up and operate for many years, and deal with all of these banks and financial institutions, and move around big amounts of money? He did not hide the money in a sock somewhere and move it around that way. He had it in a financial institution.