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 sentence.

Topics

Oral Questions
Points of Order
Oral Questions

3:05 p.m.

Liberal

Borys Wrzesnewskyj Etobicoke Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. Twice during question period I referenced a document that I received as a result of an ATIP request in which the secret quotas for family reunification are listed, for example, for Poland, 5, and Ukraine, 25.

Mr. Speaker, I believe if you seek it, you will find unanimous consent for this document to be tabled in the House so that people can see the heartless numbers of those who have been targeted, the quotas not only for Warsaw and Kiev, but also for Nairobi, Ankara, and a list of other places.

Oral Questions
Points of Order
Oral Questions

3:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

Does the hon. member have the unanimous consent of the House to table this document?

Oral Questions
Points of Order
Oral Questions

3:05 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

No.

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-59, An Act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (accelerated parole review) and to make consequential amendments to other Acts, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Abolition of Early Parole Act
Government Orders

3:05 p.m.

Conservative

Candice Bergen Portage—Lisgar, MB

Mr. Speaker, it is with pleasure that I join in the debate on Bill C-59, the Abolition of Early Parole Act today.

Like many of my colleagues, the hon. members in this House, I have spent quite some time talking to Canadians about the need for this legislation. I am confident that all of us are hearing the same thing; that it is time to take action to crack down on white-collar offenders and we need to do it now.

I have heard from victims who have told me that they are tired of seeing and hearing about offenders who have perhaps wiped out their life savings and are not serving appropriate times for their actions. I have spoken to ordinary Canadians and to the families of innocent victims and they told me that it was time for all of us to work together to crack down on the activities of white-collar offenders who might not use a gun but who, nonetheless, wreak havoc on the lives of hard-working and law-abiding Canadians. They told me that we need to get tough on those offenders whose illegal activities leave scores of victims in their wake.

I am therefore pleased to support the bill before us today, which would do all of that and would build on our government's already impressive record of standing up for victims and cracking down on all types of crime.

Over the last five years, our government has done a lot to make our streets safer through investments in crime prevention, law enforcement and in the tools for police officers to do their jobs. In fact, several of our justice bills last year alone received royal assent, including: Bill C-14, which targets gang violence and organized crime by addressing issues such as gang murders, drive-by shootings and additional protection for police and the police officers; Bill C-25, which fulfills our government's commitment to Canadians to help keep offenders from being given two-for-one credit and sometimes three-for-one credit in pre-sentencing custody; and Bill S-4, which will help combat the complex, serious and growing problem of identity theft and identity fraud.

I am also proud to say that our government recently passed legislation to help reform the pardon system. In particular, we have made sure that the National Parole Board of Canada has the discretion it needs to determine whether granting a pardon would bring the administration of justice into disrepute.

We have passed legislation targeting gang violence and organized crime by addressing issues such as gang murders, drive-by shootings and additional protection for police officers.

We recently passed legislation to strengthen the National Sex Offenders Registry and the national DNA data bank in order to better protect our children and other vulnerable members of society from sexual predators.

Of course our government has most recently introduced legislation to crack down on individuals involved in the despicable crime of human smuggling, which threatens our communities as well as Canada's immigration system.

In addition, our government has provided more money to the provinces and the territories so that they can hire additional police officers. I am very proud to note that Statistics Canada reported in December that the number of police officers across Canada is now at its highest point since 1981.

As well, the government has taken action to help young people make smart choices and avoid becoming involved in gang activity through programs funded through the National Crime Prevention Centre.

Our government has taken significant action that achieves results in tackling crime in our communities. We will continue to do more.

It is no secret that crimes and criminal activities can take on many forms. We often hear about violent gun crimes and communities which can and often do shatter lives. As I have mentioned, our government has done a lot to get tough with offenders who commit such terrible acts.

Of course, there are other types of crimes that can be just as devastating even though they do not involve the use of handguns. All of us have heard about the ruined lives left behind by white-collar offenders who prey on law-abiding citizens, often leaving them with nothing to show for a lifetime of hard work and savings for their retirement.

All of us have heard about the need to take action, to crack down on white-collar crime and stand up for the victims. That is what the legislation before us today would do.

As we have heard today, many offenders obtain parole early through a process called accelerated parole review. First-time offenders who have committed non-violent offences can access day parole at one-sixth of their sentence and full parole at one-third of their sentence. Unless the Parole Board of Canada has reasonable grounds to believe these offenders will commit a violent offence if released, it must release them into the community.

This means that, in some cases, a fraudster, a thief or even a drug dealer can be back on the streets early. Such an offender could be sentenced to 12 years but actually be released into the community on day parole in just 2 short years and fully paroled at just 4 years. The status quo gives the Parole Board little or no discretion in dealing with these cases. The test is whether an offender is likely to commit a violent offence. As a result, even if the Parole Board believes the offender is likely to commit another fraud, another theft or another drug offence, it is nonetheless compelled to release them.

What makes the review process even more expedited is that these accelerated parole reviews are accomplished through a paper review by the Parole Board of Canada, whereas regular parole reviews are normally done by way of a hearing.

The test for accelerated parole review is also lower. The 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 if released. The test for accelerated parole review is whether someone is going to commit a violent offence. Even if the Parole Board believes that someone will commit another fraud, the board is still compelled to release the person under supervision at one-sixth of his or her sentence. In many cases that means that people who are convicted of crimes that have had devastating effects on the lives and livelihood of Canadians often spend very little time in prison. The end result is that offenders convicted of white-collar crimes are often released under supervision after only a very few short months. Offenders are given lengthy sentences which do not result in much time actually spent in prison.

This offends Canadians' sense of justice and it undermines their faith in our justice and in our corrections system. It should offend all of our senses of justice, and we need to change this. Canadians want change and that is what our government is delivering.

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 would mean that offenders who commit non-violent or white-collar crimes are put on the same footing as other offenders. They would be eligible for regular day parole review six months prior to full parole eligibility and full parole review after serving one-third of their sentence. Rather than being subject to a paper review, they would be subject to an in-person hearing. The test as to whether they should be released would be whether they present an unmanageable risk of committing another crime. It is a very key point and something that all members should highlight.

The changes that our government is proposing would mean that Canadians can have faith that offenders convicted of white-collar crimes will not escape full accountability for their actions.

Our government has listened to the concerns of victims of fraud and other crimes and we are taking action on their concerns. By fixing the problem of early parole for offenders, we are following through on our tackling crime agenda. Our government believes that Canadians deserve a justice system that balances the rights of offenders with the rights of law-abiding citizens.

The commitment we are announcing today brings us another step closer to this important goal. Once again I urge all hon. members to work with the government to ensure that Bill C-59 is passed into law in the most timely way possible.

Abolition of Early Parole Act
Government Orders

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

Judy Foote Random—Burin—St. George's, NL

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today to Bill C-59 even if the other parties have had no real interest in seriously debating or discussing it. Today we are here so the Bloc and Conservatives can pay lip service to getting tough on crime.

Bill C-59 is hastily prepared legislation that introduces sweeping changes to the Criminal Code that would alter the parole rules for every non-violent first-time offender, regardless of the severity of the crime. The Bloc struck a backroom deal with the Conservatives, which we know, to fast-track the bill without any serious committee study or consultation with victims. Interestingly enough, the Quebec bar has said that it does not agree with the position that has been taken by the Bloc. In fact, it said:

The Québec Bar would like to state its opposition to Bill C-59 concerning accelerated parole and conditional release, which you introduced in the House of Commons on February 9.

Firstly, the Bar is opposed to the retroactive effect of the proposed legislation. ...we would like to point out that some people chose to plead guilty after considering the advantages of accelerated parole. Changing the sentencing rules after these people have made their decisions and their choices is unfair and opens the door to constitutional challenges.

Secondly, the Québec Bar believes that before this bill is passed, it should go through the same process as all legislation, including a thorough study of the advantages and disadvantages of the current legislation and an impact study of the proposed changes. The findings of these studies should be made public so that there can be informed debate on this issue.

We can all agree that serious cases of white-collar fraud have been terribly damaging to families across Canada and particularly in Quebec. We share the anger and frustration that is felt when serious criminals have their sentences reduced.

Over a year and a half ago, the Liberal Party called for legislation to put an end to parole for white-collar criminals who have only served one-sixth of their sentences. The Liberal Party was the first party to put forward a comprehensive proposal to deal with white-collar crime.

The Conservatives could have supported the proposals made by us concerning parole but they chose to play politics instead and fraudster Vincent Lacroix was given conditional release. Now they are simply trying to do damage control and win some votes in Quebec. They had the chance but they were not concerned with protecting victims at that time.

The Liberal caucus wants to see the current flawed proposal amended so that it better reflects the high standard Liberal position that we had previously put forward that better targets the real problem: the serious white-collar fraudsters who should not be eligible for early parole. The other parties seem intent on making it look as though we are not supportive of ensuring that white-collar fraudsters are not eligible for early parole. Again, this is not the case at all and their position is deceitful.

Two years ago, several of my colleagues participated in a press conference with the victims of Earl Jones' Ponzi scheme. We were calling for increased measures to protect victims of white-collar crimes then. We were asking the government to move quickly on this matter and to introduce legislation that would eliminate one-sixth accelerated parole for white-collar criminals. We were especially concerned with eliminating early parole for fraudsters who have multiple victims and have inflicted serious financial damage to individuals and families.

I am wondering why the Conservatives have taken so long to get down to doing anything about this problem and, when they do it, it is ill thought out and flawed to the core. Instead of trying to rush this legislation through Parliament, we are asking for serious debate and discussion on a very serious matter. Making legislation as a belated knee-jerk reaction to an issue is highly emotional and is no way to conduct the business of Parliament.

What needs to be done is that experts in the judicial field need to be consulted and the committee must carefully consider all the options that are available, as is now being proposed by the Quebec Bar. This is too important a matter not to be looked at thoroughly.

We are all aware of the devastating consequences that white-collar crimes have on the lives of people. We are all becoming more aware of the need to be vigilant in protecting our investments and who we trust with our money.

We are all in agreement that action needs to be taken to ensure white-collar criminals are held accountable for their crimes, which can be just as devastating to the well-being of people as violent crimes. We have been asking the government to take action for some time now. It is only now getting around to it.

The spectre of white-collar crime is increasing. In the past, white-collar crimes tended to be considered victimless crimes. When people thought of white-collar crimes, they typically thought of crimes being committed against large corporations and governments.

However, with the advent of the likes of Bernie Madoff in the United States and Earl Jones in Canada, we have seen the human face of fraud and devastating consequences it has for hundreds, if not thousands, of people. People have reacted with anger and frustration at these crimes and the men who willingly carried them out over the years.

The entire life savings of people have been wiped out and investments completely disappeared, leaving them with nothing and no chance to ever recover.

As we know, under the current system, white-collar offenders can be released after as little as one-sixth of their sentence in prison for their crimes. Bill C-59 could give us all a chance to change this and to support Canadians who have become the victims of crime, if the government would take the time to get this legislation right.

The Liberal Party has always considered helping victims of crimes to be at the core of our justice policies and we have always supported victims to ensure their voices are heard.

The Liberals have repeatedly said, since the revelation of the criminal activities of Earl Jones, that the current government needs to focus its criminal legislation amendments on protecting victims and preventing crimes.

Back in 2009, we suggested that the country needed tougher sentences for white-collar criminals. The laxity of the current legislation has made Canada an attractive place for those who wish to rip off their fellow citizens. As a country, we need to ensure that the consequences of such actions are stringent enough to truly deter this type of criminal activity.

Keeping our laws focused on protecting Canadians means that we need to go further than simply addressing the penalties in place for those who would seek to defraud hard-working Canadians. The government needs to help victims by negotiating international treaties that would allow stolen money being held overseas to be tracked and returned to the rightful owners.

Furthermore, the Conservative government needs to revamp Canada Revenue Agency procedures regarding tax moneys paid by victims on fictitious interest payments. Law-abiding Canadians who have diligently filed their tax returns and paid the calculated income tax based on documents with false amounts, provided to them by people engaged in criminal activity, should be entitled to a refund of any tax moneys paid on non-existent interest payments.

If it wants to understand the Liberal position, I ask the government to read the transcripts of the hearings that the justice committee held on Bill C-21, the white-collar bill. There it will find that the Liberals supported that bill. The government might want to also check the media coverage of a press conference held over two years ago, in which Liberals called on the government then to remove the one-sixth accelerated parole release for white-collar criminals.

In the justice committee this past fall, when the white-collar crime bill was being examined, it was a Liberal member who brought in an amendment that would have eliminated the one-sixth accelerated release or early parole release, as it is commonly called, for white-collar criminals and major fraudsters.

The amendment was subsequently ruled out of order by the Conservative chair. A Liberal MP challenged the chair and the Conservatives and the Bloc formed an alliance and voted to uphold the chair's ruling. They were the ones who voted against eliminating the one-sixth early parole option.

The government may want to check its facts before making such ridiculous claims that the Liberals do not support victims.

We are calling on the government to make the proper amendments to this legislation. As with all other Conservative tough on crime bills, this one would introduce sweeping changes to the Criminal Code that would unfairly target all people who have been guilty of a criminal offence. This is contrary to our justice system, which also aims at rehabilitating and reforming those who have committed offences. Parole does exist for a tried and tested reason and it does offer a second chance to those who have demonstrated their willingness to change to come back into the fold of society as co-operative, productive and contributing members.

The government has made a pact with the separatists to fast-track the bill without any serious committee study. There has been no consultation with victims or legal experts. There has been no discussion of this matter until Friday.

The impact of white-collar crime costs taxpayers and the treasury a lot of money because of the complex investigations that have to be conducted. The fraudsters are committing fraud against those vulnerable people. Fraud is not victimless. Fraud preys on the weak and the vulnerable in society. The Liberals support sending the bill to committee because we believe it is the right thing to do.

The principles behind the stricter sentencing rules are very important. However, we also know that they are not enough to prevent these frauds from happening. Sentencing is important, but prevention is equally important in white-collar crime.

The question is why the government will not use this opportunity to do more and do it properly. The opposition and the public have been calling on the government to end the one-sixth accelerated parole provision for these types of offenders and the government has not acted yet. We hope that by sending it to committee, we can have some thoughtful discussion and develop solid legislation.

Let me be clear. The Liberal Party is more than supportive of eliminating the one-sixth accelerated parole provision. We support this in principle. What we do not support is the railroading of legislation through Parliament based on shady backroom deals made between the government and the Bloc. This is simply unacceptable. This is not the way Parliament should work. It is not what Canadians expect of those who represent them in the House.

The government, with the support of the NDP, has already given white-collar criminals a free pass by voting down a Liberal amendment that would have ensured a two-year mandatory minimum prison sentence for criminals who defrauded the public through things like Ponzi schemes.

I guess it is not enough that the Conservative government so passively watches as seniors living in poverty rise by an alarming 25%. Now, with the help of the NDP, the Conservatives have made sure that those same seniors get no justice when they have been bilked of their life savings by white-collar criminals like Earl Jones.

The Liberal Party tried to get the Conservatives' white-collar crime Bill C-21 amended so it would cover stock manipulation and Ponzi schemes, like the $50 million scheme perpetrated by Earl Jones that ended up wiping out the personal savings of nearly 150 investors.

Victims groups came to Ottawa last year to appear before the parliamentary justice and human rights committee to not only request stiffer sentences for white-collar crime, but also for a longer period before which a while-collar criminal could make an application for parole, up from the one-sixth of sentence that exists today.

If the truth be known, the current government has been soft on white-collar crime in general.

Consistent with his neo-conservative ideology of privatization and deregulation, the Prime Minister wants greater self-regulation of Canada's financial industry. The Conservatives already put forth a plan in the 2007 budget to adopt principles-based regulation of the securities and financial industry. The problem is business principles are, by nature, about making money, not about looking out for the welfare of the public.

Now the government is gung-ho to make sure it looks tough on white-collar criminals. This is typical Conservative too little, too late scheme of preying on the emotions of victims of white-collar crime. If the government had been listening to Canadians all along, and to the Liberal Party, it would have known this was an issue years ago and that it should have been dealt with when the Liberal Party first brought it forward.

The government has never handled white-collar crime effectively. We can think of examples from the corporate world, such as Bre-X Minerals and Nortel. It has taken years for the government to proceed with cases against these corporate offenders. As far as it goes for individual investors, such as the victims of Earl Jones, the system has long been handing out slap on the wrist punishments to those who deliberately steal from others.

The government has only recently taken a serious look at white-collar crime, and that has been at the insistence of the Liberal Party. It has taken the government too long to realize that an aging and vulnerable population has been targeted by sophisticated financial criminals for years.

Denial always comes with compound interest. This means that being too soft for too long on white-collar criminals has a steep price attached. It has undermined confidence in our financial markets, especially in the international community, and it has created a political problem.

The government has failed to protect seniors who have been duped out of their life savings. It is seniors who have been most victimized precisely because they do have savings and they do make investments to help cover the costs of retirement. These costs of retirement are very high. In fact, today, rising costs impact seniors whether it is the cost of home heating, or it is the cost of food and medicines. All these costs have to be considered by seniors in their retirement. The little they have in the way of savings, they try to invest time and time again to ensure that they have some additional money. Look what happens when they are taken for a ride.

We support the government as it now tries to toughen up the laws that deal with white-collar crime. However, there is always the risk that the fundamental flaws in this system will be glossed over because such action is taken hastily and without thought.

Financial crimes are generally very complicated to unwind. That is only one reason why law enforcement agencies, many of which have suffered budget and staff cuts, take so long to assemble the cases against fraudsters. The advent of the Internet and other sophisticated technology has only made it harder to keep up with these criminals, but the government has failed to adequately fund law enforcement agencies that would investigate and bring white-collar criminals to justice.

Different jurisdictions and regulations from province to province also complicate matters, as does the international component of investigations. The fact that there is no single national securities regulator to enforce one set of standardized rules does not help matters either.

These are some of the reasons why we insist the government take the time to get the legislation right once and for all. It needs to work with the legislators in Parliament and recognize how important it is to deal with white-collar crime. It needs to find away to work together and acknowledge the fact that the right thing to do is to send this to committee to see if we can get it right.

We do not need to rush this legislation through Parliament. We need to take our time to consider the legislation and to consult with the experts and victims. The victims are the ones who have been unfairly targeted by white-collar criminals. We need to listen to them. We need to hear what they have to say. We need to learn from their experience. We also need to talk to legal experts. We need to send this to committee so the House can get the legislation right.

Abolition of Early Parole Act
Government Orders

3:35 p.m.

Conservative

Candice Bergen Portage—Lisgar, MB

Madam Speaker, I was somewhat confused by the comments of my hon. colleague. Maybe she can clarify this for me. In one sense I hear the member speak about victims and that we need to stand up for victims of white-collar crimes. At at the same time, she says that the bill should not be retroactive. Unfortunately for the victims of Earl Jones, if this bill is not retroactive, these victims will never have any kind of justice served.

This is what one of the victims of Earl Jones has to say:

Do you know what it feels like to be ready to retire, knowing you have enough money to enjoy your home and to do some travelling, but suddenly to have the carpet pulled from under your feet? We have gone through this because of Earl Jones and the fraud he perpetuated for so long. We have lost our nest egg, as well as the money we wanted to leave to our children. We have had to go back to work. We don't want to see this man out on parole as early as next December. This is not a good system. Please work with the other parties to come to a good conclusion for all of us that have been victims of "white collar crime".

What would my hon. colleague have to say to the victim of Earl Jones who wants him to receive justice for this crime?

Abolition of Early Parole Act
Government Orders

3:35 p.m.

Liberal

Judy Foote Random—Burin—St. George's, NL

Madam Speaker, that is precisely why we need to take our time with the legislation. We need to listen to the victims. We need to listen to the legal experts. We do not need to rush this legislation through. Let us send it to committee. Let us listen to the very people from whom she has quoted. Let us ensure that we cover all of our bases. Instead of rushing this through, we need to listen to those who have been impacted. We have to recognize how serious this issue is and we need to take our time to get it right.

We can rush this through and miss some important components, but at the end of the day, we know there are serious issues. People are being impacted negatively. People are being hurt by this.

We must do whatever we can to get it right. That means listening to the victims and the legal experts. Let us do that. Let us send it to committee and let us get it right.

Abolition of Early Parole Act
Government Orders

3:40 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, I agree with many of the member's points. She talked about the problem in large part being the lack of regulation in this country, and I think she is right about that.

However, the fact is the white-collar criminals were running amok before the Conservatives even formed government. It was so serious that Jean Chrétien's government set up IMETs within the police forces. I believe six of them were in place, but they had a very poor track record. Only five people were convicted in five years, whereas the United States managed to convict 1,200 white-collar criminals. Clearly, the system of regulation in Canada has to be changed.

The Conservatives are in government right now and they are not really doing anything that would change those regulations. They have to stop appointing to the regulatory boards people who recently left the jobs they are supposed to be regulating. We cannot expect to have a proper regulating environment when the regulators are golfing with the people they are regulating. That is the system the Liberals set up and the Conservatives have done absolutely nothing to change it. That is what they should be looking at.

Passing bills like this one is fine, but the Conservatives should be looking at re-regulating so that Earl Jones could not have taken advantage of people in the first place.

Abolition of Early Parole Act
Government Orders

3:40 p.m.

Liberal

Judy Foote Random—Burin—St. George's, NL

Madam Speaker, I did not hear a question, but I acknowledge the input from my colleague on how important it is that we get regulation right. As he said, this issue is as much about trying to deal with white-collar crime from a regulation perspective as it is about dealing with the situation where people like Earl Jones are taking advantage of others who want to invest.

I acknowledge what he is saying in terms of getting it right. That is why I keep going back to the point that we need not be rushing this bill through. We need to take our time with it. We need to send the bill to committee. We need to look at the flaws in the system now, whether it is regulation or whatever it is. We need to get it right. We need to send the bill to committee and work together, as my hon. colleague said, to get it right once and for all.

Abolition of Early Parole Act
Government Orders

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

Ben Lobb Huron—Bruce, ON

Madam Speaker, my question is with regard to the expediency behind moving the bill to committee.

I would like to point out the lack of speed with which the Liberal Party coalition on the other side deals with bills. Bill C-5 has been in committee since the fall. Bill C-17, the terrorism bill, has been lingering in committee, as has Bill C-23B, concerning pardons for offenders. All of these bills have been in committee for months and months and yet there has been no action from the opposition to help us move them along. Instead, in the fall those members spent time going on a witch hunt against the RCMP, the Toronto police department and other good men and women who do a job every day.

I wonder if the member could say why she has not been able to push the law and order mandate to get these things through. That is what we are trying to do and every day we fight roadblocks from her party and the critic for public safety.

Abolition of Early Parole Act
Government Orders

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

Judy Foote Random—Burin—St. George's, NL

Madam Speaker, interestingly enough, when the Conservatives stand to speak to an issue, it is always to point the finger in the other direction. They always blame someone else for a backlog and suggest that it is someone other than themselves who is holding up the process.

If the Conservatives were willing to work with all of the parties on the legislation, if they realized that they do not have all the answers, that other parties have some good ideas as well and if they acknowledged that, then I am sure things would move much more quickly. The problem is, whenever we try to bring forward suggestions in committee, the government always finds a way to say that either the Liberals or another party in the House of Commons is not working with the government to make it happen.

The reality is that it takes everybody to make it happen. We need to work together. We need to acknowledge that no one group has all the answers. The ideas, proposals and amendments that members from other parties put forward need to be considered. That is what we are proposing in terms of this piece of legislation. Let us send it to committee and have that discussion.

The Conservatives have to take the other parties seriously. They cannot sit around the table in committee and just pooh-pooh the input other parties have on legislation.

Abolition of Early Parole Act
Government Orders

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

Ed Fast Abbotsford, BC

Madam Speaker, I picked up on what I think is a little weasel phrase. The member said that she wants to return the bill to committee because she wants to get it right. Really, those are code words for removing the retroactivity provisions of this bill.

She talks about wanting to protect Canadians against the Earl Joneses of this country, but she wants to ensure that this bill before us, which would remove accelerated parole, would not be retroactive so that Mr. Earl Jones would actually get out of jail after serving only one-sixth of his sentence.

I want the member to state for the record right here in this House what the Liberal position is. Are the Liberals prepared to accept removing retroactivity which would allow Earl Jones to leave jail after serving only one-sixth of his sentence? That is what the victims are asking her as well.

Abolition of Early Parole Act
Government Orders

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

Judy Foote Random—Burin—St. George's, NL

Madam Speaker, the Conservatives will stand in this House and put questions across the floor, but they will not agree to the idea of getting this right by having a discussion in committee about what we need to do with this legislation to respond to the needs of victims of crime. White-collar criminals need to be taken to task. We need to deal with them in a responsible manner. We need to ensure that this does not continue.

Yes, let us get it right. Let us work together in this House and in committee to get this legislation right.

Abolition of Early Parole Act
Government Orders

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

James Bezan Selkirk—Interlake, MB

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak in support of Bill C-59, Abolition of Early Parole Act. This is an important piece of legislation and I am happy to contribute to the proceedings in an effort to have it passed as swiftly as possible.

It is always great to have the opportunity to talk about how our government is delivering on its commitment to Canadians to keep their country, their communities and their streets safe and secure.

I would like to thank hon. members for engaging in the process of helping us create a strong piece of legislation that will level the playing field for all offenders who seek parole.

Our government has told Canadians many times since coming to power in 2006 that our priority is to keep them safe and secure. We have done more than just talk about keeping Canadians safe and secure. We have taken decisive action to deliver on that commitment, because our government is a government of action, not words.

We have taken action by introducing a host of legislation to tackle crime while strengthening the rights of victims and their families. We have worked very hard to make our streets and communities safer for everyone by giving law enforcement officials the tools they need to do their jobs.

We have also taken action to crack down on organized crime and on violent gun crimes in particular. We have passed legislation to increase sentences handed out to people convicted of drive-by shootings and murders connected to organized crime.

I am proud to say that our government passed legislation last year to strengthen the national sex offender registry and the national DNA data bank. We have also introduced legislation to strengthen the International Transfer of Offenders Act.

We have introduced bills to fix the pardon system and keep serious offenders from having their criminal record suspended, and to end the use of house arrest for serious and violent crimes.

In our ongoing efforts to make sure that people convicted of a crime do the appropriate time behind bars, our government has also passed bills that limit the amount of credit given for time spent in pre-sentence custody.

Our government has taken action to tackle property crime, including the serious crimes of auto theft and trafficking in property that is obtained by crime.

We have also taken action to provide additional police resources in our communities. As an example, we have hired 1,000 additional RCMP personnel to help combat crime and keep our communities safe from coast to coast to coast.

Our government has pledged to keep Canadians safe, and as hon. members can see from this impressive track record, this is exactly what we are doing.

Our government has also pledged to Canadians that we will make changes to the corrections and conditional release system that strengthen the rights of victims and give them a voice.

We have heard much talk by hon. members on the other side of the House who question the costs involved in improving and strengthening our correctional system. What hon. members do not talk about is the heavy toll that crime takes on individual victims, their families, communities and society at large. That is why we have taken action to ensure that the scales of justice are balanced to include victims.

Since the day we took office, we have being doing a lot of things to help victims of crime and make sure that victims' needs are taken into consideration in all aspects of our public safety and justice agenda.

There are many programs already in place, and we are moving ahead on several initiatives to ensure that victims' voices are heard, and to ensure that victims' concerns are addressed.

As an example of the importance our government has placed on helping victims, we committed over $50 million over four years to improve the federal victims strategy, which exists to help victims navigate and deal with the criminal justice system.

As another example, we created the Office of the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime to be an independent resource for victims.

The National Office for Victims at Public Safety Canada is also working hard to give victims a greater voice in the corrections and conditional release process and to assist victims in getting access to the information and services that they might need.

Our government is proud of the work the National Office for Victims has done to reach out to more victims of crime through consultation and outreach. The office also works with aboriginal communities to help victims get better access to information and services.

I could talk about many more initiatives and actions that our government is taking to put victims' rights at the forefront of the justice system. I would like to turn, however, to the matter at hand, that of Bill C-59.

Hand in hand with our efforts to help victims, we must ensure that we keep dangerous offenders off our streets and out of our communities. We must ensure that anyone who is sentenced to prison for a crime remains in prison for the proper length of time before being eligible for parole. This is what Bill C-59 aims to do.

Bill C-59 would amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act by abolishing accelerated parole review. Accelerated parole review was incorporated into the CCRA in 1992 to do exactly what it sounds like, accelerate the parole review process for those first-time offenders who have not been convicted of a crime involving violence, organized crime, or a serious drug offence.

When it was first introduced and up until 1997, accelerated parole review only applied to full parole eligibility. In 1997, however, accelerated parole review was amended to include day parole, making it possible for white-collar offenders to apply for day parole after serving only one-sixth of their sentence or six months, whichever is longer.

As we stand here in this House in 2011, we understand that the situation in 1997 was not the same as what we now face in 2011. We believe that accelerated parole review is an unfair practice and it should be abolished.

One of the key crimes that accelerated parole review applies to is that of fraud. Under accelerated parole review, first-time offenders charged with a white-collar crime such as fraud need only serve one-sixth of their sentence before they are eligible to apply for day parole.

Under accelerated parole review as well, these offenders do not have to attend a parole board hearing in person. The application is submitted and approved on paper alone. The offender is not required to appear before the Parole Board of Canada officials to make a case for his or her day parole application.

Finally, under accelerated parole review, the Parole Board of Canada has little choice but to release the offender on day parole if there are no reasonable grounds to believe that the offender will commit a new violent crime.

It is difficult for me and for many Canadians to understand why an offender who commits a crime like fraud should be given a fast track to apply for day parole. We do not agree that someone who steals hundreds of thousands of dollars, and often millions, from hard-working Canadians through a fraudulent investment scheme should be allowed to apply for day parole without any need to appear in person before the parole board. Nor do we agree with the criterion that the parole board must release the offender back in the community if there is no evidence that he or she will commit a new violent crime.

That is why we have introduced Bill C-59. I would like to address in turn the three key elements of the parole system that will change under Bill C-59.

First and foremost, Bill C-59 will change the rules so that white collar offenders must wait the same amount of time as any other offender before applying for day parole. That is, they are not eligible to apply for day parole until six months before they are eligible for full parole. This makes sense. Why should these offenders be allowed to apply for day parole sooner than any other offender? They committed a serious crime and, therefore, they must serve the time.

Second, by abolishing accelerated parole review, we will ensure that white collar offenders must stand in front of a Parole Board of Canada hearing in person, just like every other offender. Again, it only makes sense that all offenders must go through the same process to apply for parole. Parole should not be seen as a given or a sure thing. All offenders should be expected to stand in front of a parole board hearing and convince board officials they are not going to commit another crime.

Finally, this legislation will ensure that white collar offenders must pass the same test of eligibility for parole as all other offenders. In other words, the parole board must be convinced that this offender will not commit any new crime, never mind the current criterion of a vicious crime or criminal offence, but any new crime. It is only fair and just that all offenders must face the same test to determine if they can be trusted to return to the streets of our communities.

As hon. members can see, Bill C-59 is all about levelling the playing field for all offenders. No longer will people who are charged with fraud have an expedited process when it comes to applying for parole. No longer will victims of fraud have to watch in disappointment when the offender is allowed to apply for day parole after serving only a small fraction of their sentence.

By passing this legislation we will send a message to these offenders and to Canadians that we will no longer support a system that favours offenders who steal hundreds of thousands of dollars, and sometimes millions, from hard-working Canadians.

I urge all hon. members to join us in taking a stand today to end this unfair, two-tiered parole system. I urge all members of the House to vote in favour of Bill C-59.