House of Commons Hansard #132 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was iran.

Topics

Abolition of Early Parole Act
Government Orders

4:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

Does the hon. member for Vancouver Kingsway have unanimous consent to split his time?

Abolition of Early Parole Act
Government Orders

4:45 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Abolition of Early Parole Act
Government Orders

4:45 p.m.

NDP

Don Davies Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank hon. members for their indulgence in that regard.

I want to start first by talking about victims. Victims of crime in this country experience pain. Victims in this country need support. Victims of crime in this country require justice. Victims in our nation need healing. MPs from every corner of the House understand the need for understanding when it comes to victims of crime and respect for their involvement in the justice system to make sure that their interests are always at the forefront as we consider a proper justice system in this country.

Unfortunately, Bill C-59 before us, despite the rhetoric, would do absolutely nothing for victims. It would not compensate, not give one penny, to a victim of crime, including a victim of fraud, for financial devastation. It would not assist a single victim to get his or her life back on track, an individual who has been abused and affected by any of these crimes.

The government and the Bloc Québécois claim the bill was motivated by the Earl Jones and Lacroix cases. Of course, those are white-collar fraud artists who bilked hundreds, perhaps thousands of investors out of their funds. In the case of one of the fraudsters it was $50 million and in the case of the other it was $100 million. This bill would not return one penny of compensation to the victims.

At committee last night we heard from three victims of these two perpetrators of fraud. They told us that they have to work three jobs and are having difficulty with the tax system. Their lives have been thrown into near bankruptcy. They acknowledged that Bill C-59 would not help them one bit to deal with those very real problems.

Bill C-59 would eliminate accelerated parole for all first-time nonviolent offenders. One of the problems with this bill is that, as the Bloc has proposed it and the government has accepted it, it would not target white-collar criminals. It paints a broad brush on every single first-time nonviolent offender. That is the problem with this legislation.

Last night at committee New Democrats moved amendments that would have changed the law in this country to make sure that white-collar fraudsters, like Earl Jones and Mr. Lacroix, would not qualify for accelerated parole. We would fix and surgically target the problem that has been identified by my colleagues on both sides of the House. Those amendments were voted down. I do not know how serious I can take the government's claims that it is really interested in targeting perpetrators of white-collar crime.

My friend from the Bloc just gave a speech saying that this bill would wipe out not just people who commit fraud but all people who are first-time nonviolent offenders. Bloc members think that is a good thing.

I have two words to raise in the House: Ashley Smith. I heard the member for Miramichi talk about New Brunswick. She comes from that area of the country where Ashley Smith came from. Ashley Smith, a 15 year old girl, became involved in the justice system by committing the crime of throwing a crab apple at a postal worker. She ended up in the federal prison system. Why? Because once she was in the system she had mental health issues. She started having oppositional problems with guards. She would struggle. They would charge her with assault. Imagine, a 15 year old girl with mental health problems being charged with assault. These things just snowballed down the hill and before she knew it she was in a federal institution. She hanged herself in a federal prison cell at the age of 19.

Is that the kind of person my hon. colleague from Ahuntsic thinks should not be let out at one-sixth so she could get the mental health services that she needs? That is the crime? That is the criminal that the Bloc Québécois thinks should not qualify for one-sixth release with supervision in the community?

That is exactly the person who will be caught by this crime and that is why this is a bad bill. It is a bad bill because it paints every single one of the first-time offenders in this country with the same brush. I expect that from the Conservatives. I am shocked to see it from the Bloc Québécois.

Today is a sad day for Canada, because it is a sad day for democracy as the Bloc Québécois and the Conservatives combine to shut down debate. There is no urgency to this bill. The Conservatives themselves admit that they did not introduce this bill for four years. There is no pressing urgency that means that the House cannot take the deliberate, careful considered time that my colleague from Outremont so intelligently called for.

If there is good solid evidence, if there is good argument and fact to back up the Conservatives' case, why are they afraid to bring those facts forward and have a fulsome debate to establish that? No, they had to invoke closure on this House.

I was at a meeting last night from 6:30 until 11 o'clock with four hours of debate, as this bill gets returned to the House for report stage and third reading and the vote today because the Conservatives are afraid of debate. They know that these facts will come out.

Here are the facts that we heard at committee last night that I noticed my friend from the Bloc did not tell anybody about. In the last five years, 7,200 first-time offenders were eligible for accelerated parole review and 4,800 were granted day parole. That is approximately 1,000 per year. Some 67% of people who qualified for accelerated parole were granted it. That means that one-third were not. In terms of any notion that Canadians may have that this is automatic and everybody is getting it, that is not true.

After five years the success rate is 84% of the people who were granted accelerated parole over the last five years completed their sentence without committing any offence, not a violent offence, not a non-violent offence. If they did commit any offence, they would immediately have their accelerated parole cancelled and they would be back in a federal penitentiary.

Zero point three per cent of people granted accelerated parole in the last five years resulted in the revocation for a violent offence. There is an 84% success and 0.3% failure. Those are the numbers.

Now, this bill would cancel that completely. Why is this a good program? It is because of the people who committed their first offence, a non-violent offence, who go into prison. We recognize that we can separate the violent offenders from the non-violent offenders and focus our resources on the people who really require the attention. We give them a short, sharp experience with the worst experience in Canada they can have, which is in a federal penitentiary. Then, when we are satisfied they will not commit a violent offence, and that is the test, we move them into another correctional facility.

This is not the case of offenders getting out of prison. We are changing the place where they serve their sentence. Mr. Lacroix and Mrs. Smith will serve their 12-year sentences. Ashley Smith, if she came out, would continue to serve her sentence. The question here is whether we put them in a more appropriate place to serve their sentence instead of being in a crime factory of a penitentiary.

My hon. colleague from Ahuntsic who went with me to prisons across this country knows the true state of services in our federal prisons where 80% of our inmates have an addiction and approximately one-third of them have mental illnesses. She knows and the Bloc knows, or they ought to know, that our federal system is not giving timely, effective treatment to those people.

What does keeping those people in from one-sixth of their sentence to two-sixths of their sentence do? Nothing. Actually, it will make things worse. Or, would we rather have that person at one-sixth being transferred to a halfway house in the community where they can get access to addictions treatment and mental health services, be connected with their family, maybe get a job and maybe get reintegrated slowly. Maybe women could get access to sex abuse therapy. We know that almost every single woman in prison has suffered from sex abuse. I do not hear any talk about that.

I want to finish with cost. It costs $140,000 a year to keep a male offender in a federal penitentiary and $185,000 a year for a female offender. In a halfway house, it is $25,000 to $40,000. One thousand people a year get accelerated parole. This bill would put 1,000 people in prison at a cost of at least $100,000 more a year and that is $100 million a year.

I would rather give the victims of Earl Jones and Mr. Lacroix that $100 million. I bet they would be happier if we compensated them for their losses instead of sticking the taxpayer with the recurring annual bill of $100 million that will do nothing to reduce crime and will do nothing for victims.

In conclusion, Marjean Fichtenberg of the Canadian Resource Centre for Victims of Crimes, another person who represents victims, said:

--this law-and-order agenda, where they're building more prisons, is still leaving the victim out because it's still focusing only on the offender.

This bill is bad law and I urge every member to vote against it. It will cost the taxpayers money and it will not do a darn thing for community safety.

Abolition of Early Parole Act
Government Orders

4:55 p.m.

Liberal

Andrew Kania Brampton West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I congratulate my friend on his very lucid analysis of the current situation.

Last night, in public safety committee, we heard from experts on two main points.

The first point was that victims would not helped by the bill at all. There are things that should be included, such as restitution, increased sentences, tax relief and those sorts of programs, but they have been ignored by both the Bloc and the Conservatives. The second point is women would be disproportionately affected negatively by these provisions.

Could my friend comment on why the Conservatives and the Bloc have ignored that and the women who would be affected?

Abolition of Early Parole Act
Government Orders

4:55 p.m.

NDP

Don Davies Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, Kim Pate, the executive director of the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies, testified last night and was not challenged by anybody, not by the Bloc, not by the Conservatives. She said, “as one of my colleagues in corrections said to me today, if this bill goes through we'll probably need at least several more prisons fairly quickly to incarcerate the women who will be held for longer periods of time”. That is the effect on women.

I have been to women's institutions in our country and have seen the types of people in them. They are disproportionately aboriginals, addicts, alcoholics and women victims of sexual violence. These women need support. On a first non-violent offence, we should try to reintegrate and help these women heal in society.

There is no problem to fix here, other than political optics and cheap game playing. The Bloc and the government do not come with statistics that show people released on accelerated parole reoffend at some alarming rate. It is quite the contrary. We heard testimony that this would lead to more prison overcrowding, more tension, more violence in our prisons, more danger to guards and corrections officers and more recidivism.

It is bad policy and it is bad for taxpayers.

Abolition of Early Parole Act
Government Orders

4:55 p.m.

Bloc

Raynald Blais Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask a question of the member who just spoke. Why change the focus of the debate? The debate is not about the quality of penitentiaries or penitentiary life. Of course there are problems. However, the debate is about white collar criminals and those who commit crimes that are not of a violent nature and who find themselves on the outside after serving just one-sixth of their sentence.

This bill addresses this form of injustice, this process that leads victims to say to themselves that what they went through was not so bad. This logic amounts to saying that they only fleeced people and stole a few thousand or million dollars and that it is not a big deal, but had they committed a violent crime, we would be much tougher. I find it quite difficult to follow this logic.

Abolition of Early Parole Act
Government Orders

4:55 p.m.

NDP

Don Davies Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, nobody is minimizing the consequences of any action. Every person in a federal penitentiary committed a crime that created damage. That is a given. The Conservatives and the Bloc keep repeating that. Obviously everybody in a federal prison has done something wrong. The question is this. As an intelligent society, what is the best way to deal with those people?

This is what the Association des avocats et avocates en droit carcéral du Québec said:

“The accelerated parole review regime removes a significant number of relatively non-criminalized often young individuals from a destructive environment, if the board certifies that they are appropriate cases...it removes them as early as possible, ideally before they fall in with even worse company...The accelerated parole review is not a gift to people. What it does is it extends the period of supervision of these appropriate candidates, supervision in the community. Supervision in the community is not a failure of the system. It's social reintegration in a structured managed way. It's in the interest of public security. It gives us hope that these individuals will not be committing new crimes and creating new victims in the future. That has always been the purpose of supervised release and here we're backing away from it. It makes no sense”.

I would like to correct something my hon. friend said. He said “getting out”. They do not get out. They are still serving their sentence, just in a different environment.

I wonder how many people have been in a halfway house in our country. I have and they are places of incarceration. They are drab places, where there is supervision, conditions and curfews. That is where people serve their sentence. It is still a structured place of incarceration and they still serve their sentence for the entire period. They get out at one-third or two-thirds to be reintegrated into society.

Abolition of Early Parole Act
Government Orders

5 p.m.

NDP

Thomas Mulcair Outremont, QC

Madam Speaker, I will begin by responding, through you, to the comments that were just made by the hon. member for Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine. I said earlier that I am having a hard time understanding the leader of the Bloc Québécois. Although we have our fundamental differences, we have come to expect a degree of analytical rigour from him. Today, he made a big mistake, which is relatively rare for him, when he spoke to reporters, saying that the Barreau du Québec was wrong and he was right. Indeed, the leader of the Bloc was wrong.

The hon. member for Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine just made exactly the same mistake that the leader of the Bloc did, and now I understand why. The pseudo-expert, the hon. member for Ahuntsic, misled them with a false analysis and a complete misunderstanding of the bill in question. I will try to the put the hon. member for Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine back on the right track. The bill is repealing existing provisions—

Abolition of Early Parole Act
Government Orders

5 p.m.

Bloc

Raynald Blais Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, QC

Madam Speaker, I ask that you warn the hon. member for Outremont against making these personal attacks. I heard the word “pseudo” and other things. To take this debate much further, I would invite him, through you, to stop making this type of personal attack and to get to the heart of the debate.

Abolition of Early Parole Act
Government Orders

5 p.m.

NDP

Thomas Mulcair Outremont, QC

Madam Speaker, since you listened to every word of my speech, you know perfectly well that I was strictly discussing the bill. I referred to pseudo-expertise to explain the fundamental problem we are experiencing this afternoon. The Bloc leader and now the member for Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine are completely wrong about the substance of the bill. I was in the process of explaining it to him. There was nothing personal in what I was saying. When someone says that they understand a bill and that their understanding is based on some sort of expertise, the best way to explain a misunderstanding is to say that the expertise in question is pseudo-expertise. I would also like to say that this debate should certainly not be included in the time allocated to me. If the Bloc members want to start playing that game by interrupting us when we are trying to deal with the substance of a bill, they have—

Abolition of Early Parole Act
Government Orders

5 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker Denise Savoie

The hon. parliamentary secretary would like to comment on the same point of order.

Abolition of Early Parole Act
Government Orders

5 p.m.

Conservative

Shelly Glover Saint Boniface, MB

Madam Speaker, I would like to support what the Bloc member just said.

Frankly, when the other Bloc member was speaking, I was a bit disappointed to hear the member for Outremont yelling at her that she was bluffing and other things. I am a bit disappointed and I want to support what the Bloc member just said.

Abolition of Early Parole Act
Government Orders

5 p.m.

NDP

The Acting Speaker Denise Savoie

I listened to what each member had to say, and I would invite all members to be more careful with their choice of words. Having said that, I do not wish to entertain further debate on the issue.

The hon. member for Outremont has the floor.

Abolition of Early Parole Act
Government Orders

5 p.m.

NDP

Thomas Mulcair Outremont, QC

Madam Speaker, as I know that you were listening to every word of my speech, you would be well aware that we were indeed addressing the subject at hand, that is, a bill that will make it impossible for a non-violent first-time offender to be released from prison after serving one-sixth of his sentence and serve out the following sixth of his sentence in a halfway house.

It is true that these criminals will not be locked up in prison, but that does not mean that they will be completely free. What does this mean, in practical terms? It means that the member for Ahuntsic, the so-called expert criminologist, is presiding over the following situation.

As of Friday of this week, an aboriginal woman who was with a friend when he committed a crime and was handed a three-year prison sentence was automatically entitled to have her file referred for a review to determine whether she could at least begin serving out her sentence in the community, as part of a transition process. This was a first offence and there was no violent crime committed.

For two days, the member for Saint-Boniface, who rose earlier, and her colleagues have been stressing the fact that this is a retroactive piece of legislation. In democracies, however, new penalties are not applied retroactively, since that approach flies in the face of every principle of a democratic society. And yet that is what the right—and when I say the right, I mean the members of the Bloc and their new allies, the Conservatives—are ensuring will happen.

The member for Ahuntsic stated here, in this House, that this is a possibility and that it is only the review process that will change, which is not true. She argues that it is just the accelerated parole review provision that is being scrapped, which is completely false. She has misunderstood the very substance of the bill.

If the Bloc is making the wrong decision—as even the Barreau du Québec argues it is—on the basis of the misguided analysis of the member for Ahuntsic, there is still time for it to change course. I believe, however, that the Bloc is afraid of the Conservatives' political weight in the outlying regions of Quebec. That is what concerns the Bloc Québécois. As Bernard Descôteaux so eloquently stated in an editorial that appeared last week in Le Devoir, cheap pre-election “populism” is behind the Bloc’s position on this issue.

Last week, when the Bloc made a deal with the Conservatives behind closed doors, its members had the nerve to tell us that because they had gotten something, like victims of the Stockholm syndrome they had to thank the Conservatives and, despite our role as members of Parliament and our primary duty to study bills, there would be no parliamentary committee and no right to ask any questions because they had made a deal with the Conservatives.

I have some news for the Bloc Québécois. There is a party with principles in this House, the New Democratic Party, and we will stand up to the right wingers in Canada. We will stand up for individual rights and freedoms and will not swallow an abbreviated, false analysis cooked up by pseudo-experts who have managed to convince the Bloc leader that this bill does not do what it obviously does. That is why the Barreau du Québec is opposed to the bill. That is why all the experts in penal law are opposed to it. That is why there is opposition to the bill from everyone who has a democratic conscience and hears the Conservatives pat themselves on the back and say that they want to impose another sentence, that after the judge, after the decision, after the sentence, there will be a new, retroactive penalty. It is antidemocratic, and we, for our part, will say that.

We will not let the newly formed right intimidate or influence us or spout nonsense at us just because it is afraid of the Conservatives’ strength in the regions of Quebec.

It is disgraceful that there has not been any objective, independent study of the number of cases. My colleague from Vancouver Kingsway gave the best available figures last night: 1,500 cases a year, of which 900 to 1,000 are granted. The cost could well be $100 million a year.

Earl Jones’s victims would like very much to be compensated by the federal government, rather than seeing another $100 million spent annually because the Bloc is afraid of the Conservatives in the regions—100 million new dollars a year.

On Friday this week, someone who has served the sentence imposed by a judge—the woman in my example—will learn that thanks to the member for Ahuntsic, she has not finished serving her sentence, she may not go to a halfway house, she may not be in the community or be closer to her children. She is going to stay in a penitentiary. What we have here is the new right, the new and improved Bloc Québécois. It is not a social democratic Bloc Québécois. The Bloc Québécois is learning all about political opportunism as the election approaches. Shame.

We are speaking up against this trend. To see where some effort could have been put into this, we need to look at the actual court documents in the Earl Jones case. I am going to read an excerpt from a Royal Bank of Canada document:

Mr. Jones returned my call. I offered him our ratelink essential package service because his fees are over $150.00 every month. He is using this account for business purposes as an In Trust account, however, I told him this is not a formal trust account and he could get himself in trouble....

It was years before the case came to light. What did the Royal Bank do? Nothing. What did the inspector of financial institutions, a federal government official, do about the Royal Bank? Nothing. What did the Government of Canada do about the inspector of financial institutions? Nothing. What did Earl Jones’s victims get? Nothing, zero. These are documents from the class action that has been launched in the Earl Jones case.

If the Bloc Québécois is really so concerned about Earl Jones’s victims, it would be fighting for half of that money, which would compensate 100% of Earl Jones’s victims in one stroke, if it were put to that use. Instead, to score a political point, the Bloc members are saying we should spend another $1 million a year with no objective study about the retroactive effect, the number of cases, the ultimate cost and the kind of cases affected by this half-baked and ill-conceived decision that the Bloc and its new allies in the Conservative Party are imposing. It is a shameful day for democracy. It is a shameful day when the Bloc gets into bed with the Conservatives on this.

Abolition of Early Parole Act
Government Orders

February 16th, 2011 / 5:10 p.m.

Liberal

Gerard Kennedy Parkdale—High Park, ON

Madam Speaker, I would like to raise something which people have been nibbling on the edges of, and that is the whole idea of what this House is for when it comes to matters of justice and not vengeance. Who in this House has the right to delight in those emotions that do not belong to us when we can never offer the answer?

I would like to ask the member if he would comment on what he sees happening in this House as it tries to move toward improving this law without those studies, without that consideration. What does it say about us as legislators who should tell victims what we can really do for them, what we can really accomplish and make happen versus what we cannot and what this bill means instead?