- His favourite word was crime.
Last in Parliament March 2011, as Liberal MP for Ajax—Pickering (Ontario)
Lost his last election, in 2011, with 38.30% of the vote.
Statements in the House
Business of Supply March 8th, 2011
Mr. Speaker, I would argue that what I am talking about is fundamental to the motion we are dealing with today. Let us consider the fact that this is not an isolated, one-off instance. If it were to be held out as a mistake, a one-off occasion that could easily be explained as one error, that would be one thing. However, it is part of a broader trend.
At stake in the House are the very institutions that ensure that our democracy is kept viable and strong, that we have strong independent oversight, that agencies like Elections Canada are able to set and enforce rules to make sure that fairness is maintained and that our system of democracy is kept healthy. There could be nothing more germane than going over examples of the government attacking those institutions as part of a broader pattern.
Mr. Kennedy, for talking about the changes needed at the RCMP, was let go. He did not want to go but was let go. We have not heard a word from his replacement in over a year, someone who has disappeared into the ether, a former Conservative fundraiser with no experience with the national police force and who is doing his job by not saying a thing or demanding changes.
Munir Sheikh, the head of Statistics Canada, who refused to have words put into his mouth to the effect that he supported the idea of ending the long form census when he had thought no such thing, was effectively forced out of his job because he would not buy the government's talking lines.
And the following were fired as well: Colonel Pat Stogran, the Veterans Ombudsman; Peter Tinsley, the chair of the Military Police Complaints Commission; Richard Colvin; and Steve Sullivan, who said that the government's plan for victims was unbalanced and would not work. Marty Cheliak, head of the Canadian firearms program, was also fired. And there is Kevin Page, the Parliamentary Budget Officer.
Consider the pattern. When looking at Elections Canada and the way the rules are being flaunted, not followed and essentially waived off as insignificant, we see that it is part of a trend and pattern that must be arrested and expunged.
Here are the fundamental questions. What if we let this stand? What if we allowed these attacks on the independent institutions that oversee Parliament to stand? What if we put a stamp of approval on them? What if Canadians do not stand up and challenge them? What is to stop a future prime minister from going the next steps and eliminating all of the lights that shine in dark corners and give us insight into what is happening, that ensure that when Canadians are making decisions in elections they are doing so with facts, and that when Parliament is making a decision in the House, it is doing so with accurate and viable information?
If we do not fight to protect the laws that are put in place by agencies like Elections Canada, then we will watch everything fall like a row of dominos. When we stand in the House and are forced to vote on bills that have no costing and no information provided, we are already seeing those dominos falling. When we see the independent officers of Parliament, one after the other, being knocked out and replaced with people who refuse to speak out, who refuse to do anything but carry the government talking points, we are walking into a situation that we cannot get back from.
This motion is about the in and out scandal, but it is about much more. It is about protecting the institutions that maintain strong and healthy democracies, and we have to take a stand.
Business of Supply March 8th, 2011
Mr. Speaker, nothing is more fundamental to democracy than the independence of parliamentary institutions, having oversight and ensuring that our system has rules that are followed and adhered to.
In the time I have allotted I will talk about the in and out scandal and why it is such a concern, but moreover, why we as parliamentarians have to be deeply concerned about the trajectory, not just of this issue but of others, and its implications on democracy.
The in and out scandal is, at its base, an attempt to break election laws, laws that were put in place to ensure during a campaign every party was on equal footing, every party had limits and every party was allowed to spend a certain amount.
For one party to be able to break those rules to the tune of $1.2 million and to be able to go out and buy all kinds of additional ads and have resources that other parties are not afforded is not just wrong but, frankly, it amounts to electoral fraud, which means that the electoral process we had was uneven because one party was conferred an unfair advantage.
If we were to allow that to stand, if we accept the Conservative argument that this is just an administrative issue and we should not worry about it, what precedent would that establish? What message does that send?
If the people who make the laws flaunt the laws and if the people who make the laws say that no one really needs to follow the laws if they can find clever ways around them, how can we possibly have a strong democracy?
The Conservatives say that this is an issue faced by everybody. Only one party had its national campaign headquarters raided by the RCMP. Only one party had charges brought against senior organizers and senators in its party. Only one party has a paper trail of doctored documents to try break election laws. That party is the Conservative Party of Canada. Therefore, to suggest that everybody does it does not pass as anything more than empty rhetoric.
More than that, even after being caught, charged, taken to court by Elections Canada and the court tossing out the Conservatives' arguments saying that they were bogus and ridiculous, the Conservatives still stand in defiance. They still refuse to own up to what they have done or to acknowledge that what they did in the past was wrong. They refuse to own up to their error and to say that they never should have done it. Instead, they try to brush it off as unimportant.
I think it sends a terrible message and establishes an awful precedent. However, it is part of a bigger trend.
Recently a minister was charged with allegedly doctoring documents to make it look as though department officials were the ones who made the decision to cut funding to KAIROS when, in fact, those bureaucrats had done exactly the opposite. That minister was in committee and in the House and made comments that she did not know who altered the documents. She clearly misled Parliament because later she came back and said that she did know. For that, we are told that the minister is courageous and that the minister is a strong minister who we should all applaud for the work she is doing, even though the Prime Minister will not even allow her to respond to the questions that we pose.
Much bigger than that, though, is the trend that the government has of going after independent voices, voices that speak out and demand change. It started with Linda Keen. Linda Keen was the president of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission who stood and said that the government was wrong in how it was handling radioactive isotopes that are critical in diagnosing cancer. However, because she spoke out and took an opinion, she was fired.
It continued with Paul Kennedy, the RCMP Public Complaints Commissioner who said that what was happening in the RCMP was wrong, that it needed to change, that there were important recommendations, from Iacobucci to O'Connor to the public safety committee, that were left unimplemented and that, without those changes, we would have other problems, either with tasers or with people who suffered like Maher Arar and Mr. El Maati, Mr. Nureddin or Mr. Almalki.
Business of Supply February 17th, 2011
Mr. Speaker, the member said that the cost is worth it. She says that she knows the cost, so she should table the cost. What is the cost? There are a total of 24 crime bills before the House. I will not read them all since there are a lot. We have the cost of exactly zero of them. We have the head count of exactly zero of them.
The one bill we did challenge, which is Bill C-25, the minister said:
We're not exactly sure how much it will cost us. There are some low estimates, and some that would see more spent — not more than $90 million.
The only bill we ever received a number on was the amount of $90 million, but when the PBO did an eight-month report, with which they stonewalled the Bloc, the cost was $10 billion to $13 billion.
The Conservatives would understand, I would hope, that we are not just trusting them to take a Father Knows Best attitude. If the member knows the costs, she should table them.
Abolition of Early Parole Act February 16th, 2011
Mr. Speaker, that is an excellent list. I do not know if I could build on it. However, when we have first-time non-violent offenders, we should have two objectives.
First is to ensure that they never commit crimes like that again. We want to ensure our rehabilitation efforts are successful. That is precisely why we want to keep something like this. We should keep it when we have the correctional investigator saying that it is effective, that it is needed. We should keep it when we have people on the front lines of rehabilitation saying that it has been an enormous success and we should ensure we do not toss it out.
Second is to be informed and understand that when there are victims, we have to ensure those victims are not re-victimized.
All evidence shows that instead of cutting from things like the RCMP white-collar task force, we need to be putting money into it. Instead of making cuts to the national police service, we need to be investing in it. We need to be putting in things like restitution orders to ensure victims who have been victimized get their money back. This is what we have to be doing.
Abolition of Early Parole Act February 16th, 2011
Mr. Speaker, I completely agree. We have to make decisions on the basis of evidence. We have to be able to demonstrate how our policies will work and where they have worked elsewhere. On that basis, this completely fails.
I will speak to cost, and this is for the Bloc Québécois. On the two-for-one remand credit, the Minister of Public Safety told us the cost would be $90 million over five years. The real cost turned out to be $10 billion to $13 billion. Yet the Conservatives bring crime bills, bill after bill, and they refuse to tell us the cost.
How dare the Bloc vote for a bill with no costing, with no information whatsoever? What kind of precedent does this establish? What happened to the members of the Bloc Québécois who stood and demanded information on the statistics before they voted on things?
To play some politics, Bloc members are willing to vote for a bill that has nothing in terms of cost, yet has all kinds of information to show that it is going to hurt rehabilitation and the safety of our communities. I just do not get it.
Abolition of Early Parole Act February 16th, 2011
Mr. Speaker, of course we voted at second reading. As I explained, we wanted to amend it and really focus on the people he is pretending the bill is about.
However, I will tell members what I am shocked by. I am shocked that the Bloc Québécois is willing to vote for a bill when it has no costs, that it is willing to vote on a bill that has no idea of the fiscal implications on it. I am shocked that the Bloc Québécois will vote for a bill that the Quebec Bar Association says is unconstitutional and will not work. I am shocked that the Bloc Québécois would stand up against pretty much every church group that is out there that says that the bill will not work, or against the Elizabeth Fry Society, the John Howard Society and an assembly of health care providers that is pan-Canadian from Quebec to Newfoundland to the Yukon that all say that this stuff does not work.
I am shocked that the Bloc did not vote with us two years ago to put in provisions that would have ensured that Mr. Lacroix did not get out. Where was the Bloc two years ago? Why was the Bloc not with us two years ago when we introduced measures to stop large-scale fraudsters? Why is it including everybody else in this in a way that would badly damage public safety?
Abolition of Early Parole Act February 16th, 2011
Mr. Speaker, let us take the example of a drug mule under this situation. Let us take the example of a woman in a bad or abusive relationship, which, unfortunately, is very often the case, or she is caught up in a crowd that is less than desirable because of an economically vulnerable position, who, because of that economically vulnerable position, makes some bad choices, becomes a mule, not necessarily for drugs, but for other goods that maybe she did not realize were stolen, or maybe even did realize were stolen, what do we do with her?
There has to be a consequence, absolutely, but long periods of protracted incarceration do one thing. They lead to more crime. They lead to less rehabilitation. It has been proven in every jurisdiction it has been tried.
Therefore, keeping that woman, who might be a mother, away from her children, as long as possible in a jail cell does one thing. It reduces overall resources to deal with violent offenders who need to be treated. In that situation, it could cost anywhere from, at a low, $185,000 to a high of $250,000 a year to incarcerate her, where conditional release will be $23,000. It does nothing for public safety and it reduces resources to deal with those who are a danger to society and we do not want to let out.
We need to be intelligent and thoughtful on this stuff.
Abolition of Early Parole Act February 16th, 2011
Mr. Speaker, in a couple of hours this House will vote at third reading on a bill that we have had about three days to work on. Parliament is yet again being asked to vote on a bill with absolutely no idea whatsoever what the costs will be. Effectively, Parliament has a blindfold on and has been wished good luck. It will find out after the bill has been passed and the money has been long since spent what the financial implications are. This is no way to conduct business.
As I watched last night, we had a couple of hours to listen to witnesses and listen to serious concerns regarding this bill. Yet again there was a closure motion so we could only deal with it until 10 o'clock.
Here are the facts. This sudden urgency, this sudden flurry of activity that came from the government could have been easily avoided if it had listened over the last number of years when Liberal members said that we should make sure we fix this, that we should shut down the provisions that allow someone like Earl Jones or Mr. Lacroix to get out early. We have been very clear on that. We have consistently pushed for it. We did so in press releases. We did so at the justice committee, moving it as amendments. The government refused to act. Then Mr. Lacroix got out because of the government's inaction. The government was caught with its pants down. It was embarrassed and suddenly, there was a flurry of activity. Suddenly it said that we should adopt this overnight or we do not care about victims; adopt this overnight or we are on the side of criminals. It is a defensive argument and it debases this House.
I have sat here and I have listened to members talk about rape victims. Just yesterday a Conservative member stood in the House and said that there are certain members of Parliament, of course they were not named, who support organizations that do not want jail time for people who rape children. What on earth is happening to debate when the Conservatives do this kind of thing? This is debate about first-time non-violent offenders and there is someone standing in the House talking about raping children and saying there are members in the House who do not support tough sentences for somebody who commits a crime like that. That is shameful. It shows us how desperate the Conservatives are to put politics ahead of an honest debate.
Here is the honest truth. Over the last two years not only did we advocate for these types of provisions that would stop someone like Earl Jones from getting released early, but in committee last night I, along with Liberal members and members of the NDP, proposed a series of amendments to make it targeted.
We voted yesterday at second reading to have the ability at committee to debate this matter, to focus it and get rid of the most offensive provisions that touch on things that frankly none of the Conservatives has been talking about and to determine what the Conservatives say the stated purpose of the bill is. What did they do? They voted against those amendments. In recorded vote after recorded vote, they blocked our efforts to amend the legislation.
Then they had the audacity, the intellectual dishonesty, to stand in the House and say that we do not care about victims, that we want to let Earl Jones out. It is despicable and it is dishonest.
To say that we have fair differences, to say that between us there are bridges we cannot build, that we cannot find compromise in certain areas, that is fine. To say that we both care about public safety, we both want to make a difference but we have a different approach to how we want to achieve it, is fair. However, to stand in the House and say that certain members support criminals, certain members do not support victims, give me a break.
Every single one of us in the House was elected because we care about our communities and our families. Every single one of us in the House comes here every day to try to make a better country, a safer country, with less violence and fewer problems. When we cast aspersions like that, the only thing we do is turn off Canadians and have them tune out. They say that this is not real debate and is nothing but games.
What I am trying to do here, and what we have tried consistently to do over the last number of days, is to point out deep concerns we have with provisions in the bill that eliminate the accelerated parole process for everyone.
Why should we care about that? First of all, this bill does nothing for victims. I mentioned that in my question.
It is worth mentioning that the member for Brampton West asked a series of good questions to victims. He asked what was more important to them and what did they want to see. Their most emphatic responses were around things like restitution and the ability to get money back from the people who victimized them. These are people who lost their life savings. Their first priority is getting back those savings. Certainly one of the first priorities of the government should be to stand side by side with them and say it is going to do everything it can do to get that money back.
One victim talked about his concerns with the idea that somebody like Earl Jones would just leave the country with his hard-earned money. We should be there for the victim every step of the way.
We heard another victim talk about the tax complications that come with this kind of situation. There are tax difficulties. As a government, and I speak in the collective sense of parliamentarians, we should be seeking ways to give tax breaks and different ways of assisting people who have been in that situation to dig themselves out.
We certainly heard from victims about the importance of enforcement, about putting money into the RCMP. It was only two days ago we heard about deep cuts of some $20 million that had been made to the national police services, which now the RCMP has to fund because there is a shortfall from the federal government. This is for services as essential as the sex offender registry and CPIC. We also know about cuts that have been made to the RCMP task force on white-collar crime.
It strikes me as disingenuous to say that opposition members do not care about victims when we are saying we have to do more to stop there being victims in the first place. We watched more than 70% being slashed from the crime prevention budget. When I talk to not-for-profit groups across the country that do great work in trying to stop crime before it happens and they tell me that they have to focus all their attention and energy on maintaining what little federal funding they have left to stop crime in their communities, that is wrong. When we talk about prevention, it is specifically because we care about victimization. It is specifically because we want safer communities, that we want honest answers for them.
In those examples, by investing in community capacity, by investing in police resources, by passing bills like what we have been pushing for, for well over four years now, to give lawful access abilities to our police to chase after criminals who use electronic media to perpetrate their crimes, by enabling them in those ways, we stop there being victims in the first place.
For anybody who has been victimized, the first thing that goes through his or her mind is how to make sure the pain and hurt and suffering never happens again. How do we stop it? It is not just about punishment.
On the punishment front, I cede to the Conservatives. They want to out-punish us. That is fine. The question is: Where does that lead? If our only objective is punishment, if we do not invest in those things I was talking about around prevention, where all those cuts have been made, we do no service to victims.
The Conservatives hand-picked the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime, Steve Sullivan. When he came to the conclusion after working with the Conservative government that the Conservative plan for victims will not work and is the wrong direction to go, he was fired. He was let go only because he spoke out.
Why did he say this plan was broken and would not work? It was not just because the Conservatives cut more than 40% from the victims of crime initiative, an initiative that sought to break cycles of victims that feed criminality. We have to remember that many victims become criminals if we do not address the base pain of their victimization. He said that not nearly enough money was being put into prevention and because of the cuts he saw, not nearly enough resources were being put into policing and not nearly enough resources were being put into helping victims once they had been victimized. Those are the kinds of things we have to do.
The Conservative plan to chase after incarceration and only incarceration as the solution, and then to vilify anybody who suggests that we should also look at other ideas, has been tried before. I mention this because it is important before embarking on a new endeavour to ask if somebody has tried this before.
Here in Canada we enjoy very low crime rates. During the years of Liberal power, we saw the crime rate, year over year, go down. At the same time, we enjoyed very low rates of incarceration. In thinking about it, those things are actually symbiotic. If there is a low rate of incarceration and a small number of people in prison, it is because there is less crime and fewer criminals. If there are overflowing prisons, and we are building more and more and it is growing and growing, it is because we have a lot of crime. It is not a good indicator.
In Canada, we had a strong model and, if we are going to break from that, where are we going? This same hyper-partisan approach to crime was tried by Republicans in states like California where they tried to vilify people who talked about prevention and investing in rehabilitation and programs. They called them people who did not care about victims and talked about them in the same kind of hyper-partisan terms that we have seen on the other side. Then they proceeded down a path of building more and more prisons, just churning them out one after the other.
What happens? Let us look at this bill. This bill disproportionately affects women. Some 62% of the people who will be affected by this will be women. These are women who are coming out of vulnerable situations or who are in situations where they are in a bad relationship or bad associations and end up carrying, not necessarily drugs, but goods of some sort, such as stolen goods. They are probably doing it under duress because they are in a bad situation, an impoverished situation.
If those women are a first-time non-violent offenders, this bill would eliminate their opportunity to move into conditional release. What does throwing them in jail longer and potentially keeping them away from their children for longer periods of time? Does that promote public safety?
In the experience of California, it did not. What ended up happening was that when they took first-time non-violent offenders and put them in jail for longer periods of time, there was a degradation in their condition.
Now that the prisons are more full and more replete with first-time non-violent offenders, there is less money to go around, which means that programs and services will be less effective. We already see that happening here in Canada where there is less money for programs and services. The correctional investigator is saying that we have a developing crisis here and there just is not enough money to deal with all of the people coming in to make them better.
Offenders who go into prison for a minor crime, go into an environment that is overcrowded and that does not have the services to address their root condition, remembering that more than 80% of inmates suffer from addiction issues. In the women's population, a quarter suffer from serious mental health issues. We are giving no money to those issues. In fact, we see it starting to slip away more and more. We then release them and, in this case, it is six months or two years later, whatever the case may be.
What happens when they get out? They start committing more serious crimes. In California, this vicious cycle became so bad that the rate of recidivism, that rate of reoffending, was over 70%, which means that for every 10 people who walked out a prison door, 7 would commit a crime.
We heard an interesting statistic last night. The violent reoffending rate for people who have been accessing the program is 0.3%. We are tossing out the window a program that has a violent recidivism rate of 0.3%. The system we are emulating is the California model that sees violent recidivism rates, not only in the double digits, but over 20%. It does not seem to me like that is something we would want to chase.
The problem in this vicious cycle is that it keeps feeding itself, it keeps chugging. The more those services are cut, the more people who go into prisons and the more stretched we become, the less there is available.
In California's example, it eventually had to go to private prisons where the conditions got even worse, where double bunking became triple bunking and where the lack of services became a complete absence of services. I do not think that is a path we want to cross.
When we look at the bill, we should consider the fact that many legal experts, including the Barreau du Québec, say that it is unconstitutional as well, that the retroactive features contained within the bill are unconstitutional and will not stand up to challenge. It is probably the result of hastily crafted legislation that was done behind closed doors, did not involve the parties and rammed through in three days, but those sorts of things are important to look at.
In a broader sense, in the United Kingdom, Prime Minister Cameron is undoing this kind of punishment agenda, while in the United States we see an undoing of this kind of agenda. Newt Gingrich, who is considered the father of this whole idea, is saying that it is broken and it does not work. Canadian Conservatives stand alone in the world, conspicuously so, in chasing after this disaster.
I will point to one other quick example before I make a couple of other points. We need to look at Florida versus the state of New York and the two approaches they took. New York decided that this kind of prison agenda was not making sense, so it actually reduced its overall incarceration rate by some 16%. At the same time, Florida continued charging forward with these types of conservative policies for non-violent offenders. The result was that Florida had an increase of 16% in its incarceration.
If we use Conservative logic, Florida should have been a Nirvana. Florida should have suddenly seen massive decreases in its crime. The opposite was true. Not only was Florida now burdened with billions of dollars in new costs, but its crime rate had gone up. Meanwhile, in New York, which saved billions of dollars and decreased incarceration, its crime rate went down. That is the case, the tale, everywhere it has been tried. This is not some debate in abstraction.
This is a debate with hard evidence and, if we care, not just about costs but also about victims, if we care about making a difference and making our communities safe and we are honest about that intention and not seeking to play politics, it takes longer to explain but it makes sense to do the right thing.
It is important to read the comments that came in from the correctional investigator. These are his statistics and the concerns that he expressed. He said, “The abolition of APR will result in non-violent offenders remaining in federal custody for significantly longer periods before being released into the community—this with limited net public safety benefit”.
He goes on to say, “We can also expect that the Parole Board of Canada will have to hold more hearings than before, as APR typically is conducted by a paper review. These associated costs, in addition to significant incarceration costs, are important and need to be calculated”.
“Of course, we have nothing. They refused to give us the figures”.
“Statistics show that overcrowding in prisons leads to higher levels of tension and violence and jeopardizes the safety of staff, inmates and visitors”.
He continues on to say, “With overcrowding, timely and comprehensive access to offender programs, treatment and meaningful employment opportunities are measurably diminished”.
He continues on to say, “Capacity is currently most limited at the most medium security level, where bulk of correctional programming is supposed to take place and this bill will negatively impact it”.
He goes on to talk about the overrepresentation of aboriginal people and how the bill will disproportionately impact them. He continues to say that the office is concerned, as I mentioned before, about women offenders and the fact that this disproportionately targets them. We must remember that for women offenders the cost of incarceration is anywhere from $180,000 to $250,000 a year.
These are not smart solutions. They are backward, failed Republican solutions and we do not need them here. We need to be smart, not dumb, on crime.
Abolition of Early Parole Act February 16th, 2011
Here is the problem, Mr. Speaker. A member of Parliament asked a question about what the government has done for victims and the response is to say that the member supports criminals. What absolute nonsense.
I was at committee last night. I watched every single opposition member, except for the Bloc Québécois, vote to ensure people like Earl Jones are not eligible for this condition. Shame on that member for trying to portray that any member of the House, either the member who posed the question, or myself, or a member of the Bloc, or the member herself supports Earl Jones getting accelerated pardon review.
The member should have listened two years ago when at justice committee we moved provisions that would not have allowed Mr. Lacroix out.
If the member is interested in victims, why has nothing been done to implement restitution orders so that when victims are taken for this kind of money the individual who commits the crime has to pay the money back? Why has the government made cuts to the RCMP task force on white-collar crime that goes after these criminals? Why has the government sat for years on legislation that we have been waiting to pass on lawful access to give police the tools to go after these kinds of criminals? Why has the government made cuts to crime prevention? Why has it cut from victims' services? Why did the government fire its victims' ombudsman, the government's own hand-picked ombudsman, who said its plan for victims is broken and will not work?
If the member is concerned about victims, why is she not addressing those issues?
Abolition of Early Parole Act February 16th, 2011
Mr. Speaker, we are approaching third reading and it would seem almost impossible to believe that the Conservative government would be asking Parliament to vote in mere hours with no cost whatsoever.
First, does the member have an expectation that Parliament would vote in the dark with a blindfold on? Does she find it acceptable that we should just vote for bills without any idea whatsoever what the cost implications would be, particularly when we have seen that these types of bills cost enormous amounts of money? The Parliamentary Budget Officer has said that just one of the Conservative crime bills would cost between $10 billion to $13 billion. Where is the money?
Second, I would accept any evidence. I am begging for it and I have asked, but there has been nothing again and again. What evidence is this being based on? Could the member show a single jurisdiction in the world where first-time non-violent offenders are put in for long periods of incarceration where it does anything but increase violence, increase victimization and create more problems?
Last, why would Conservative members not support our efforts both in committee and two years ago to go after large-scale fraudsters, focus it there and keep the accelerated parole review for others?