Madam Speaker, it is with great pleasure that I rise today to speak at third reading to Bill C-25, a proposal to restrict the amount of credit awarded for time an accused person spends in pre-sentencing custody.
The proposed legislation is part of our government's commitment to tackle crime and make our streets safer.
It is similar to a proposal I made in my private member's bill, Bill C-393, referred to as the knife bill which passed second reading in the 39th Parliament. That bill was introduced because of the senseless slaying of Andy Moffitt from Brockville.
Bill C-25 will provide the courts with guidance in sentencing by limiting the amount of credit that the courts may grant to convicted criminals for the time they served in custody prior to their sentencing.
Courts have traditionally granted two to one credit for pre-sentencing custody to account for certain factors such as overcrowding in remand centres, lack of rehabilitative programs commonly available in sentence custody, and the fact that the time spent in remand did not count toward parole eligibility.
In some cases the credit awarded has been as high as three to one, especially where the conditions of detention were very poor, for example, because of extreme overcrowding.
Enhanced credit has contributed to the growing size of the remand population who are those accused in custody awaiting trial and sentencing across the country which is now greater than the population found in sentence custody in Canada's provisional and territorial jails.
Across Canada court cases are becoming more complex and therefore longer. Many criminal cases now involve 10 to 20 court appearances which translate into longer stays in remand. For example, in 1994-95, 34% of those in remand were being held for more than one week. Ten years later, 2004-05 those held for more than one week had grown to almost 45%. The result is that offenders spend less time in sentence custody because they spend too much time in remand.
All this adds up to the increase in the remand population compared to the sentence population of convicted criminals. This explains why provincial attorneys general and correctional ministers encouraged the Minister of Justice at their September 2008 meeting to limit credit for pre-sentence custody as a way to help reduce the growing size of their remand population.
The practice of awarding double or even triple credit for pre-sentencing custody puts the administration of justice into disrepute. It creates the impression that offenders are getting more lenient sentences than they deserve.
Canadians have told us loud and clear they would like to see more truth in sentencing by bringing the practice of giving double time credit for pre-trial custody to an end.
This is exactly what Bill C-25 does. It proposes that the general rule of limiting credit for pre-sentencing custody to one to one in all cases. However, it gives courts the discretion to grant up to one and a half days for every day spent in pre-sentencing custody where it is warranted. Those circumstances are not defined in the bill, but we would expect that severe overcrowding for example would be such a circumstance.
Where accused are remanded for having violated bail or because of their criminal record, the credit must be limited to one day for every day spent in pre-sentencing custody in all cases. These are factors that courts have recognized as warranting less than two to one credit for pre-sentencing custody.
The government will not allow extra credit for repeat offenders and for those who have violated their bail conditions.
Another problem with the current practice of awarding credit for pre-sentencing custody is that only the resulting term of full sentencing custody is reported and no statement of the consideration of pre-sentencing custody is communicated in the reasons for sentencing.
This is another problem that Bill C-25 proposes to address by requiring courts to note on the record the sentence that would have been imposed without credit, the amount of credit awarded, as well as the sentence imposed.
Courts would also be required to record that the offenders have been remanded because of their criminal record or because they have violated bail.
These requirements will meet several objectives including more clarity in how the length of the custodial sentence is determined and I believe that it will result in greater certainty and consistency, and will improve public confidence in the administration of justice.
As a result of this initiative, more offenders will now have a federal sentence of two years more and an increased number of federal offenders will be spending a longer time in federal custody.
From a rehabilitation perspective, this time in the federal system may present the opportunity for longer term programming that may have a positive impact on the offender.
I appreciate the support of our provincial and territorial partners for this legislative amendment to provide greater truth in sentencing. We are continuing to make laws to strengthen the justice system, and Bill C-25 is an important contribution to this objective.
I urge hon. members to support a quick and hasty passage of this bill.