Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak to Bill C-25, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (limiting credit for time spent in pre-sentencing custody). The Liberal Party believes this is very important legislation in fighting crime and we are therefore supporting the bill.
We listened to attorneys general. The driving force for the legislation came from the west, in large part from my province of British Columbia. My colleagues and I met with the attorney general of British Columbia at the time, who articulated very clearly the need for truth in sentencing and an effort to limit pretrial pre-sentencing custody time and give greater clarity.
Right now this is known as dead time and the numbers can be quite flexible and are up to a judge. It can be anything from one to one or one to three, commonly known as one to two. However, this did not reflect, in many ways, the wishes and desires of the public and the ability of our police officers and police forces to execute their duty to the citizens of our country to protect us from those who would do harm to us.
I will quote from the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police on this issue as follows:
Public confidence in the criminal justice system demands that criminals receive just and proportionate sentences fitting their crime...this Bill, if passed, will bring greater clarity, transparency and accountability to the sentencing process...
We fully support this. In fact, the key messages I want to get across on behalf of my party is that we want to ensure our police officers and those who are tasked to execute justice in our country have the appropriate tools with which to catch, convict and sentence criminals. We also want to ensure the bill strikes a reasonable balance between ensuring that criminals serve complete sentences, while also maintaining a degree of judicial discretion to deal with instances where there are conditions that deem changes.
We support the fact that clarity and definition will be brought to the amount of pre-custody sentencing provisions, specifically the credit time spent in pre-sentencing custody will be limited and delineated by the bill. Our rationale for this is we have had consultations with our caucus members and with the attorney general and solicitor general of British Columbia. They explained the instances in which convicted criminals received abbreviated sentences, which eroded the public confidence in the judicial system, especially when convicted gang members were released sooner than their sentences warrant.
In my province of British Columbia gang violence has caused a significant erosion in the faith of the public in the ability of the justice system to protect us. The criminal gang violence that has occurred, particularly in and around the Lower Mainland, has claimed dozens of lives. This is unusual, but the fact that this has not been arrested speaks to the need for Parliament, working with our provincial counterparts, to deal with this cancer. Organized crime is a cancer in our society. I will talk a bit about that later because it has caused incredible frustration among our citizens and our police officers, who try day in and day out to deal with this challenge.
I want to talk about a certain aspect of the bill that deals with what happens when people are convicted and they go into a remand centre before they go to trial. Historically the time before sentencing, if they are convicted, is deemed to be given one for one, two for one or even three for one value for the time that has been spent in the pre-conviction period of time, the time in custody.
We have found that the conditions are quite poor in the remand centres, those that are provincial two years less a day. We have to work with our provincial counterparts to deal with this issue. Most people who commit crimes and are convicted do not go to federal institutions of two years or more. They go into provincial institutions of two years less a day. This is often known as dead time, and the underlying problems of many of the people in these institutions, because of overcrowding or a lack of resources, are not dealt with. What are those problems?
I recently met with people at Correctional Service Canada. I asked about the conditions in the provincial jails and the population of individuals that came to their attention. In fact, when I was in university, I used to work in a provincial jail. The situation in many cases has not changed in terms of the population. Nowadays more than 50% of the people in jail are deemed to have fetal alcohol syndrome/fetal alcohol effects.
For those who do not know this, FAS/FAE is the leading cause of preventable brain damage in children at birth. The consumption of alcohol in certain quantities, particularly in the first trimester, causes irreparable brain damage. The average IQ is 70 to 75. Once people who have FAS/FAE start growing up, people do not understand them. They do not understand their behaviour, which is out of the realm of what is considered “normal”. When they go to school, they cannot concentrate, study or learn. The teachers do not know how to handle them. They fall through the cracks.
The tragedy of this is it is entirely preventable. I have been here almost 16 years and there has not been any reasonable, effective legislative solution. I put forward a bill some years ago, which took the line of what we would do when people had a psychiatric problem. When people have psychiatric problems and are psychotic, they come to the emergency department. The emergency room physician can write a note, with another physician, that will put them in hospital, against their wishes, if they are deemed to be a danger to themselves or to other people or cannot take care of themselves. As emergency physicians, we do this when circumstances warrant. There are very narrow definitions for this, but the outcome of it is it prevents people from hurting themselves or somebody else and it enables them to get the care they require.
If a woman is keeping the fetus to term, then one could apply the same rationale. In doing so, we could prevent FAS/FAE from occurring. In fact, there was a case in Winnipeg where a women had a couple of babies with brain damage because of the consumption of alcohol. However, her third baby, because she was put in hospital to receive care, did not have FAS/FAE or brain damage. She admitted that the only reason her third child did not have FAS/FAE was because she was brought to the hospital, albeit against her will, for a short period of time, which enabled her to get her life back in order.
I know it is a hard and difficult thing, but it at least warrants debate in the House.
The other thing is two-thirds of the people in jail have what we call a dual diagnosis. They have a psychiatric problem and they have a substance abuse problem. In speaking to police officers and those who work in our corrections system, one of the big gaps is the fact that most people who are convicted by the courts go into a provincial institution, where the kinds of treatment they need for their psychiatric problems, substance abuse issues and skills training simply are not there.
Therefore, we have a revolving door of tossing people out of the institutions. The recidivism rate is high. They commit more serious crimes and eventually wind up in federal institutions, where they have a much greater chance of receiving the type of treatment they require and preventing them from committing the same types of punitive acts against our citizens.
The current situation does not serve the public's right to be protected. It does not serve the ability of our police officers to protect us. It does not serve the ability of an individual who has committed a crime to receive the types of rehabilitation required in order not to recommit often more serious crimes when he or she gets out.
In this way, the current system does not work. I can only impress upon the federal government to work with its provincial counterparts, who have their hands out and are asking for help in dealing with this issue for the sake of the citizens of our country.
The other issue I would like to address is the issue of victim rehabilitation. It is something that we in the Liberal Party have been very supportive of. We want to work with the provinces to make sure that our victims receive the care, support, treatment and rehabilitation that they require when they have been victimized.
In my personal view, they also need to be able to have a greater sense of knowledge of what happens when the person who has victimized them leaves jail. This is particularly important for those who have been subjected to violent crime, assaults and sexual violence. It is also important for the families of those who have been subjected to these very serious offences.
I had a case in my riding where a lady was murdered by an individual. The family members had very little knowledge of the location of this person who had committed the crime, when the person was being released and where the person was being released. It so happens that they found out that the person was going to be released in their community. In fact, this scared them and understandably so.
One of our objectives has to be the protection of innocent civilians, those who have been victimized and the family members of those who have been victimized. They must also be brought into this and treated with respect, and given the care that they deserve. That has to be top of mind in the justice system when we are dealing with these issues.
I also want to talk for a second about some of the other specific areas that police officers have been asking for. I am going to enumerate some of them in a list as solutions that the Conservative government should be embracing.
The first is in the area of disclosure. The current requirements for disclosure provide unrealistic demands upon the police and result in tensions between police and the Crown. There are inconsistent practices over who bears the cost of disclosure, how disclosure is prepared, and how documents are vetted. We also see a great benefit in the clarification, consistency and codification of disclosure standards. Specific recommendations are needed to address many elements of disclosure. Greater clarity is needed in this area.
The second area involves witness protection. Police officers have been proposing the formation of an independent office for witness protection, funded jointly at the federal, provincial and territorial levels. This would recognize the shared responsibility for justice. It would make the program accessible to all Canadian police agencies.
The third area deals with the matter of prolific offenders. Many of us feel the need for a legislative definition of chronic offender status. Penalties that emphasize that incarceration is a means of reducing the possibility of victimization are absolutely and fundamentally important. We also recognize that the number of people who go out and commit offence after offence is very small. It is a huge source of difficulty and an enormous source of uncertainty on the part of the public. It also causes an erosion of the confidence that our police officers have in the justice system. The courts have to deal with repeat offenders in a more effective way.
It is unthinkable for most of our citizens, and to us, to comprehend how people who commit offence after offence either do not have their underlying problem dealt with or are of sound mind and have made a conscious decision to keep on offending and violating their responsibility and duty to the general public to be law-abiding citizens. Individuals who are mentally competent are the individuals who should have a much stiffer series of penalties applied to them in the interest of public safety.
Fourth, there is a capacity deficit that needs to be addressed. A deficit exists throughout the criminal justice system, particularly with respect to the police capacity issue caused by an increasing complexity in criminal law. The complexities have been recognized in the context of the court process, but largely overlooked in the policing context.
What the RCMP does today versus what it did 20 years ago is very different. A much larger amount of work is being placed on the shoulders of RCMP officers. The whole post-911 terrorism challenge has been placed primarily on the shoulders of our RCMP officers, but unfortunately, the resources have not come with those added responsibilities. This is a grave issue.
Not only is there a lack of resources in terms of money but there is also a lack of resources in terms of manpower. The RCMP and other police forces in Canada have to pick and choose what they are able to do because there are only so many of them and so many hours in a day. They have to make some very conscious decisions as to what they can actually pursue and cases fall by the wayside as a result, and are not prosecuted in our courts. As a result, the public loses. Justice is not seen to be done because justice is not being done. The federal government needs to deal with this as well.
When we were in power, we authorized an increase in the number of RCMP officers. The government promised to do that also, but has not backed it up with the resources needed to accomplish this goal. It was, unfortunately, a serious broken promise on the part of the government.
Disclosure issues need to be addressed, as I mentioned before, on the part of the RCMP and other police forces in Canada. Our courts are entangled, and justice is sometimes dragged out for a long period of time. As a result, justice is not happening.
If we want to get down to the root of the issue and talk about true prevention, then one of the most extraordinary things we could do, and I have mentioned this dozens of times in the House, is set up an early headstart program for kids.
In the last year there has been a lot of interesting and dynamic scientific research done with respect to the evolution of the brain, particularly early in a child's life. If a fetus is subjected to alcohol and other toxic substances during the first trimester, then the brain could be damaged and the child could suffer from fetal alcohol syndrome and fetal alcohol effects.
A child really only needs one solid person in his or her life, and that individual does not even have to be the parent of that child. The security provided to the child through that bonding can have a profound positive outcome for the child.
A friend of mine in Toronto, Tamba Dhar, started a group called Sage Youth. She works with immigrant children who speak neither French nor English and whose parents are often refugees. These children were falling through the cracks. She established a mentorship program and by doing so, these children face an incredibly positive outcome.
The easiest thing for the government to do if it wants to address the issue of crime prevention is to work with the provinces to implement an early learning headstart program. My colleague put together such an arrangement with the provinces when we were in government, but unfortunately the Conservative government tore up that agreement.
I did not get into the issue of what is happening in aboriginal communities. A disproportionate number of aboriginal people are in jail. This issue has to be deal with. This issue goes to the heart of some fairly fundamental issues such as exclusion, a lack of rights, a lack of caring, and a discriminatory Indian Act that in my view should be torn up and thrown away because it separates first nations people from everybody else in a negative way.
I hope the government works with us and pursues the bill. The Liberal Party supports Bill C-25 in the interest of justice for all.