Ending Conditional Sentences for Property and Other Serious Crimes Act

An Act to amend the Criminal Code

This bill was last introduced in the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session, which ended in December 2009.

Sponsor

Rob Nicholson  Conservative

Status

In committee (House), as of Oct. 26, 2009
(This bill did not become law.)

Summary

This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment amends the Criminal Code to eliminate the reference, in section 742.1, to serious personal injury offences and to restrict the availability of conditional sentences for all offences for which the maximum term of imprisonment is 14 years or life and for specified offences, prosecuted by way of indictment, for which the maximum term of imprisonment is 10 years.

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Votes

Oct. 26, 2009 Passed That the Bill be now read a second time and referred to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights.

Ending Conditional Sentences for Property and Other Serious Crimes ActGovernment Orders

October 26th, 2009 / noon
See context

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, Bill C-42 is an important bill which should engage Canadians.

There are a number of questions that I want to raise. I will be talking briefly about sentencing. I want to talk about judicial discretion. I would like to talk about some of the implications of this legislation vis-à-vis certain offences and the serious questions that Canadians will want to have answered. As a consequence, the Liberal Party is going to be supporting Bill C-42 at second reading, to go to committee in order to hear from experts.

One of those implications will definitely be the cost of implementing changes to the Criminal Code. As members know, although the Parliament of Canada, the Government of Canada, passes legislation amending the Criminal Code, the responsibility to enforce that legislation in most cases falls to the provinces. There is an important element that has to be addressed, and that is that if we pass a law, there must be reasonable certitude that it will be respected and enforced across the land. However, if there is an impediment to that happening, then Parliament has to address that. It is not good enough to pass a law just because the law makes sense. We have to be able to enforce that law.

Today in the media, members will know, the Parliamentary Budget Officer has been asked specifically to start costing out the provisions in a number of pieces of legislation that have been proposed by the government which will have an impact on our ability to enforce the changes proposed in the legislation.

There are some very serious issues and it is going to be very important that this bill go to committee so that we hear from the experts. We all have an opinion here in this place but we need to go to committee. That is where the resources of outside experts from across the land will be available to inform parliamentarians, and that is why we do this.

Second reading allows us to at least raise some issues that we hope the committee itself will address when committee hearings start, and that is important.

For those who are not aware, the summary of this particular bill reads as follows:

This enactment amends the Criminal Code to eliminate the reference, in section 742.1, to serious personal injury offences and to restrict the availability of conditional sentences--

--and that is an important part--

--for all offences for which the maximum term of imprisonment is 14 years or life and for specified offences, prosecuted by way of indictment, for which the maximum term of imprisonment is 10 years.

For most people, that will not make any sense whatsoever, so as I was looking at some of the debates so far, I thought it would be important to remind hon. members and Canadians about what conditional sentencing is. When did it come about and why was it there?

The member for Edmonton—St. Albert had a very concise description, and I would simply like to draw on it.

This aspect of conditional sentencing came into being in June of 1994, under then Bill C-41, and it was described as Canada's first comprehensive reform to modernizing sentencing law and procedures since 1892, so it was breaking new ground. It was introduced in the House of Commons, and among its elements was the creation of the concept of a conditional sentence of imprisonment. This meant that sentences of imprisonment of less than two years, if ordered or mandated by a court, could be served in the community under certain conditions and under supervision. This could be done only under statutory conditions such that the court was satisfied that the offender could serve the sentence in the community without endangering the population at large.

Therefore, our system of justice recognized that there were cases where the people who had broken the law and who were subject to imprisonment were, in some cases, not likely to reoffend or to be a risk to society. Often it is said that if one commits a crime there are consequences. One must be responsible and accountable for one's actions and must take one's punishment.

There are cases where someone who, for instance, is convicted of dangerous driving causing bodily harm to another person and that would prescribe an imprisonment. However, when someone is put in jail, the judges need to look at some other factors. I was looking on the web last night about the various kinds of cases and the conditional sentencing arrangements that were given and this bill would change them.

I want to advise the House of some of these cases. Anything to do with drugs, as far as I am concerned, is very serious and it is something for which I would have a hard time giving a conditional sentence. We must understand that a conditional sentence means not going to jail and living one's life. It is like being on probation. There is a fine line between conditional sentencing and probation. Conditional sentencing usually involves curfews put on people and they cannot leave the house from 6 p.m. until 9 a.m. the next day. It also means that they are only permitted to go to and from work directly, with no stops in between. It also means that they must under prescription check in with someone akin to a probation officer to ensure they are doing all the things under the court order. It is quite restrictive and, in some cases, the length of a conditional sentence may be longer than the period for which they would serve in jail if they were in fact sent to jail for the offence.

There was a case in Alberta recently where 12 men were involved in drug trafficking. One of the persons involved was an 18-year-old with a clean record. He was a bright kid who made a mistake by getting involved with bad people, which happens a lot. He was sentenced to 24 months of conditional sentence and a probation period after that. The court took into account that there may be circumstances under which the person may be less likely to reoffend or get involved in criminal activity if he did not go to jail, which some people have described in this debate as being crime school where one learns how to be a good criminal.

In another case, a 32-year-old New Brunswicker was drinking at a bar and he assaulted a staff member at the bar following an altercation with his girlfriend. He punched the staffer in the bar because the staffer had insulted his girlfriend. Under the law, he should have gone to jail but he was given a conditional sentence.

A Nova Scotia man got one year of conditional sentencing for uttering a death threat but there were other circumstances for justifying giving that conditional sentence.

A Kingston man was given nine months conditional sentence for assault. He has a curfew from 6 p.m. until 9 a.m. the next day, except for going to and from his work.

A woman received a 12 month conditional sentence for punching her husband's girlfriend. She normally would have gone to jail but something happened. She assaulted her husband's girlfriend and she should have gone to jail but the law currently provides that she could get a conditional sentence.

An Edmonton nurse received a 23 month conditional sentence for dangerous driving causing bodily harm. I do not know the details of the case but it was 23 months of house arrest, although I do not think it is sitting around the house having a good time.

A New Brunswick woman was sentenced to a 12 month conditional sentence plus 3 years probation for concealing the body of her newborn baby who had died. Under the Criminal Code, normally she should have gone to jail but she was given a conditional sentence of 12 months.

A Regina man convicted of dangerous driving causing bodily harm was given a two year conditional sentence. Another man, who had no hands, was a courier for a drug group. He was given a 12 month conditional sentence plus 2 years probation mainly because he was at risk of being harmed if he was in jail.

Those are the kinds of things that would be covered in Bill C-42 and, if it were to pass as is, all of those people would go to jail. There would be no conditional sentences and no consideration of whether they have family, are the sole bread winners or have a disabled child who needs a father or mother. Those are the kinds of things the judges need to take into consideration.

When I looked at the legislation and read some of the things that would be changed, it drew to my attention that there needs to be some judicial discretion. I believe this is where the Conservatives and the other parties part on justice bills. It has to do with judicial discretion. It has to do with whether we respect the courts and judges to make informed decisions based on criteria and principles.

With regard to sentencing, the fundamental purpose of sentencing is to contribute, along with crime prevention initiatives, and to show respect for the law and the maintenance of a peaceful and safe society by imposing just sanctions that have one or more of the following objectives: first, to denounce unlawful conduct; second, to deter the offender and other persons from committing serious offences; third, to separate offenders from society, where necessary; fourth, to assist in the rehabilitation of offenders; fifth, to provide reparations for harm done to victims in the community; and sixth, to promote a sense of responsibility in offenders and acknowledgement of the harm done to victims and the community.

The need for these things was reinforced in a judgment in the year 2000 from Justice Proulx, who, in his ruling said that the provisions on conditional sentencing:

...were enacted both to reduce reliance on incarceration as a sanction and to increase the use of principles of restorative justice in sentencing.

A conditional sentence should be distinguished from probationary measures. Probation is primarily a rehabilitative sentencing tool. By contrast, Parliament intended conditional sentences to include both punitive and rehabilitative aspects. Therefore, conditional sentences should generally include punitive conditions that are restrictive of the offender's liberty. Conditions such as house arrest should be the norm, not the exception

The Supreme Court of Canada finds that there are circumstances where an offender could have the benefit, first, of some rehabilitation component, but also the punitive component. It is important that we never have any understanding that someone is going to commit a crime and not be responsible for his or her actions.

That issue comes to bear when we look at what is happening in the proposed justice bills that have come before Parliament. We have often heard in this place that if people do the crime, they do the time. It tends to indicate that the philosophy is to treat everybody the same, regardless of the circumstances or conditions.

Members will know that there are some 20 principles and guidelines guiding judges, allowing them the latitude to look at a circumstance and find out what best fits that case. Clearly, for the most serious crimes that is not a problem, but in some of the examples I gave, I found it somewhat problematic.

I also want to point out to members that in a recent survey it was found that 39% of inmates in jail in the province of Ontario suffer from some form of mental illness. Having done a lot of work on fetal alcohol syndrome, I am quite aware that many of the people in our jails suffer from alcohol-related birth defects.

Those are the kinds of things on which judges have some discretion. However, Bill C-42 would make it much more difficult for the justice system to treat people who have problems that are beyond the problems they have.

I certainly hope the committee will look at the costs of implementing these kinds of changes to the law. The estimates that I have already seen and that, hopefully, will be confirmed by the Parliamentary Budget Officer, will show that the cost of implementing these changes to Bill C-42 would be in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Over 5,000 people who are currently on conditional sentencing would be in jail.

The magnitude of this is very significant. The issues are significant and I hope all hon. members will bring those to committee so we can get it right.

Ending Conditional Sentences for Property and Other Serious Crimes ActGovernment Orders

October 26th, 2009 / 12:20 p.m.
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NDP

Peter Stoffer NDP Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member is absolutely correct. If the power is taken out of the judgment of the judges, then decisions we make could eventually lead to the debate of why we have judges at all.

There is no question that people who have a crime committed against them feel very angry, upset and despondent about what happened to them. The fact is that many of those crimes are committed by people who started life with a mental or physical challenge. Whatever the challenges are, we are not walking in their shoes.

There are a million reasons why people resort to crime, which is why it is important that judges have the discretion, through a legal system that allows all the facts and bearings of a case to go before a judge or jury of his peers, to make a complete analysis of what the time should be when fitting the crime.

I hear fiscal Conservatives talk about the financial aspects of everything, but when it comes to this, they are very silent on what the actual costs will be. Why does the member believe the Conservative Party is so reluctant to release financial information on what these particular legislations would eventually cost the taxpayers of Canada?

Ending Conditional Sentences for Property and Other Serious Crimes ActGovernment Orders

October 26th, 2009 / 12:20 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, as I indicated at the beginning of my speech, it is easy to pass laws but to have them enforced and work within our system is another prerequisite. There is no point in passing laws that will never be enforced. It happens. We have heard time and time again that the provinces are strapped and that the courts and jails are full.

It costs about $300 a day on average for an inmate, which is more than a hotel stay. However, by changing this law, 5,000-plus people would go to jail. It means that certain jails would need to be expanded and new jails built. All kinds of additional people would need to be involved. The costs would be very significant and, beyond the capital cost of prisons, much of the cost would fall on the shoulders of the provincial government.

They have clearly said that they do not have the money to do it. They do not have the people, the probationary officers or the staffing in the system to care for this. Does that not mean that we need to do more in terms of identifying those who will not reoffend? We need to allow them to have conditional sentencing or house arrest with the understanding that it is both punitive as well as rehabilitative, and look for more ways in which we can work on crime prevention.

We need prevention. It has never been in any of these bills and that concerns me because prevention is much cheaper than incarceration.

Ending Conditional Sentences for Property and Other Serious Crimes ActGovernment Orders

October 26th, 2009 / 12:20 p.m.
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NDP

Peter Stoffer NDP Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS

Mr. Speaker, I cannot let it go by that the Conservatives like to consider themselves the law and order party but the reality is that the people who uphold law and order in this country, the RCMP, had their salary increases rolled back on December 23 from 3.5% to 1.5% without notification.

What a slap in the face to those hon. men and women who serve our country and go after the bad guys every day. I would like the hon. member's comments on how he and the police in his riding felt just before Christmas when their salary increases were rolled back arbitrarily by the government.

Ending Conditional Sentences for Property and Other Serious Crimes ActGovernment Orders

October 26th, 2009 / 12:25 p.m.
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Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, there are many people who are involved in the administration and the enforcement of the criminal justice system. Police officers certainly are the front line. We hear year after year how many of them lose their lives in the line of duty, enforcing the laws of Canada. So, I do not disagree with the member. I can, however, enlighten him.

The Department of Justice says that 5,000 more people would be put in jail as a consequence of this and it is estimated that the 5,000 additional inmates would cost the provinces in the range of $250 million to $500 million a year. That is not counting the capital costs. There is no way that the provincial systems currently can accommodate these 5,000 extra inmates. It is also estimated that the capital costs for expanding or building new prisons would be $1.5 billion to $2 billion.

This is the dimension of the problem we have to demonstrate that we will be able to enforce the changes in the law that are currently being presented under Bill C-42.

Ending Conditional Sentences for Property and Other Serious Crimes ActGovernment Orders

October 26th, 2009 / 12:25 p.m.
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Conservative

Gord Brown Conservative Leeds—Grenville, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to rise today during the second reading of Bill C-42, the bill that proposes to limit the use of conditional sentencing for serious offences.

This is an important issue to constituents in my riding of Leeds--Grenville. They take getting tough on criminals very seriously. It is something that I hear constantly when I go around my riding. They are happy that our government has taken a number of initiatives over the last three plus years to get tough on crime.

We have heard from others who seem to have a problem with criminals doing the time for the crime. One could find all kinds of excuses not to support this legislation, but my constituents are happy that the government is finally taking these issues seriously. They are happy that our minister continues to introduce bills and they want to see them pass through Parliament.

My constituents get discouraged when they tune in to find out what is going on in Parliament and find that often these bills are held up by the opposition. Sometimes a bill goes through the House of Commons and then the other place slows down its implementation.

I am happy to rise today to speak in support of this particular bill. My constituents are happy that we have brought this legislation forward.

A conditional sentence is also known as house arrest. House arrest is a relatively new tool in Canadian law and it can be imposed when several conditions are met: first, the offence is not punishable by a mandatory prison sentence; second, the court imposes a sentence of less than two years; third, the court is convinced that the service of the sentence in the community would not endanger the safety of the community; fourth, the court must be satisfied that the conditional sentence would be consistent with the fundamental purpose and principles of sentencing; and, fifth, the offence meets the following criteria: it is not a serious personal injury offence as in section 752; it is not a terrorism offence; and it is not a criminal organization offence prosecuted by indictment and for which the maximum term of imprisonment is 10 years or more.

Sentencing judges may decide not to impose a conditional sentence even if all of the conditions are met if they feel that justice will not be served with such a sentence.

Bill C-42 would add new, clear provisions to the conditional sentence sections of the Criminal Code to ensure that conditional sentences are not available to individuals who commit serious violent crimes and serious property crimes.

Bill C-42 would remove some of the sentencing latitude that is now available for some of these offences. It would end conditional sentences for indictable offences for which the maximum term of imprisonment is 14 years or life.

This legislation would also apply to indictable offences for which the maximum term of imprisonment is 10 years where the offences result in bodily harm; involve the import, export, trafficking or production of drugs; or involve the use of a weapon.

In order to cover serious offences punishable by a maximum term of imprisonment of 10 years, Bill C-42 seeks to eliminate the use of conditional sentences for: prison breach, luring a child, criminal harassment, sexual assault, kidnapping, trafficking in persons, theft over $5,000, breaking and entering a place other than a dwelling house, being unlawfully in a dwelling house with intent, and arson for fraudulent purposes.

As has been explained, conditional sentences were never intended for very violent or serious crimes but rather for less serious offences. They were designed to be used in cases where offenders would be better served by doing soft time in surroundings where they could be rehabilitated.

Unfortunately, not all sentencing courts have interpreted the availability of conditional sentences in the same manner. Consequently, many, including some provinces and territories, became increasingly concerned with the wide array of offences that resulted in conditional sentencing of imprisonment.

It is not just the courts that are concerned. Citizens, like those I spoke of from my riding of Leeds—Grenville and across Canada, are echoing those concerns. Residents of my riding of Leeds—Grenville, as I said before, continue to talk to me about these issues. They are very important to them.

I am happy to be standing up here today in support of another one of those initiatives. In their eyes the laws are not working properly. We need to look at them and make changes where necessary.

The best way to deal with the ambiguity is through the bill, which provides clear definitions of what crimes are not punishable with a conditional sentence. We attempted to do that months before with Bill C-9 in 2006. That bill was amended by the opposition. Bill C-9, in its original form, proposed a new criterion that would have eliminated the availability of a conditional sentence for offences punishable by a maximum sentence of 10 years or more, and prosecuted by indictment. This would have caught serious crimes, including designated violent and sexual offences, weapons offences, offences committed against children, and serious property crimes such as fraud and theft over $5,000.

Just last week we were dealing with another bill to do with penalties for serious property and theft crimes over $5,000. I was happy to have spoken on that bill as well.

However, opposition members of the justice committee, when they were dealing with Bill C-9, left it too open and too broad. The opposition voted to amend the legislation to only capture terrorism offences, organized crime offences, and serious personal injury offences as defined in section 752 of the Criminal Code that are punishable by a maximum sentence of 10 years or more and prosecuted by indictment.

Because of the changes imposed by the opposition on Bill C-9, it has become clear that the current conditional sentencing regime still fails to categorically make conditional sentences ineligible for many, very serious crimes.

My colleagues in the House might be asking themselves if it is necessary to amend the conditional sentencing regime once again, since the last amendments came into effect on December 1, 2007. The answer to that is a resounding yes. The concept of serious personal injury offences defined in section 752 of the Criminal Code was developed in the context of dangerous offenders. However, the opposition parties borrowed this as a limit on the use of conditional sentences when they modified the government's original proposal in Bill C-9 .

This has resulted in more confusion in sentencing in the eyes of the general public where, for example, people found guilty of such crimes as assault with a weapon and assault causing bodily harm receive conditional sentences. My constituents want to see a stop put to that. Serious property crimes in which fraud is committed against victims who have no recourse and receive no restitution for their often devastating loss bring the offender a conditional sentence.

We appear to be allowing criminals who do serious harm to others, physically or even monetarily, to serve their time in comfort. Once again, this is something that my constituents find very offensive.

Sentences are supposed reflect our society's abhorrence of the crime. What are we telling our citizens and those who commit crimes, when we send criminals, who wilfully and knowingly do harm to others, away to serve a conditional sentence?

I often speak about this in the House when we bring forward legislation that introduces mandatory prison sentences. When we introduce mandatory prison sentences, we are doing two things. We are attempting to show those who would commit those crimes that there will be a price to pay and that if they commit those crimes, they will serve the time. We are also attempting to use these mandatory prison sentences as a deterrent so that those who are thinking about committing such crimes will think twice before doing so.

Conditional sentences are an appropriate sentencing tool in many cases, but they do not need to be restricted when it comes to serious property and serious violent offences. Conditional sentences were created for less serious crimes. It is for this reason that they are not available for offences punishable by a mandatory prison sentence or for offences for which a sentence of two years or more is imposed.

We need to ask ourselves why conditional sentences were created.

Before conditional sentences were created in 1996, offenders who were declared by the courts to pose no threat to society were generally punished with sentences of less than two years in a provincial institution or suspended sentences with probation.

However, probation orders and other alternatives to incarceration placed—and still place—fewer restrictions on freedom and do not allow judges to order that offenders undergo treatment. There is no quick way to convert a probation order into a sentence of detention in the event the offender breaches the conditions of the sentence.

Conditional sentences were therefore created as an alternative to the sentences that could be imposed on this sort of offenders. The courts could quickly convert a conditional sentence into a sentence of detention, set limits on the offender's freedom and require the offender to undergo treatment.

A conditional sentence cannot be accompanied by parole or a sentence reduction.

As I said before, Bill C-42 is something that my constituents and many Canadians look forward to seeing go through this House. Bill C-42 fulfills a 2008 platform commitment made by our party seeking to restrict the availability of conditional sentences of imprisonment to ensure that serious crimes, including serious property offences, are not eligible for house arrest. In addition to the existing criteria limiting the availability of conditional sentences, Bill C-42 would deal with many of the things which I already spoke about.

These amendments are really needed, because the government's previous attempts to prevent the use of conditional sentences for any indictable offence punishable by a maximum penalty of 10 years' imprisonment or more, which we brought forward in Bill C-9, were significantly weakened by opposition amendments to restrict the availability of those conditional sentences only for those 10 years or more offences, which were terrorism offences, something which I learned a lot about when we were dealing with the Anti-terrorism Act in the last Parliament.

The problem with the current law, as a result of the opposition amendment, is that the definition of serious personal injury offences lacks that true, needed clarity. It is really not certain whether particular serious property or serious violent offences such as wilful mischief, endangering life, causing bodily harm by criminal negligence, or serious drug offences would be interpreted as serious personal injury offences and therefore ineligible for a conditional sentence in all cases.

Bill C-42 addresses these flaws by providing a much more consistent and rational approach for the offences which cannot receive a conditional sentence.

Canadian citizens have many questions about this bill. They want to know whether the reform we are bringing forward in this bill will modify the fundamental purpose and principles of sentencing. This reform does not propose to modify or change the fundamental purpose and principles of sentencing contained in the Criminal Code. However, with respect to serious matters, it is going to require the courts to focus on the objectives of denunciation, incapacitation and general deterrence which I spoke about a little earlier.

Some might ask why we want to eliminate the reference to serious personal injury offences from the conditional sentencing regime, which is section 742.1, when the amendments brought forward by Bill C-9 in the 39th Parliament came into force just 18 months ago. As I said before, the reference to serious personal injury offences in section 742.1, a term originally intended to apply to the dangerous and long-term offender provisions of the Criminal Code, was the result of the efforts by the opposition and its amendment to Bill C-9. The reference to serious personal injury offences in section 742.1 does not clearly establish those limits on the availability of conditional sentences for serious and violent crimes.

Some also want to know if this amendment to the bill covers offences that are prosecuted by summary conviction. This reform focuses on the most serious cases, those cases that Canadians find most offensive, that were eligible for this conditional sentencing. Those cases which are generally indictable offences and carry a 10 year plus maximum sentence can also be prosecuted by summary conviction where the maximum sentence is much lower. In those cases where police and prosecutors exercise their discretion to proceed summarily, conditional sentences will still be available in those cases. The justice system must rely upon police and prosecutors using summary conviction charges in appropriate cases.

One thing that I was concerned about with the bill was whether all sexual assault cases would be ineligible for a conditional sentence. This reform will restrict the use of conditional sentences for all sexual assault offences that are prosecuted by indictment and punishable by 10 years or more of imprisonment. Consequently, sexual assault cases that are prosecuted by summary conviction will still be eligible for a conditional sentence order.

I have confidence in police and prosecutors using summary conviction charges only in appropriate cases. The offence of sexual assault covers a wide range of conduct, and not to allow conditional sentences at the very low end of that range would not be in the interests of the administration of justice.

I urge all members to support the bill moving on to committee. This is something which the constituents in my riding of Leeds—Grenville take very seriously. They are very happy that the government is taking action. I urge all members to get behind the bill and stand up and vote in favour of it.

Ending Conditional Sentences for Property and Other Serious Crimes ActGovernment Orders

October 26th, 2009 / 12:45 p.m.
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NDP

Peter Stoffer NDP Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for his comments and his ability to try to get tough on crime.

He indicated during his speech that there are many occasions on which he spoke to his constituents about this issue. I was wondering if the member, for the record, would advise us if he has advised his constituents of any evidence based facts that this would actually reduce crime. If he has, perhaps he could table it in the House or perhaps he would be able to provide it during the committee process.

Has the member been clear with his constituents about the actual financial costs and who will pay for all the additional sentences, jails, prisons and so on?

I have no problems with the perception of getting tough on the worst criminals. I have a bill on child Internet pornography and I would like us to get a lot tougher on child pornographers in this country than we are now. We hear about truth in advertising. We would like to know what the economic costs of the provisions in this bill will be. Who is going to pay for it? Where is the evidence that it would actually reduce crime in this country?

Ending Conditional Sentences for Property and Other Serious Crimes ActGovernment Orders

October 26th, 2009 / 12:45 p.m.
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Conservative

Gord Brown Conservative Leeds—Grenville, ON

Mr. Speaker, I congratulate the member for introducing the bill on child pornography. Child pornography is something which my constituents find offensive.

The question was about who is going to pay for this. Some of this reform will fall on the provincial and territorial governments. The hon. member asked about the cost. What is the cost to society when people continue to commit these crimes and they do not have any deterrents in place whatsoever?

I ask the hon. member about the real cost to society if we do not take these types of action.

Ending Conditional Sentences for Property and Other Serious Crimes ActGovernment Orders

October 26th, 2009 / 12:45 p.m.
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Conservative

Greg Rickford Conservative Kenora, ON

Mr. Speaker, in keeping with the line of questioning around the member's constituents, I have been listening with great interest to the member for Leeds—Grenville. I noted that during his speech he mentioned his constituents and their interest in this important bill. I was wondering if the member could elaborate on why they think the bill is so important.

Ending Conditional Sentences for Property and Other Serious Crimes ActGovernment Orders

October 26th, 2009 / 12:45 p.m.
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Conservative

Gord Brown Conservative Leeds—Grenville, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member for Kenora was elected to the House last year. Since he arrived here he has taken on many of these issues and has shown a great deal of interest. His riding of Kenora is very much like the riding of Leeds--Grenville, and not just in rural ridings but across the country people are concerned about crime.

This is a bill that my constituents find to be very timely. They want to see proper penalties in place for those who commit crimes. They do not want conditional sentences to be used because they do not feel that they act in any way as a deterrent. These are the types of things I was thinking of when I talked about the cost to society in not passing the bill.

I know that the member's constituents want to see the bill passed, as do mine.

Ending Conditional Sentences for Property and Other Serious Crimes ActGovernment Orders

October 26th, 2009 / 12:50 p.m.
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Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I know that the member has been here from the beginning of the debate, so I know that he is looking at this carefully. The issue is one of cost versus implementation of the law, as the member is quite aware. I want to know whether the member believes that we should make changes to the Criminal Code if we know that we are unable to provide the funds necessary to enforce those changes.

Ending Conditional Sentences for Property and Other Serious Crimes ActGovernment Orders

October 26th, 2009 / 12:50 p.m.
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Conservative

Gord Brown Conservative Leeds—Grenville, ON

Mr. Speaker, my constituents, and I am sure his constituents in Mississauga South, feel that we should spend the money to implement these changes.

I am just looking at some of the numbers that were provided before, when Bill C-9 was going through the House. The cost, ultimately, was amended to $10.7 million. However, the cost for the original Bill C-9 was $21.7 million. So, I know that Canadians expect their tax dollars to be used wisely, and I know that my constituents expect us to spend money on these types of things.

Ending Conditional Sentences for Property and Other Serious Crimes ActGovernment Orders

October 26th, 2009 / 12:50 p.m.
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NDP

Peter Stoffer NDP Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS

Mr. Speaker, I asked a financial question because I have a bill, Bill C-201, that deals with veterans. The first thing out of the mouths of the Conservatives was “What is it going to cost?”, not what is best for the veterans, but what it is going to cos. They did not care about veterans and their families and the issue of what my bill would do to help them. All they asked about was the cost.

So, I will ask once again. Has he got the evidence to prove that this would actually prevent crime, and what is the financial cost of the bill?

He said some of the provinces would pay for it, and that is true. However, would the money then be transferred from the federal government to the provinces to pay for that?

With a burgeoning deficit, where is the money going to come from, increased taxes or cuts to services?

I have no problems with him debating the issue of crime and punishment, but someone has to pay the financial costs for this. Yes, there is a cost when people commit crime, but there is also a cost when we put them behind bars for extended periods of time.

So, how much would it cost and where is the evidence to support his conclusions that this would actually prevent crime?

These are two very basic questions.

Ending Conditional Sentences for Property and Other Serious Crimes ActGovernment Orders

October 26th, 2009 / 12:50 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Gord Brown Conservative Leeds—Grenville, ON

Mr. Speaker, once again the hon. member has asked the question about the cost. I do not know whether members might have asked him how much his bill would cost. What is the cost in terms of dealing with child pornography?

Once again, I go back to the real question. What is the cost to society of not taking these types of action? What is the cost to society of not putting in place the deterrents to stop these types of action?

I have laid out that the original bill, as amended, was $10.7 million and that Bill C-9, as it was originally introduced, was $21.7 million.

There will be some costs, but these are costs that the people of Canada expect the government to pay.

Ending Conditional Sentences for Property and Other Serious Crimes ActGovernment Orders

October 26th, 2009 / 12:50 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Russ Hiebert Conservative South Surrey—White Rock—Cloverdale, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege to rise today in the House to address Bill C-42 regarding conditional sentences.

This legislation fulfills another campaign promise we made in the 2008 election by seeking to restrict the availability of conditional sentencing to ensure that those who commit serious crimes, including serious property offences, are not eligible for house arrest. This is a bill that is desperately needed as we attempt to send a strong message to criminals that serious crime will result in serious time.

My riding of South Surrey—White Rock—Cloverdale has been near the centre of a violent gang war in the lower mainland of British Columbia. Earlier this year hearing reportings of several shootings in a given week was not uncommon.

Many people, some gang members and some not, have been murdered or seriously injured in our streets this year. This gang warfare appears to be fuelled mostly by the illicit drug trade as rival gangs battle for a share of the profits.

As I am sure all members can appreciate, my constituents are upset and concerned about the extreme violence in our normally peaceful community. They want to know what action we are taking to keep illegal drug producers and pushers off the streets and behind bars. They want to know why criminals convicted of serious drug offences such as running a grow house, who are sometimes repeatedly convicted seem to be back on the street within days of their conviction.

They do not understand why someone convicted of serious crimes, offences often linked to the drug trade or involving a weapon or causing bodily harm, could serve literally no time in prison.

Bill C-42 is part of our answer. Our bill will close the loophole created by the opposition in the last Parliament by ensuring that the time served for all serious crimes is ineligible to be served under house arrest.

The proposed law will clearly state the offences for which the courts cannot hand down a conditional sentence.

This will ensure that the courts use conditional sentences cautiously and more appropriately, reserving them for less serious offences that pose little risk to community safety.

Bill C-42 is needed because our government's previous attempt to prevent the use of house arrest for serious crimes was seriously and significantly weakened by opposition amendments.

In addition to maintaining the existing criteria limiting the availability of house arrest, Bill C-42 would make all offences punishable by a maximum of 14 years or life ineligible for house arrest. It would make all offences prosecuted by indictment, as well as those punishable by a maximum of 10 years, those resulting in bodily harm or involving the import, export, trafficking or production of drugs, and those involving the use of weapons, ineligible for house arrest. It would also make specific serious property and violent offences ineligible for house arrest.

Here are some of the other offences for which house arrest would be eliminated when prosecuted by indictment: prison breach, luring a child, criminal harassment, sexual assault, kidnapping or forcible confinement, trafficking in persons where there is a material benefit, abduction, theft over $5,000, auto theft, breaking and entering with intent, being unlawfully in a dwelling house, or arson for fraudulent purposes.

When I read this list, I am reminded that the last time we debated this issue, these were all crimes for which the Liberals felt that house arrest might be an entirely appropriate punishment. Well, this is no longer the case. Bill C-42 will send the message that drug crime, gun crime and other serious crime will not be tolerated in Surrey or anywhere else in Canada. It will send a message to those engaged in the illegal drug trade in my community that their crimes will no longer be treated with a slap on the wrist.

This bill and other initiatives to come will ensure that cases of serious fraud are treated as serious offences, which includes the proposal in Bill C-42 to prohibit the use of conditional sentences in such cases.

It is also disturbing to note that by promoting the definition of serious personal injury at the expense of the government's approach, the opposition parties are saying that only violent offences are serious and that the limits on the use of conditional sentences should apply only to such offences.

Do I need to remind them of the extent of the frauds recently reported in the media?

Unfortunately, it has become very plain to me that our Conservative Party is the only party that has been willing to stand on principle and ensure that the sentence matches the crime. Opposition parties stall criminal justice reform legislation here in the House or their friends stall it in the Senate.

It is no exaggeration to say that in this Parliament and the last, we have been opposed every step of the way by the Liberals or the NDP and the Bloc as we have attempted to pass even modest reforms to sentencing laws. For instance, the opposition Liberals watered down our bill, Bill C-9 on house arrest, in the last Parliament. Even so, I note that since taking office in 2006, our Conservative government has been making progress on some criminal justice reform, including house arrest, despite the minority situation.

We provided the funds and introduced the legislation that will support our law enforcement bodies and justice system as they attempt to crack down on gun violence and the illegal drug trade. In our first budget, we provided the funds to hire an additional 1,000 RCMP officers and new federal prosecutors to focus on such law enforcement priorities as drugs, corruption, and border security, including gun smuggling.

Also, in our 2006 budget we provided the funds to hire an additional 400 Canada border services officers, to properly arm all of these officers, and to improve border infrastructure and upgrade technology. Our efforts have improved the ability of our Border Services Agency to crack down on the smuggling of firearms and illegal drugs, which are significant problems in our community.

In 2007, we launched the national anti-drug strategy, focusing on prevention, enforcement and treatment. Budget 2007 also provided $64 million over two years to address these priorities.

In budget 2008, we provided $400 million for the police officers recruitment fund, allowing the provinces to recruit an additional 2,500 front-line officers. My province of British Columbia received $53 million of this funding.

In terms of legislation, during the last Parliament we were able to pass bills that addressed the issues of gun and gang violence. Among the resulting measures were increases in the mandatory minimum sentences for various crimes involving firearms and the toughening of dangerous offender provisions in the Criminal Code.

We also imposed a reverse onus in order for those charged with firearms offences to qualify for bail, and we toughened sentences for street racing and increased the maximum sentence to be life in prison. However, our Conservative government knows that further federal action is necessary to help address the gang violence we have seen on the streets in my community recently.

Our public safety minister, our justice minister and our Prime Minister have all travelled to the Lower Mainland in British Columbia to hear directly from police officials and victims groups about the recent violence. We have listened and responded by introducing the following legislation.

Bill C-14, now law, targets gangs and organized crime groups. Any murder committed in a gang-related context is deemed first degree murder. A new criminal offence carrying a mandatory prison sentence has been created for drive-by shootings.

Bill C-15 cracks down on serious drug crimes, such as trafficking and running large cannabis grow operations or crystal meth labs. Narcotics producers will now face mandatory prison sentences.

In addition, Bill C-25 eliminates the two-for-one credit in sentencing for time spent in pre-trial custody. Of course, the bill that we are debating today, Bill C-42, would eliminate house arrest for all serious crimes, not just some of the offences the opposition begrudgingly allowed us to address in the last Parliament.

For the reasons I have given, I would urge my colleagues in the House to support this bill unanimously in order to expedite its passage.