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.