Mr. Speaker, I am thinking of the victims of Vincent Lacroix, Earl Jones and Leon Kordzian—a fraudster who wrought havoc in my riding—as I rise today on Bill C-59, An Act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (accelerated parole review) and to make consequential amendments to other Acts.
For the past four years, members of this Parliament have talked about this provision. There is no doubt that for four years we have wanted to abolish it.
What initially surprised us—and it was not much of a surprise after all—was that the Conservatives stood in the way of the speedy passage of our bill, which sought to eliminate the one-sixth accelerated parole rule.
Let me provide a little background so that members have a better understanding of the provision we are seeking to abolish.
This mechanism, which allows for the release of inmates after they have served one-sixth of their sentence, is also known as accelerated parole review, and is already contained in sections 119(1), 125, 126 and 126(1) of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act.
Put simply, a criminal sentenced to two years or more in a federal institution may have early parole after serving one-sixth of his sentence, subject to an accelerated parole review. I want to make this very clear and I am going to come back to it later.
Under the current rules, for a first federal sentence, where an inmate has committed no violent crime involving organized crime or terrorism, no sexual crimes, nor been an accomplice to any such offences, has not been ordered to serve at least half of his sentence for a drug-related crime, and is not likely to commit a violent crime—he can commit another kind of crime, just not a violent crime—the inmate may be released. Those are the criteria in the act as it stands—criteria that we wish to abolish.
Consequently, if an inmate meets all of these criteria, he may, subject to this procedure, be released after serving one-sixth of his sentence. Under this procedure, he may even be released after serving a third of his sentence, which equates to full parole.
The public does take a very dim view of this mechanism, and I understand this perfectly. People wonder why, if a judge has sentenced someone to 13 years, the inmate is released after serving 15 months. We have seen that quite often: we saw it with Vincent Lacroix and we would have seen it with Earl Jones, but that will not be the case, I hope, because this bill will be passed. As my colleague just said, we also might have seen it in the case of certain drug traffickers who delegated the violent jobs to their foot soldiers. It brings the justice system into disrepute and makes it look rather distorted and lax. People are asking questions. I completely understand that the general public thinks it makes no sense.
Let us remember that this bill did not fall from the sky and did not just turn up overnight. I am going to give you a short timeline.
It started in July 2006 with Paul Coffin. I think the Liberals are very familiar with this guy, a player in the sponsorship scandal who was released after serving one-sixth of his 18-month sentence. We are not talking about fraud, we are talking about corruption and the sponsorship scandal. This is a far cry from Vincent Lacroix.
In October 2006, another one, Jean Brault, the founder of Groupaction and a key player in the sponsorship scandal, was released after serving six months of his 30-month sentence.
In June 2007, the Bloc Québécois proposed a justice plan, in which one of the things it called for was the repeal of this provision.
In December 2007, Vincent Lacroix was sentenced on criminal charges for the first time.
In August 2008, Jean Lafleur—that name may ring a bell with some—was released after serving seven months of his 42-month sentence. On September 14, 2009, the Bloc made its first request for unanimous consent of the House for the speedy passage of Bill C-434, An Act to amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act (day parole—six months or one sixth of the sentence rule). As I said, the Conservatives alone opposed it, for purely partisan reasons. On February 15, 2009, Charles Guité was released on parole after serving six months of his 42-month sentence. On October 26, 2009, the Conservatives introduced Bill C-53, to abolish parole after one-sixth of a sentence, but their Prime Minister shut down Parliament, and as we know, the government’s bills died.
On March 4, 2010, we tried again. Once more we sought the consent of the House. The Liberals supported us, as they had the first time, and the NDP supported us too. Only the Conservatives did not want to hear anything about it, for purely political reasons. On June 15, 2010, they introduced Bill C-39, which is now in a committee that still has not heard witnesses. So their bill is far from passing. I would remind the House that it contains not only the repeal of accelerated parole review but all kinds of other things that will need very careful study.
On January 27, 2011, Vincent Lacroix was released after serving one-sixth of his sentence. It was the talk of all the media, a huge scandal, and I certainly agree with that. Suddenly the Conservatives woke up. I was in the House myself and saw the hon. member for Laurier—Sainte-Marie, the Bloc leader, head for the Prime Minister to discuss this and try to reach an arrangement. After much discussion, an agreement was reached. On February 10, I asked for the unanimous consent of the House to pass this bill, but the Liberals and the NDP refused, even though they had agreed in March 2010 and September 2009.
As members can appreciate, this bill did not come out of nowhere. It did not emerge out of the clear blue sky. It has taken four long years, and so far as I am concerned, the people of Quebec and Canada have finally glimpsed ultimate victory. Tonight, perhaps, they will be able to cheer that victory. People are fed up, and some of the victims appeared yesterday before the committee to tell us how their daily lives and their families had been affected and how they had suffered psychologically because of these criminals. The abolition of this provision will correct certain aberrations that people most often criticize. What they want is not necessarily tougher sentences but sentences that are actually served.
I want to give a fast overview of our committee meeting last night. It lasted four hours, including two hours of hearings and then the clause by clause study. First, we were told that the passage of this bill would not prevent criminals at very low risk of reoffending from possibly being released. However, there will be an evaluation of various crime-related factors, a real risk-assessment that is not necessarily based on the likelihood of reoffending through the commission of a violent crime. The risk assessment will focus on the actual individual in question. If he is a fraudster, for example, the likelihood that he will reoffend by committing a violent crime is low, but the likelihood of another fraud may be much greater.
We must be careful. We are saying that by eliminating this provision, we will be allowing a more comprehensive risk assessment.
I would like to give some idea of the factors that lead this kind of individual to commit crimes. This is based on the work of psychiatrist Robert Hare who wrote Snakes In Suits: When Psychopaths Go To Work. Perhaps some members are familiar with his book. He explains who these white collar criminals are.
It is very simple. There are two types of people who commit fraud. In an interview, Robert Hare once said, “For many ordinary criminals, crime is their job.” Like everyone else who gets up in the morning and goes to work, so do they. “They are professionals who understand the risks, but choose to run the risks in order to take advantage of a windfall in the end.”
Then there are others: the psychopaths. I am not talking about a psychopath with a knife hidden in the forest. That is not who I am talking about. I am not talking about psychopaths who seek out young children to sexually abuse them. I am talking about psychopaths who follow small investors to steal from them. Such people exist. These psychopaths are not the same as ordinary criminals.
Robert Hare also said, “These people are not the kind who calculate the risks and rewards. They believe they are entitled to the money they are stealing and that other human beings are objects with no feelings or rights. Professional criminals can have a conscience and feel loyalty to others, to their families, for instance. A psychopath feels no loyalty to anyone but himself.”
Earl Jones, for instance, defrauded his own daughter. What a perfect example. I could go on forever in order to prove that these people should no longer be assessed based on the risk of violent recidivism, but rather based on the risk of any recidivism. That is what this bill will do, by eliminating accelerated parole review.
Yesterday I was looking at the record of the National Parole Board decision regarding the release of Vincent Lacroix. It is very clear. The commissioner said that the assessment done by the multidisciplinary team convinced the board that this individual would not reoffend by committing a violent crime, which is true. However, what is the real analysis of the risk of a repeat offence? He is a fraudster. He is not a murderer; he is a fraudster. He is not a pedophile; he is a fraudster. What kind of crime would he commit again? A violent crime? The risk of that kind of repeat offence is very low. He will reoffend by doing what he knows best and what he considers a profession. He gets up in the morning, puts on a nice suit and defrauds seniors. Vincent Lacroix is one thing, but who would Mr. Kordzian defraud? He would defraud seniors, women who were single parents and disadvantaged people who did not speak French or English. Those are the people he would go after, and that is unacceptable.
Yesterday in committee, Mr. Zinger, the Executive Director and General Counsel for the Office of the Correctional Investigator, set the record straight, in my opinion. I asked him whether he was saying that full parole would no longer exist if the bill were passed the following morning—as I hope will be the case—and that people would serve two-thirds of their sentence. He replied that no, it was the accelerated parole review process that would be eliminated. That is clear.
Fundamentally, this accelerated process is a review on paper, based on a file, a criterion that is different from risk.
He is saying that all that will happen is that members will no longer conduct an administrative review of the case; they will have to actually evaluate the offender's risk of reoffending. The members will have to look at the person in front of them and decide whether he should be released or not. That is their job. Are the members paper pushers? No. They are there to meet these people and assess the risk along with a multidisciplinary team. It is high time this ended. They are paid well; they need to do their job. Of course, they have to be given the chance to do their job.
If the law forces them to release someone because they think that the offender, the criminal, will not reoffend by committing a violent crime, they can only do what the law gives them the authority to do. They are completely heartbroken at times because they want to keep an offender in detention, but they cannot. I would be very surprised if the person who let Vincent Lacroix out after one-sixth of his sentence really wanted to release him.
When this bill is passed, the National Parole Board will take into consideration the overall risk of reoffending in order to ensure public safety. It is true that we are not talking about serial killers, but they are still killers; they are economic predators. They destroy lives. Yesterday we heard from one of Vincent Lacroix's victims whose friends committed suicide. What is murder? Is it killing someone directly? What about murder at arm's length? Where did this idea of classifying murder come from? If my brother committed suicide tomorrow because someone ruined his life, would I be pleased to hear that that person did not kill him? What a disgrace. Incredible.
This bill brings up many emotions and we need to stay calm. With this bill, the National Parole Board will no longer be forced to release another Vincent Lacroix, and yes, I said “forced”.
I will continue to talk about what happened in committee. Ms. Campbell from the Corrections and Criminal Justice Directorate was telling us that this bill does not abolish the one-third of a sentence or day parole six months prior to one-third of a sentence. The bill serves only to remove the provision on accelerated parole review.
Since I have two minutes remaining, I would like to go directly to one of the points she raised. She said that sentences of three years or less would not really be affected by this provision. Day parole review would still be at about one-sixth of the sentence. The difference is the ability to examine the case and, in a way, assess the overall risk of recidivism.
I did a few quick calculations. I asked Ms. Campbell some questions yesterday. She said that the average sentence for female offenders is approximately three years or less. I asked her for the figures for men for 2004-05 to 2008-09 and she said that just over 50% of male offenders serve sentences of three years or less. Generally speaking, those who are sentenced to three years or less will not be affected by this provision. Offenders who, after assessment, are found to present an unacceptable risk to society will not be released. All those who commit smaller-scale fraud, the offenders I refer to as casual or opportunistic criminals, will not be affected.
There will be a risk assessment and if we can assume the risk, they will be released.