Madam Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill C-23 from two perspectives.
First, do we need to study the pardon bill, or the record bill, or whatever lovely name we want to give it? It really does not matter what one calls it. We need to look at how to go about granting pardons to folks who have committed different categories of offences. It seems appropriate that we should be doing that. However, it seems to me that we could have done that three years ago, because what has been said previously in this House is true. There were opportunities. There was a quick look at it, and the minister decided that it was good enough and simply said that things were fine.
We saw the most recent example of this in the press, which reported that Mr. James was granted a pardon a couple of years ago. It twigged the government's interest in looking at the pardon bill.
My community in the Niagara Peninsula went through an absolutely horrendous evil with Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka. I do not know how else to explain it to hon. members. We lived through a series of things that no one should have to live through. Clearly, for us, the granting of a pardon to Karla Homolka is unconscionable. Unfortunately, the bill before us cannot be passed in time to prevent Ms. Homolka from applying for a pardon.
New Democrats offered the government a way out by suggesting that we split this bill with a motion that would allow us to deal now with people like Karla Homolka. We would look for unanimity in the House, which I believe the government could get, to fast-track it so that Ms. Homolka would not be granted a pardon. The motion stated:
That, in the opinion of the House, urgent changes to the Criminal Records Act are required to prevent pardons from being granted that would shock the conscience of Canadians or bring the administration of justice into disrepute, and therefore the government should immediately introduce legislation with the specific purpose to empower the National Parole Board to deny pardons in cases where granting a pardon would shock the conscience of Canadians or bring the administration of justice into disrepute....
It was an opportunity to do this, and hopefully, there still will be an opportunity to do this.
I met with the granddaughter of Mr. and Mrs. French on Friday. She wrote me a letter asking what I could do to help with this issue. She was very compelling. She did not have to be. I raised my family in that community. I know what it was like to live through that period of time and the fear it generated. We lived through what was for all of us a period of anxiety that none of us had ever experienced before, which none of us ever want to experience again, especially those of us who had young girls, who were the specific targets.
I invited her to speak with me about the issue she was representing. She had generated within a very short period of time 1,700 names, which she sent to the Minister of Public Safety. She was imploring him to take out this piece and work on this one aspect. As I explained how we could do that, she was extremely gratified. She said that this is what she would like to see happen. As I explained to her, the other parts of the pardon act do not pertain to the types of heinous crimes that were committed by Ms. Homolka and her spouse, Paul Bernardo.
I talked to her about a young man who had sent me an email. This young man was a 19-year-old who was arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol. He said that he had done it, he was guilty, he was caught, and he served what he had to under the Criminal Code. He pleaded guilty to his act. He said that he had never done it again, that he will never do it again in his life, and that he had accepted the punishment. He also asked that we please not add a couple of more years to the punishment, because he did not deserve it.
When I related that story to Ms. Doyle, she said that he was right; he did not.
I thought that was absolutely compelling testimony from the granddaughter of Mr. and Mrs. French and the niece of Kristen French. She got that. She said that I was right that he should not have to suffer any more. He had suffered enough.
However, she also relayed the message that she and her family should not have to suffer again. Every time the name is raised and the event is talked about, they suffer again what happened to them in an all too real way that most of us cannot imagine. For them, it is never over, as she said to me. She was quite cogent about the fact that it is never over for them. One day leads to the next, but they are always reminded in one form or another.
If Ms. Homolka were to receive a pardon, for the French family, and indeed, for the members of my community in the Niagara Peninsula, it would be as if she had been forgiven. To be truthful, the French family does not want her to be forgiven. I know that my community in the Niagara Peninsula does not want to forgive her either.
I implore the government to reconsider and find a way, with the help of this side of the House, of course, because that hand is open to you and is extended to you, to ensure that this indeed does not happen. Let us not have that family relive those days. Let them rest assured that the acts perpetrated by that couple will forever be admonished and will never be pardoned in the sense that it is okay and it is now over. For them, as I said, it can never be over.
All of us understand it in a mental way, in the sense that we can intellectualize it, but to understand it as they do, in our hearts and in our guts, is next to impossible for us, including those of us who lived in the region and understood this absolute horror on a first-hand basis.
I would ask the House, especially the government, to hear what Ms. Talin French-Doyle said in her letter, which states:
Victims of crimes are direct and indirect as in family, friends and even the general public in the case of particularly fear inducing or morally reprehensible acts. Please be aware that each time an offender name is mentioned or the ongoing events of their life are documented, the victims, both direct and indirect are brought back to the events of the offence. In this regard, the past is never gone for victims and the world will never be the same again.
She went on to say:
Forgiveness is the right of a victim, not a requirement of the State.
Ms. Doyle is asking the government and all of us in this place to help the French family not have to endure what they have endured for so many years by allowing a pardon. Time is of the essence, because as we know, indeed, the application process could start as early as next month. There is no guarantee that it will happen, but no one in the House can guarantee the Frenches that it will not. They are asking the House to ensure that it cannot happen in Ms. Homolka's case. We have that ability.
It would be a shame, in a magnitude of disproportionate terms, not to ensure that we stop it, especially when we have the ability to do so. We owe it to the French family to say that we will ensure that this request it is making of its government is carried forward. It is not asking a lot. It is simply asking that the government do what it wants to do with its own legislation, but to do it now.
I believe if the government were to ask for that one section, we may find that we could get it done. That would send a message to the French family that we have not forgotten it, that we understand the type of terror it went through, we understand the pain it has suffered and still continues to suffer and we understand if this is one small thing we can do, we will do for the family.
I implore the government to consider Mr. and Mrs. French when it thinks about what it can do in the immediate term. For those who perhaps are less familiar with the case, albeit for me to recite the horrors of it because they are horrors, they may want to go back and do a little research to understand that case and what was perpetrated on those young women, the horror the family faced and what it felt like to live in a community that was wretched by fear.
I will not take the time to go through the details because they are absolutely heinous and extremely gory. I would never want to subject anyone, through a debate, to have to listen to those sorts of details. However, people should make themselves aware of it so they can understand what that family lives with every day of its life.
Let me speak to the other side of the bill, which really needs to go to committee to be studied. Like the young man I referenced earlier who had a drunk driving conviction, we need to look at those clauses of the bill. We need to ask ourselves if it is appropriate for the timeline we now have or should it be extended perhaps for him and for others. We need to study it and we need to have expert witnesses who know the criminal justice system and what works and what does not.
Clearly we have examples around the world on things that do work. People do deserve to get pardoned, provided they meet the requirements set out in law, people who are participating in the broader community, who have not committed other offences, who are deemed to be of good character and who are moving on with their lives. As my hon. colleague said earlier, they do not deserve to have a brand put on them for the rest of their lives. They deserve the opportunity to move forward with their lives and we want to see that happen.
However, we need to talk to folks who understand the system and not make law on the fly because of something we see in the newspaper or because we missed one in the case of Mr. James and then rush to try to ensure it works.
One of the provisions in the bill is the three strikes and out. The three strikes and out law in the U.S. does not work. Why do we want to incorporate things that do not work into legislation? We want to make good, appropriate legislation to ensure that it does work for society.
It is about all of us, not just those who ask for a pardon. It is about the broader community. We want everyone to participate in the system so when we say people are pardoned, it is because society says they are and believes in that pardon. Those people can then go forward with their lives knowing full well that whatever punishment they have served, society has said to them to move forward with their lives.
In one of the three strikes and out clauses in the bill, one could be charged with three offences during one crime. If that is the case and one happens to be a younger person, or a not so young person, who commits a crime and is charged with three serious offences, that person would never be pardoned. There could have been all kinds of underlying reasons as to why the person committed that offence at that moment in time. It could have been an impaired mental state, a deep depression, anxiety, some sort of mental breakdown or any number of things that happened at that point in the person's life. This could happen to all of us.
Mental health experts say a great many of us can suffer mental breakdown. Most of us do not want to have that happen to us and when we see it in the broader community, or our families, it is heart-rending. However, to punish people for the rest of their lives based on what happened to them in a moment of time that would never happen again is not appropriate.
It is more appropriate that we take the system, ensure we understand the rules, ensure we review it and allow ourselves to be educated around what works and what does not. We should talk to the John Howard Society and Elizabeth Fry Society. The Salvation Army in my community works with folks in halfway houses to help them integrate into the broader community. There are all manners of occupations and groups around the country that work with folks as they come out of incarceration. They can help us understand what it takes to help them on their way and what we should look for when we pardon them.
Except for those I referenced earlier who should never be pardoned, the Karla Homolkas of this world, we want others to be pardoned. I think all of society wants that. If they fit the criteria, if they have successfully done all of the things society has asked them to do, then it is fair and appropriate of society say that they have met all the requirements put before them and if they request it, they will granted the pardon.
If the government is serious about the pardon system, then it has an obligation to Canadians to ensure it gets it right. It seems we have not done so to date. The very reason the Conservatives have rushed this forward is their acceptance of not getting it right three years ago when they took a quick look at it and put it back on the shelf thinking all is well and now recognize that all is not well.
In my community we recognize that all is not well in the system when we look at a person who should never get a pardon but is about to get one if we do not act. If the government is not going to act on this issue, then clearly the government is going to take responsibility for another individual who should never receive a pardon. It will have to answer why that happened. It will be the government's responsibility, when it had the opportunity to ensure it did not happen, to answer the question as to why it happened.
The act has become bigger than many folks probably thought it would be. I am sure many folks thought it was only about a pardon system and what could be so difficult about that. It is difficult because we are dealing with the future of other human beings and we are dealing with society determining whether it wants to give to other individuals in the broader community the right to move forward with their lives. It is up to us to say that we understand that they have decided to move forward and put their past behind them, that we accept the fact they want to move forward and therefore we grant them that pardon. Without this, in many cases, they will be unable to move forward and it will hang over them for a long time.
The other side of the coin must be that there are those we can never pardon and time is of the essence. I look to the government to say that it will not allow Ms. Homolka to get a pardon and that it will ensure that. Then I can convey that message to the Frenches, that they can rest assured it will never be seen in their lifetime.