Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes Act

An Act to amend the Criminal Records Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts

This bill was last introduced in the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session, which ended in March 2011.

Sponsor

Vic Toews  Conservative

Status

This bill has received Royal Assent and is now law.

Summary

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

This enactment amends the Criminal Records Act to substitute the term “record suspension” for the term “pardon”. It extends the ineligibility periods for applications for a record suspension. It also makes certain offences ineligible for a record suspension and enables the National Parole Board to consider additional factors when deciding whether to order a record suspension.

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.

Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes ActGovernment Orders

June 14th, 2010 / 1:45 p.m.
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Bloc

Nicole Demers Bloc Laval, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague, who is also very knowledgeable about all the harm that can be done by inappropriate sentencing, especially in the community she represents.

In the case of female inmates, they are mostly women from aboriginal communities. Once again, we see that there is no equity, that there is no justice for the aboriginal peoples of this country. We must ensure that the aboriginal communities at least have the necessary resources to educate themselves and to transmit their culture and values.

With regard to Indian residential schools, we must ensure that healing takes place. We must ensure that aboriginal communities have running water and safe drinking water in their communities. We must ensure that education and health programs are provided consistently.

Some programs, such as smoking cessation programs and programs to combat fetal alcohol syndrome, have been cut. And yet these programs are essential. Without these programs, the people cannot break the cycle. Without these programs and without a significant investment in social housing, they cannot break the cycle. When 10 or 15 people live in one room, it leads to a certain promiscuity and despair. Sometimes, it leads to criminal acts.

We must ensure that there is justice for everyone. We must ensure that rehabilitation is an important component of the decisions we make to fight crime.

Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes ActGovernment Orders

June 14th, 2010 / 1:50 p.m.
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NDP

Bill Siksay NDP Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Madam Speaker, does my colleague believe that the change in the bill from using the word “pardon” to using the words “record suspension” is a significant issue? In my way of thinking, this is a very significant issue in the legislation.

I know there is divided opinion in the House. Some members think that is not a very significant issue, but to me the word “pardon” has a depth of meaning that cannot be encompassed in the term “record suspension” and an important meaning in terms of the end of the rehabilitation process and the successful conclusion of that, and the conclusion of someone paying their debt to society for a mistake they made earlier in their life.

I wonder if the member might comment on that change in language which I believe is a very significant issue in this legislation.

Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes ActGovernment Orders

June 14th, 2010 / 1:50 p.m.
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Bloc

Nicole Demers Bloc Laval, QC

Madam Speaker, we are very familiar with the concept of pardon. Quebec Catholics are well aware of what “pardon” means, and what it implies.

A pardon is truly a gift of great generosity and open-mindedness from those being asked to do the pardoning. It also requires great candour, authenticity and humility from the person asking to be pardoned. They have to ask themselves what drove them to commit certain acts. It requires introspection. When one asks for a pardon, one reflects on the acts one has committed. If we eliminate the concept of pardons, perhaps we are also eliminating the opportunity to involve that person and forgetting about the human dimension to the process.

I do not have enough legal knowledge to determine the appropriateness of eliminating the word “pardon”. The concept of record suspension is also quite close to what the bill is calling for. I do not have enough legal knowledge to properly answer that question. I will leave it to my colleagues who are more knowledgeable about this than I am to answer on my behalf.

Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes ActGovernment Orders

June 14th, 2010 / 1:50 p.m.
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Liberal

Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Madam Speaker, I support Bill C-23. The pardon system does need to be improved with respect to some serious situations.

A number of experts have said that this bill, like other crime bills put forward by the government, is a knee-jerk reaction. The bill is not well thought out, which is why opposition parties want it to go to committee where we can make some of the changes suggested by criminal lawyer organizations and LEAF.

LEAF made the important point that delaying pardons for minor cases may actually backfire. If we make changes that would allow individuals to be stigmatized further, that could remove all of the investment we have put into rehabilitation, which is the highest goal we would like to achieve because Canadians would be safer.

This legislation would have no effect internationally. Hopefully, we will consider the seriousness of a crime when imposing a sentence because that criminal record will have a major effect on an individual's life.

I want to spend the rest of my time talking about the effect this legislation would have on aboriginal people who are sometimes forgotten in legislation. There is no aboriginal lens on crime bills and that is because aboriginal people are overrepresented in the criminal justice system. This fact has been raised many times but the government has taken no initiative toward rectifying the problem or dealing with that inequity.

Therefore, as this proliferates throughout the justice system, whatever we do will have a larger effect on aboriginal people in Canada because the government has made no attempt to rectify this problem. This fact has raised itself, unfortunately, in a number of cases.

When the ombudsperson for the correctional system reported to committee a number of recommendations that it had made to remove the inherent discrimination against aboriginal people, the recommendations were not followed up on. Opposition members complained vehemently about that and tried to follow them up.

The minister extended the aboriginal justice strategy for a couple of years. However, permanent people need to be in the courts just like judges. This funding should have been made permanent. We would not ask judges, policemen or lawyers to apply every couple of years for their funding to be reinstated. They are just part of the system.

The government cut back on alternative sentencing, which was very effective with respect to aboriginal people. It reduced recidivism and made Canadians safer. It reduced re-victimization and made it much better for victims and yet the government is cutting back on this once again.

Bill C-23, as with other government efforts relating to the criminal justice system, would disproportionately affect first nations, Inuit and Métis. This should be taken into consideration as this bill moves forward, as it should with all bills relating to the criminal justice system. Aboriginal people are grossly overrepresented in the criminal justice system and yet the government has not made the necessary changes to deal with this disparity. It could just bring forward another bill that would exacerbate the situation.

An Inuit witness appeared at committee a few weeks ago from an area where there is chronic underemployment. A lot of government jobs are available but these jobs require criminal background checks. This witness made it quite clear that this bill, which would delay pardons in some minor instances, would exacerbate the problem.

That is an example of how this bill was not thought out in detail and why it needs to go to committee. We need to look at the ramifications for employment in general and to recognize the rehabilitation people have made, when they have made a mistake and have tried to go the right way, and whether they could be held back by this particular bill and be further stigmatized, and whether it would work contrary to the goals that we are trying to achieve.

I have one official message for the clerk of the committee, probably the justice committee. I would ask that the committee ensure there are appropriate aboriginal witnesses from the first nations, Inuit and Métis communities to explain for us the effect this will have on them. I also ask that the committee call appropriate expert witnesses on the employment of Canadians regarding what effect this bill would have on those people, and appropriate experts from the rehabilitation societies, such as the John Howard Society, to explain what effect the bill might have on those people and ensure it is not counterproductive to the things we want to achieve.

Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes ActGovernment Orders

June 14th, 2010 / 3:35 p.m.
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NDP

Bill Siksay NDP Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have this opportunity to speak in this debate at second reading on Bill C-23, An Act to amend the Criminal Records Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts.

This is a very important bill that I believe needs a thorough debate in the House of Commons. I think it is a very significant piece of legislation.

The bill would rename pardon as record suspension. I think that is a very significant action in the bill. I know there has been some opinion in debate already that it may be an inconsequential change, but I believe it is an extremely serious change in the legislation and in our overall perspective on what the pardon system is about.

The bill would also increase the ineligibility period that must pass before a pardon application can be submitted from the current five years to ten years for indictable offences and from the current three years to five years for summary offences. The bill would also prohibit those convicted of four or more indictable offences from ever receiving a pardon. It would prohibit anyone convicted of one or more offences from a designated list of sex offences from ever receiving a pardon. With respect to pardon applications for indictable offences, it would say that the Parole Board would be required to deny a pardon if granting it would bring the administration of justice into disrepute.

Therefore, there are very significant changes to our current parole system included in the bill. I think it is something that we need to very carefully consider and proceed with caution with regard to changing the system, which I believe has served us well.

I want to talk a little about what our pardon system is actually about. To do that I have gone to the website of the National Parole Board and pulled up its fact sheet on our current pardon system.

It has a frequently asked questions page which poses various questions and provides information about the system. In response to the question, what is a pardon, the Parole Board notes that a pardon allows people who were convicted of a criminal offence, that have completed their sentence and demonstrated that they are law-abiding citizens, to have their criminal record kept separate and apart from other criminal records.

Under the current Criminal Records Act, the National Parole Board may issue, grant, deny or revoke pardons for convictions under federal acts or regulations of Canada.

Another question posed is, what is the effect of a pardon? It notes in its answer that all information pertaining to convictions will be taken out of the Canadian police information centre, CPIC, and may not be disclosed without permission of the Minister of Public Safety of Canada.

The CRA applies only to records kept within federal departments and agencies. However, many of the provincial and municipal law enforcement agencies co-operate by restricting access to their records once notified that a pardon has been granted or issued.

The Parole Board also notes, in this answer, that the Canadian Human Rights Act forbids discrimination based on a pardon conviction. So that includes services a person needs for the opportunity to work for a federal agency. It also states that no employment application from within the federal public service may ask any question that would require an applicant to disclose a pardoned conviction. That also applies to a crown corporation, the Canadian Forces or any business within federal authority.

The next question posed is, what are the limitations of a pardon? I think this is an important feature of the current pardons regime. It notes that a pardon does not erase the fact that a person was convicted of an offence. It notes that a pardon does not guarantee entry or visa privileges to another country. It notes that courts and police services, other than the RCMP, are under provincial and municipal legislation. This means that they do not have to keep records of convictions separate and apart from other criminal records.

The Parole Board notes that the Criminal Records Act lists certain sexual offences. If a person was pardoned for such offences his or her record will be kept separate and apart but his or her name will be flagged in the CPIC computer system. This means that a person will be asked to let employers see his or her record if this person wants to work with children or with groups that are vulnerable because of their age or disability. The flag is applied regardless of the date of conviction or the date of pardon was granted or issued. We should all be apprised and reminded of this very important feature of the current legislation, that for sexual offences there is still that proviso in the existing pardon regime

The National Parole Board also notes that a sentence may have included various prohibition orders imposed under the Criminal Code, such as driving or firearms prohibition orders. A pardon does not cancel those prohibition orders.

When can a person apply for a pardon? An individual can apply when their sentence is completed; when they have paid all fines, surcharges, costs, restitution and compensation orders in full; when a person has served all of his or her time, including parole or statutory release; and, when a person has satisfied his or her probation officer.

What are the specific waiting periods for convictions under the Criminal Code and other federal statutes? It is three years for summary convictions and five years for indictable offences. For convictions under the Transfer of Offenders Act, it is five years for all convictions. For convictions under the National Defence Act, it is five years if the person was fined more than $2,000; five years if the person was imprisoned more than six months; five years if the person was dismissed from the service; and three years for all other penalties.

Other questions are posed in this information section from the National Parole Board on pardons.

Can a pardon be denied? The answer is yes, for example, if the National Parole Board finds that a person is not of good conduct. However, in that situation that individual can reapply after one year.

Can a pardon be revoked? Again, the answer is yes. The National Parole Board may revoke a pardon if the person is later convicted of a summary offence under a federal act or regulation of Canada. He or she can do it if the National Parole Board finds that he or she is no longer of good conduct, or if the National Parole Board learns that a false or deceptive statement was made or relevant information was concealed at the time of the application.

There are very explicit terms for the revocation of a pardon.

In terms of the actual process, there are two ways of dealing with a pardon: a pardon can be granted or a pardon can be issued. For an offence punishable on summary conviction, it is a non-discretionary process. The National Parole Board confirms that the necessary waiting period, three years after satisfaction of sentence, has been completed and verified through the RCMP that the applicant has not been convicted of any other offences since the last conviction. Depending on the result, a pardon may then be issued.

The other circumstance is where there was an indictable offence and the person has applied for a pardon in that situation. In assessing a pardon request for an indictable offence, the National Parole Board confirms that the necessary waiting period, five years after satisfaction of sentence, has been completed be verified through the RCMP and local police services that there have been no further convictions. They investigate the applicant's behaviour since the sentence was completed to confirm that he or she was of good conduct. In light of this evaluation, a board member will decide whether to grant or deny a pardon.

There is a very explicit process to the current pardon regime. It is important to review that because one would think that there was nothing to this system, that there was nothing there to protect Canadians, that there was no rigour to the existing system. When we actually look at the details of how the current system works, we can easily see that is not the case.

There are significant limitations to what a pardon means, to how it can be obtained, to whether or not it continues and can be revoked. This is by no means a blank cheque to someone who has committed a criminal offence in the past. It comes as a result of responsibilities having been met and kept, and it requires a long-term commitment to avoid the behaviour that put the individual in trouble in the first place.

We have to look at this system as a very successful system. We know that 96% of the people who have applied for pardons never commit another offence. That is a 96% success rate. I doubt if there are many other programs anywhere in government that are as successful as that. This is a hugely successful system.

In the past four years, 400,000 pardons have been granted and only a small number have ever been revoked. That says volumes about the importance of this system, how well it functions, and how well it has served Canadians and our communities.

This is not something that is done cavalierly. It is not something that is done without serious consideration. It is not something that is done outside of any proven track record. All of those things have been taken into account when we look at the success of the pardon system.

It is not just me, as a member of Parliament for Burnaby—Douglas, who believes that. In 2006, shortly after they were elected, the current Conservative government members reviewed the pardon system. The former minister of public safety, the current President of the Treasury Board, undertook that review. It came back with only minor changes to the system, because even the Conservative minister of public safety had to admit that the system was working well and serving us well.

The small change was that in the situation where a pardon was being granted for an indictable offence, two members of the National Parole Board had to be involved in signing off on that pardon. That was a very small change, perhaps a sensible change, but again, it was not a major change after a review by the current government. So one wonders why we are faced again with this significant change in the current bill we are debating, Bill C-23.

As I said earlier, one of the key elements of the legislation before us, Bill C-23, is to change the name from “pardons” to “record suspension”. Some people seem to think that is an insignificant change, but I do not happen to be one of them. I think the word “pardon” is imbued with a meaning that is very, very important in our criminal justice system. It has a very important place in the whole process of charging, convicting, rehabilitating and then ultimately pardoning someone who has shown they have paid their debt to society for behaviour that caused them to face a criminal conviction in the first place.

Moving to something that sounds much more administrative, that takes away a whole level of meaning, moving from pardon to record suspension, is a serious downgrading of the system that has served us so well. We have to stress rehabilitation. We have to stress the successful conclusion of rehabilitation. I worry sometimes that the government of the day does not care very much about that. It is very hot to trot on the punishment side of the equation, but less so on the rehabilitation side, on ensuring that people who have gone through our criminal justice system and paid their debt can then live successfully in our society.

One of the ways those people have been able to live successfully is by obtaining a pardon, which allows them to find their place again in society without being burdened by their criminal record in a way that causes problems for them as they try to make a living, as they seek housing, as they take their place back in society.

A pardon does not come easily, and it comes after a significant waiting period. People have to show they have been a responsible member of society. If we move from a word like “pardon” to a concept of “record suspension”, we are dropping a very significant piece of what has been part of the current regime.

We go to questions of redemption. We go to questions of mercy. We go to questions of responsibility. The word “pardon” conveys all those kinds of things and they are a very important part of it. We lose those meanings at our peril in this process. It is something we have to take very seriously. The concept of a pardon helps us to take this process very, very seriously and to give it the attention and the importance it deserves.

There are others who believe that the bill before us has other flaws. An interesting perspective comes from the Mennonite Central Committee. It raised the whole issue of the role of victims in the pardon process, and the bill does not deal with that situation. If we were moving toward the concept of restorative justice where we were ensuring that all those who were hurt by a criminal act were involved in the justice process to ensure that broken relationships were healed as best they could be, that the community was involved in ensuring that the persons who had committed the crime took responsibility for that crime, that they faced the people who had been directly harmed by that crime, reconciliation would be a part of the process.

Often in our criminal justice system someone is convicted. We might hear a victim impact statement at the time of conviction and they disappear into our correctional services system. They serve their time and then they are released.

There is no final act of reconciliation, no clarity around the harm that was done to society and the way that person can be successful reintroduced into the community. If we took more of a restorative justice approach that had that broader perspective on crime, on reconciliation, we would be far better served in the long run.

It is an important point that the Mennonite Central Committee raised when it looked at the current bill and felt the whole concept of the role of the victim of a crime when a pardon is granted had been ignored.

That is something that merits attention, that merits study by the House, and it should be part of any review of a pardon system.

It is very clear where the bill emerged and why it emerged at this point in time. There are concerns in our communities about pardons that were granted to Graham James and about the potential of a pardon being granted to Karla Homolka. I do not think there is anyone here, or in our communities, who believes that is a good thing, that Karla Homolka, for instance, would be granted a pardon for the very heinous crimes she committed. Somehow that would seem to be an extension of the kind of errors that were made as her case proceeded through our criminal justice system. People feel that very acutely given what happened in that horrible, horrible case.

I do not think we do justice to the legislative process when we build legislation around the worst possible case we could imagine. When we develop legislation based on the situation of Karla Homolka, I am not sure it serves those hundreds of thousands of other people who have shown that the pardon system has real meaning and has been a real benefit to them. There is real benefit when people who have committed crimes have been successfully reintegrated into our communities.

That is a very serious problem with this legislation. If we go to the worst case, then we somehow forget or downplay the importance of all those other cases, the more ordinary, the more regular cases. They are significant but they do not raise the same issues that a Karla Homolka or a Graham James would raise. So we have to be very cautious when we proceed on this.

The NDP put forward a very helpful proposal in this regard. When the hon. member for Welland spoke as debate began on this legislation, he made the proposal that we take out that section of the bill that would deal with a situation like Karla Homolka. He suggested that we debate it separately, that we ask the government to bring in legislation that would deal with that specific situation and that we would try to facilitate it going through the House with great speed so we could address that very particular situation.

We do not suggest an overhaul of the pardon system in light of that specific need and that specific case, but we do suggest we also move to a full study of the pardon system to make sure it is the best possible system we could have.

Earlier today the member for Welland sought unanimous consent in the House, and unfortunately that was denied. I want to remind members of the motion he presented earlier this afternoon in the House. He said, “That, in the opinion of the House, urgent changes to the Criminal Records Act are required to prevent pardons from being granted that would 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 bring the administration of justice into disrepute, with cooperation and support from all parties to move such legislation swiftly through the House and Senate before Parliament rises for the summer...”.

That was an excellent suggestion coming from New Democrats in the House. I am disappointed that did not go anywhere. I hope there may be reconsideration given to that.

We need this system in place, and I am very concerned that we would dismantle it in light of these particularly heinous cases.

Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes ActGovernment Orders

June 14th, 2010 / 3:55 p.m.
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NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, less than one hour ago the member for Welland introduced a motion in this House. The government has had copies of it for several days now. It was the government members who refused unanimous consent to proceed with the motion.

The member for Welland said, “That, in the opinion of the House, urgent changes to the Criminal Records Act are required to prevent pardons from being granted that would 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 bring the administration of justice into disrepute, with cooperation and support from all parties to move swiftly such legislation through the House and Senate before Parliament rises for the summer...”.

That was the motion he introduced only an hour ago.

He asked for unanimous consent. All three opposition parties agreed. It was the government that denied unanimous consent.

I would like to ask the member what the agenda of the current government is when we, on this side of the House, are willing to give unanimous consent to get this important piece of legislation through the House in one day and it said no?

Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes ActGovernment Orders

June 14th, 2010 / 3:55 p.m.
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NDP

Bill Siksay NDP Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Madam Speaker, I am disappointed as well. I think this was a very significant compromise that was proposed by New Democrats in this House to ensure the situation that is causing the immediate concern in Canada would be addressed, the situation of Karla Homolka being eligible soon for a pardon.

If we let Bill C-23 go through the normal process in the House of Commons and then through the Senate, we know we will be well into the fall before this bill could be passed through the normal legislative process of this place. Unfortunately, that means we will not be able to address the specific situation of Karla Homolka.

The motion proposed by the member for Welland, by the NDP, would have allowed that particular situation to be addressed in a very appropriate way, by ensuring it is the National Parole Board that has the ability to review that circumstance and to use the provisions where a situation would bring the administration of justice into dispute, but also where a pardon would shock the conscience of Canadians.

I think those are very important criteria.

I also think that the National Parole Board is absolutely the right place for that decision to be made. Those are the people who have the experience with the criminal justice system, with the end of the criminal justice process in Canada. They are the ones who know best about how that part of the system functions. They have the experience and they do excellent work on behalf of Canadians.

I think we forget how hard those folks work and how dedicated they are to that process, and how important their work is to all our communities. Sometimes they take criticism for decisions that were made, and sometimes that criticism is left to stand, to tarnish the whole reputation of the National Parole Board and the folks who work there. I think that is often extremely unfair. These people do great work on our behalf. If we could have expanded their jurisdiction to deal with those very particular cases, that would have been a responsible step to take.

Then, we would do the review. We are not saying to not review the pardon system. We agree that Canadians must have confidence in that system. Canadians must trust that system. We think that they should trust that system, given its incredible record of success.

Both of those things that were proposed could have been done. Unfortunately, that idea was shot down this afternoon.

Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes ActGovernment Orders

June 14th, 2010 / 4 p.m.
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NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, the government undercut one of its own members. The member for Surrey North spent a lot of time putting together Motion No. 514, in which she stated:

That the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security be instructed to undertake a review of the Criminal Records Act and report to the House within three months on how it could be strengthened to ensure that the National Parole Board puts the public's safety first in all its decisions.

This motion went through the process. It sat on the order paper. It came up for debate a few weeks ago. The member was able to present it. We were able to speak to it. However, her own government undercut her. It pulled the rug out from under her. It short-circuited the process by introducing Bill C-23.

Is that any way for a government to be treating its own members, especially one who has credibility on an issue like this in the first place? The government also did its own review in 2006. The former public safety minister did a review and at the end of the day decided that everything was fine with the system.

Once again, I would like to ask the member what he thinks about the government's lurching back and forth with no direction on this issue and many other issues in the House.

Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes ActGovernment Orders

June 14th, 2010 / 4 p.m.
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NDP

Bill Siksay NDP Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Madam Speaker, I think the member again raises a good point. This issue was already on the agenda of the House, thanks to the MP for Surrey North. In her motion, she talks about strengthening the Criminal Records Act to ensure that the National Parole Board puts the public's safety first in all its decisions.

I have no reason to doubt that the National Parole Board does not do that already. I believe that in all the work the board does, it is very much seized of the importance of putting the public's safety first. I would be very concerned if there were any suggestion otherwise.

Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes ActGovernment Orders

June 14th, 2010 / 4 p.m.
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NDP

Chris Charlton NDP Hamilton Mountain, ON

Madam Speaker, as we are debating the bill before us today, Bill C-23, I think it is important to remember that this bill was nowhere on the government's radar during the throne speech. In fact, the only time we started talking about the pardon system and the need for reform of the pardon system was when the case of Graham James came before the national media.

The reason for introducing this bill is that it is for PR purposes. Graham James's case looked particularly bad for the government. It realized that the Karla Homolka case would also be coming up, so we have had a legislative response to a PR problem. Again, this was nowhere on the government's radar during the throne speech or during the prorogation. Nobody was talking about it.

I want to remind the House that this bill does five things. It renames pardons as record suspensions. It increases the ineligibility periods that must pass before a pardon application can be submitted from the current five years to 10 years for indictable offences and from the current three years to five years for summary offences.

It prohibits those convicted of four or more indictable offences from ever receiving a pardon. It prohibits anyone convicted of one or more offences on a designated list of sex offences from ever receiving a pardon. The last point is that with respect to pardon applications for indictable offences, the Parole Board would be required to deny a pardon if granting it would bring the administration of justice into disrepute.

This point is the only one that would apply to Karla Homolka. We have offered to pass that piece as a stand-alone piece, expeditiously, in the House. I wonder if the member for Burnaby—Douglas has a sense of why the government, if it feels so strongly about this, would not agree to pass that, because the rest certainly will not pass before the end of this session.

Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes ActGovernment Orders

June 14th, 2010 / 4 p.m.
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NDP

Bill Siksay NDP Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Madam Speaker, it is baffling. I do not know why it would not take the sure thing that deals with the immediate issue, which is the issue everybody is concerned about. That opportunity was there. We could have been doing that this afternoon. We could have started earlier, actually, because this motion has been circulating for a number of days around this place already.

We could have been doing that important work and dealing with the aspect that everybody is concerned about, but no, we did not do that. I do not know why. I wish I could understand the motivation of the government on criminal justice issues. It seems that its interest only proceeds to punishment, and it does not proceed any farther than that.

We cannot have a criminal justice system that is based on punishment. That will be an unsuccessful system. We have seen that in other jurisdictions in the world. When one does not pay attention to rehabilitation, when one does not pay attention to reintegration and reconciliation, one does not have a good criminal justice system.

Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes ActGovernment Orders

June 7th, 2010 / 3:30 p.m.
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Oxford Ontario

Conservative

Dave MacKenzie ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety

Mr. Speaker, I am very proud to rise in sponsorship of this important bill before us today. Bill C-23 would fundamentally overhaul the system of pardons in this country in order to ensure that the rights of victims and law-abiding Canadians are properly balanced with those of offenders.

We told Canadians that this is what we would do several weeks ago, and our government is one of action. We deliver on our commitments both expeditiously and thoughtfully. Over the last few weeks, I believe that all of us have been made aware of just how important this legislation is. We have heard from many ordinary Canadians who wonder how a serial sex offender such as Graham James could have his record sealed just five years after finishing his sentence.

We have heard from other Canadians who asked the same question about other offenders who may be eligible to receive a pardon for their offences with almost no regard for what kind of crimes they have committed or the lasting impact on victims.

We have heard from victims themselves who have spoken about the pain and suffering they have endured for many years. Those same victims have urged us to ensure that the changes our government is proposing are quickly passed into law. We have heard from victims who have told us that this bill is on the right track. We have heard from many of them that these changes are needed. We have heard that the changes proposed by Bill C-23 are tough, but also that they are fair.

I therefore urge all hon. members to work with us to give Bill C-23 the speedy passage it deserves so that we can ensure that the pardon system in this country works the way it should.

For many people today, the word “pardon” somehow implies that previous offences have been completely forgotten, regardless of how much pain and suffering was caused to the victim. A pardon suggests that everything is now okay because the offender has waited three or five years and stayed clear of the justice system for that time. Our government believes that this is not an accurate reflection of how the legal system works.

How the system really works is that in certain cases and under certain conditions, an ex-offender's record is sealed and kept apart from public view so that ex-offenders have an opportunity to get on with their lives as law-abiding citizens who can more easily find work and more fully contribute to society, but the record can again be brought back into view under certain circumstances, so it is suspended rather than permanently deleted. Bill C-23 would therefore amend the Criminal Records Act to replace the word “pardon” with the more accurate “record suspension” to reflect this fact.

Today if individuals want to receive a pardon, or record suspension, all they need to do is finish their sentences and stay clear of the law for three or five years. To many people, the process appears to be virtually automatic, and the numbers would support that view. Only 2% of all applications were rejected by the National Parole Board last year and only 1% of the applications were rejected the year before that. Our government and indeed many Canadians believe these numbers indicate that fundamental reforms are required to the way the National Parole Board works.

As the Prime Minister recently noted, our government believes that a pardon is not a right. There are some cases and some occasions where actions should never be pardoned. Bill C-23 therefore proposes amendments to the Criminal Records Act to provide the National Parole Board with the tools and discretion it needs so that in certain cases, individuals convicted of serious crimes would not be eligible for a pardon or record suspension. In particular, Bill C-23 would amend the Criminal Records Act so that individuals convicted of certain sexual offences against minors would not be eligible for a record suspension unless they could prove to the National Parole Board that the offence did not involve a position of trust, bodily harm or the threat of violence.

Victims and victims' advocacy groups have asked for these changes and our government is delivering them.

Under this new legislation, individuals convicted of four or more indictable offences would not be eligible to apply for a record suspension. In cases where an ex-offender is eligible to apply for a record suspension, the waiting period for some re-offences would be increased from three to five years, and for indictable offences, from five to ten years.

For indictable offences, the changes our government is proposing would allow the board to examine factors such as the nature, gravity and duration of an offence. The board would also take into account the circumstances surrounding the commission of the offence and the applicant's criminal history.

As well, a person convicted of an indictable offence would need to prove to the National Parole Board that receiving a suspension of record will contribute to his or her rehabilitation and will not bring the administration of justice into disrepute.

As I mentioned before, the changes our government is proposing are tough but they are also fair. It is not just our government that is saying this. Sheldon Kennedy, one of the former victims of Graham James, recently noted, with regard to the reforms that the government is proposing, that, “There was a lot of thought put into them—and that the approach—is balanced”.

The Globe and Mail also recently noted:

Reforming Canada's system of pardons to disqualify child sex offenders such as the former junior hockey coach Graham James – or worse, child sex killer Karla Homolka – is sensible. It's also reasonable to scrap the term “pardon” and substitute “record suspension.” Pardon implies a forgiveness that the offender may not have earned.

In the same light, Ron Jette of the Child Sexual Abuse Prevention Network, in an interview with CTV, said “that granting a child molester a pardon would be a slap in the face to a victim'” and essentially tell the victim that he or she does not matter.

Our government agrees, as do millions of Canadians who want us to continue to take the necessary steps to secure the safety of all Canadians. That is what the proposed reforms in Bill C-23 would do.

I therefore would again strongly urge all hon. members to give this vital bill the speedy passage it deserves.

Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes ActGovernment Orders

June 7th, 2010 / 3:40 p.m.
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Liberal

Mark Holland Liberal Ajax—Pickering, ON

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak today to Bill C-23, a bill the government introduced to amend the Criminal Records Act and to make consequential amendments to other acts.

In summary, the bill aims to amend the Criminal Records Act substituting the term “pardon” with the more narrowly defined “record suspension” and would prohibit record suspension in the cases of individuals convicted of sex offences perpetrated on children. The bill would also restrict record suspensions in cases of repeat offenders and extend the waiting periods required between parole and eligibility for record suspension. It would also create regular reporting requirements for the National Parole Board to the Minister of Public Safety.

We will be supporting the bill to go to committee and are supportive of changes to the system that currently exists for granting pardons. However, it bears mentioning that three years ago the then minister of public safety had undertaken a review of this system of granting pardons and had said that everything had been fixed. Therefore, this is not the first time the government has looked at this issue. Three years ago, the then minister conducted no hearings and did not consult the public safety committee but made some minor changes and said that the problem was solved and that we did not need to worry about it anymore. In fact, what was done at that point in time was to add a second person to the review panel and say that both people had to be in unanimous agreement that someone would be given a pardon before it was allowed.

That was the end of it until, of course, a major sensational story hit the media, a very unfortunate story involving Mr. James receiving a pardon, and suddenly the government had a renewed interest in the topic. What we see again and again is that the government waits for a sensational story, something that is very emotional that it can use politically, and then writes legislation on the back of a napkin to capitalize on. Usually this is done particularly when Conservatives are under siege for some other political issue. In this issue, under scrutiny and attack for their complete mismanagement of the G8 and G20 meetings that are being held in Huntsville and Toronto. It rings a little hollow when they come out and demand urgent action and feign outrage when they have been in government for more than four years and themselves reviewed this issue three years ago.

A couple of areas in the bill do cause concern. When we are dealing with sex offenders, I fully support those changes. They are important and we recognize that, but there are a couple of areas on which we want clarification. One area is the indictable offences. The length of time for someone to receive a pardon would increase from three to five years to five to ten years. Some indictable offences can be for something that is serious but also something relatively minor. For example, if someone were charged with marijuana possession, that could be an indictable offence. If someone were involved in cheque fraud, clearly not something we would want to see anybody engage in, but that also could be an indictable offence. Someone who was in a desperate financial situation and made a really dumb choice to engage in cheque fraud could be in a situation where she or he would not get a pardon for 10 years.

This is a major difference, because someone who is 18 years old and has to wait three years for a pardon and are then able to continue their life at 21, is materially different than someone who has to wait 10 years for a pardon and would be then 28 years of age before he or she could begin his or her life.

It bears mentioning that we have pardons for a reason. While we would all agree that there are certain people who should never get pardons, trying to hold that out as if everybody is dishonest is, frankly, a perversion of fact. When the Prime Minister stands and says that this is about stopping Karla Homolka from getting a pardon, of course no one wants to see her get a pardon. What a bunch of absurdity to even raise that, to put the victims' families through that. The reality is that most people who are getting pardons are people who have made mistakes but clearly deserve another chance and be given an opportunity to redeem themselves and positively contribute to society.

If somebody, for example, were charged with marijuana possession when they were 18 years old, would we want to see that person never able to be employed? Would we want to see that person live in poverty with no hope for the rest of his or her life and no opportunity to clear his or her name?

I would hope most members of the House would say no, that it is not a fair thing to do and that it is not just. Of course we want to ensure that those who have committed serious crimes do not have the opportunity to get pardons but that is something that should have been done four years ago, and particularly three years ago when there was another sensational case that the then public safety minister was talking about.

What deeply concerns me is that my comments today, my legitimate concern around a bill and asking questions, will almost certainly be twisted and contorted for partisan gain. I am just saying that we need to look at this in committee, that we need to ensure the right people will have the right outcomes here and that people who do not deserve it will not be caught in a mistake, particularly when the legislation is written in such haste.

Instead, when we ask questions, that is contorted as somehow being for criminals. I will give an example. Recently I was speaking to the issue of taxpayers paying benefits for prisoners in jail. The case of Clifford Olson, of course, is invoked because the government seeks to get the maximum amount of emotion and to get people as disturbed and angry as it possibly can as it plays politics with people's emotions toward crime.

I will go over what the Conservative member for Abbotsford said:

Yesterday, the Liberal MP for Ajax—Pickering shamefully defended prisoners getting taxpayer funded old age security benefits.

Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes ActGovernment Orders

June 7th, 2010 / 3:45 p.m.
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Liberal

Mark Holland Liberal Ajax—Pickering, ON

Before members shame it, maybe they should hear the facts. If they actually waited for facts instead of yelling the word shame, I think this would work better.

Another member, the member for Oak Ridges—Markham, went on to basically repeat the same thing and then the minister stood up and made the same proclamation.

Here is the problem. Here is what I said, “Mr. Speaker, you clearly do not want a situation where someone who is in jail and committed a minor offence is suddenly losing their pension”.

I said that my concern was not with Clifford Olson and not with somebody who committed a serious crime, I clearly stated, in very plain language for anybody who bothered to read it, that my concern was that somebody who committed a minor offence would be caught up in losing his or her benefits. I simply wanted to ask that question at committee.

Has this House degenerated to the point where just asking a question about a bill and having a concern that somebody who does not deserve to be caught in something that it is not fair is then translated into somehow standing up for prisoners? That is the degeneration of the debate in this place and it is shameful. There has been no apology and no attempt to correct the record even though it has been made very clear in the media, mocked, that this would be done.

Even now, without even hearing me speak or hearing the facts, members on the other side yell the word “shame”. It is a shame. It is a terrible shame that a government would distort facts and information to try to use crime as a political weapon.

The reality is, without any question, that crime is an issue that deserves bipartisanship. It needs to be based on evidence. We need to take a step back and ask how we can make our communities safer. I am a father of three children. I would say that every member in this place who has a child and cares for their safety, cares for—

Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes ActGovernment Orders

June 7th, 2010 / 3:50 p.m.
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Liberal

Mark Holland Liberal Ajax—Pickering, ON

Madam Speaker, it is disappointing that when I reference the fact that I have three children, there is an attack that is levelled on me even about that.

What I was trying to say, if they would bother to listen instead of shouting things at me, is that every member in this House cares about their family, cares about their community, and came to this place because they want to make their country and their community a better place. When members cast aspersions on other members, on their motivations, to say that somehow I care less about my children or somehow I care less about my community than they do theirs, that is when the word “shame” is appropriate.

When we are having discussions about how to proceed with keeping our community safe, why do we not do it honestly? Why do we not do it with integrity? Why do we not do it by a method in which people who elect us expect us to operate?

I think that this bill, again, deserves to be supported, deserves to go forward, deserves to be looked at committee, but it also deserves to be questioned. People who have legitimate and fair questions about that should be assured that a young person who is 18 years old is not going to be in a situation where his or her life will be destroyed unnecessarily. They must be able to have a voice to that issue.

Playing games with crime has to end. We have to move to an evidence-based system.

When we had the former victims' ombudsman, now let go for reasons we do not know, saying the current government's plan for victims was unbalanced and would not work, when we had the correctional investigator sounding the alert, saying that our prison systems were getting ready to burst or were overloaded, when we had a Minister of Public Safety saying that a bill was going to cost $90 million and then under threat of a PBO report, a Parliamentary Budget Officer report, saying, “Now that the truth is going to come out, it's $2 billion, not $90 million”, I think the government has a problem with numbers.

It has a problem adding up costs, not just with this but with the G8 and G20 and the budget. It said we were not in deficit when we were in fact heading into Canada's largest deficit we have had in our history, a deficit before the economic downturn even began. The government is more interested in hyperbole, in trying to twist and contort things to play games, and to play politics than it is interested in public policy.

What concerns me about a bill like this is that I know that what started this bill was talking points. What started this bill was how the government could win with it politically, not how to create good public policy.

Instead of asking that question, instead of starting as a starting point, let us develop good legislation, let us do what is right for Canadians, let us base it on evidence, and let us base it on making our communities safer. Yet, the government based it on politics. It based it on writing something on the back of a napkin, creating talking points, and then worrying whatever the legislation will be later.

There are lives in the balance and Canadians expect much more of us.

I am going to finish on this note. When we have a situation as fortunate as Canada's is where, while we still do face crime, we have one of the lowest crime rates anywhere in the industrialized world, where we have seen crime decline year over year, what we would expect is a government that would be investing in seeing that trend continue, taking a look at jurisdictions that have succeeded. We would see a government that would be investing in things like crime prevention, in victims, in front-line support, in mental health, in drug addiction, and things that really bring crime down, as evidence has shown.

Instead, on the same thing, because it thinks it will win more votes, this is a government that is dumping billions into prisons.

There was a delegation that came from the United Kingdom to study how Canada could have such a low crime rate and such a low rate of incarceration. When the delegates got to Canada and saw this government's direction, that it was racing after a Republican failed model that had been a disaster and crushed in states like California, that was done in the U.K. to disastrous effect, they said, “Please don't do this. Don't walk this road. Because if you do, it'll be incredibly hard to undo. It'll cost you billions of dollars. It'll make your communities less safe. It'll turn young people from minor criminals into serious ones, throwing them into jails that are overcrowded without programs to make them better, criminalizing them, and continuing a cycle of violence that often was happening well before they arrived in that jail cell”.

Victims are not some people who appear out of the ether. Victims are often people who have been living in cycles of victimization. They are often offenders themselves, people who turn to substance abuse to get out of their horrific situations, people who end up developing mental disorders because of their terrible situations.

There are not bad people and good people, and black and white. There is the truth, and the truth is that if we follow evidence, if we care, if we invest in things such as crime prevention, early intervention, and trying to turn young people away from dark paths, that works.

Dumping money on a political agenda designed to win votes, chasing after a system that did not work, that was broken, where every jurisdiction that adopted it is saying it was a disaster and crushing it, is the wrong way to go. All I am asking is that the government listen to reason and evidence.