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 7th, 2010 / 3:55 p.m.
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Liberal

Brian Murphy Liberal Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Madam Speaker, no doubt this bill will be sent to committee. I know that it is a committee that the member has an interest in and of which he is a member.

Could he forecast, for the members who are not on the committee and the public who are interested in this important bill, what kind of witness lists he would expect to see, what kind of evidence he would like to hear, what outcomes there might be with respect to, for instance, groups in our community that offer pardon services, groups that work toward rehabilitation and think that a pardon is part of that reintegration into society, and not to go so far as to give any consideration to the most egregious cases?

What kind of testimony is he looking to see at committee, in support of or against this bill?

Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes ActGovernment Orders

June 7th, 2010 / 3:55 p.m.
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Liberal

Mark Holland Liberal Ajax—Pickering, ON

Madam Speaker, first, we are going to want to hear from witnesses on how we can ensure, which frankly should have been done three years ago when the public safety minister said he was going to do it, that people who should not get pardons do not.

Obviously, somebody who is a serious sex offender, somebody who has committed a serious and heinous crime, should not get the opportunity to receive a pardon. As I said in my comments, there is a whole other category of people, the vast majority of people who do get pardons today, whom I think pretty much everybody in this House would agree should continue to receive a second chance, should have an opportunity at redemption and an opportunity to rebuild their lives.

Certainly, we will want to hear from the John Howard Society and the Elizabeth Fry Society that represent inmates. We will want to hear from the Canadian Bar Association. We will want to hear from the National Pardon Centre itself, that actually processes these applications. I had an opportunity to talk with those officials. They are very supportive of some elements of the bill, as am I. They have some important questions about other elements of the bill, where they feel that there is a possibility of young people being trapped in a situation where their lives would be destroyed.

That is the type of balance we want to see and I would hope that the members, instead of engaging in hyperbole, political demonization and games, and playing politics with this issue and others, would take a moment to take a step back, ask some honest questions, do their jobs, and base things on evidence.

Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes ActGovernment Orders

June 7th, 2010 / 3:55 p.m.
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Bloc

Maria Mourani Bloc Ahuntsic, QC

Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to speak to this bill to amend the Criminal Records Act by substituting the term “record suspension” for the term “pardon” and extending the ineligibility period 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

The Bloc Québécois is in favour of a review of the Criminal Records Act in committee. We would have preferred this to be done more rationally and intelligently through a review in committee rather than through a cobbled together bill full of poison pills. In any event, we are accustomed to the Conservatives' attitude and their way of doing things.

The Conservatives' usual modus operandi for this type of thing is to wait for a heinous event to be reported in the media. They latch on to the story, act outraged and then draft a bill that proposes repression, punishment, double punishment and non-pardons. To top it all off, they put on a big show to give the impression that they are taking care of public safety and victims.

For this bill, the government used the same modus operandi: a media event concerning the 2007 pardon of hockey coach Graham James. Then Bill C-23 is announced with great fanfare to supposedly get tough on crime when it comes to pardoning pedophiles. The bill apparently targets pedophiles.

In fact, the bill is full of poison pills that will affect not only pedophiles—it does indeed do that—but everyone from purse snatchers to marijuana smokers to ordinary thieves.

I am not the only one who says so. In an article in Le Devoir, Ms. Cornellier said:

Once again, the government is taking advantage of an incident, a controversy, to push changes that will have drastic consequences. Making certain criminals who have served their time ineligible for pardon can compromise rehabilitation efforts and, as a result, the long-term safety of society. Whether the minister likes it or not, the possibility of a pardon, in the most serious cases, is an incentive to make an effort towards social reintegration. In more minor cases, for example with old marijuana possession convictions, it can help clear up some troubles.

Now there is someone who understands what the government is doing.

Is the Bloc Québécois in favour of examining the Criminal Records Act to review automatic pardons for pedophiles? Yes. Do we think that pedophiles should be subject to more careful and in-depth analysis by the National Parole Board? Yes, obviously. But does this bill deal with only pedophiles? No.

With this bill, the Conservatives are once again using a media event—the Graham James case—to present a complete overhaul of the pardon system, which works fine as it is. In fact, 97% of those who have received pardons have not reoffended. That means that 3% have. Do we need to be more vigilant with them? Yes, but does that mean that we need a complete overhaul of the pardon system? I do not think so.

It is a matter of looking into what kinds of crimes those who fall into that 3% have committed. We would have to ask ourselves how we can improve legislation to specifically address that 3%. That would be an intelligent analysis. Is that what the bill does? In my opinion, no.

Let us look at the current system. First, a pardon does not erase the fact that a person was convicted.

A pardon just means that a person's record is suspended. The record is removed from the Canadian Police Information Centre. Information on other convictions is also removed. If a police officer searches for the person's name in the information centre after the pardon is granted, he will not find it. But if the person commits another crime, the record becomes public again. It is therefore suspended as long as the person obeys the law.

Currently, if an offender who has been pardoned for a sexual offence applies for a job that involves contact with children or vulnerable persons, a police force or any other authorized organization can, with the applicant's permission, check whether he was ever pardoned. If the applicant was convicted of child-related offences, it is up to the employer to decide whether or not to hire him.

Moreover, a person convicted on indictment must currently wait five years to apply for a pardon. That is five years from the time the sentence has been completely served, meaning that the offender's fines have been paid, he has completed his probation period and he has finished paying his debt. Beginning at that point, he must wait five years from the time he was convicted on indictment before applying. It can take from 6 to 18 months to get an answer, and sometimes even longer, depending on how complex the case is. A person convicted of a summary conviction offence must wait three years to apply.

With this new bill, the length of time people will have to wait before applying will increase from five to 10 years and from three to five years. I want to raise another point before I talk about the 10-year ineligibility period. The effect of a record suspension is limited to Canada. Certainly, if the American authorities have the record in their system, a person may be refused entry into the U.S. at the border. Records generally remain in the American system even if the person has been pardoned.

Only the Minister of Public Safety is authorized to provide information about a pardoned individual's file. He may provide such information only under exceptional circumstances and only if he believes that providing the information is relevant to the administration of justice or public safety in Canada or if it is related to another state.

What does the act cover now? Let us consider the first point on which I believe everyone in the House will agree, which is that any person convicted of “an offence involving sexual activity relating to a minor...unless the applicant can demonstrate s/he was “close in age” and that the offence did not involve a position of trust/authority, bodily harm or threat of violence/intimidation” would be ineligible for a record suspension.

Who could disagree with that? The committee will have to consider whether that can be improved upon.

We have some questions about the 10-year and 5-year provisions. This bill would increase the waiting time from 5 years to 10 years for convictions on indictment and from 3 years to 5 years for summary convictions. What does that really mean? I decided to have a little fun checking out the Criminal Code. Here is what I found in section 437, which is about false alarms:

Every one who wilfully, without reasonable cause, by outcry, ringing bells, using a fire alarm, telephone or telegraph, or in any other manner, makes or circulates or causes to be made or circulated an alarm of fire is guilty of

(a) an indictable offence and is liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years; or

(b) an offence punishable on summary conviction.

The Criminal Code is full of minor offences that deal with all kinds of things, such as removing a natural bar without permission. But a person convicted of an indictable offence must wait 10 years after paying the fine to request a pardon. How will that affect the person's ability to find a job? We have to understand that a criminal record can close many doors when it comes to employment.

When I read this bill, an image came to mind. When I was studying criminology, I remember that we were told that a long time ago criminal records did not exist. Criminals were identified by branding with a hot iron. Branding worked for livestock. It meant that criminals would be marked for life and, in addition, it was extremely humiliating. Branding was a kind of permanent criminal record. It could not be erased and criminals would experience rejection and humiliation for the rest of their lives. They would live like pariahs. The branding was often chosen based on the crime: “T” for thieves, or “C” for counterfeiters. According to the French Penal Code from 1810, criminals were branded on the right shoulder: “T” for hard labour, travaux forcés, or “TP” for hard labour for life, travaux à perpétuité. I was very surprised to see that in Canadian military prisons “D” was used for deserters. We have make sure that we do not regress to those times.

We are concerned about the idea that people who have been convicted of more than three offences resulting in prison sentences of more than a year would be ineligible for record suspension. Take a typical case of an 18 year old who committed three robberies. That person would not be able to redeem himself even if, after two or three years, he no longer wanted to be a delinquent and decided that he wanted to go back to school and rebuild his life, and really wanted to turn things around. This young man, at the age of 25, married with children, wanting to start a career and be a good person, would not be able make a criminal record request because he had committed three offences, so it would not be allowed. He would live in constant shame, all because he made the wrong choices in his youth. And despite having turned his life around, he would be branded for life. It is the same symbolism.

The Conservative government is a little like the Javert character in Victor Hugo's Les Misérables. Javert is the police officer who has always believed that once a man becomes a criminal, he is always a criminal and there is no such thing as pardon or rehabilitation. He regarded the law as divine law. He thought that Jean Valjean would remain a criminal his entire life, but Jean Valjean demonstrated that, on the contrary, he was capable of pity, clemency and rehabilitation. Poor Javert was completely devastated, jumped off the Pont Notre-Dame and drowned in the Seine.

We are wondering what the connection is between doubling the time required to obtain a pardon in all cases and James Graham, who was charged with pedophilia. There is no connection. The only point that links this case, which got a lot of media attention, is that there were a few changes to the terminology. Apart from that, nothing else really made sense, because the system already works just fine. I repeat: 97% of people who received pardons have never reoffended.

Applying this measure across the board does not make sense. Society has implemented this means of suspending criminal records precisely in order to allow men and women the opportunity to find decent jobs, support their families, pay their taxes and get away from their criminal past. I believe this last point is the only one that guarantees a safer society, and not the Conservatives' obsession with ever-lasting punishment.

What do the Conservatives think today? Do they believe that by making life more difficult for reformed individuals, people who have not reoffended, we will be better protected? If those people are starving, if they and their family members do not have good jobs, do not earn much money or have any income security, do they think we will be collectively richer and safer? I do not think so. Do they believe that life has meaning only if people pay for their mistakes for the rest of their lives? I do not think so. Should we be happy or pleased about the suffering and difficulties facing those who have fallen and made mistakes, when three to five years after they have served their entire sentence and have never reoffended, they try to redeem themselves? Is that what Christian generosity is all about?

This bill sends a clear signal that what the Conservatives want is to get rid of the word “rehabilitation” in every case. Unfortunately, that is what they are all about.

There are cases that call for extra caution, for extra careful thought and analysis before a decision is made to grant a pardon or not. Every case is different. I think the people at the National Parole Board are smart. They are experienced people whose job it is to look at every case. We can give them additional tools, and we have to have confidence in a system with a 97% success rate. The success rate is not 3%, but 97%.

Sexual offences, especially those involving minors, need to be looked at carefully, and the act needs to be reviewed as it pertains to such offences. We agree. But please, let us avoid the Conservatives' tendency to exaggerate and put all offenders in the same boat. They would have us lock everyone up and throw away the key.

The Bloc Québécois feels that a thoughtful, rational, non-partisan study of the Criminal Records Act could be good for victims, for our society and for the rehabilitation of offenders and I would even say former offenders.

With this criterion in mind, we will support sending this bill to committee. Clearly, public safety must be the top priority in deciding whether or not to grant a record suspension, and it can be ensured by rehabilitating offenders and pardoning people who have been rehabilitated. We will not build more just societies by branding people for life and making them wear scarlet letters.

I still have a minute left, but I have nothing more to say. Everything has been said.

Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes ActGovernment Orders

June 7th, 2010 / 4:15 p.m.
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Bloc

Guy André Bloc Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Madam Speaker, I want to commend my colleague for her excellent speech. I have a question for her.

She said that 3% of people who are pardoned eventually reoffend. In the bill before us, all types of crimes are mixed together. The bill is meant to punish pedophiles, but it includes other crimes and extends the pardon period for other crimes that are less significant.

I would like my colleague to answer the following questions. What type of crimes are committed by the 3% of people who reoffend? Also, for those who have not been pardoned, and the hon. member covered this very well, what are the consequences in terms of reintegration into the work force? When someone has a criminal record, often for offences committed at age 17, 18 or 19, this can have a major influence on their career and their personal development and can often marginalize them.

What can we do to change this bill intelligently and not, as the hon. member says, like the Conservatives, who lump everyone together, punish people, draft new legislation and move on?

Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes ActGovernment Orders

June 7th, 2010 / 4:20 p.m.
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Bloc

Maria Mourani Bloc Ahuntsic, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague for his question. We do not have a breakdown of what kinds of crimes that 3% segment has committed. What we do know, however, is that individuals who have committed a sex crime already have a much harder time obtaining a pardon. There are some cases that show up in the media. From what I understand, the government created this legislation to prevent Karla Homolka from obtaining a pardon. I can understand that specific cases will come up, but we should really look at what crimes the 3% are committing. The National Parole Board already examines cases of serious pedophilia offences and the like, and it takes its time and deliberates before granting a pardon.

As for the other 97%, they are already rehabilitated. There is a waiting period of three or five years to see whether or not they reoffend. We must not forget that the criminal record is not wiped out; it is suspended. This means that after people have served their sentences, they will be monitored for five years to see whether or not they reoffend. They are monitored to see what they do, and then they are granted a pardon, which can take one year. So that is six years total. If, 10 or 15 years later, the individual commits a theft, for example, for whatever reason, the criminal record will become active again.

As people age, work, get married and have children, they are surrounded by fewer and fewer factors that attract them to a life of crime. It makes sense. As soon as people start participating in society, they no longer feel excluded and are not anti-social. They become law-abiding citizens. Are we going to tell them that not only did they serve a 10-year sentence, but that they will also not be receiving a pardon for some thefts they committed at the age of 18?

If they committed three thefts, they will never be able to request a pardon. Why not four, five or six? Why is the government adopting this American mentality that has never worked? The United States is in the process of releasing offenders and street gang members because the prisons are too full.

It is unfortunate that, since this government took power, it has been making a spectacle out of public safety.

Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes ActGovernment Orders

June 7th, 2010 / 4:20 p.m.
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NDP

Malcolm Allen NDP Welland, ON

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.

Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes ActGovernment Orders

June 7th, 2010 / 4:40 p.m.
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NDP

Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Madam Speaker, this is an important issue. I know the member for Welland is one of the strongest advocates that we in the House not forget families like the French family that has suffered so much in the past. I think all members of the House are thinking of the French family today and other families that are impacted by the current situation around pardons.

He has been very eloquent in spelling out the problem. The NDP has urged the government to put forward changes to the Criminal Records Act that could be fast-tracked through the House of Commons. They would not in any way hold up a decisive measure that would avoid the kind of situation we all want to prevent without bringing forward the much broader legislation that has a contrary impact on the lives of a number of other people.

The member for Welland has said very clearly that there is a balance that needs to be maintained. There is also an urgency for action. That is why the NDP has put forward the request to the government to streamline the Criminal Records Act changes, do that in the first stage and ensure that the crimes which shock the conscience of Canadians are not included under pardons. This would head off any possibility of Ms. Homolka getting a pardon.

We put forward this legislation in an effort to fast-track that component of the bill. As yet, the government seems to be resistant to it and prefers a much more difficult, convoluted and, in some parts, poorly drafted bill that does not get the job done on the one hand and will have to be fixed in committee on the other.

The member for Welland has been very articulate on this issue. He is a very strong advocate for the people of his riding and his community who suffered during that period. Why does he think the Conservatives do not seem to be willing to do the right thing in this place right now and streamline the Criminal Records Act changes in a specific way that would resolve this short-term issue and then work with all parties so we could get the broader-based reform that we all want to see? Why have they not done that?

Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes ActGovernment Orders

June 7th, 2010 / 4:45 p.m.
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NDP

Malcolm Allen NDP Welland, ON

Madam Speaker, it defies logic as to why we need to have all of it at once. As my colleague said, we gave the government a motion last week. It is not an issue of me standing in my place and springing something on the government during debate. We sent it to the government a number of days ago to let it study it, so it had plenty of time to look at it before bringing forward its bill and to see if it had the sense that it would want to do that.

I remain optimistic. I have to be optimistic for my community and, most important, for the French family, that the government will understand why we have asked for this. The government knows its bill is going to committee, which means it cannot get this piece through in time to prohibit Ms. Homolka from applying for a pardon. If it would work with us on this side of the House in a spirit of co-operation, I believe it would find that all of us want to assure the Frenches that a pardon cannot be applied for by Ms. Homolka.

I understand the government has its agenda and bills in hand and wants to move forward with them. However, in this case, when all of us understand the significance of this process and this pardon that Ms. Homolka will ask for, surely this one time, the government, in a spirit of co-operation, would cut the one piece off, get this done, go to committee with the rest of the pieces and work it through. In a bipartisan way and in the spirit of co-operation, it would make the pardon system work for all of our communities and for all of those who will apply for pardons in the future.

Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes ActGovernment Orders

June 7th, 2010 / 4:45 p.m.
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Conservative

Rick Norlock Conservative Northumberland—Quinte West, ON

Madam Speaker, I am proud to voice my support for the bill the hon. Minister of Public Safety has placed before the House.

As hon. members are aware, just a few weeks ago Canadians were shocked to learn that someone who had been convicted of sex offences against children had been granted a pardon.

The pardon granted to Mr. Graham James revealed what millions of Canadians and this government judged to be a number of unacceptable flaws in the Criminal Records Act. An editorial published by the Victoria Times Colonist shortly after the news of that pardon became public stated very clearly what many Canadians were feeling.

While it means well, the legislation flunks the most basic of tests. It fails to make morally relevant distinctions. It impedes vital police work. It imposes the most lax of standards on officials. And it offends our sense of propriety.

Perhaps needless to say, those are very serious failings, unacceptable in a country that prides itself on fairness and balance of its justice system. The bill before us today, Bill C-23 will bring the proper balance to the Criminal Records Act.

Bill C-23 will put public safety where it belongs, at the forefront of all decisions. Under Bill C-23, the word “pardon” would be replaced by “record suspension”. The bill would have the power to deny a record suspension if, for example, investigative evidence showed that granting one would bring the administration of justice into disrepute. This bill would allow the board to consider a wide range of factors in making its decisions.

I am sure hon. members will agree that this is the way the system should work. Our justice system is based on fairness and balance. The National Parole Board cannot make decisions that are fair and balanced if it does not have the tools it needs.

To ensure offenders have every opportunity to demonstrate that they can benefit from a second chance, Bill C-23 will extend the waiting period before an offender can apply for a record suspension. For summary offences, the period would be lengthened to five years from three years, and for those convicted of an indictable offence, from five years to ten years. In other words, record suspensions would be granted only to those who have fully demonstrated that they have earned a second chance. This is as it should be and Bill C-23 would make it so.

Bill C-23 would also ensure that the Criminal Records Act recognizes what Canadians recognize, that some offenders simply should not have their records suspended. There are cases where the insult to our sense of propriety or the risk to public safety is simply too great to justify a record suspension.

A person convicted of more than three indictable offences has demonstrated a pattern of behaviour that invites the question, can a potential risk to the public safety posed by a suspension of that person's criminal record be justified? In the opinion of many Canadians and of this government, the answer is no.

The pardon system was created to recognize the right of an offender to have a second chance, to start over with what amounts to a clean slate, but the right to a second chance must be balanced against the need to protect public safety, which must be the primary consideration at all times.

Bill C-23 will provide that assurance by making anyone convicted of more than three indictable offences ineligible for a record suspension.

As for offending our sense of propriety, in the words of an editorial in a recent edition of the Ottawa Citizen:

Sex offenders who prey on children are a special class of criminal. It's one thing to let them out of jail when they've served their time, but it's wrong to pretend all is forgotten. Certainly, the children who are victimized will never be allowed to forget.

That is why Bill C-23 would make anyone convicted of a sexual offence against a child ineligible for a record suspension.

We have seen and heard the response from the victims of Mr. James and other sex offenders who have been granted pardons under the act. They feel, quite rightly, that insult has been added to injury.

Legislation should not do further harm to those who have been harmed already. As underscored earlier, by replacing the term “pardon” with “record suspension”, Bill C-23 will help to show our respect for the victims of crime and the physical and emotional injuries they may have suffered. This is the very least we can offer to the victims of crime and I urge all members to support the quick passage of this bill.

I have listened to the previous speakers. We have learned from them and we have heard them say that they support parts of this bill, that it should go before the committee for further study. We have just heard that we need to sever parts of the bill to accommodate other members' feelings with regard to parts of the bill that are good and parts of the bill that need study. We also heard from other members who said that they have already tried to solve the problem and they did not quite do it, so now the government has come back with additional regulation.

It is important for Canadians to understand that criminal law and laws are like society. They change and they grow. They need change and they need refinement, and like most of us in real life, we react to things that happen around us. The government has a legislative agenda when it comes to public safety in our country and this is one of those pieces of legislation that addresses the need for Canadians to understand that the criminal justice system must work for them.

I believe that this piece of legislation does just that. It balances the need for people to have their records suspended so they can get on with their lives, but also the need of society to feel that public safety, that their safety and the safety of their children and their loved ones, is being taken into account by this House. I believe this piece of legislation goes a long way toward achieving just that.

I welcome the co-operation of all members, especially the members of the public safety committee and the members of the justice committee who will be looking at the legislation that has come before this House, so that they can look at it with a view to how their constituents really feel as opposed to: “How do I feel?" or “How does my party feel?”

In the coffee shops around this country, when we talk about the situation with Mr. James and the situation, as has been mentioned, with Karla Homolka, this is the kind of legislation that they not only ask for, but quite frankly they demand.

I look forward to the co-operation of other members to ensure that this legislation sees speedy passage.

Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes ActGovernment Orders

June 7th, 2010 / 4:55 p.m.
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NDP

Linda Duncan NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Madam Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for his very straightforward and cogent comments on this bill.

One of his comments that stood out for me was the statement that we want to ensure that our Criminal Code represents the current views of society. As my colleague in the NDP mentioned earlier, if we asked around this House, we would probably find the unanimous belief that people find it reprehensible regarding persons such as Karla Homolka, and not to single her out as there are other persons who have been convicted for equally reprehensible behaviour.

What is troubling though is that our party has proposed a solution to this problem. The government, in its wisdom, has brought forward this bill in a time that will not allow both the full review by all members of the House and to address the concerns regarding Karla Homolka. Our proposal would allow for that to be addressed.

It is very critical that amendments to the Criminal Code undergo a full review by the appropriate committee and that all appropriate members of the House have an opportunity to thoroughly review the bill. Given that and given the importance of our elected assembly to represent a perspective of society, which is exactly what a democratic government is all about, would the member care to comment on the proposal we have put forward and the fact that it may well address the very issue that the government has raised?

In fact, the government keeps raising the issue of Karla Homolka. Would it not agree to a reasonable compromise regarding the fact that we will not be able to actually address the very issue which it is showcasing with this bill?

Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes ActGovernment Orders

June 7th, 2010 / 5 p.m.
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Conservative

Rick Norlock Conservative Northumberland—Quinte West, ON

Madam Speaker, I thank my hon. friend who posed that very interesting question. I would pose the question back. We can do both today, or very soon. We can pass the government's legislative agenda, this particular bill, Bill C-23, which would accommodate the very thing that she and her party want. So, when it comes to co-operation, of course, we are prepared to do that. Let us pass Bill C-23.

That is just what I and the parliamentary secretary have asked. Let us pass the legislation. It is good legislation. It is timely legislation. It is, as I have previously stated before I stood to answer this question, the talk at the coffee shops around this country. It is the talk that I hear from citizens not only in coffee shops but when I meet them at various functions, that the current legislation does not work as effectively as it should work and that our system of public safety needs to be improved. That is what Bill C-23 would do.

So, yes, I agree with her. We could make this bill go through the House very quickly with the co-operation of the official opposition. However, I hasten to remind her that much of the public safety legislation in this House has been held up in the very places and at times where it should have been put forward.

So, yes, we can deal with this very expeditiously in this place. Bill C-23 could receive unanimous support and we could that enacted in a timely fashion that would facilitate the very thing that the member's question poses, the very thing of keeping people from having a pardon when they should not and offending the very core of our sense of propriety in this country.

So, let us just get behind Bill C-23 and pass it unanimously. I agree.

Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes ActGovernment Orders

June 7th, 2010 / 5 p.m.
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NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, I think the member is missing her point.

We had the government's own member, the member for Surrey North, introduce Motion No. 514, basically calling for a review of this whole area. This comes after four years, in 2006, when the minister of the day said the government was going to do a review, and now the government jumps up and puts in Bill C-23.

What we are saying is if we really want to deal with the problem at hand right now, the case of Karla Homolka, then we have a solution right now where we could pass it today. We propose:

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, with cooperation and support from all parties to move swiftly such legislation through the House and Senate before Parliament rises for the summer, and further that the Standing Committee on Public Safety should be directed to conduct a thorough study of all other changes that should be made to the Canadian pardon system to ensure it is strengthened and fair for all Canadians.

That latter part is what the member for Surrey North has in her Motion No. 514 that we just discussed the other day.

So, let us move ahead. Let us deal with this Karla Homolka issue today. Let us get it through. Then we can proceed with the rest of the bill and give it due process at committee. That is what we are talking about.

Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes ActGovernment Orders

June 7th, 2010 / 5 p.m.
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Conservative

Rick Norlock Conservative Northumberland—Quinte West, ON

Madam Speaker, to me, the question quite simply is, is Bill C-23 a good piece of legislation?

Once again we are seeing where the opposition wants to have a piece of legislation and it is really not necessary. I simply say that this legislation does not have anything in it that would be contrary, I believe, to the average citizen's sense of propriety. It actually addresses some of the issues we are faced with as a society, one of which, as the member who questioned me stated, takes into account the Karla Homolka situation. It takes into account many other situations. We could research and bring up any number of people who are beginning to be eligible for a so-called pardon that we want to change to a record suspension which I think addresses the fundamental issue better.

Therefore, why not pass Bill C-23? There is nothing in it that would make the average citizen in our society feel it is inappropriate. That is why I say to the member that we do not need to approach this in a piecemeal fashion. We do not need to chunk things up, to box them up or to repackage them. Bill C-23 is a good piece of legislation. Before the House rises for the summer constituency period, we could deal with that and we could pass it unanimously.

I am all for that and I believe the government is all for that. Let us just do it. I agree.

Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes ActGovernment Orders

June 7th, 2010 / 5:05 p.m.
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Bloc

Serge Ménard Bloc Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Madam Speaker, my question is relatively short. The problem with the bill is that it is extremely broad. It is probably a good bill for someone like Graham James. Is it a good bill for Commander Robert Piché, who saved the lives of over 150 people? Later we suddenly learned that he had a rather serious criminal record. He probably would not have been granted a pardon and would not have been the level-headed pilot who safely landed his plane and saved so many lives after losing both his engines over the ocean. Nobody has a problem with his situation.

Once again, as with too many bills introduced by the Conservative government, they start with one specific case and apply it to hundreds of cases that call for different treatment.

Does the member honestly believe that if this bill is appropriate for the case of Graham James, it would also have been appropriate for Commander Robert Piché?

Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes ActGovernment Orders

June 7th, 2010 / 5:05 p.m.
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Conservative

Rick Norlock Conservative Northumberland—Quinte West, ON

Madam Speaker, quite simply it is typical of the member. We have served on committee for the last four and a half years.

We could begin to raise each specific instance and say this is good but that is bad, we need to change this and we need to change that. We will never have a perfect Criminal Code. We will never have a perfect bill of any kind, but I believe that the National Parole Board will take into account those instances where people are deserving of a record suspension.

Once again I say, pass Bill C-23 and I believe that we will address more properly the feelings of Canadians vis-à-vis record suspension.