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 / 5:05 p.m.
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Liberal

Brian Murphy Liberal Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise to say a few words on Bill C-23, An Act to amend the Criminal Records Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts.

I want to start with an anecdote and history in Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe. My uncle was a member of this House. He also was a provincial court judge for over 35 years. He had the nickname of “Hanging Henry”. One might think he was hard on law and order stuff, but over the years I have come to know many people who appeared in front of him as young offenders, as first-time offenders. They told me or members of my family that Judge Henry gave them a chance. He was stern and scared the living daylights out of them, but he gave them an opportunity to change their lives around because they faced the wall of justice and an uncertain future because of that. Because of the harshness and the severity of that wall of justice, many of those people are very important and contributing members of society.

That is the preamble to what we should be thinking about in terms of the pardon process. Less than a month ago, the Minister of Public Safety introduced this bill. It is another of the Conservatives' criminal justice pieces that was proposed with much fanfare, but it has been relatively unexamined. Of course, the purpose of the House of Commons is to look at bills in their first blush, send them to committees where they will be studied with the aid of testimony from witnesses, not just experts, but ordinary people who come forward like many of the people who appeared in front of my uncle over 35 years to say that they were given a chance and thank goodness, because now they are fathers or mothers and contribute to society, have jobs and so on.

The full effects of the bill will be clearly looked at in committee, but in short, the eliminating pardons for serious crimes act would amend the Criminal Records Act to substitute the word “pardon” with the more defined “record suspension”. As Canadians have been made aware, in cases of individuals convicted of sexual offences perpetrated on children, this bill would also prohibit pardons or record suspensions. Repeat offenders have also been targeted in the bill such that record suspensions or pardons would be restricted and the waiting period between parole and eligibility for record suspension would be extended.

Finally, regular reports to the Minister of Public Safety from the National Parole Board would be instituted.

At present, a pardon permits a Canadian citizen convicted of a criminal offence who has completed his or her sentence to have his or her criminal record kept separate. By and large, all the applications received by the National Parole Board are granted. Of particular note as the House proceeds forward with the debate on this bill is the fact that since 1970, the year when major amendments were made to the Criminal Code, 96% of all pardons granted are still in effect. That is an important underlying fact to the debate here and the debate that will take place at committee. Ninety-six per cent of all pardons granted since 1970 remain in effect. This means, again subject to the test of the evidence at committee, that only 4% of the people have had pardons, record suspensions, withdrawn.

We might say that the system is working because the pardon granted has allowed individuals to pursue a life that at least is not so derelict of following the law that they had their pardon revoked. Virtually all citizens who receive a pardon do not recommit crimes in their community or elsewhere.

Nevertheless, news headlines of late have attempted to paint a picture where Canada enables continued crime through the doling out of pardons. The impression by the ongoing Conservative manipulation of public sentiment machine would have people believe that pardons are being thrown out of a truck on side streets and everybody who gets a pardon then goes out and commits a crime and does not merit these pardons. It does not seem to be the case. As the research has shown, the continued existence of pardons in the Canadian justice system is not reason for the continuation of crime in our communities.

Let us examine the objectives in reality of the pardon system as they are today. The bill's introduction is very recent. By my calculation, around June 23 the government will have been in power for about four and a half years. In a normal person's lifetime, four and a half years is a significant period. It could be a period of raising a child from infancy to young childhood. It could be a period of important progress in one's working career. In this environment of perpetual electioneering, one would expect the government to be well on its way with its agenda.

Given that in the 4.5 year range, we have only heard about pardons now, we would have to conclude that this has not been on the radar screen for the government. The government has not really brought it up before; therefore, it has not been a priority. We could say with a liberal interpretation of timing and its agenda that it brought up other justice bills before this and attempted to move them forward.

There are earnest justice-doers on the other side. Sadly, their feet were taken out from other them with the continual prorogation of Parliament. Bills go to the bottom of the list and have to come up through the system again. It is a shame. It is a waste of time. For serious legislation to be delayed by the electioneering and prorogation that takes place in our political system is something that another House or a committee on another day may and should look at.

Pardons were not a hot priority for the government in four and a half years. It is important to examine the very nature behind pardons in Canada. Pardons allow people who have been convicted of a criminal offence, completed their sentence and demonstrated they are law-abiding citizens to have their criminal record kept separate and apart from other criminal records.

Why is that important? It is important for people to get rehabilitated and for those who have been rehabilitated to reintegrate into the community. We cannot go through every pardon that has been given, but if 96% of the pardons that have been given have been given to people who have not reoffended, one has to think that they are not breaking laws and that the pardons have probably permitted them to reintegrate into society in a better way.

How is that so? Again, without the benefit of the evidence, which is why we are sending it to committee, one would expect that when a person applies for a job, a 10- or 15-year-old criminal conviction might stand in the way of an employer hiring that person. The Criminal Records Act and National Parole Board may currently issue, grant, deny and revoke pardons for convictions under the regulations and federal acts of Canada. Under that power, only 4% of pardons since 1970 have been revoked.

What we do not have a real thorough grasp on, and I am sure the committee will do its due diligence and find this out, is how many are currently issued, granted and denied. We would perhaps like to know whether the denials are given with reasons or for reasons that make sense in our interpretation of criminal law and are in consonance with our principles of rehabilitation. I think we would all like to know that. We would benefit from this. However, as I say, this is really the first time this topic has come up in this House.

The aim here is to give convicted offenders the chance to reform their lives and return as citizens with respect for the law. For example, the pardon system can often allow offenders to find employment even when criminal background checks are performed. This is not to undermine the safety of Canadians but to ensure that reformed individuals can reintegrate into society.

What seems to be missing in a lot of the Conservative justice agenda is that if we put convicted criminals away for a long time, society will be safer, but for how long? That is the key issue and the fundamental difference between the lock-them-up-out-of-sight-for-a-long-time theory of reintegration of offenders to the reality that most offenders eventually get out.

The question for the security of the public is: What kind of individual do we want coming out after a sentence ends? A five year term will end. It may end sooner rather than later but it will end after five years. Do we want a person coming out who has put a modicum of effort toward rehabilitation? Do we want that person to get a job and be reintegrated into the taxpaying workforce? I would hope the answer from all sides would be yes.

The pardon system as it works now seems to work in that direction. A pardon presently removes all information pertaining to particular convictions from the Canadian Police Information Centre, or CPIC, as anybody involved with the law and police forces of this country would know it as. What does it show on CPIC? Is the individual's record on CPIC? Only the Minister of Public Safety has the authority to disclose this information.

While a pardon under the Criminal Records Act affects records in federal departments and agencies, provincial and municipal law enforcement officials generally co-operate with any restrictions to accessing records.

With particular relevance to the bill before us, sexual offenders may presently receive pardons but the offender's name will remain on the National Sex Offender Registry. To illustrate some of the points that brought this to the attention of the government and of the House, a sex offender will always be part of a National Sex Offender Registry.

A debate is now going on in this country as to how well the registry is working. Every community, village, town, city, region, province and county have raised concerns about the level of awareness citizens have with respect to a convicted sexual offender and his or her inter-relationship with the National Sex Offender Registry. However, we are not talking about that here. We are talking about pardons and this is a difference that should be highlighted because the government should be moving with all haste to examine as well, maybe on a corollary basis, the National Sex Offender Registry system to see how it is working or not.

Highly important is understanding that pardons carry no international recognition and areas under foreign control may disregard the consequences of a pardon here in Canada. That situation sometimes arises with respect to our largest neighbour and biggest trading partner to the south where pardons are recognized out of order. Convictions are not masked at American borders. We often have members of the House from all parties pleading for constituents who are truck drivers trying to get across the border with a record of conviction from many years in the past, and certainly in their past intellectually because they now contribute to society.

Regarding the application process for pardons, the National Parole Board has the final say on which applicant gets a pardon and which one does not. One important point is that even if the individual's application is denied, the individual can reapply annually.

I would like to highlight a number of statistics released by the National Parole Board. These are the most recent we have but I am sure the committee will be more specific in its questioning of National Parole Board officials. In 2009-10, 24,000 pardons were granted and a mere 425 were denied. We do not know why but it would be interesting to ask the witnesses at committee why pardons were denied. In the last five years, almost 112,000 people were pardoned. That is a significant figure considering the population of our country.

The key item that must be acknowledged again is that 96% of all pardons are still in force. One would have to review that on an objective basis as being a tremendous success rate. It clearly denotes the percentage of recipients who remain crime-free. Is that not the objective of all our criminal justice legislation? This low revocation rate of pardons has been largely attributed to the significant waiting periods required under the existing framework for eligibility.

I certainly see the cause for criticism over the number of applications approved by the National Parole Board but we should hesitate to claim the approval of a pardon as a mere rubber-stamp process.

The developments of more recent years that I want to address derive from 2006 when the then minister of public safety examined the pardon system and proposed no significant changes. That was then. Now it is a big concern. Today the government now appears to feel that a substantial overhaul is warranted. What has changed between the then minister of public safety's review in 2006 and now?

Could it be that the Conservatives are reacting as a government to some highly salacious, high-profile instances in a system that serves about 100,000 applications in the last 5 years, and I will be conservative with the figures, of some 25,000 applications a year? It wants to change the system based on 1, 2, 3, 4 or 5 highly publicized cases, cases that bring us, as members of Parliament and right-thinking people, to a conclusion that those persons should not even be able to apply for pardon and certainly should not get a pardon.

Do we do that in our real life? Do we taken 1 case out of 25,000 and say that everything has to be changed right away, especially when we look at it as a House or at least as the government did some 3 or 4 years ago and said that everything was fine? There must have been a reason why everything was fine in 2006 and now it is awful. We would like to know that at committee, which is why we will support sending it to committee.

The changes that make for the most debate in this House would be whether we should change the name from “pardon” to “record suspension”. I think that is a flip of the coin. As long as people know that “record suspension” means “pardon” and it will not deter people from applying and will not bring different results from the same process, I am not sure there is much to be added or gained by the change of terms.

There seems to be a heavy moral element to it. People are used to the term “pardon”, but is it really a “pardon”? It is not society saying that it forgives people for everything they have done that is under the rubric of this offence, It is just saying that their record will be kept in a separate area and not be used against them if they apply for a job to get reintegrated into the community. Maybe the label is accurate.

Why was that not done in 2006? Why has it not been done before? I would like to hear from Public Safety officials as to the history of the term “pardon” and the history of the term “record suspension”.

Many of us will know the aspect of the bill championed above all else by the government has been the amendment to make those convicted of more than three indictable crimes or of sexual offences against minors ineligible for a pardon.

I am a parent of three young girls, so I may have a bias in this chamber, but I personally do not have a real problem with a pardon not being considered for a person who has been convicted of a sexual offence against a minor. I am not speaking for my party nor am I speaking for members of the committee but that is something that must be looked at by the committee and every member of the House has to come to some reckoning on it.

With respect to the three indictable offences, everybody thinks indictable offences are the most serious and most egregious. This is where I call for discretion in the system because my old Uncle Henry had it and he saved a lot of people, I think, by being stern with them but giving them an out, giving them a chance to rehabilitate.

I am sure the committee will hear an instance of a person who has three indictable offence convictions who is probably able to be reintegrated or has and received a pardon and did very well by it. I do not know, because this is all before the evidence comes into play.

On a similar note, for record suspensions the bill would increase the period of ineligibility to five years for summary conviction offences and ten years for indictable offences. In summary, that is a way of looking tougher but will it be more efficacious?

Ninety-six percent of people do not reoffend. The system is not that loosey-goosey. There are a significant number of years before a person can even apply for a pardon and many of the pardons that are given are given on the basis of the facts put very up very steadfastly by the National Parole Board and other people.

We will send this to committee. I am not sure that this is not just a knee-jerk reaction to some very egregious headlines about Graham James, et cetera. However, anybody who stands in this House and says that if members are not for this bill they are for Graham James getting a pardon, that is illogical and it is wrong.

We all want to protect society but let us not throw the baby out with the bathwater if the pardon system as we know it for the vast majority of applicants is working. If it works for them and gets them back into society, it works for society, which is us.

Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes ActGovernment Orders

June 7th, 2010 / 5:25 p.m.
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NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, I note, as the member did, that in 2006, the former minister of public safety, under the present government, I believe in response to the pardon Clark Noble, a convicted sex offender, conducted a review that led to very minor changes, including the requirement for two parole board members to review the pardon applications from sex offenders. Ultimately, the government and the minister signed off on the current system of pardons as being adequate for public safety.

Now we roll the clock ahead to the current year and we have the Conservative member for Surrey North presenting Motion No. 514, which basically asks the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security to undertake a review of the Criminal Records Act and report back to the House within three months.

However, because of current media events, the government jumped the gun, brought in Bill C-23, basically cut the member for Surrey North out of the process and now there is a problem. The former minister said that there was not a problem and now there is.

We in the NDP were prepared to present a motion that could be dealt with right away to deal with the very severe case of Karla Homolka so that in cases that would shock the conscience of Canadians and bring the administration of justice into disrepute, we would be able to deny pardons.

Does the member agree with the NDP motion that was offered to the government in the last week so it could explore the opportunity to bring in a bill to deal specifically with the question at hand? The bill could be passed before we recess for the summer to deal with this important issue identified by the government in the last few weeks. I would ask the member if he agrees with our assessment of what needs to be done now.

Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes ActGovernment Orders

June 7th, 2010 / 5:30 p.m.
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Liberal

Brian Murphy Liberal Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Mr. Speaker, it is a thoughtful motion but what we have before us is a bill that is based on headlines. Whenever one cites names like Graham James, Karla Homolka and Clifford Olson in public, one is sure to get a very emotional reaction and probably a pretty universal one. The crimes committed by those people were egregious and the idea of pardoning, deleting records or giving benefits to any of them shocks the conscience.

I am in agreement with the member that it is emotionally irrational to completely throw out the system that has been in place and has been approved by all governments, Liberals and Conservatives, over the years because of headlines. What I would like to know, maybe through the motion or through the hearings on this bill, which I think accomplishes the same end, is what evidence there is when a person gets refused a pardon.

We know it is a small number of cases, some 400 or 500 out of 20,000, but there are still 400 or 500 people who apply every year and do not get pardons and I wonder why. Is it because their offences were so egregious that it shocks the conscience? What are the reasons? This is the kind of pith and substance we will get to in the committee and hopefully we will make some good changes out of it.

Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes ActGovernment Orders

June 7th, 2010 / 5:30 p.m.
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Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member for Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe for again providing a very insightful and informative speech at second reading on a bill that is important to Canadians. He has laid out some interesting points.

Without hearing from experts, members can only deal with information that is available in the public domain. However, we cannot get the information that the witnesses would bring to the table at committee, and it is extremely important that we have to get this right.

Since this appears to be publicly-driven legislation, does he think the public needs to have some sort of an opportunity or a venue to express their concerns so we can determine whether the word “pardon” is really one of the biggest sticking points? The member is quite right, in some cases in the United States, when there is a pardon of someone who has just been caught doing something, a president would pardon someone is fixated in the mind.

However, it is a public issue and the communications with the public in all aspects of this has to be strictly looked at, simply from the standpoint that the public has a right to know the facts and true, full and plain disclosure.

Could the comment on the need to inform the public?

Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes ActGovernment Orders

June 7th, 2010 / 5:35 p.m.
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Liberal

Brian Murphy Liberal Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Mr. Speaker, absolutely. The member is completely correct. The public will read a headline about Graham James getting a pardon and those three words together “Graham James pardon” I think send a chill. It should not colour the whole process, however. Maybe there is something wrong with the word because it is not a true pardon. As the member indicates, when President Ford, I think, pardoned a number of republicans, it sent the idea that despite the fact they did something wrong, he would let them walk free and they were absolved. A pardon in the common meaning of it means that we are absolved from what we did.

This is not really what this is and it never has been. It is just the word that has been used. It really is sort of a record suspension.

At committee, I would be open to the debate, but the public has to understand that a record suspension is a more accurate reflection of what a pardon is. It is not necessarily a change of a whole system. If we accept that one change in definition, it does not mean we throw out the system. People have to know that the system seems to work and people have to look deep within their own history, their own minds and their own hearts and realize that if they have had relatives, or friends or a co-workers who have done something in their past who luckily have received pardons because they are now working beside them, part of their family and are contributing in a meaningful way to community, this may, in some ways, be changed if the system is changed much further.

Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes ActGovernment Orders

June 7th, 2010 / 5:35 p.m.
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Conservative

Phil McColeman Conservative Brant, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to have this opportunity to rise in support of Bill C-23, An Act to amend the Criminal Records Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts. The short title of this bill is “eliminating pardons for serious crimes act”. That is what we believe to be the fundamental objective of these efforts.

With the introduction of Bill C-23, the government has moved forward to significantly reform the current pardon systems and to make good on a commitment to address public safety concerns swiftly and sensibly.

Foremost, these reforms acknowledge that a pardon is not forgiveness. It is an administrative tool to keep someone's criminal record separate and apart, but not erased.

These changes would clearly establish who would not be eligible for a record suspension and, as well, bring about more scrutiny and rigour to the decision-making process for those who apply.

The government has taken action to introduce Bill C-23 because we firmly believe that a pardon is not a right. The commission of serious offences does not warrant a pardon, such as in cases where a sexual offence has been committed against a child. We believe this sentiment is shared by Canadians, in particular victims, who have spoken of the impacts of crime, in particular sexual crimes, and the need for adopting changes to the pardon system.

I urge all hon. members to give their full support for Bill C-23 and work in co-operation with the government to ensure swift passage of this important legislation through Parliament.

One key element of this bill, which I have mentioned, is a shift in the use of—

Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes ActGovernment Orders

June 7th, 2010 / 5:40 p.m.
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Conservative

Phil McColeman Conservative Brant, ON

Mr. Speaker, to recap where I was, I was encouraging all hon. member to support our government and Bill C-23 and to work in co-operation with our government to ensure the swift passage of this important legislation through Parliament.

One key element of the bill, which I have mentioned, is a shift in the use of terminology from pardon to record suspension throughout the Criminal Records Act. We need to be clear about what this mechanism does and does not do.

We consider the term “record suspension” to better reflect the purpose of the legislation which is to close off general access to a criminal record in appropriate cases as opposed to expressing forgiveness for the offence. This change in terminology is an important one in terms of reinforcing the role of this legislation and eliminating pardons for serious crimes.

The government is clear in Bill C-23 that in order to be eligible for a record suspension an applicant must not have been convicted of an offence involving sexual activity relating to a minor as set out in the schedule of offences in the bill. This includes those with a conviction, for example, of sexual interference or sexual exploitation of a child or luring a child, all serious and grave offences that we do not believe ever warrant a record suspension.

Further, eligibility for record suspensions will be more restrictive in that individuals convicted of more than three indictable offences will not be eligible to apply for a record suspension. We believe this is a fair balance between those with a few youthful indiscretions and those with serious repeat criminal histories. In addition, the waiting period to apply for a record suspension for summary offences will be increased from three to five years and from five to ten years for indictable offences. We believe this sends a strong message that the ineligibility period must reflect the seriousness of the crime committed.

Bill C-23 also proposes significant amendments to the Criminal Records Act to end what many view as a virtual automatic process of granting pardons. As we have indicated, the legislation will provide the National Parole Board with the discretion required to ensure individuals convicted of serious crimes will not be eligible for a record suspension. It will also establish multifaceted criteria that must be considered to ensure the ordering of a record suspension is appropriate and does not bring our justice system into disrepute. The bill gives the National Parole Board the tools it needs and which are currently lax.

Under the new system, the changes our government is proposing would authorize the board to examine factors such as nature, gravity and duration of an offence when it is considering applications for those convicted of indictable offences. As well, the board may consider the circumstances surrounding the commission of that offence and information relating to an applicant's criminal history in making its decision. We believe these are sensible additions to the legislative scheme.

There is also a new level of accountability built into the record suspension making process. Those convicted of an indictable offence would need to prove to the National Parole Board that receiving a record suspension would contribute to his or her rehabilitation. This places an onus squarely on the applicant to satisfy the National Parole Board that this condition is met.

The proposed reforms in Bill C-23 will also bring about more transparency through a report to Parliament on an annual basis from the National Parole Board, which will include statistics on the number of applicants for record suspensions and the number of record suspensions ordered for both summary conviction and indictable offences indexed by offence and province and residence of the applicant.

Further openness and scrutiny of the decision-making process will be achieved through public access to the National Parole Board's decisions regarding orders or refusals for record suspensions. This will be done in a way that does not compromise the privacy of the concerned individuals unless they consent to such disclosure.

In closing, Bill C-23 contains a comprehensive package of vital amendments and I urge all hon. members to give Bill C-23 speedy passage through the House so that these new measures can be implemented without delay.

Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes ActGovernment Orders

June 7th, 2010 / 5:45 p.m.
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NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, we have indicated before that we support the bill going to committee, but we are concerned about getting action before the House recesses for the summer which is why my colleague has proposed a motion, actually gave it to the government last week. It says:

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,--

That is what we suggest will solve the problem that the government has identified with Karla Homolka possibly applying for a pardon. Having done that and getting this legislation through quickly, at that point the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security 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 would go along and support what the Conservatives' member for Surrey North introduced as Motion No. 514. Back in the middle of May, we debated the member's motion and the NDP supported it. Her motion read:

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.

We support the member's motion. We think that can happen over the summer, but in the meantime, we cannot wait to deal with the issue that the government identified a couple weeks ago, which it says is the reason for bringing in Bill C-23 in the first place.

Therefore, let us get immediate action on this. Let us support it--

Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes ActGovernment Orders

June 7th, 2010 / 5:50 p.m.
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Conservative

Phil McColeman Conservative Brant, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am not sure I heard a question there, I think I heard a mini speech. I am wondering what the question might be, but let me state very clearly that our government believes that the system needs to be swung back, the pendulum needs to be swung back to protect the rights of victims instead of the rights of criminals. That is what the legislation is about. It is about a government agenda to do that. It is about numerous pieces of legislation.

It seems when we come to votes on many of these issues, the hon. member opposes us on many of these things, so I understand sometimes his party's frustration with the fact that we want to move ahead to get tough on crime. The NDP does not, but in any regard, we are moving forward. This is a good piece of legislation. This protects victims and we urge all members to support the bill.

Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes ActGovernment Orders

June 7th, 2010 / 5:50 p.m.
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Conservative

Phil McColeman Conservative Brant, ON

Mr. Speaker, as the hon. member and I know, serving on a common committee, these are the types of debates that need to happen in terms of situations where people can be rehabilitated.

This legislation is geared toward the most grievous types of situations, such as sexual offenders. I can never forget the image of parents coming before the public safety committee, telling us about how they lost their son, who was abducted from a mall, and about how he was tortured, put to death and dismembered. How shocking.

This is what this bill is intended to do. It is intended to take those individuals who are repeat serious offenders, not offenders who can be rehabilitated. Many of these individuals will unfortunately never be rehabilitated. We want to ensure that we swing that pendulum back to protect victims of crime, not the criminals who commit these grievous offences.

Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes ActGovernment Orders

June 7th, 2010 / 5:50 p.m.
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Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, listening to the debate so far, I am not sure that this is really an issue of protecting victims as much as it is dealing with certain situations where the exemptions would receive broad support in the House.

The issue here is probably more of the public understanding and knowledge. We could all have an opportunity to spend time debating what we might think and parrot some of the hotlines, but I have a question for the member. This bill seems to be fairly straightforward, but the facts have to be nailed down and the public has to understand that it is getting the right attention. I am a little concerned that the debate is going to stray.

Why would the government not simply have referred this bill directly to committee before second reading so that we could get the facts, get the witnesses, and deal with legislation that is necessary?

Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes ActGovernment Orders

June 7th, 2010 / 5:55 p.m.
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Conservative

Phil McColeman Conservative Brant, ON

Mr. Speaker, our government feels it important to bring it into the House for debate and then move it to committee for the proper discussion at committee and hearing the witnesses. We would like the public to know that we are moving in this direction. These pardons have been recently publicized, as was mentioned by a fellow colleague here in the House. We are moving in a direction where we are addressing these issues.

Canadians need to know that. They need to know that there is support from both sides of the House on these issues to ensure that we develop the laws that bring that pendulum back in balance. There are situations, and names have been mentioned, such as the Karla Homolka situation and the Graham James situation, where the public is outraged and rightfully so. Many of the people on the opposite side have said that.

This is a public debate. We want it to be a public debate. We want it to be visible. We want to hear witnesses on this and we want speedy passage at the same time because this is important to Canadians.

Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes ActGovernment Orders

June 7th, 2010 / 6 p.m.
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Bloc

Serge Ménard Bloc Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to begin by making it clear that I am absolutely convinced that all members of the House support public safety and want laws that keep people safe. However, we have differences of opinion about how to achieve that goal.

Our differences of opinion are reflected in North America as a whole. Down south, in the United States, those who supported extreme punishment won. Right now, their prisons are home to over one-quarter of the prison population worldwide. That is bankrupting some states. They have to release people from jail without even looking at individual cases because they simply do not have the space to keep them locked up. Their crime rate is much higher than ours. One is three and a half times more likely to be a murder victim in the United States than in Canada, and five times more likely to be murdered in the United States than in Quebec, by the way. It is a fiasco. I think that we need to adopt a more intelligent approach because the debate is lacking in intelligence.

The fact that we are against anti-crime provisions does not mean that we are in favour of criminals' rights or that we do not care about public safety even though they say that this is about being tough on crime.

I believe that, in my career, I have done a lot for public safety. I think that I have done a lot more than many people here, and probably more than our Minister of Justice. I worked with chiefs Duchesneau and Barbeau to create the Carcajou squads. When we came up with that approach to policing, I believed that if police officers pooled their information about crime, they would make remarkable progress. I was not thinking just of what was part of the official record, but of the information in their heads. That is what made Carcajou so original, and it produced remarkable results with officers from different police forces working two by two on cases. That model has often been used in Canada and even in other countries.

At the end of this three and a half year process, 321 members of organized crime were arrested. There was never any criticism of the way the evidence against them was gathered and they were all convicted. They received various sentences depending on the seriousness of the crimes they had committed, but especially on their involvement. No one ever complained about this aspect.

I believe my past shows that I was concerned about and capable of fighting organized crime, but I remain convinced that imprisonment is a serious measure that needs to be used in moderation. There are certainly other ways to get people to correct their behaviour.

We are currently discussing pardons in this House. People commit crimes because they are not perfect. Nonetheless, we have to realize that it is also very important that people have a goal to achieve that provides some sort of benefit, that they not be guided solely by the fear of punishment.

Napoleon understood that. He handed out vast quantities of medals because he knew that people are motivated more by reward than by the fear of punishment.

When a person has been sentenced and has served that sentence and will have a hard time reintegrating into society, is it not good to think he could be provided a goal to achieve, the goal of being pardoned, which would be recognized by the community if he proves over a set period of time that he is worthy of it?

It is a long period of time nonetheless, much longer than what the previous speakers stated. We must consider that the clock starts once all conditions added to the sentence have elapsed.

In the majority of sentences handed down, if not all of them, the judges specify a term of imprisonment plus the requirement to keep the peace and to comply with certain conditions for a period of at least three years. In the case of criminal offences, where the time is five years, it is not five years after release from prison, but five years from the time all conditions have elapsed.

Very often, if a sentence of five years is handed down and parole is granted, the clock does not start at the end of the five-year sentence but at the end of the two additional years imposed by the judge. The same principle applies when it is three years.

In my career, I saw how the system worked when these laws did not exist. The law created the possibility of granting a pardon. I believe that is the term used in the first law, which was subsequently amended. This possibility was created because it was understood that it was very difficult for a person who had served time in jail or received a criminal conviction to reintegrate into society. They have difficulty finding work and face many obstacles on the road to rehabilitation. It was deemed to be a good idea.

Society believed that a pardon could be granted after a certain period of time, which was fairly long nonetheless. It is not five years. It is five years plus the period of time during which they must comply with certain conditions. Seven years is almost as long as the time required to complete classical studies, which last eight years. That is rather long. It gave the person a valid reason to respect the law and to change their behaviour.

They want to change the terminology again. We are now considering the term “record suspension”. Why are they so afraid of the term “pardon”? As far as I know, forgiveness is a value that is taught by all major religions. I received a very religious education, but I am no longer religious. In fact, I have often described myself as being agnostic.

I am at a point in my life when I am beginning to have doubts. I wonder if I should continue to be agnostic or return to religion. At a certain point in my life, I was very interested in the origins of the world. Science gave more of an explanation than religion did.

The doubt sown in me by Albert Camus when I was young remains deeply entrenched. In La Peste, he wrote that God cannot be both infinitely just and infinitely powerful; otherwise, he would not allow children to suffer. When I was young I was told that the ways of the Lord were unfathomable.

I still have my doubts. I am not practising, even though I was married in the church and my children were all baptized and they, in turn, have had their children baptized.

Yet, I still remember that this religion was the foundation for my values, and I think it is the same for everyone. Does anyone here remember Christ's last words upon the cross? “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Christ's last living words were words of forgiveness.

Another thing that left a significant impression on me was the film Gandhi, a wonderful film by David Attenborough, or perhaps his brother. At one point, someone reveals to Gandhi that he has done something horrible. During some sort of protest, he got carried away with hatred for the people of the other religion. He took a baby and hit it against a wall until it was dead. Obviously, it was a despicable act. Gandhi told this man that what he had done was horrible and that his punishment was to take an orphan Muslim child—the man being Hindu—and raise the child as his own son. Again, there was that belief that is espoused by all major religions.

During my life, in my travels and in the readings I have done before travelling, I have noticed that major religions—Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism, Buddhism—all preach not only love for one's neighbour, but also pardon. Why are we afraid of using that word?

It seems to me that telling someone that he can be pardoned after at least seven to nine years serves as a goal that promotes rehabilitation. I use those figures because there is the five-year period, plus the customary two- to three-year period during which the judge requires the offender to keep the peace, plus the investigations, which take from 18 months to 2 years. But honestly, now we are going to tell someone that we are going to give him a record suspension. Good God, the people who came up with that were not educators. I do not think it will encourage many people. Moreover, when people have been told the impact of a pardon and what comes from it, I have heard them ask themselves why they would apply for one if it has virtually no impact.

I believe that it does have an impact and that that positive goal acts as an incentive for rehabilitation.

The government has taken a specific case and, as it has done with so many bills during this session, it has extrapolated it to a large number of cases. The public may be concerned about the Graham James case, because it involves sexual offences. But I would remind the House that there is no absolute pardon in such cases, because records of sexual offences are kept apart and can be consulted if the offender wants to volunteer or work in a place where he would be close to children or even close to adults if he is working in a health care centre.

The government says that the automatic granting of pardons needs to be reviewed. Personally, I do not believe that pardons are granted automatically. Some are denied. We have been told that more than 800 are denied every year, after an investigation is conducted.

Once again, the government has taken a specific case and blown it out of all proportion. I can give at least two examples that I feel are more important. There is the supposed law against child trafficking.

Obviously, everyone thinks that someone found guilty of child trafficking must receive an extremely harsh punishment. However, if we actually read the bill, which very few people have done, we see that, other than in the title, it does not mention trafficking. It talks about the exploitation of persons under the age of 18 years. There is a minimum.

The minimum is certainly appropriate for child traffickers, but obviously it would not apply as well to all cases where persons under the age of 18 have been exploited. Exploitation can refer to the exchange of money as a salary— but few children earn a salary, and for income received for services. The law's target is a dreadful crime, but the legislation has not been carefully worded so that it specifically addresses this crime. Instead, all kinds of other crimes are being included.

The same thing is being done with Bill C-16, which would restrict the availability of conditional sentences for violent and dangerous offenders. Fine, but the legislation already allows for a judge to refuse to give a conditional sentence, to be served at home, if public safety is at risk. Am I the only one who thinks that granting a conditional sentence to a violent and dangerous offender jeopardizes public safety, and that judges should not do that?

I would like to come back to child trafficking. I recognize that this trafficking is a form of exploitation, but not all exploitation comes in the form of child trafficking. The sentence that is appropriate for child traffickers is not necessarily appropriate for other forms of exploitation, which can last a day or a few hours.

How is the success of a pardon project measured? We are told that 97% of people who benefited from this type of pardon, which is not actually a pardon because it involves public recognition of that pardon, have not committed other criminal offences and they respected the conditions imposed on them. That seems like a very good success rate, 97%.

Perhaps we are very different in Quebec. The Québec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms recognizes that we must not discriminate on the basis of a criminal record.

However, it is true that the case of Graham James is an example of leniency or premature pardon for people who have committed criminal acts of a sexual nature. As I said, we know that these files are under wraps. That is why they are approved. Part of the public seems outraged, but that is not the case with Manon Cornellier, who was so well quoted by the member for Ahuntsic, who spoke before me. I am convinced that people are outraged because they do not know the success rate and the time it takes. They are unaware of the minor nature of the material consequences of granting pardons.

If these people look at the basic tenets of their religion, whatever that religion may be, they will see that granting a pardon, after this time period and on these conditions, is a way to honour their religion and is good for public safety.

Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes ActGovernment Orders

June 7th, 2010 / 6:20 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Ed Fast Conservative Abbotsford, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague on the justice committee for his words and for sharing his spiritual pilgrimage with us. It is not something we hear that often in this chamber. He did quote Jesus Christ as saying that the individuals who were crucifying him did not know what they were doing and somehow that was forgivable. In fact, the member would also know that the Bible is very clear that there is a balance between justice and mercy. That is something the member may want to take to heart. I encourage him to continue to seek the truth.

As we balance mercy and justice, I would encourage him not to forget victims. That is something we do not often hear from the opposition benches, a focus on victims. It is not only the offenders that we have to deal with. We have to deal with justice as it is seen through the eyes of the victims.

Would the member not agree with me that when we are balancing justice and mercy we should also take into account the very real needs of the victims who have been aggrieved?

Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes ActGovernment Orders

June 7th, 2010 / 6:20 p.m.
See context

Bloc

Serge Ménard Bloc Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Mr. Speaker, our goal is to ensure that there are fewer victims, and rehabilitation is the best way to do that. The hon. member for Abbotsford said we do not often talk about the victims. That is not true; we talk about them all the time. I started by talking about everything I have already done to combat organized crime. There is absolutely no doubt that when we fight organized crime, we are helping reduce the number of victims.

Besides, he has seen the statistics, just as I have. In Quebec in 2001, after operation Carcajou was over, the number of gang murders went down from 38 to 7, and 15 the next year. Now those are results.

The government talks about victims all too often, and always in a way that plays with people's emotions. It is as though, if we do not say the word “victim”, it means we do not care about them. Clearly, when we fight crime, we want fewer people to become victims. I completely agree that we need to balance mercy and justice.