Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes Act

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

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

Sponsor

Vic Toews  Conservative

Status

This bill has received Royal Assent and is now law.

Summary

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

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

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes ActGovernment Orders

June 14th, 2010 / 12:30 p.m.
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Bloc

Marc Lemay Bloc Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to rise on this very important Bill C-23. In the few minutes that are mine, I will try to describe the Criminal Records Act and what they are trying to do with Bill C-23.

I want to start by saying that the Bloc Québécois and I feel that this bill is probably not necessary to protect victims, because they are already adequately protected by the Criminal Records Act.

There was an incident, and we all know how today's fine government reacts. A hockey coach, Graham James, committed some really terrible acts, for which he was sentenced. He served a prison term for sexual assault on two well-known hockey players, Sheldon Kennedy and Theoren Fleury. He served his time, was released, and now lives in Mexico. He got a pardon and the government blew a fuse because it thinks he should never have been able to do this.

I will define what a criminal record is for the benefit of the people listening to us. It is created after someone commits a crime. I should say right away that someone who commits a traffic offence or a hunting or fishing offence does not get a criminal record. Those are offences against provincial laws, or even some federal laws, such as the Migratory Birds Convention Act. There is no criminal record in those cases. A record is created when someone commits a criminal offence and pleads guilty after having seen the evidence or is found guilty after a trial. I will give an example to explain.

Someone is sentenced to five years in prison and three years of probation for armed robbery of a bank. As soon as the sentence is spoken, he automatically gets a criminal record for the rest of his days. Theoretically, he will be stained for life, but the stain can be removed. I will get back to that in a moment. What is important to emphasize is that a person who has been sentenced will have a criminal record that will follow him for the rest of his days, unless he gets a pardon.

It is called a pardon, but actually it is more like a suspended criminal record. A person who was pardoned, in everyday legal jargon, if asked about any prior convictions, does not have to say he has a record. The government wants to change this system by introducing a bill to suspend criminal records. Why? A person who is sentenced to five years in prison plus three years of probation has a criminal record. The government says not enough concern is shown for the victims, but that is not true. The Criminal Records Act gives the National Parole Board all the power it needs to ensure that people who get pardons are entitled to them and have earned them.

In the case we are concerned with, it is not true that anyone can get a pardon quickly and automatically. That is not how things work in real life.

An individual is sentenced to imprisonment for five years with three years’ probation, which makes a total of eight years. That is easy to count. The individual has to wait five more years before being able to make an application for a pardon, or, as we are calling it here, an application for a record suspension.

How does it work in real life? The individual serves their sentence, and then they are paroled, subject to conditions, and are still supervised until the end of the five-year sentence. The three years’ probation that the judge ordered when they were sentenced is added. So after serving the five-year sentence, three years are added, during which the individual must keep the peace, be of good behaviour and report to an officer, as the law provides and as the court may direct. The conditions of probation are set by the court.

Let us assume that all goes well, the individual serves his sentence, is released, is a good person, is reintegrated into society, and after three years’ probation has committed no offences and has not breached parole in any way. The individual will then have to wait five years, because that is what the law provides.

For a crime committed by an individual at the age of 18 or 19 or 20, which unfortunately happens all too often, that individual will be under judicial oversight for the next 13 years, at least: a five-year sentence and three years’ probation, plus five more years, because he has to wait five years before applying for a pardon.

All of that absolutely does not happen automatically. The opposite is true. In my former life, when I practised criminal law, I represented people like that, and we filled out the forms. An individual can apply for a pardon on his own, but he can also have a lawyer to help. Generally, the individual gets assistance because the procedure is very lengthy. When I say very lengthy, that is a minimum, and it varies considerably based on the crime committed.

I will come back to the example of armed robbery that I gave at the beginning of my speech, for which the offender was sentenced to five years with three years’ probation. Generally, the National Parole Board will examine the individual’s case very carefully before granting a record suspension, to use the term in the bill. Even in sexual assault cases, the board that grants the suspension does a lot of checking.

The individual must first apply, fill out a form and send his criminal record, fingerprints and recent photos to the nearest RCMP office, which forwards it to the board. At that time, an investigation is carried out. This investigation is not necessarily public because it is the individual who has applied. All police forces in Canada, Quebec and all other provinces are contacted to verify whether this individual may, by chance, be hiding offences to which he has pleaded guilty or has been found guilty of. Naturally, if this is the case, this individual's application for pardon or record suspension will be rejected. He will then have to wait a long time to be pardoned.

Thus, the individual files an application, which is forwarded and then studied. All police forces are contacted to determine whether or not the individual has other offences that he has not disclosed. If there are none, it can take between six and eighteen months. In my experience, it takes a minimum of one year before the individual is notified that his pardon, or record suspension, has been granted.

Thus, this is a very long process. The Bloc Québécois will agree to study Bill C-23 in committee because we must carefully examine how to proceed. I have to say one thing. Unfortunately, someone with a criminal record is marked. This is what generally, and unfortunately quite often, happens. Take the example of an individual who, at the age of 18, commits a break and enter and is sentenced to a few weeks or months in jail, plus one year of probation. Everyone in this House knows that we have a propensity to forget. The individual is sentenced and then later forgets about it. A few years later, he applies for a job. Therein lies the problem with not obtaining a record suspension or pardon. Some jobs are not open to those with a criminal record. They cannot be a member of the bar, and therefore a lawyer or notary, nor can they be a doctor or surgeon. Some universities ask if applicants have a criminal record. Those who have forgotten to declare it will be automatically rejected.

This is something we want to check when this bill goes to committee. We should not do anything to hurt someone who is rehabilitated. We are going to agree on that. I just said that big, important word, “rehabilitated”. The Conservatives always say we are more concerned about offenders than victims. Individuals who are entitled to a record suspension are those who have truly been rehabilitated. They have recognized their problems, dealt with them, served their sentence and been pardoned; they have paid their debt to society. We need to stop getting carried away. Obviously, someone who has been charged with and convicted of murder may have a great deal of difficulty getting a record suspension. The offender is convicted and serves a 25-year sentence. This bill does not target these people. It is aimed much more at petty criminals. I am in no way suggesting we should pardon every crime without checking.

With respect, I believe a person can be rehabilitated. We all know people who have made foolish mistakes in their youth, and I can give some examples. In my former life as a criminal lawyer, I had clients who had driven while impaired and unfortunately had been in an accident. I can tell you that this is traumatic, but on top of the crime he has committed and the wrong he has done to a victim, the offender receives a sentence. However, he will likely be able to obtain a pardon for this sentence once he is completely rehabilitated.

We need to be careful not to deprive individuals of the right to a record suspension if they have made every effort to rehabilitate themselves. This is what worries me about this bill, and we will have to look at it very carefully in committee.

I agree that we need to be tough on criminals, but do we need to be as tough on someone who is completely rehabilitated? I have an example. I represented someone who was sentenced to 36 months in prison for eight break and enters. This person has been completely rehabilitated since then and today works as an expert mechanic. If he had not been pardoned, he never would have been able to get this job.

That is the problem with this bill. We must not deny a rehabilitated individual a decent job if he has served his prison term and successfully completed his probation under supervision. Such a person is completely rehabilitated and after spending some time in society, is entitled to have his youthful mistakes erased.

Some people will point out that there are mature individuals, 40 or 50 years old, who commit sexual assault. With all due respect to my opponents, this bill is not intended for those individuals. A criminal who commits offence after offence is not the focus of this bill. I have some examples. A repeat offender will never receive a pardon. His criminal record will never be suspended. This bill is for individuals who have made a mistake or two over an extended period.

Unfortunately in our society, many people make mistakes and keep making mistakes. Many university applications and job applications ask the applicant if they have ever been convicted of a criminal offence. Having successfully applied for a pardon—or a record suspension—the individual is not required to answer that question. He can say he has never been convicted. By virtue of serving his sentence, resolving his problems with society and receiving a pardon from the governor in council, the individual's record is suspended. That is what we will be looking at in this bill in the coming weeks and months, if we are given the opportunity to do so.

Another aspect of this bill causes me great concern. Someone who is pulled over and suspected of driving while impaired would be taken to the station and asked to do a breathalyzer test. He gets a result of 0.7, which is not so bad, but he would be charged with impaired driving. His fingerprints would be taken and so would his photo. That is what could happen under this bill.

This is completely unacceptable and goes against the charter, under which a person is presumed innocent until proven guilty. This aspect of the bill should be withdrawn. A person's fingerprints and photo cannot be taken if they have not been found guilty or if they have not pleaded guilty. This bill would change that process and that is unacceptable. We think this is very dangerous. This aspect will have to be explored further.

For now, we are voting in favour of this bill so that it can be studied in committee.

Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes ActGovernment Orders

June 14th, 2010 / 12:50 p.m.
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Liberal

Scott Simms Liberal Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

Madam Speaker, I appreciate that my colleague was very illustrative in what he was doing. With his years of experience in criminal law practice, I would like to ask him a few questions about this.

He mentioned that his party would vote to put this into committee. I get the feeling that the major opposition they would have to this bill pertains to the idea of the rehabilitation of younger offenders, those around the age of 18 or 19, despite the crime. However, he does go on to say that he is not particularly concerned with the people who are serving 25 year sentences for things like murder, but that his focus lies more or less on 5 year sentences. Once they pass this bill to get it to committee, is it their intention to focus on those younger offenders who may stand a greater chance of being rehabilitated several years down the road?

He mentioned that certain aspects in the bill were against the charter, but if we accept this bill in principle, beyond that, maybe the scope of the changes that he wants will not be possible. Is that a fear of his as well?

Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes ActGovernment Orders

June 14th, 2010 / 12:55 p.m.
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Bloc

Marc Lemay Bloc Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Madam Speaker, answering all those questions will be a little complicated. I would like to correct one thing right away: I have extensive experience as a criminal lawyer, not as a criminal. We have to be clear. Otherwise, I would not be here. In order to be a member of Parliament, one cannot have a criminal record. This is the perfect example. I know members who were elected who had obtained a pardon and were therefore able to sit. I cannot say where, nor can I name those individuals.

I agree with my colleague. There are two important points. I know people who served 10 years in prison before obtaining a pardon. The harsher the sentence—which is very important for my Conservative colleagues—the more monitoring there will be before that individual's criminal record can be suspended. If someone is serving a 10-year sentence, that means the crime was serious. So of course there will be more monitoring. That is the first point.

The second point is this. Unfortunately, 90% of people who apply for pardons are young people. They are young offenders. They committed offences, the foolish offences that young people commit. For instance, maybe they stole a car to go for a joyride; maybe they were charged with impaired driving causing bodily harm, which unfortunately happens to many young people. Yes, crimes were committed, but in my opinion, these young people are entitled to a pardon.

The last point I want to come back to has to do with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. If people are not satisfied with this charter, it must be amended or abolished. For now, we must deal with it. According to that charter, defendants are innocent until proven guilty. When someone's fingerprints and photos are taken, he or she is not necessarily charged. Just because someone is arrested by police does not mean he or she will be charged. There is a big difference. It is up to the Crown prosecutor to decide. This is what we will consider when we study this bill.

Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes ActGovernment Orders

June 14th, 2010 / 12:55 p.m.
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NDP

Chris Charlton NDP Hamilton Mountain, ON

Madam Speaker, I listened with great interest to the thoughtful comments by my colleague from Abitibi—Témiscamingue. He began his comments by talking about Graham James, saying that he was very much the exception, not the rule, to the intent of the bill we are debating today.

I am from Hamilton and I would suggest that for the people in my community, for those right across the Niagara peninsula and even for those nationwide, a better example would perhaps be Karla Homolka. I do not believe anybody in my community would think it reasonable that a pardon be given to her.

I appreciate and share the member's concerns about the very real distinction we need to make between the extreme cases and the vast majority of other incidents that are being covered in the same legislation. I would suggest that the Conservatives have thrown the baby out with the bathwater.

That is one of the reasons we in the NDP tabled a motion in the House last week suggesting that parts of this bill be severed, in particular the kinds of crimes that would shock the conscience of Canadians or bring the administration of justice into disrepute. However, those are quite different from a whole host of other instances where, for example, somebody made a youthful error.

I know for a fact that none of us in the House would condone drinking and driving. Nonetheless, if someone were convicted at the age of 18 or 19, should the criminal record stay with the individual and make it impossible for him or her to pursue a career, such as a teaching or one of the many other careers that require criminal record checks by the time the person graduates from university? I am not sure that would pass the nod test for very many members in the House, nor, frankly, for constituents in my home town of Hamilton.

Would the member for Abitibi—Témiscamingue comment on whether he would support severing the crimes that I mentioned that would shock the conscience of Canadians or bring the administration of justice into disrepute, and if we would then be able to deal with some of the other issues, in the way he suggested in his speech, through a thorough examination in committee and perhaps a complete rewriting of the bill?

Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes ActGovernment Orders

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

Marc Lemay Bloc Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Madam Speaker, I respect my colleague very much, but I am not too sure about an answer to her question. I will explain. I have always believed that justice should be individualized, that the sentence should be individualized, and that when judges address the accused and find them guilty, convict them or impose a sentence, that that sentence should be individualized.

It is clear that every single thing cannot be included in a bill, and we cannot turn it into an omnibus bill that solves every problem. I say with all due respect that the more serious a crime is, the more we should extend the amount of time it takes to obtain a pardon or record suspension. In the case of conspiracy to commit murder, the individual has obviously not killed anyone, but they helped someone else commit the crime. We must be careful. With all due respect, we must at least be careful before granting a pardon.

Should we split this bill? I cannot say. However, I firmly believe it must be examined in committee. I also think that pardons or record suspensions must be individualized. That seems obvious. It will have to be examined in committee. It is not easy to answer my colleague's question.

Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes ActGovernment Orders

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

Marc Lemay Bloc Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Madam Speaker, my colleague is quite right. I have worked with Inuit and Algonquin people in my career, and they do not understand what a criminal record is. In their mind, once they have served their sentence after committing a crime, there is no longer a problem; it is resolved.

My colleague is quite right. Everything concerning the parole service and criminal record suspensions will be very difficult to explain. It is already difficult to explain. Heaven knows there will be a lot of work to do in the north, a lot of development work. I do not know how this will all be done in the next few years, but clearly some work will be needed when it comes to criminal record suspensions, especially with first nations and Inuit communities. It is already extremely complicated for white people, white Canadians, that is, francophone and anglophone non-natives. Indeed, most people will remember events that happen today or tomorrow, but in a year and a half or two years, they will have forgotten everything. Someone who serves a sentence will forget it completely six years later. This is what they need to remember. The law must be open enough in that regard.

Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes ActGovernment Orders

June 14th, 2010 / 1:05 p.m.
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NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to speak to Bill C-23.

First, I thank our party's critic, the member for Vancouver Kingsway, who has done a very good job in the research on the bill. As he has indicated, we will be supporting this bill at second reading, getting it to committee so we can initiate the process of having witnesses appear and proper professional opinions given on this whole area. We certainly support a thorough study of the pardon system by the committee. In the next few minutes I will outline the history of what the government has done in this area.

We also want to look at extending the ineligibility periods for certain kinds of offences.

We also support giving the Parole Board more discretion to deny pardons, particularly in cases that would shock the conscience of Canadians.

We also want to hear from correctional experts, from victims, from police and from other groups to ensure our pardon system is strengthened and fair.

The government has held itself out as being very sympathetic and on the side of victims. Yet three years ago, when it appointed Mr. Sullivan as the victims rights' advocate, it proceeded to ignore his advice, to the point where in the last several months, it refused to renew his contract because he criticized it for not being supportive of victims' rights and being more concerned about the punishment side of the equation. I think that speaks volumes of where the government is on this issue. It talks a great line out in the public about how supportive it is of victims, but at the end of the day, it does not come through for them.

The fact is Mr. Sullivan is now no longer working in that job because he did his job and he stood up for victims. He was rewarded by the government by being fired, in essence, because his contract was not renewed.

We have proposed that the government introduce urgent legislation that would immediately stop pardons from being granted in outrageous cases, while preserving the process of study for the rest of the bill. We have taken language from the Conservative bill and strengthened it by referring to crimes that shock the conscience of Canadians, which is language not present in its bill.

We know the bill will not pass all of the various readings before we break for the summer, and Canadians are concerned about the potential for Karla Homolka getting a pardon. As a result, we have said that we would support the government bringing in an immediate bill dealing with this issue. We want to immediately stop pardons from being granted in outrageous cases. The Karla Homolka case is certainly one that fits within that category and would be covered by the proposal of our critic, the member for Vancouver Kingsway. Then we would separately study the rest of the bill in the committee. That is our proposed.

We have offered the government this option and we are prepared to move on it today. However, the government has rejected it. What the purpose and reason is for it to take that kind of attitude on the bill beyond me when we have offered it the solution to what we see as the immediate problem.

We not support a U.S.-style three strikes and they are out correctional system because, and only because, it has never worked where it was tried. It was the flavour of the month, flavour of the decade, back in the Ronald Reagan administration. We saw many American prisons become privately owned. The new prison development became private prison development. Under the three strikes and they are out, the Americans built more prisons and filled them up. At the end of the day, the crime rate in the United States went up. It did not go down.

After all these years of a proven failed system, there are situations like Governor Schwarzenegger, who I was fortunate to speak to at the governors' conference in February in Washington. His state is on bankruptcy notice. He is being forced, as are other jurisdictions in the United States, to let people out of jail. They cannot afford to keep them in jail anymore because of the enormous cost involved.

What do we have here? We have the Conservatives following a discredited system that does not work.

Our members have said over and over again that we need to look at best practices. The Conservatives are great about talking about best practices in business. Let us scan the world and find out what works in other jurisdictions and let us try to do the same thing.

We know there are programs that work in certain countries in the European Union. With respect to the area of auto thefts, we know different jurisdictions in Canada have tried different ideas. Some work better than others.

We found in the province of Manitoba that by having a combination of a gang suppression strategy involving the police force identifying the top 50 car thieves, keeping them under surveillance, picking them up and keeping them in custody, it reduced our car theft rates dramatically to the point that last year we had zero car thefts on one day.

Four or five years ago an immobilizer program with Manitoba public insurance was not working well. If people installed immobilizers, they would get a break on their car insurance. Guess what? People were not taking up the program. The government woke up one day and decided to make it mandatory for people to install immobilizers and the government paid for them and gave people a reduction in their insurance. There was some grumbling, but by and large it has been widely accepted in Manitoba. Now hundreds of thousands of cars have immobilizers and the thieves cannot steal them cars anymore

This problem will take care of itself because over time, as all the old cars are taken off the road, new cars will have the proper immobilizer systems in place at the factory, where it should be done. In fact, the Manitoba government deserves credit for mandating immobilizers in new cars effective last year.

This is something that could have been foreseen. The insurance bureaus in Canada and in the United States have known for years that we could put immobilizers in cars in the factory for say $30. However, to save the $30, the car companies preferred to let the public pay $300 for immobilizers if they wanted them. This could have been done, yet the insurance industry kept paying the claims and people kept paying higher insurance rates. What kind of an insane system is that?

We could have been on top of this 20 years ago had we put these requirements on the car companies to bring in proper immobilizers. It would have saved the public an awful lot on insurance rates and it would have cut down the death rate. When people steal cars, they can get into car accidents and kill people. All this could have been foreseen.

However, we go back to Ronald Reagan who told the car companies that they did not have to attain certain standards. He reduced the standards. This is the same president who brought in the “three strikes and you're out” program. The Conservatives are back to Ronald Reagan's days.

In any event, we have offered a solution to the government and we still would prefer to get an answer as to whether the Conservatives would prefer to bring in this bill today. We will support the bill to stop these pardons from being granted in outrageous cases. We feel that would be a big part of the solution, not to follow the discredited policies of the past.

Bill C-23 would renames “pardons” as a “record suspension”. It also would increase the eligibility period, which must pass before a pardon application could be submitted, from the current five years to ten years for indictable offences and from the current three years to five years for summary offences. It would also prohibit those convicted of four or more indictable offences from ever receiving a pardon. It would prohibit anyone convicted of one or more offences from a designated list of sex offences from ever receiving a pardon. With respect to pardon applications for indictable offences, the Parole Board would be required to deny a pardon if granting it would bring the administration of justice into disrepute.

On that last point, this is the section that would apply to Karla Homolka, which is already in this existing Bill C-23, but nothing in the rest of the bill would serve to deny her a pardon. The increased waiting periods proposed will require her to wait five more years before applying, but only that one section will actually stop the pardon from ever being granted.

If the House were to adopt the NDP's suggestion, then we could deal with it summarily, we could deal with it today, and the problem would be at an end. Then we could follow the bill through to committee where we would deal with the issue as we should.

In 2006 the government, under the former public safety minister, oversaw a review of the pardon system in response to the Clark Noble case, a convicted sex offender. At the time, the government made a big issue of the case. It was a new government and it would to review the pardon system. After all this, one would think there would be some revolutionary change by the government, but that is wrong. At the end of the day, the 2006 review by the former minister of public safety led to just minor changes, including a requirement for two Parole Board members to review the pardon applications from sex offenders. Ultimately the tough on crime minister and government signed off on the current system as adequately protecting public safety.

What happened after that is that a government member, the member for Surrey North, who has a lot of credibility on this issue, introduced Motion No. 514. It is a very good motion and is still before the House. We support the motion, which states:

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.

Not only did the government do its review in 2006, which did nothing, but, rather than introduce this bill, Bill C-23, to solve this problem, it had a government backbencher introduce a motion asking for a review of the pardon system. Then all of a sudden the Graham James issue came to the fore, and overnight this became a serious issue again and the government brought in Bill C-23, essentially cutting the rug out from under the member for Surrey North, a government member.

The government did not even give the member for Surrey North a fair hearing. She did a lot of work on her motion which is before the House, and the government short-circuited it. The government said that the agenda has changed because people are interested in an issue that just popped up and calls for Bill C-23 to be brought in, regardless of the fact that a member with some credibility on the issue brought forth a motion which is the proper way to look at it. The member is asking for a review of the Criminal Records Act and for a report within three months to strengthen the system. At the end of the day, we all support the member's motion.

The public can be forgiven for being somewhat confused about what goes on around this place and what goes on with the government as it lurches back and forth not only on its crime agenda but on its whole legislative agenda. Let us look at the priorities of the government right now. One of its priorities is to close down six prison farms. Another priority is to spend $1 billion for the G20 and G8 summits which should be held on a military base or at the United Nations. To spend $1 billion of public money when the government is running a deficit of $56 billion just defies all logic.

We are looking at a government that definitely has misplaced priorities. It has no plan, or if there is a plan, it is certainly not letting us know what it is. The public must be confused about where the government is going on this issue.

We have offered to solve the problem but the government has said no. We are going into the summer recess. This bill will be in committee and nothing will happen with it until the fall and then we will be starting over. There is no sensibility as to how the government operates.

In terms of the provisions, we have suggested that this bill move quickly. The government knows that it cannot pass this bill through the committee and the Senate--it has to get through the Senate as well--before the summer recess. We know that all parties will not give unanimous consent; that is pretty much a given around here.

Once again, we brought forward a specific targeted bill to make these changes, to prevent the granting of pardons that would shock the conscience of Canadians and bring the administration of justice into disrepute. That is exactly what this House calls for at this point to solve the problem. We provided the solution, and we are waiting for the acceptance of the government on this point.

Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes ActGovernment Orders

June 14th, 2010 / 1:25 p.m.
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NDP

Niki Ashton NDP Churchill, MB

Madam Speaker, I would like to commend my colleague from Elmwood—Transcona on his thoughtful speech in which, as a member of the NDP, he conveyed the stance that we have taken.

He spoke a great deal about the Conservatives' approach to crime and their emphasis on punishment. Their approach to pardons or anything, quite frankly, when it comes to their justice and crime agenda has been extremely one-sided. Not only is there an emphasis on punishment, but there is no commitment when it comes to prevention or rehabilitation.

I would like to hear the member's thoughts on the complete lack of commitment when it comes to supporting prevention efforts among aboriginal peoples and communities that have disproportionately high rates of incarceration. I would like to hear his comments on how one-sided, imbalanced and wrong an agenda is that seeks only to punish, in many cases without a fair approach by any means, and yet does not seek to prevent individuals from falling through the cracks in our society.

Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes ActGovernment Orders

June 14th, 2010 / 1:25 p.m.
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NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, what the government did and how it acted surrounding Mr. Sullivan, the victims advocate, speaks volumes about the government. The Conservatives pretend that they support the rights of victims. To give them credit, they did hire the first victims advocate. However, at the end of the day, after three years, the victims advocate walked away without getting his contract renewed and criticized the government for not being supportive of victims' rights in this country.

Clearly, it was all for show. It was a sham. The government does not support victims' rights. Even though the Conservatives constantly advertise that they do, we know that they do not.

We in the NDP are extremely concerned about the rights of victims. As a matter of fact, the criminal injuries compensation fund in Manitoba was set up by Premier Ed Schreyer way back in 1970. The criminal injuries compensation fund is certainly a very important part of the victims' rights process. For the last 10 years, the NDP in Manitoba under Gary Doer went a long way to involve victims in terms of victims' impact statements and their being able to let people know what happened in the crime.

We have shifted and the whole country has shifted toward a greater focus on the role of victims. However, the Conservatives' pretense that they are somehow the paramount leaders in this area came to a crushing end with the departure of Mr. Sullivan and the exposure of their commitment as being not as strong as they like to pretend that it is.

Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes ActGovernment Orders

June 14th, 2010 / 1:25 p.m.
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Liberal

Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Madam Speaker, the member referred to this tangentially. Does he think this bill will ever actually get through? As I think he mentioned, the government keeps on delaying its own crime agenda. It either prorogues Parliament or calls an election and all the crime bills and things that it believes will make us safer die. Some of the things the government thinks would make us safer probably would not and it is probably good that the government lets them die. Does he think this bill will actually get through?

Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes ActGovernment Orders

June 14th, 2010 / 1:25 p.m.
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NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, that is why we are so concerned. We want to offer that solution and simply pass the measures required so that we do not take that risk.

We have no guarantee. For example, we have suggested that the government introduce urgent legislation that would immediately stop pardons from being granted in outrageous cases while preserving the process of this bill. It would not matter what happened to the bill in committee. We would at least have this part in place right now.

After the G8 and G20 summits next week, the Prime Minister may wake up one day and decide to call an election and we will be right back to square one again.

The member for Yukon is 100% correct. It is the Conservatives themselves who keep torpedoing their program and then they attempt to blame it on us. I do not know how they can possibly get away with that. Maybe they could get away with it once, but it is certainly not going to work repeatedly the way they have been operating for the last couple of years.

Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes ActGovernment Orders

June 14th, 2010 / 1:30 p.m.
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NDP

Chris Charlton NDP Hamilton Mountain, ON

Madam Speaker, I want to commend the member for Elmwood—Transcona on yet another very, very good speech in the House. I think he must hold the record by now on the number of bills a member has spoken to or commented on.

I know he watches the proceedings in the House very carefully, so he will know that the government of the day is one that constantly talks about wanting to get tough on crime, yet what I am hearing from my constituents is that people would much prefer if the Conservatives actually got smart on crime. Smart on crime is much, much better because they would be focusing on things like crime prevention and support for the victims of crime. Frankly, they would be supporting law enforcement officers to ensure that they can do their job effectively. Yet instead, we again are forced to deal with issues that are tough on crime only.

Unfortunately, as we are debating Bill C-23, let us recall what precipitated the bill. It was not a legal matter. It was a public relations nightmare for the Conservatives when the story of Graham James hit the news. It was after that story hit the news that people started to be concerned about what would happen with respect to Karla Homolka. Instead of dealing with those issues as they are, individual incidents that needed to be addressed, the government brought in omnibus legislation that changes the entire pardon system in the country.

I have to say, before that time not a single person contacted me to say that the pardon system was not working. Now we are confronted with a bill where we are throwing the baby out with the bathwater. What we ought to be doing is severing the bills to deal with people like Graham James and Karla Homolka. In those cases, by all means, let us put the brakes on. Let us look at the implications that this bill has for the broader justice system. Pardons are an imperative part of the correctional system. They are an important part of that toolbox.

I wonder whether the member would take a minute to talk about the motion that the NDP introduced in the House last week to do exactly that: sever one piece of the bill and let us send the other piece for further study so that we can act responsibly and be smart on crime.

Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes ActGovernment Orders

June 14th, 2010 / 1:30 p.m.
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NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, the member for Vancouver Kingsway introduced a motion, and I will read it, because it is important: “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 the Senate before the Parliament rises for summer...”.

That was the suggestion of the NDP. I do not know how more clear we could be that we want action on this issue, we want action now on this issue and we simply are waiting for the government to say yes or no.

Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes ActGovernment Orders

June 14th, 2010 / 1:30 p.m.
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Bloc

Nicole Demers Bloc Laval, QC

Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to rise to speak to Bill C-23. Like my colleague from Abitibi—Témiscamingue who spoke earlier and my other colleagues who have debated this subject in the House, I think it is important that we be able to debate this bill in committee and decide what rules should govern the act relating to pardons and the act relating to suspensions of records. The surprising thing about this bill is that it has been presented to us at the end of the session because they are upset that someone was granted a pardon when they had broken the law by committing heinous acts against minors. I would ask that we remember that when it comes to record suspensions, in all cases where the person has committed acts against a minor or crimes relating to pedophilia, the criminal record can be suspended, but special attention is paid to that record.

When the criminal records of people we want to hire or take on as volunteers are checked, that is when we are informed that the person has something specific in their criminal record. We are entirely able to ask the Minister of Public Safety to explain the exact situation regarding the criminal record to us. The reason I am talking about it that way is that I worked for several years with a home support cooperative. When we talk about home support, we are talking about support for vulnerable people, elderly people, people who are ill. All of the people we hired had to complete a hiring process in which we asked the police to do an investigation. That was part of the hiring process. The people we wanted to hire had to go to the police station, apply for a certificate and pay for it, because there are in fact fees associated with the certificate. They had to ask the police to investigate them so they could prove to us that they had no criminal record or outstanding charges. Of course, when you do this research, you realize that first, when people have been granted a pardon, very few of them reoffend. You see that 97% of people who have been granted a pardon have never reoffended. The 3% figure is quite respectable, but when we think that 97% of those people did not reoffend, that really is a system that works relatively well.

And those are the people we are talking about. With this new law that our colleague is proposing, no one could ask for a pardon for at least five or ten years, depending on the crime committed.

I remember quite well that the people who committed crimes did so when they were young and carefree. The crimes they committed did not necessarily have a significant impact on society. But they were still crimes that resulted in a criminal record. These people, when they turn 20, 22 or 23 and want to take their place in society again, go to school, start a relationship and maybe get married, must think seriously about asking for a pardon. If they ask for it, it is important that they be able to get it, because we see how it can affect training and even automobile and home insurance applications. It can also affect work, your job and promotions if you have not asked for a pardon and you have a criminal record. A lot of young people think that because they were not charged or convicted that they do not need to ask for a pardon. However, if their fingerprints were taken, they would immediately have a record or their fingerprints somewhere. If they do not ask for a pardon, those fingerprints are there for life.

If they apply for a visa or a passport—for their work, for example—they will have a hard time obtaining them.

The Bloc Québécois has always said that it is important to support victims of crime. What is important is the guarantee that we can rehabilitate those who commit crime. We have to ensure that crime is reduced. This will not happen spontaneously simply because people are scared. It must happen steadily and over the long term because people realize that there is more to life than committing petty crime.

In many cases, people who commit crimes are those who are not necessarily fortunate enough to be among those who have an easier time of it in the labour market. Members of aboriginal communities have a very hard time getting an education and finding a job. They may turn to petty crime because it is easier. Then they go to jail and get caught in a vicious cycle.

Many of the aboriginal people who serve time in jail do not have access to rehabilitation programs. For the past few years, unfortunately, more attention has been paid to the risk of reoffending than to anything else. We know that people from aboriginal communities are less likely to pass these tests because they are more likely to reoffend once released from jail. People in their communities are very poor and do not have opportunities for paid work. Unable to find a meaningful goal, they will do what they have to to survive.

Last weekend, aboriginal peoples met in Ottawa to accept the government's apology, which they requested last year. Their forgiveness is unconditional. The pardon that aboriginal peoples granted the government is an act of generosity, love and respect. Why must the government always place a dollar value on forgiveness and manipulate public opinion to make people believe that it cares about the safety and well-being of victims?

All this government has done is introduce divisive bills and ensure that victims do not really get government support. Recently, the government cut funding for a number of victims' groups. Help centres for victims of sexual assault and other crimes do not have the funding they need to help victims recover. Victims do not have the funding they need to recover.

My colleague introduced a bill to give victims and their families more time to recover. Why does the government not agree with us when it comes to helping victims? They seem to find it much easier to punish criminals.

It would be much easier to work on rehabilitation and reintegration into society in order to ensure there are no more victims, as we do in Quebec with much success. All they do here is ensure there will be more criminals who remain criminals longer. Rather than making sure there will be no more victims by working on the reasons and the symptoms, we ensure that criminals stay in prison. There they do not become any less criminal. If they do not get the treatment, training and all they need to integrate back into society in a constructive way, they will remain criminals.

We should work together to find better ways of containing crime and ensuring that victims are protected in all ways and crime is further diminished.

By reducing poverty and ensuring there is social housing and gainful employment, we also do a lot to reduce crime. Much petty crime is due to the fact that people are struggling to survive. We should work on these issues, as well as on having programs to fight drugs and help people who want to get off drugs and away from prostitution. We need not only to punish people and put them in jail but also ensure they have the tools they need to start over and not just continue down the same old path. I think we are doing miracles in Quebec in this regard, given the paucity of support from the federal government. Luckily there are people like those in the Bloc Québécois and the NDP who believe in rehabilitation and think that individuals who have made mistakes can be rehabilitated because we all make mistakes.

I know someone who was charged with robbery in the 1960s. That person was sentenced to 15 years and spent eight in prison. They were not finally exonerated and found innocent until 2009. It is incredible to think that this person spent all those years in prison knowing they were innocent. They lived far away from their relatives and it destroyed their family and their relations with their daughter and son. It broke up their marriage. They separated. This person is still trying to get compensation from the government for all the years they spent in prison. We too make mistakes sometimes and harm people.

The committee should study all the ways of ensuring that criminals who should stay in prison do so but also that those who can be helped to get out and be rehabilitated do so as well and become full members of society.

Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes ActGovernment Orders

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

Niki Ashton NDP Churchill, MB

Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague for her speech, which was dynamic, as usual. She brought up some points that this government needs to hear about its crime agenda, and also about the way we should address the challenges facing people in our society.

The member mentioned that we must focus on prevention and support for those who are themselves victims of unfortunate situations. She spoke about how we needed to envision an equal society and a society that does not simply want to punish everyone. We must obviously look at how we can improve the situation or support people so that they can change for the better and not always have to live with the crime they committed or the unfortunate situation they found themselves in. I would like to hear what she thinks the government could do about this.

Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes ActGovernment Orders

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

Nicole Demers Bloc Laval, QC

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

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

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

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

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

Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes ActGovernment Orders

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

Bill Siksay NDP Burnaby—Douglas, BC

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

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

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

Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes ActGovernment Orders

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

Nicole Demers Bloc Laval, QC

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

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

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

Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes ActGovernment Orders

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

Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes ActGovernment Orders

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

Bill Siksay NDP Burnaby—Douglas, BC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes ActGovernment Orders

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

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

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

The member for Welland said, “That, in the opinion of the House, urgent changes to the Criminal Records Act are required to prevent pardons from being granted that would bring the administration of justice into disrepute, and therefore the government should immediately introduce legislation with the specific purpose to empower the National Parole Board to deny pardons in cases where granting a pardon would bring the administration of justice into disrepute, with cooperation and support from all parties to move swiftly such legislation through the House and Senate before Parliament rises for the summer...”.

That was the motion he introduced only an hour ago.

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

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

Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes ActGovernment Orders

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

Bill Siksay NDP Burnaby—Douglas, BC

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

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

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

I think those are very important criteria.

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

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

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

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

Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes ActGovernment Orders

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

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

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

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

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

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

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

Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes ActGovernment Orders

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

Bill Siksay NDP Burnaby—Douglas, BC

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

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

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

Chris Charlton NDP Hamilton Mountain, ON

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

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

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

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

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

Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes ActGovernment Orders

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

Bill Siksay NDP Burnaby—Douglas, BC

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

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

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

Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes ActGovernment Orders

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

Conservative

Dave MacKenzie ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Globe and Mail also recently noted:

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

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

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

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

Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes ActGovernment Orders

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

Mark Holland Liberal Ajax—Pickering, ON

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes ActGovernment Orders

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

Mark Holland Liberal Ajax—Pickering, ON

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes ActGovernment Orders

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

Mark Holland Liberal Ajax—Pickering, ON

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.
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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.
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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.

Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes ActGovernment Orders

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

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, earlier when I asked a question I think in the back of my mind it was prompted by something a member said about certain members speaking in the House and shifting the debate to getting tough on crime and to protecting victims versus criminals, et cetera. I do not think that is what the bill is all about.

There is an issue here and it is one of the reasons that I thought this bill would have gone to committee before second reading if the government is convinced that it is necessary to respond to the public interest so that we do not get off track and use it simply as another political tool. I wonder if the member would care to comment.

Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes ActGovernment Orders

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

Serge Ménard Bloc Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Mr. Speaker, I completely agree with what was just said, and with what was said by the previous speaker. There needs to be a balance between justice and mercy.

Why was this bill introduced? Because one event was sensationalized and very poorly received. In showing that it is tough on crime, the government is not looking for an appropriate way to reduce crime in the future; it is looking for more votes at election time. It is tough, but it need not be as tough as the United States, which has proven that it is tough on crime to the point of being stupid about it.

Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes ActGovernment Orders

June 7th, 2010 / 6:25 p.m.
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NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I wanted to have the member comment on the Conservative government's new-found interest in the pardon system. Interestingly enough, in 2006 the former public safety minister conducted a review of the pardon system in response to the pardon of Clark Noble, a convicted sex offender. That led to a minor change, including a requirement for two parole board members to review the pardon applications from sex offenders. Ultimately, the minister gave the pardon system a clean bill of health and we moved merrily forward for another four years.

Just a month ago, the member for Surrey North introduced Motion No. 514, which we debated, in which she directed the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security be instructed to undertake a review of the Criminal Records Act and report back to the House within three months on how to strengthen the act and ensure that the National Parole Board puts public safety first in all of its decisions.

What did the government do? It took the rug right out from under her and brought in Bill C-23 as a response to--

Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes ActGovernment Orders

June 7th, 2010 / 6:25 p.m.
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Bloc

Serge Ménard Bloc Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Mr. Speaker, because we will be studying it in committee, I believe we should study it thoroughly by looking at the success stories, the statistics, the jurisprudence in cases where it was granted and the jurisprudence established by the decisions of the National Parole Board. We have to look at the details so that the public understands how the system works rather than just remembering one thing, the Graham James case.

The public may perhaps compare the case of Graham James to that of Robert Piché, the pilot who was pardoned and today flies commercial aircraft. This excellent pilot who flew aircraft under difficult conditions was at one point a drug trafficker. However, he went back to work, and did an exemplary job when two of his airplane engines failed in mid-ocean. He managed to land safely and today they are making a movie about him.

That is one person who benefited from a pardon. It is not just about Graham James. I believe there are more people like Robert Piché who have been pardoned than there are people like Graham James.

Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes ActGovernment Orders

June 7th, 2010 / 6:25 p.m.
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Bloc

Marc Lemay Bloc Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened closely to my colleague, with whom I sit on the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. I find him very interesting.

I would like my colleague to comment further on one point. I may not have heard him talk about this because I arrived after he began his speech. In Bill C-23, the government seems to want to photograph and fingerprint all people who get arrested, regardless of whether they are suspected of having committed a crime. The police arrest people, take them to the station and fingerprint and photograph them before they are convicted or found guilty by a court.

What does my colleague think about that, and what should the committee's position on this issue be?

Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes ActGovernment Orders

June 7th, 2010 / 6:25 p.m.
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Bloc

Serge Ménard Bloc Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to be very brief and say that we will see once this goes to the committee. We should not go overboard with fingerprinting because we might end up fingerprinting everyone.

I am sure that Ms. Stoddart will explain to us in detail which rules apply. But I know that back in the day when I was practising law, when people were acquitted, they could have their fingerprints destroyed. I think that there were good reasons for that, and for those same reasons, we should not be fingerprinting everybody all the time.

Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes ActGovernment Orders

June 7th, 2010 / 6:30 p.m.
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NDP

Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to stand and speak to Bill C-23 on behalf of the New Democratic Party.

In short, the New Democrats support the bill at second reading. We support the bill at second reading because we believe fundamentally in four critical and profound points.

One, New Democrats believe, given a lot of the attention given to the pardon system in this country over the last several weeks and months, that a thorough study of the pardon system is in order. Canadians want parliamentarians to take a close look at the way pardons are granted in this country, and New Democrats are ready and able to do that.

Two, New Democrats want to look at extending the ineligibility period for certain kinds of offences. As Canadians know, there are currently only two time periods in the Criminal Records Act that apply to someone seeking a pardon. They are three years for those convicted of a summary conviction offence and five years for those convicted of an indictable offence. New Democrats are again interested--

Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes ActGovernment Orders

June 7th, 2010 / 6:30 p.m.
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NDP

Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, I was on the second point regarding what the New Democrats believe in.

We are prepared to look at extending the eligibility periods for certain kinds of offences, because it could be the case that we may need an offender to demonstrate a longer period of good behaviour before being eligible for a pardon. We are prepared to look at that.

The third point is that New Democrats believe that the National Parole Board needs to have more discretion when evaluating whether a pardon ought to be granted. It is our view that the current pardon legislation does not give the National Parole Board sufficient discretion. That results, we think, in there being certain injustices that may occur.

I will say right now that I think all Canadians will immediately think of people like Karla Homolka, who under the current pardon legislation, would likely be granted a pardon. We in the NDP do not think that this is a just or fair result. Certainly someone like Karla Homolka, in our view, should not receive a pardon in this country, and we are prepared to amend the pardon legislation to ensure that this does not happen.

As I will expand on a little later, New Democrats propose what is the toughest wording when it comes to preventing people who ought not to get pardons from getting them. I will say right now that the government has proposed legislation that contains words that would give the National Parole Board the discretion to refuse a pardon when to do so would “bring the administration of justice into disrepute”. That is the language proposed by the government. The NDP thinks that is good language.

However, New Democrats would go further. We would add the words, “or would shock the conscience of Canadians”. That would give two separate grounds under the Criminal Records Act for the National Parole Board to deny a pardon. We think that is important for ensuring that we have credibility and faith in our pardon system.

Fourth and last, New Democrats believe that we need to hear from correctional experts, victims, police, offenders, sociologists, and every single person who has expertise and knowledge about the current Canadian pardon system. They need to come to the committee and have a thorough and intelligent discussion about each one of these points to ensure that we strengthen our pardon system in this country and ensure that it is fair.

New Democrats last week drafted a motion, and presented it to all parties in the House, that would have allowed a particular amendment to the Criminal Records Act to pass through the House quickly, before summer. It is a surgical, targeted amendment that would simply change the Criminal Records Act to say that the National Parole Board would have the power to refuse or decline a pardon where to do so would bring the administration of justice into disrepute or would shock the conscience of Canadians.

The NDP has done this because the government has been asleep at the switch for the last four years. Karla Homolka is eligible for a pardon this summer. The government waited until June 7 to introduce legislation in the House that would prevent her from getting a pardon. Of course, the government will not be able to get that legislation through the House, so it has proposed Bill C-23, which proposes many changes to the pardon system, many of which are undesirable or misguided or require further study.

New Democrats came forward with surgical, targeted legislation that would allow us to make one change to the Criminal Records Act to ensure that pardons are not given to people in this country who ought not to get them. It could be done without moving precipitously and ending up harming the pardon system that plays a very important role, not only in the justice system in this country but in keeping communities safe.

This bill would do a number of things. Some things are good, some are questionable, and some are, without question, misguided and undesirable.

This bill would rename pardons and call them “record suspensions”. We will have to study that to see what the impact would be. At this point, it is hard to know exactly what that would do, good or bad. It could be a cosmetic change. It could be something that has ramifications. New Democrats want to study the impact of that change.

It increases the ineligibility period that must pass before a pardon application can be submitted to ten years from the current five years for indictable offences and to five years from the current three years for summary offences.

The New Democrats believe that there may be cause and good grounds to increase the probation period for some offences. I am thinking, for instance, of a repeat sex offender. It may be the case, once we hear from experts and people knowledgeable in the field, that we may want to have that person demonstrate a longer period of good behaviour before he or she is eligible for a pardon. We are prepared to look at that. However, to have a blanket rule that extends the time period for every single person in all circumstances represents the kind of blunt instrument the government uses for an issue that requires intelligence and nuance.

It prohibits those convicted of three or more indictable offences from ever receiving a pardon. This shows the government's continuing attachment to the American, U.S.-style approach to justice that does not work. This is a “three strikes and you are out” policy. That is what it is. I think everybody in this House who is paying attention and most Canadians know that most of the U.S.-style approaches to justice issues brought in by right-wing Republicans during the 1980s and 1990s are now being rejected by Americans across that country, because they are bankrupting the country, and more importantly, they are not having any impact whatsoever on making U.S. communities safer.

I will give an example. There could be a 19-year-old young offender who steals a car, who, in the course of being arrested, may resist arrest and may end up with an assault charge from resisting arrest. That kind of person, at 19 years old, under the government's legislation, would be prevented from ever receiving a pardon. That is obviously not an intelligent approach to a pardon policy in this country.

This legislation would prohibit anyone convicted of one or more offences, from a designated list of sex offences, from ever receiving a pardon.

Currently, under the eliminating pardons for serious crimes act, anybody who receives a life sentence is prohibited from ever receiving a pardon. The government proposes to expand that list. New Democrats are prepared to look at that.

With respect to pardon applications for indictable offences, the parole board would be required to deny a pardon if granting it would bring the administration of justice into disrepute. Once again, this is the kind of section that would be used that would otherwise prevent someone such as Karla Homolka from getting a pardon. However, it is too little, too late from the government. I wish it had brought in this legislation a year ago or two years ago, because it was no secret that Karla Homolka was approaching the fifth year after the conclusion of her sentence. Again, this government is a bad legislator and a bad policy-maker. It was asleep at the switch and is playing politics with crime.

I do not know whether the government understands that the pardon system plays a critical role in our justice system.

Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes ActGovernment Orders

June 7th, 2010 / 6:35 p.m.
See context

NDP

Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

One would think that the government would know that, because as my hon. colleague from Elmwood—Transcona has pointed out very accurately, the government, two public safety ministers ago, looked at the pardon system in a circumstance very similar to the one we have today. There was a convicted sex offender who was granted a pardon, and the government, again, in a knee-jerk reaction, sprang into action and did a quick review of the pardon system. However, it did not do it in an intelligent, policy-oriented way. It did not put it before the public safety committee, which has 12 MPs from all parties on it. It did not hear from sociologists, academics, corrections officers, and parole officers, the people with knowledge of the criminal justice system. It just reviewed it.

What did the former public safety minister do after that review? He did virtually nothing. What the former public safety minister did was make a couple of changes. He increased the number of people on the National Parole Board reviewing certain kinds of offences from one person to two people. That is about the net sum of what the government did.

Therefore, I ask, and Canadians ask, if the Conservative government reviewed the pardon system in 2006, found it fine, and made just a slight change, what is the difference now? Again, it is politics. Canadians know that the government uses public safety and crime as a political issue. It does not really care about making a criminal justice system in this country that works, keeps Canadians safe, is fair to victims, and is fair to everybody involved in this system.

The pardon system is an important part of our justice system. It is an important part of keeping us safe. It balances the punitive aspects of the penal system with the redemptive aspects of the pardon system. This helps because, as New Democrats say time and time again in the House, when an offender comes out of prison, we want the offender never to reoffend again.

Once someone has offended and has been given a sentence, the only intelligent, wise approach to take as policy makers, the only wise and reasonable approach to take to keep people safe in this country is to do what we can to make sure the person does not reoffend. Part of that process is to give the person who offended a reason, an incentive, a carrot for good behaviour. It is not just punishing bad behaviour which is important. It is ensuring that the person has an incentive and is rewarded for good behaviour. The pardon system is part of that. It allows a person to come out of prison and engage in good behaviour and respect the law and reintegrate into society as a law-abiding citizen. At the end of that, it allows the person to get the benefit of a pardon. That is an important part of our system. If we get rid of that or make changes to that system that are counterproductive, it will make people less safe in this country--