Limiting Pardons for Serious Crimes Act

An Act to amend the Criminal Records Act

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 extend the ineligibility periods for certain applications for a pardon. It also enables the National Parole Board to consider additional factors when deciding whether to grant a pardon for certain offences.

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.

March 24th, 2011 / 10:05 a.m.
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Liberal

Mark Holland Liberal Ajax—Pickering, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I think what's difficult about this issue is that there are a lot of folks who are lumped into this bill.

Now, the history of it is that we dealt with Bill C-23A, and that's something Parliament did collaboratively, at the end of last June, to find a compromise. I think all parties believed there was a case for reform and changes needed to be made. Arguably, they should have been made many years ago.

The concern we have now is that in questioning the minister, and in fact in questions even from Conservative members, there's an acknowledgement that this is trapping a lot of folks it did not intend to.

Mr. Lemcke, maybe I'll pose this question to you.

Disposition of Abolition of Early Parole ActGovernment Orders

February 14th, 2011 / 6:05 p.m.
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NDP

Chris Charlton NDP Hamilton Mountain, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened closely to the comments of the member in this chamber, and I am a bit surprised, because he is actually engaging in substantive debate around the bill to which the time allocation motion applies. However, what is really before us in the House today is the time allocation motion itself and the government cutting off the amount of time for debate on the bill.

We should not be debating the merits of the bill itself at all, yet I just heard the member say that all kinds of crime bills have been stalled at committee.

Let me give the House a number of the bills that have now passed through the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights: C-4, C-5, C-16, C-17, C-21, C-22, C-23A, C-23B, C-39, C-48, C-50, C-51, C-52, S-2, S-6, S-7, S-9 and S-10. Can the member really suggest that the crime agenda of the government is being stalled?

Some of us would argue they are the only bills we have been dealing with in the House. I wish the member would return to what we are really debating here tonight, and that is the time allocation motion, not the substance of the government's crime agenda.

Standing Committee on FinancePrivilege

February 11th, 2011 / 10:35 a.m.
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Liberal

Marlene Jennings Liberal Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am saddened today to feel the obligation to rise to address comments with regard to the question of privilege raised by the member for Kings—Hants on February 7.

It is like the movie Groundhog Day. Anyone is familiar with that movie knows it was very successful. American actor Bill Murray relives the day over and over again until he learns his lesson.

It appears the government is reliving the same thing and forcing all other members of the House of Commons and Canadians to relive the same days we experienced back in 2009-10 with regard to a request from the special committee on Afghanistan for the production of documents from the government. The government resisted that. It took a question of privilege to be raised in the House. It took comments from many members of the House. It took considerable reflection and study on your part, Mr. Speaker, before you made a ruling that there was a prima facie case of privilege in that regard.

Yet, again, we are faced with the exact same situation today.

If I look at the timeline, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance tabled its 10th report on Monday, February 7. The member for Kings—Hants, pursuant to that report, raised the question of privilege of which we are now all aware.

I want to concur with the arguments raised by my colleague for Kings—Hants, as well as those raised by my colleagues from Mississauga South and Windsor—Tecumseh on the issue.

However, I wish to note a number of points. I also wish to address, in particular, the issues of cabinet confidence and the requests with regard to all the justice bills. It is important to do so, particularly with the time of events and the government's response to date to the committee's requests for the production of documents. We have not yet heard the government's response in the House with regard to the question of privilege.

On November 17, 2010, the Standing Committee on Finance passed a motion, ordering the Government of Canada to provide the committee with five-year projections of total corporate profits before taxes and effective corporate tax rates from the 2010-11 fiscal year until the 2014-15 fiscal year, inclusive. The November 17 motion also ordered the government to provide the committee with certain financial information pertaining to justice bills, which I will enumerate.

As all members in the House know, I am the justice critic for the official opposition. Therefore, all the information, all the documents requested through the motion of the finance committee have direct pertinence to the committee on justice and human rights. Those justice bills were Bill C-4, the youth criminal justice bill, Bill C-5, Bill C-16, Bill C-17, Bill C-21, Bill C-22, Bill C-23A, Bill C-23B, Bill C-39, Bill C-48, Bill C-50, Bill C-51, Bill C-52, Bill S-2, Bill S-6, Bill S-7, Bill S-9 and Bill S-10.

The motion specifically requested:

—detailed cost accounting, analysis and projections, including assumptions, for each of the bills and Acts, conducted in accordance with the Treasury Board Guide to Costing.

Members are now aware, by the issue of privilege raised by the member for Kings—Hants, that the motion established a deadline of seven calendar days, which ended on November 24, 2010.

On November 24, Finance Canada replied to the committee, and I will read the department's response in its entirety because it is quite important, particularly to any Canadian and any member sitting in the House who takes his or her work as an elected official representing Canadians, a sacred duty in fact, to know the response. It said:

Projections of corporate profits before taxes and effective corporate income tax rates are a Cabinet confidence. As such, we are not in a position to provide these series to the Committee.

The department claimed it was not in a position to provide these documents to the committee because, according to the government, these documents were a cabinet confidence. That is the heart of the matter. Do the documents requested constitute a cabinet confidence and, if so, are they excluded from the rule of the House of Commons, the power and authority of Parliament, to require documents to be provided?

As the House knows, because it has been mentioned by others in the House who have commented on the issue of privilege raised by the member for Kings—Hants, the government has yet to speak to this issue. I understand that one of the parliamentary secretaries has said the government is taking note of all of members' comments in the House, relating to the issue of privilege, and will respond in due course.

On December 1, 2010, one full week after the deadline of November 24, 2010, the committee received a reply from Justice Canada regarding projected costs of the justice bills. I will read the response by Justice Canada in its entirety. It said:

The issue of whether there are any costs associated with the implementation of any of the Government's Justice bills is a matter of Cabinet confidence and, as such, the Government is not in a position to provide such information or documents.

That is interesting because in justice committee, of which I am a member, when we have repeatedly asked the minister for the cost analysis of a government bill before the committee, the minister has never stated that he could not give us that information because it is a matter of confidence. I would challenge members to check the transcripts of justice committee. What I did hear was he did not have the information with him or some befuddled answer that did not answer the question.

On December 7, 2010, after the government had refused to provide the information ordered by finance committee by the established deadline, the member for Kings—Hants provided the committee with written notice of a motion by which, if passed, the committee would draw the attention of the House to what appeared to be a breach of its privileges. That has been done. The committee adopted the motion and the member for Kings—Hants rose in the House to speak to the issue.

On December 10, the committee received an additional response from the Department of Finance Canada in answer to its motion ordering the production of documents relating to the projections regarding corporate taxes before profits.

In response, the department stated:

To the best of its knowledge, the Department of Finance has determined that [the] "series" or projections of corporate profits before taxes or the effective corporate income tax rates have never been previously disclosed. These projections are from a comprehensive economic and fiscal projection that constitutes a Cabinet confidence.

To reiterate, according to the second or additional response of the Department of Finance to the finance committee, the Department of Finance, acting on behalf of the government, claimed that these projections have never been previously disclosed and constitute a cabinet confidence.

As pointed out in this chamber before, but which bears repetition, I would suggest to any Canadian to Google the phrase, “Corporate tax profits before taxes”, and restrict their search to the domain of the Department of Finance Canada. That Canadian would get exactly two results: the HTML and PDF versions of “The Economic and Fiscal Update“ from November 2005. In that update, we find precisely the information that the Department of Justice, in its December 10 additional response to the finance committee, claimed had never previously been disclosed because it constituted a cabinet confidence. In fact, it was disclosed in the November 2005 economic and fiscal update that was issued by the previous government comprised of the Liberal Party of Canada's elected members of Parliament.

Therefore, the assertion on the part of the government, through its Department of Finance, justifying its refusal to obey, respect and act on the order of the finance committee to produce the documents is an outright fabrication.

The government department could have said that in the past the information had been released, but that the policy had been changed with a new interpretation of what constituted a cabinet confidence and, as a result, would not be releasing those documents to the finance committee. However, that was not the reason given by the department, by the government, for refusing to release that information. The reason given to the committee for not providing that information, that it is a cabinet confidence, is pure nonsense.

What is the state of legislation regarding cabinet confidence?

As mentioned, one can look to the Access to Information Act and the law of evidence act, and one will find that the government does not have a leg to stand on, and in fact does not have two legs to stand on.

Any reasonable Canadian reading the pertinent sections of the Access to Information Act and the law of evidence act would see that the two responses given by the Department of Finance and the response given by the Department of Justice are nonsense.

As I said, we know that in 2005 the previous government recognized that projections of corporate tax profits before taxes were not covered by cabinet confidence. Such projections are not considered a cabinet confidence when, as is the case with Finance Canada's revenue model, these projections are used by the department in a manner not exclusively related to cabinet operations.

What has changed between 2005 and 2010-11? On what grounds is the government now claiming that these projections constitute a cabinet confidence when there was no such assertion in the past and governments in the past have in fact provided and disclosed that information?

The costs of the justice bills are also important because the Department of Justice, as well, replied to the finance committee by claiming cabinet confidence as a justification for not releasing that information to the finance committee.

We know that due diligence would have required that cabinet consider the cost implications of each justice bill before making a decision to proceed with each bill. We know that under normal practices, an analysis of the cost implications of each justice bill would have been included with the memorandum to cabinet prepared for each justice bill.

Why do we know this? We know it because the Liberal Party of Canada has formed government in the past. We know that when we came power the government that preceded us, the one formed by the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada, had done that as well. So these are normal practices. These are practices of a prudent, diligent and competent government.

No diligent, prudent and competent government would consider an issue, whether amendments, or a justice bill bringing in new legislation to the Criminal Code or amending existing sections of the Criminal Code, because that constitutes government policy, would do so without informing itself of the cost of those changes.

That is what previous governments have done, because those previous governments, whatever their faults, have followed prudent, diligent and competent practices with regard to taking decisions on issues brought before cabinet.

As I said, we know that under normal practices, an analysis of the cost implications of each justice bill would have been included with the memorandum to cabinet prepared for each justice bill.

Now let us look at the legislation that deals with what is, or is not, cabinet confidence and whether or not something that falls into cabinet confidence can be accessible.

If one looks at section 69 of the Access to Information Act, it tells us that such analysis and background information is not, and I repeat, not, a cabinet confidence, if the cabinet decision to which the analysis relates has been made public.

A cost analysis of the implications of a justice bill should have been included, and I believe was included, in the memorandum to cabinet, as it is on each and every justice bill.

Standing Committee on FinancePrivilegeRoutine Proceedings

February 7th, 2011 / 3:15 p.m.
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Liberal

Scott Brison Liberal Kings—Hants, NS

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a question of privilege in relation to the 10th report of the Standing Committee on Finance.

In our system of responsible government, the government must seek Parliament's authority to spend public funds. Parliament, in turn, has an obligation, a responsibility to hold the government to account and to scrutinize the government's books.

Recently, this government impeded the work of the Standing Committee on Finance by hindering its attempts to better understand the federal government's budget projections.

As you know, Mr. Speaker, Standing Order 108 empowers committees to send for persons, papers and records. House of Commons Procedure and Practice, second edition, describes Parliament's right to order the production of documents as a right that is “as old as Parliament itself”.

On November 17, 2010, the Standing Committee on Finance passed a motion ordering the Government of Canada to provide the commitment with five-year projections of total corporate profits before taxes and effective corporate tax rates from the 2010-11 fiscal year until the 2014-15 fiscal year, inclusive.

The November 17 motion also ordered the government to provide the committee with certain financial information pertaining to justice Bills C-4, C-5, C-16, C-17, C-21, C-22, C-23A, C-23B, C-39, C-48, C-50, C-51, C-52, S-2, S-6, S-7, S-9 and S-10.

Among other things, the motion specifically requested:

detailed cost accounting, analysis and projections, including assumptions, for each of the bills and Acts, conducted in accordance with the Treasury Board Guide to Costing.

The motion established a deadline of seven calendar days, which ended on November 24, 2010.

On November 24, the Department of Finance replied to the committee with the following. I will read the department's response in its entirety. It stated:

Projections of corporate profits before taxes and effective corporate income tax rates are a Cabinet confidence. As such, we are not in a position to provide these series to the Committee.

The government provided no further information to the committee before the deadline.

On December 1, 2010, one full week after the deadline, the committee received a letter from the Department of Justice regarding projected costs of the justice bills. Again, I will read the department's response in its entirety. It stated:

The issue of whether there are any costs associated with the implementation of any of the Government's Justice bills is a matter of Cabinet confidence and, as such, the Government is not in a position to provide such information or documents.

On December 7, 2010, after the government had refused to provide the information ordered by the committee by the established deadline, I provided the committee with written notice for a motion by which, if passed, the committee would draw the attention of the House to what appeared to be a breach of its privileges.

On December 10, 2010, perhaps in response to the written notice I had written on December 7, the committee received an additional response from the Department of Finance.

In its response, the department stated:

To the best of its knowledge, the Department of Finance has determined that “series” or projections of corporate profits before taxes or the effective corporate income tax rates have never been previously disclosed. These projections are from a comprehensive economic and fiscal projection that constitutes a Cabinet confidence. As a result, the Department of Finance has not been in a position to provide these "series" to the Committee.

This response appeared somewhat dubious. For, if any member of the House or if any Canadian wishes to Google the phrase “corporate profits before taxes” and restrict their search to the domain of the Department of Finance's website, he or she would get exactly two results: the HTML and PDF versions of “The Economic and Fiscal Update” from November 2005, in which they would find, on page 83, that the previous Liberal government had actually published projections of corporate profits before taxes from 2005 until 2010.

At this time, I would like to seek unanimous consent to table page 83 of “The Economic and Fiscal Update” from November 2005.

December 14th, 2010 / 9:35 a.m.
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Bloc

Maria Mourani Bloc Ahuntsic, QC

Very well, Mr. Chairman. Allow me to speak to this bill. I have several points to cover.

First, I have to say it is rather disappointing. From a very objective point of view it is my impression that this government does not want to change its technique, it just wants to put on shows. Once again today it is putting on a show. Why? Unfortunately, this government does not understand that public safety is important, fundamental, and that we cannot put on a show when people's lives are involved.

Personally, I also think it is extremely insulting to have this thrown at us today, and to be told that there have been amendments and that we are going to be doing clause-by-clause consideration. It is even more insulting because we have not even heard some witnesses. I would like to hear these witnesses, for example the Association québécoise Plaidoyer-Victimes, which is a group that has been dealing on a daily basis with victims for several years. Unfortunately they could not come because of the time restrictions, but they wanted to come. I would like to hear their opinion on this bill. I would like to hear the voices of victims.

We heard the minister speak to us about the notion of the three violations. It is my impression that he included this in the bill just because he felt like it. This idea is not backed-up by numbers. It just seems logical to him and that is all. I would like to hear those individuals who can back statements up with numbers, and who are familiar with the outcome of similar measures in the lives of individuals. We have heard individuals who are directly affected by this and who have dealt with the justice system. However I would also like to hear the victims.

This government has called itself the champion for victims. Yet, to date, we have not seen anything and we are still waiting. We will see if they will support our Bill C-343 at third reading—a bill for victims. I apologize for my digression, Mr. Chairman.

The government has said it is the champion for victims, however we have not heard from any victims. Of course, one individual came to speak to us about what she had experienced and that was very interesting. However, I would also like to hear from groups that represent victims and that can tell us what the people they work with think about this. When I say people they work with of course I am referring to victims.

Furthermore, I think it is somewhat unfortunate that today we are debating how this bill will move forward. I sincerely believe that everyone around this table is here in good faith and wants to move bills forward that are important for public safety. That at least is true for us, in the Bloc Québécois.

On that issue, Mr. Chairman, I do not understand the urgency. Let's be realistic. If we would vote in favour of this motion today, when would we be doing clause-by-clause consideration of this bill? No doubt it would happen next year, when we come back. Everyone agrees that even if we were to vote unanimously in favour of this motion, we could not begin consideration. We would have to do this when we come back. So this is simply for show and it is disappointing.

I have thought about this issue and I have asked myself what we could do to approve this bill, given that we have not heard from everyone. It is quite possible that other groups have other good ideas to suggest.

For the benefit of the committee members, Mr. Chairman, I am going to cover all these points again, so that we know what we are talking about.

First of all, when one refers to pardon, currently that means suspending a criminal record. What does that actually mean? Currently, after one has been accused of an offence and one has served the sentence in its entirety, whether that be incarceration, a penalty, probation or anything else, one can request a pardon. This doesn't happen automatically. It is not granted automatically just because one is eligible; a request has to be made. That application takes time. Given the number of steps involved, it can take up to a year. One has to go to the courts to obtain the list of offences, to the police station for fingerprinting, etc. It is a very, very long process. It can take up to a year.

Then the file has to be dealt with. You may get the answer that it is going to happen in six months. Let's say that your request is accepted and your criminal record is suspended. If you go into a convenience store, and you steal a bag of chips and police officers arrest you, then your criminal record is reactivated, just like that, automatically and immediately. No request is necessary in that case. So the criminal record did not simply disappear.

Furthermore, if you do obtain a pardon—that is the word that is currently used—and your criminal record is suspended, it is not erased in the United States. There have been cases where individuals who committed offences—I believe this involved participating in a demonstration, and assaults—during the 1970s or 1980s succeeding in having their criminal records suspended but ended up being arrested in the United States where their criminal records were still active. There is a whole other system reserved for those individuals. They therefore have to go through the process.

Now let's ask ourselves the question and look at the numbers. We do have some numbers that the minister didn't have. Perhaps that can help us determine whether or not the current system works.

In fact, Mr. Chairman, I would just like to make a point. Bill C-23, which was much too big, was divided in two. We are dealing with Bill C-23B, An Act to amend the Criminal Records Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts. I don't know if you recall, Mr. Chairman, but once again this was presented to us at the last minute, just before we left last June. These people have made a specialty out of this. They had a show to give that day, and it was the Homolka show. Do you understand? So they needed actors, the media, etc. The whole Homolka show took place.

We nonetheless looked at Bill C-23. We felt that it made no sense but we decided to try and see the good parts of it. We did that in good faith. What follows is what was added to what already existed.

If an individual wants to apply for a pardon, if an individual who is found guilty of extreme cruelty under article 752 of the Criminal Code wants to apply for a pardon, they will have to wait for 10 years after the end of their sentence and after having paid all penalties or having ended their probation.

Let's take an individual who was given a five-year prison term, three years of probation and a fine. That's a typical case. That person will have to wait for eight years. After those eight years, they will have to put in an application. However, this doesn't automatically happen. In order to apply, one has to fill in a form, provide finger-prints, deal with the police and courts of law, etc. If that individual does not become discouraged, it will take a year. After the eight years, that is, five years of prison and then three years of probation, they will then have to wait another ten years, which makes 18 years. However, one must not forget the famous process that I just described, which takes one year. If you add to those 18 years the time it takes to process and accept the application, you have a total of 20 years. We are talking about an individual who has committed a serious crime. It therefore takes 20 years for that individual to finally obtain a document that will allow him to work. That is reality.

Why do these individuals want their criminal record suspended? Is it simply in order to have one more piece of paper to put in their files? No. I have a few examples here. The main reason is employment. That is what allows an individual to feed their family, and also not to go back to a criminal life. Any good criminologist, sociologist, counsellor, street worker, social worker or police officer, in other words any individual who has met an offender face to face, understands that that offender has to work. I am sure that my friends on the other side also understand this. Why do they have to work? Because in working, they pay taxes rather than living off social assistance or employment insurance. On your side, that allows you to provide the billions of dollars that you have to invest in prisons. Do you understand, Mr. Chairman?

Working not only allows you to become rehabilitated, but it also allows you to feed your family, to become a law-abiding citizen. It's in this way that society is protected, not by depriving these individuals of a criminal record suspension, which ends up condemning them for life and preventing them from working. It should be pointed out that these individuals cannot be employed by government. They are able to work as truck drivers, but even then, if their itinerary involves travelling from Montreal to New York or anywhere else in the United States, then they will face a major problem. So one can definitely not have a criminal record. Do you see why this is so important? It is fundamental.

As far as I am concerned, I would prefer that these people work rather than live off social assistance or employment insurance. Actually they probably won't be able to get employment insurance because they won't be able to work. So they are going to have to fall back on social assistance or their former habits, that is stealing, holding up people, getting angry, feeling rage inside and wanting to take revenge on a society that rejects them, discriminates against them. Rejection and discrimination are fundamental issues.

Yet we also heard examples of individuals who were rehabilitated and who have families. I am certain that you would not be able to guess that they had criminal records if you weren't told so, Mr. Chairman. Nowhere is it written that they have a criminal record. Do you understand? These are law-abiding citizens who have been successful and I congratulate them. They are not the only ones.

Let us take a look at the numbers I mentioned earlier. In 97% of all cases, the suspension of a criminal record did not subsequently end up being revoked. Surprisingly, criminal record suspensions were revoked in only 3% of cases. From what I understand the reasons were varied; it didn't necessarily happen because of another crime being committed. This should, however, be studied further. I am very intrigued. We shall see.

What do the numbers say? According to 2009-2010 data, approximately 3.8 million Canadians have a criminal record and therefore have been sentenced, and less than 11% of these were granted a pardon or were rehabilitated.

Furthermore, in 2009-2010 the National Parole Board received 32,105 applications for pardons. The Board approved for consideration—which does not mean they granted the pardons—28,844 applications, in other words 77% of those applications. During the same year, the board reviewed 24,559 applications. How many pardons were granted? It granted 16,247 pardons. It approved 7,887 rehabilitation applications. In other words, 97% of all requests were approved. That is extraordinary.

Here is my interpretation of the numbers. First, even if one applies for a pardon, these days the National Parole Board may not even decide to consider the request. The board receives the application but it can turn it down without even considering it. That is what I understand from the numbers. In fact, the Board decided to consider 24,844 of the 32,105 applications that were submitted, then granted 16,247 pardons and approved 7,887 rehabilitation applications.

The numbers tell us that there really is nothing to be worried about. There is no urgency.

That being said, is the suspension of criminal records still important? It is fundamental. It is very important to avoid putting everyone in the same box. What we all want is to prevent pardons being granted to individuals who sexually assault children. The case is different when it involves a man or a woman who followed a rather rocky path as a young adult and ended up committing thefts when they were 18 or 19. We all agree that not everyone is a saint and that some individuals end up following rather difficult paths at one point or another. That does not prevent them from wanting to settle down one day and start their lives over again. In fact, wanting to settle down means they want to start over.

Keeping this in mind, let us now consider Bill C-23A which includes schedule 1. The bill states that one must wait 10 years after serving one's sentence before being able to obtain a record suspension in cases where “the applicant was sentenced to imprisonment for a period of two years or more for an offence referred to in schedule 1”. Do not forget that it is not actually 10 years. We did the math together and, in fact, it's actually 20 years.

I have schedule 1 before me. I must say that for the average person, schedule 1 contains a bit of everything. It is a long list. It includes “sexual interference with a person under 16 years”, “invitation to sexual touching”, “sexual exploitation of a person 16 [...]”, “bestiality in the presence of a person under 16, inciting a person under 16 to commit bestiality”. It is disgusting. We all agree on that. There is also “child pornography”, “a parent procuring sexual activity”, “a householder permitting sexual activity”. Mr. Chairman, between you and me, the term “maître de maison” sounds like one is living in a kingdom. Does that make any sense in the Criminal Code? Regardless, schedule 1 also includes “corrupting children”, “luring”, “exposure”, “living on avails of prostitution of a person under 18”, and other serious crimes. I could go on for a long time.

All this is already contained in Bill C-23A. So I am wondering where the urgency lies, Mr. Chairman. We voted for this bill. Bill C-23A was fast tracked. We all agreed on that.

So what is the problem? Why is this being thrown our way today, on this beautiful morning? Can you explain this? There is no explanation. This is just for show, Mr. Chairman. That was today's purpose. I will not stop saying this because it is what I absolutely believe.

Now, let us consider Bill C-23B. What does not make sense at first blush? Is it the substitution of the word “pardon” with the term “record suspension”? Mr. Chairman, where is the sense in a semantic debate over terms? You really have to have plenty of time to waste in order to come up with a bill whose goal is to substitute “record suspension” for “pardon”. You have to agree.

Let us ask the question. Why do the Conservatives want to remove the term “pardon” and replace it with “record suspension”? Mr. Chairman, another fundamental point is that they want to remove the word “rehabilitation”. They really do not like that term! That is the worst of it. If you start saying the word “rehabi...”, you can't finish your sentence because they start breaking out in a rash. It is unbelievable.

December 14th, 2010 / 8:45 a.m.
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NDP

Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Good morning, everyone.

Mr. Chairman, as I think all members of Parliament know, and certainly all Canadians know, in June of this year Parliament acted swiftly to make necessary and I think well-considered changes to the pardon system in this country. Some relatively urgent circumstances caused Parliament to act.

In particular, two cases came to the public's mind. One was the imminent opening for Karla Homolka to apply for a pardon. The other situation that quite reasonably upset Canadians was the quiet pardoning of Graham James, who had been convicted of a number of sex offences against young men in his charge as a hockey coach.

At that time, back in June, the government tabled a comprehensive pardon bill that contained some positive measures. It also contained some measures that not only required further study, careful consideration, and deliberation, but were on the face of it absolutely the wrong way to go in terms of pardon policy in this country.

Back in June, Mr. Chairman, the New Democrats worked cooperatively and productively with the government to fix the imminent mischief in the pardon legislation. In particular, we dealt specifically with the Karla Homolka and Graham James situations. We did a number of things, as committee members will remember.

The first thing we did, which was very important, was we fixed the problem the pardon granting institution had. They had very little discretion to deny a pardon if the application was made. Prior to our changes in June, there were two waiting periods: a three-year period for summary convictions and a five-year period for convictions by indictment. But if a person waited that length of time after they served their full sentence--not only any period of incarceration, but also any period that may have been served on probation or on parole in the community--provided they had not reoffended in that time period and provided upon a cursory police check they had not triggered the attention of the police in any way, the granting institution really had no discretion but to grant the pardon.

One of the good things that I think was in the government's bill back in June was a provision that would give the parole board the discretion to grant a pardon or to refuse a pardon in any circumstance that would bring the administration of justice into disrepute. For the first time in Canadian history, we gave the tools to the board to deny a pardon in any circumstance in which that test was met.

It was my view then and it's my view now that this tool is sufficient to deny a pardon application by Karla Homolka, were she to make it. I think it also may be broad enough to empower the board to refuse to grant a pardon to Graham James, were he to make that application today. That's what Parliament did through all-party cooperation, including cooperation from the New Democrats. It was also the New Democrats' suggestion to add manslaughter to the list of offences that would require someone to wait 10 years to get a pardon.

We might also remember that back in June the other important measure Parliament took was to increase the time periods offenders had to wait to get a pardon in certain types of offences. We took sex offences against children and increased the time period to wait for a pardon from five years to ten years, and for summary conviction offences, from three years to five years.

At the same time, as I said, what the New Democrats insisted upon was that manslaughter be added to that list of offences for which a person would have to wait ten years. We did that specifically because that's the offence that Karla Homolka was convicted of.

I want to pause here and just talk for a moment about something else that's important. The former Minister of Public Safety, Stockwell Day, three or four years ago, reviewed the pardon system. The government did a review of the pardon system at the time Graham James was in the news. In fact, it was another sex offender, I believe, who was in the news at that time who spurred the government to do a review. The government did a review of the pardon system and made very minor changes to the system at that time, in 2007 if I'm not mistaken. Then we reviewed the pardon system in a very in-depth and profound way in June of this year.

I think that all-party cooperation in June produced a very important and progressive development in our pardon system. It gave the pardon system the opportunity to refuse to grant a pardon and gave them the discretion. It ended what Canadians have always perceived as being a rubber stamp, so that if you waited the three or five years, as it was then, and made your application, pretty much the pardon was automatic. We fixed that problem by putting the discretionary aspect in.

We also, I think, addressed something that Canadians said was a great concern, which was whether three or five years was a long enough period of time to wait for someone to apply for a pardon. In many cases, we thought it wasn't. In a lot of cases, and particularly sex offences, we should make an offender demonstrate a longer period of rehabilitated behaviour, that being ten years. That, I think, was also a positive step.

We've heard some testimony before this committee that if a person is going to reoffend, they do it within five days, five weeks, or five months. If someone has actually not reoffended for a period of five or ten years, then the evidence that we've heard so far--and I think we need to hear more evidence on this--is that it is highly unlikely that the person is going to reoffend.

So here we are today. The government came back this fall and put in some further proposals to change the pardon system, which I think are worthy of merit and further careful deliberation. I think they also, it's fair to say, have continued to pursue some of the flawed aspects of the bill that was presented in June, and that of course is the bill before us, Bill C-23B.

Now, whereas in June, Bill C-23A, as it's now known, made the necessary and important changes, what we have left in Bill C-23B primarily are some issues with regard to which we must, I believe, tread very carefully. When we haven't made any pardon changes in decades in this country, when this government looked at the pardon system in 2007 and thought that it didn't need any changes at all but a couple of minor administrative changes, and when Parliament made important changes in June, there is no need for urgency at this point today.

We have had only three days of hearings so far. For any of the Canadians watching, three days doesn't mean three full days but three meetings of two hours apiece, and in that two-hour period we have had 15 minutes carved out for dealing with committee business. So we have so far, it's fair to say, maybe about four and a half hours of discussion and hearing from a few witnesses on the issue of pardons in this country. From the two hearings at which we heard actual witnesses--and we heard from only a handful of witnesses--I think it's already quite clear that this bill has been exposed as having some serious deficiencies. Some would call them deep flaws. Each time a flaw is exposed, it causes us as parliamentarians and policy-makers to stop and think that we had better move carefully in this area.

So we're just getting started studying this bill, and it's obvious that there are many problems to be dealt with. Now, instead of hearing that evidence, the government wants to shut down testimony and rush through this bill, without having the necessary and careful deliberation. In my submission, that is not a responsible way to deal with a very serious issue.

I want to talk about one of those major flaws. This government has put in this bill—they did it in June and they're coming back with it now—what's called the “three strikes and you're out” rule. There's a provision in this bill that says anyone with more than three indictable offences would be ineligible for a pardon forever. I'm going to say that again. You get more than three indictable offences, and the Conservative government wants to pass pardon legislation that says you will forever be ineligible, barred from receiving a pardon.

The New Democrats arranged to hear from a few of the people who would be most affected by this, former offenders who would be denied pardons forever under this proposed legislation. These are people who have had more than three indictable offences. They came and testified right here at this table before this committee.

We also heard from organizations that work with ex-offenders. Here are some of the things we've heard so far.

We heard that proceeding with this provision hastily might actually endanger public safety. That's because we've heard some evidence—only a little bit so far—that shows that the pardon system and the pardon process is one tool in the rehabilitation process. It's a very important tool. We've heard from people who work with offenders and offenders themselves that having the prospect of getting a pardon, being able to work towards a pardon, helps them to get their lives back on track and not reoffend.

If there is one overreaching goal in the carceral system that we should be working towards and that all parties should be in agreement with, it's that we should always favour policies that help offenders not to reoffend, not only because it's good for the offenders and their families, but also because it's good for our communities. When that person goes back into the community, I want that person not to reoffend, not to endanger any other family, any other person, any other property. I want our people to be able to walk safely in our communities. That means that I, as a parliamentarian, will take it very seriously when I hear people tell me that a particular measure helps them not to reoffend. This piece of legislation, this particular provision of the bill—three strikes and you're out—would endanger that principle. It will take away one piece of hope, one piece of motivation, one piece of policy that, we have a taste of evidence to suggest, is instrumental and helps people in not reoffending. So we've heard the valuable role that pardons play in improving community safety.

In testimony from department officials, we also heard that 25% of the applications for pardons are from people who have more than three indictable offences. When we say “more than three indictable offences”, I'm sure Canadians react the same way I reacted when I heard that, which is that someone with more than three indictable offences should never get a pardon. That's what I thought, until we actually started talking to people who have experience with this process, and to former offenders themselves.

We put three live human beings in front of this committee, only three. Out of the tens of thousands of people who may be affected by this, we heard from three only. We put them here to be subjected to questioning from our side and from the government side. What did we hear? We heard from one person who was convicted of 24 indictable offences, which sounds horrible, until you hear his story. The story we heard is that these were convictions for selling steroids. We heard that this is a person whose wife passed away from cancer when he was a young married man. He had a mortgage, and he went into deep grief. He had financial problems so he started selling steroids. He told us that one transaction of selling steroids would result in multiple convictions: possession, trafficking, conspiracy, and fraud.

So someone who sounds like a person showing an intractable trend, an irremediable criminal, is actually a person who sold steroids over a period of six months and ended up with 24 indictable convictions as a result, because there are multiple convictions from single transactions.

Who is he now? I hope Canadians actually have seen this man. This man has gone for years without reoffending and is now an executive in the media industry, someone who has a mortgage and a new marriage and who occupies a position of responsibility and of probity. This was a person who presented an absolute success of what happens when prison works in the right way. This was not a thug and a hooligan or the type of criminal whom the government likes to portray—the stringy-haired criminogenic monster whom the government likes to hold up as the model for all of their criminal policy. This was a real person who had for a brief stretch of his life a problem, and he has put his life back together in admirable fashion.

The second person we heard from was a young aboriginal man. We all know that aboriginals are terribly disproportionately represented in our criminal justice system and in our prisons. This person told us that he's a recovering alcoholic who committed offences that were property offences. Yes, they were serious; I don't mean to minimize the offences. He committed robberies. He himself said that he knows the pain and the fear he caused when he went into stores and robbed those stores.

But he also is a person who has gone for years without reoffending. He is now a person who has a family and children. He talked about how he wants a pardon so that he can get a better job to support his family.

All three individuals talked about how getting a pardon is an incentive for them and a very important part of their rehabilitation plan to help turn their lives around.

Even, I dare say, some of the Conservatives' own witnesses, people who I think have a lot to tell Canadians about the criminal system—that's the victims groups.... We heard from Sharon Rosenfeldt and Sheldon Kennedy, two people who have suffered at the hands of criminals in a way that none of us can truly understand. Ms. Rosenfeldt lost a child to convicted killer Clifford Olson, and Sheldon Kennedy as a young teenager suffered under the sexual offences of his coach, someone under whose charge he was put, who should have been caring for him and should have been watching out for him, but who violated that trust. We have to take their testimony seriously.

We heard from both of those individuals that neither of them, I don't think, would be terribly in favour of removing the possibility of a pardon from someone forever just because they had more than three indictable offences.

We heard testimony from the minister that the figure of three or more than three indictable offences was an arbitrary one. We asked him if he had any data to support the number three. Is there some data to support that someone with more than three indictable offences is somehow less prone to qualify for pardon than someone with two? Or is the magic number four?

His answer was surprising and I think very disturbing. It was that it just seems right. He has no data—no empirical data, zero. This is someone who has the resources of the Department of Public Safety and probably of the Department of Justice, who has the full resources of government to provide studies and data and facts, who came to this committee and said he had nothing; three just seems right. One's not enough, he said; two's not probably right; but three seems right.

Mr. Chairman, that's Goldilocks policy. That's making policy the way children do: this one is too hard, this one is too soft, and this one is just right.

This policy would preclude tens of thousands of Canadians from ever getting a pardon for the rest of their lives. And it's based on a feeling, a hunch? That's not the way to make carceral policy in this country, and it's not, I think, what Canadians send us to Parliament to do. I think Canadians send each and every one of us to Parliament to carefully consider facts and evidence, to make the best effort we can make to come up with policy that is thoughtful and effective.

Again, the minister admitted no evidence, no data, no studies to show how adopting this law would help in any way to make our communities safer.

I also want to just talk for a second about this. This government has stood in the House time and again and said that the very best social safety tool that a person can have in this country is a job. You won't hear any one of the members of the government contradict that today, because they themselves have said it, because they believe it. And in some ways, Mr. Chairman, it's actually true. A job is a pivotal part of Canadians' abilities to care for themselves and care for their families.

We've heard absolutely unarguable testimony so far that getting a pardon is a critical part of having a person re-establish themselves in the employment world. We all know that when you apply for a job, there's a section on an employment form that asks: “Have you ever been convicted of a criminal offence for which a pardon has not been granted?” The ability to check off that box or not check it off is the difference between someone's getting a job and not getting a job, in many cases. If we want offenders to come back out of prison and to reintegrate themselves into society and start repaying their debt to society, and start acting as we expect our citizens to act and not be a burden on the taxpayer and not be a burden on the state, don't we want them to get a job? Of course, we want them to get a job if they've demonstrated that they deserve that kind of trust again.

The New Democrats are totally in favour of making a pardon process that is strict, that gives the pardon process the ability to deny that pardon, that makes the offender demonstrate that they have truly rehabilitated themselves through an extensive period of time of proving that; not through their words, but through a period of time during which they have shown that they have not reoffended—and make that period of time a good, substantial one; make it a long one, in some cases. But getting a job is critical, and this “three strikes and you're out” proposal would harm that process.

I also want to talk about lengthening the wait times. This bill proposes to double the ineligibility periods before applying for a pardon. It would go from five years to ten years in some cases, and three years to five years for summary convictions.

This is a concept that's worthy of further discussion, worth learning more about. What kinds of offences should go from five to ten years? As I've already said, New Democrats have already indicated our support for moving sex offences against children from five to ten years, and it may even be the case that there are some sex offences against children for which a person should never get a pardon. New Democrats are prepared to look at that.

But what this does with a broad brush...what this government says is that all indictable offences of every type should go from five to ten years. In a Criminal Code that is very thick and has every single type of indictable offence, from impaired driving to shoplifting to forging a testamentary instrument to passing a bad cheque, there are all sorts of offences that Canadians would recognize fall on a spectrum. They fall on a spectrum from the minimally serious to the moderately serious to the heinous.

There are some offences that I think we can all agree may qualify for the “never getting a pardon” process, but absolutely the vast majority of Canadians would agree, because they're reasonable people with common sense, that there are some indictable offences for which you shouldn't have to wait ten years to get a pardon. My colleague in the Liberal Party has brought up a very good example on several occasions of a young woman, perhaps a single mother, who gets into trouble—she's in her early 20s, she ends up writing some bad cheques, or she ends up shoplifting, maybe—because she is low-income and needs to have clothes for her children. She makes a mistake and she has one indictable offence.

This government would say that you have to wait 10 years after you serve your sentence, which in many cases would probably be 12, 13, or 14 years. Additionally, Mr. Chairman, we've also heard from businesses that exist to help people get pardons that the pardon process itself usually takes a year or two years.

So that one young woman who might have made a mistake at 20 years of age might, under this legislation, have to wait 15 years before she can get a pardon. That is not “considered legislation”, in my respectful submission.

In terms of basic drafting, this bill has been rushed so quickly that we can determine that there are drafting flaws in the bill. We have the so-called problem, which we have finally teased out of the minister and out of the support staff—I think they acknowledge that there is a drafting flaw in this bill—concerning the people who are convicted of sex offences against children and the way it works with respect to young offenders: a 16-year-old and a 14-year-old, or a 17-year-old and a 14-year-old. The close-in-age provision is incorrectly drafted in this bill. So we even have a flawed drafting issue here.

I also want to talk a bit about what I will say, with the greatest of respect, is a little bit of Conservative hypocrisy. We brought those three offenders as committee witnesses to show Canadians and this committee the types of people who would be personally affected by this legislation. Again I think it's fair to say that we heard compelling and touching stories of people with criminal pasts who had turned their lives around, who have completely turned their lives around. Conservatives to a person said to these people' faces, we're really proud of what you've done; we really admire the way you've turned your life around. I could be wrong, but I think one or two of them may even have suggested to these witnesses: “We don't mean you. You're not the ones we mean to prohibit from getting a pardon forever. We mean those other people.” But of course, those three are exactly the people who will not get a pardon as a result of this legislation.

Worse, after sitting here in this committee, each of the Conservatives talking to those ex-offenders and treating them with respect and praising them stood up in the House the very next day and made outrageous statements disparaging those very courageous individuals who came to tell their stories.

I won't mention the name, but I'll quote one of the members in the House, the day after these former offenders came and bravely testified—on television—about their criminal past and how it was turned around. It took more courage than I have seen many Canadian demonstrate in a long time. The Conservative member said:

...yesterday the public safety committee heard pleas from the convicted criminals to keep Canada's pardon system as is. Like so many times before, the Liberal public safety critic showed that he put the rights of criminals before the rights of victims.

That, of course, is not true. This is part of the rhetorical nonsense you hear from the government, which accuses anybody who might want to bring some study and some subtlety and some intelligence and some facts to the debate of crime...they accuse us of putting criminals before victims. What nonsense! But they did it, and worse was their two-faced way of telling these people to their faces how much they admired them and the next day going into the House of Commons, where they have parliamentary immunity, and portraying them to the Canadian public as if we had a bunch of common criminals who wanted the pardon system liberalized. It was about the biggest piece of hypocrisy I've seen in a long time.

I want to talk again about evidence. So far the Conservatives have not tabled one piece of evidence, one statistic, one study, or one piece of data before this committee that shows why these changes are needed or how the changes would improve community safety.

I want to talk again about the Conservative approach to making legislative changes based on politics and based on fear and not based on facing evidence.

When they put Bill C-5, the international transfer of offenders bill before this committee, it was unanimously panned by the witnesses. The Conservatives couldn't find one witness, not one, who supported the bill.

They brought Bill C-17, and we heard this expert panel yesterday express grave concerns about the impact on free speech and basic--

Royal Canadian Mounted Police Modernization ActGovernment Orders

December 13th, 2010 / 4:20 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Mark Holland Liberal Ajax—Pickering, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak to this bill. It is an opportunity to reflect on the incredible work that the men and women in the RCMP do. If there is anything this House can agree on, it is the work that front-line officers do in keeping our communities safe and putting their lives on the line.

I had the opportunity, as the public safety and national security critic for the Liberal Party, to visit attachments across the country and talk with officers. I am always amazed by the work they do and the quality people we have been able to attract to the force.

In that regard, I am pleased to stand and speak to the bill and the portions that are supportable. I will also talk about some areas of weakness that need to be examined in committee.

First, it is important to look at the origins of where this bill came from. The hon. member for Vancouver Kingsway, who spoke earlier, talked about the fact that it has been a long time that the RCMP has not unionized. However, what the member left out is that it was not an issue until 2008.

I remember in 2008 when the Prime Minister made a commitment to RCMP officers that they would be given simple parity with other forces, that they would be paid the same for the same job essentially. This was brought forward because there was a real problem with retention and recruitment. The feeling was that they had to be paid the same as other forces that were out there. The Prime Minister gave his word in 2008, shook hands with those RCMP officers who were there and made a speech about how important it was to achieve parity.

Mere months later, that promise was broken. The commitment was tossed out the door and the words soon forgotten. The RCMP were left shocked, bewildered and feeling betrayed. As a result, many felt that the time had come to ask for the right to unionize.

Collective bargaining is a right enjoyed by every other police force in the country. One would assume that when the RCMP members asked for the opportunity to put this to a vote and allow them to decide that the government would have said, of course, as that was their democratic right. However, the government did no such thing. It stood in their way and the matter had to be taken to court.

In April 2009, before the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, it found that section 96 of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police regulations breached the freedom of association in accordance with the RCMP under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom. It concluded that the 20,000-plus members of the RCMP did in fact have a right, as did every other police force, to make a decision on whether they wanted collective bargaining and who they wanted as their bargaining agent.

It is not as if this was given freely by the government. The RCMP had to fight for it after the betrayal in 2008.

However, it is not as if the government then pounced upon the finding of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice. In fact, we had to wait from that point until June 17, 2010. It was more than a year later before the government then tabled this bill. This bill was tabled in June and yet we are only just now beginning the process of debating it at second reading.

Committees are going on right now and, in fact, I am taking a brief break to speak here before I head back. However, in committee we will be talking about whether we should immediately go to clause by clause on a pardon bill. We have already dealt with half of the bill, which was Bill C-23A, and we will be dealing with Bill C-23B, but the government is attacking us for not passing this bill immediately.

However, if we look at the state of that bill, it is already on the verge of going to clause by clause. The government itself has admitted that the bill is flawed and needs amendments, which we still have not seen, and yet the government is saying that we are holding it up.

Here is a bill that is in front of us that essentially nothing has happened with since June. In fact, nothing really has happened since the court decision in April 2009 and yet government members feel free to stand and attack myself and other members, who are diligently trying to do work at committee, saying that we are not moving those bills fast enough. Obviously this has not been a high priority for the government and, as a result, this matter continues to stick and linger.

I will talk about some of the things that the bill does initiate and some of the things that we support. I also will quickly go through some of the items that are weaknesses in the bill.

If implemented, Bill C-43 would give RCMP members the right of choice whether they want to continue to work in an non-unionized environment or to pursue a unionized option where they would be represented by a certified bargaining agent. Under a unionized scenario, RCMP members would not be able to withdraw their services.

It would further give the RCMP commissioner new powers to appoint, promote, discipline, demote or terminate the employment of all members, including commissioned officers.

On that point, the committee will need to look in more detail at what exactly is the scope of these new powers and how they would be applied. That is an area of some concern. On the first point, just simply giving the choice to members to unionize or not is something that should be taken as a given and something that RCMP members should not have had to fight for over the last number of years.

It would further establish a total compensation advisory committee to provide recommendations to the President of the Treasury Board with recommendations on overall compensation of RCMP members who are not represented by a certified bargaining agent. Under a unionized scenario, this would include RCMP officers, executives and other non-represented or excluded employees of the RCMP.

Further, it would establish a consultation committee to address workplace issues. Through a series of local, divisional, regional and national consultative committees and working groups, members would be given the opportunity to bring their views and concerns directly to managers, either individually or as a group.

It would maintain the existing informal conflict management system whereby options will continue to be offered to resolve conflicts above and beyond the formal grievance process, such as mediation through a third party. The use of these options would be voluntary, confidential and impartial.

It would provide the commissioner the authority to implement a restructured discipline system that would seek to resolve conduct issues transparently, consistently and promptly. RCMP members would have the right to refer certain decisions or actions of management to the Public Service Labour Relations Board, an impartial and external decision-making body.

And it would establish the Public Service Labour Relations Board as an independent, external third party to make final and binding decisions relating to discipline issues and some grievances of RCMP members.

There are many items that have been called for over a long period of time, certainly that Liberals have been pushing for, that are commendable and laudable and can be supported. One of the areas that is concerning and will have to be looked at in committee is provisions in the bill that would limit who the bargaining agent might be. I am not sure what the reason is for those limitations and why they would be put into force, but it is certainly something that would have to be explained and at the moment seems contrary to the spirit of the decision that was made by the Ontario Superior Court.

On the fact that it would limit certain matters to be discussed, I am concerned about limiting the ability to discuss classification of work, how layoffs might happen, and matters dealing with promotions. These are normally things that would be included in the collective bargaining process. It seems unusual that they would be cut out. It would certainly not be in the tradition of other collective bargaining processes enjoyed by other police forces. So that is going to have to be described and given some consideration.

As for the provision for the Treasury Board president to be able to decide who the bargaining agent is for civilian members, there has been no good explanation provided for that and obviously has a number of civilian members scratching their heads and being concerned as to why the government would put that provision in and why that power would be granted to the Treasury Board president. That will need to be looked at in committee.

Further, I am also concerned about the additional powers given to the commissioner. These powers need to be explained more fully. The powers are particularly concerning in the context of things that we have been hearing about within RCMP, about the head of the organization, about the structure at the top of the organization not being in shape relative to the rest of the organization.

In that regard, because it really reflects on the overall issue of morale, recruitment and retention, we have to talk about some of the other things happening within the force. I am going to start with those that have a direct impact on this notion of extending additional powers to the RCMP commissioner.

Let us start with the commission of inquiry conducted by Justice O'Connor. Justice O'Connor found that the oversight mechanisms provided to the RCMP were wholly inadequate. To give an example, the RCMP public complaints commissioner was not empowered to proactively initiate an investigation when something went wrong. He did not have the power to force information from individuals and it could only be provided to him voluntarily.

Also, as many of the operations conducted by the RCMP, particularly those dealing with intelligence and security operations, deal with more than one agency, there is no power to follow the bouncing ball. If something happens within the RCMP, there is no power to see what happened at immigration or what happened at the Canada Border Services Agency, so everything exists in a silo.

The notion of giving the RCMP commissioner additional powers in the absence of having adequate oversight, I think, is deeply troubling. If Justice O'Connor's report was new, the government could be forgiven for not implementing it. However, we are coming up to nearly the five-year mark of Justice O'Connor's report being tabled. The government said it agreed with the conclusions of Justice O'Connor, agreed that those had to be implemented immediately, yet those recommendations still sit collecting dust, with no action taken.

This is particularly concerning given the fact that we saw what happened with Mr. Arar and the terrible ordeal he went through in a Syrian prison.

It was repeated with Mr. Almalki, Mr. Abou-Elmaati and Mr. Nureddin, in the report done by Justice Iacobucci where he repeated the call, the need for these reforms to take place and to have that oversight.

For I and other members to sit in a room where we had a replica of the cell that these gentlemen were confined to, as they told their stories of listening and waiting as footsteps went by, wondering when they were going to be pulled from their cell and tortured next, and knowing that detention and torture had at its heart many failures within the Canadian intelligence system, we would think the government would be urgently trying to remedy that so that these horrific circumstances and the torture that these men went through would not be repeated. Yet here again we have a bill giving the commissioner new powers, with no oversight.

I would remind this House that Paul Kennedy, who was the RCMP public complaints commissioner, also talked about the urgent need of reform within his office. He spoke about the import of some of these changes and oversight. Of course, like anyone who criticized the government, he was fired, ostensibly his contract was not renewed, because of the fact that he was being critical, because he was showing what needed to change, what needed to be done. The government got rid of him, which is a terrible tragedy. This is somebody who did tremendous work.

Who replaced Mr. Kennedy? Essentially, it was a wills and estate lawyer who had made all kinds of contributions to the Conservative Party, who we have never heard from since and I do not suspect we ever will.

It is hard to think of a week that went by where we did not hear from Mr. Kennedy, stepping forward and speaking out on behalf of the changes that needed to happen within the RCMP. Yet, of the new commissioner, we hear essentially nothing, which given his background and connections to the Conservative Party is probably exactly what the government was hoping for.

However, when these voices are killed, these independent voices that shine light into dark corners, that give us an opportunity to know what the truth is and what is going on, the whole process is undermined. Frankly, it is offensive that the government would come and ask to give even more powers to the commissioner in absence of moving forward at all with any of these oversight mechanisms.

It is also important for us to reflect upon the work that was done in the Brown report, in the wake of the RCMP pension scam, where he said there had to be important structural changes happen to the RCMP as an organization. Mr. Brown gave the government two years. He thought it was an aggressive but achievable timeline in which to make those changes. The government did nothing. It did not recommend a single one of Mr. Brown's changes. Despite the fact that it said, yes, it agreed with what he said needed to be done, it did not implement those changes. In fact, some six months ago we celebrated the two-year mark he had given for the changes to be implemented.

So it is not surprising, when we look at this, why we are having some problems within the RCMP in terms of morale. Those brave men and women who are on the front lines doing their job are looking and asking why these changes are not taking place; why is reform not happening at the top of the organization; why is the government consistently ignoring commission after commission, inquiry after inquiry?

The public safety committee has issued many recommendations on this, and it too is ignored. The government's response is, “Yes, we are going to do it”, and then it does not.

We also know that Mr. Kennedy spoke very clearly about the need to take action with respect to conducted energy weapons. The report that he did on the death of Mr. Dziekanski and the lessons that came from there still largely has not been implemented. Most of the recommendations, some of them very simple around providing direct guidelines and direction for use of conducted energy weapons, still sit not implemented.

As an example, in the case of Mr. Dziekanski, who was fired upon multiple times, the second and third time even after he was already subdued and riling on the ground in pain, one simple recommendation would simply be that once somebody is incapacitated, to stop shooting them. It would seem a fairly straightforward thing to be able to implement, yet even that is not there.

We also know with respect to conducted energy weapons that it really needs to be placed into that continuum of force training that happens at depot, yet at depot that does not happen. Right now when they are getting their continuum of force training, conducted energy weapons are not part of the training. They have guns, a stick, and pepper spray, but left out of that continuum is the taser and the question of where exactly in application of force it should be put.

When we reflect upon all of this overwhelming desire for change, all of the self-evident changes that need to happen and the fact that the government continually does not do it, I am completely baffled as to why.

I get asked by many members, if all of these things are so self-evident, if these reports have been done with clear and concise recommendations and timelines and it is made clear how the implementation should happen, why has it not been done?

The latest excuse, when we get an excuse, was that they were waiting for Justice Major's report on Air India. After Justice Major tabled his report some seven or eight months ago, there was a lot of hope that we would finally get movement on all of these things that have been outstanding forever.

Yet last week the government tabled its so-called action plan on Air India and absent from the action plan was any action. Instead of actually moving on all these things that have been standing and waiting to move forever, there were some vague, general aspirational statements that we would have expected the day after Justice Major's report came out. There is still no movement whatsoever on oversight.

In the case of Justice Major's report, where there were a number of new things that were talked about, including somebody who could head up counterterrorism to break through those different silos there, the victims of Air India had to wait all that period of time only to be told that after the government had said six months ago that it would accept the recommendation, it is now tossing it out. Too bad.

When it came to compensation for those families, too bad. Wait and maybe one day they will hear from the government.

If Justice O'Connor's report is any example at all, it has been five years and we are still waiting. I wonder if the Air India families are going to be asking the same kind of questions that Mr. Arar's family is asking five years later, or Mr. Abou-Emaati's or Mr. Almalki's or Mr. Nureddin's.

I will conclude with this. I think it is important that we empower the RCMP to make the choice of whether or not it wants to unionize.

The bill needs to proceed to committee. There are a number of areas that are weak. However, I would call upon the government, for the sake of the RCMP, this national symbol that is in desperate need of renewal, with Canadians really calling out and begging for the government to make the changes that do service to the organization, that it act on what has been asked of it and move on what needs to be done, not just on this but on all outstanding matters.

November 24th, 2010 / 4:55 p.m.
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Bloc

Maria Mourani Bloc Ahuntsic, QC

Thank you very much.

I would like to come back to you, Mr. Myette. Mr. Bérard, you could also enlighten us on this subject. It must be understood that Bill C-23 has been divided in two. In Bill C-23A, the provision that also concerns pedophiles has been discussed and adopted. In the case of Bill C-23B, that indirectly and non-exclusively concerns pedophiles; it also concerns a range of offences.

Let's take Schedule 1, for example. It states that all persons convicted of Schedule 1 offences are no longer entitled to a record suspension. That concerns arson, assault, aggravated assault, mischief and so on. There are all kinds of offences.

So if we wanted to amend this bill in accordance with Mr. Kennedy's remarks so as to target only child sex offenders, we would have to state specifically that child sex offenders are not entitled to a record suspension, period.

As it takes three offences, this could be a person who has previously been caught shoplifting and who is subsequently caught selling drugs once or twice. Then it would be over for that person, even if he or she wanted to rehabilitate.

November 24th, 2010 / 4:25 p.m.
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François Bérard Policy Committee Representative, Association des services de réhabilitation sociale du Québec

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

This afternoon, I am representing the Association des services de réhabilitation sociale du Québec, which represents some 60 Quebec community-based organizations that work, in particular, in the social reintegration of adult offenders. Our members work mainly with an adult clientele and serve approximately 35,000 clients every year.

At the outset, I must tell you that ASRS is opposed to Bill C-23 in its entirety, both Bill C-23A and Bill C-23B. We cannot endorse the approach taken by the first government in over 100 years in their apparently resolute opposition to pardoning offenders.

According to figures published by the Parole Board of Canada, 3.8 million Canadians had a criminal record in 2009-2010. However, it is estimated that fewer than 11% of people who have been convicted have obtained a pardon. Pardon is thus something that applies to a minority of individuals.

The figures also show that the Parole Board of Canada received 32,105 pardon applications in 2009-2010. It agreed to consider 24,000 of that number, 77% of applications received. In the same year, the board considered 24,559 applications, granted 16,247 pardons and issued 7,887 pardons. There were therefore 24,134 favourable decisions by the board. In other words, 98% of all decisions made by the board were in favour of pardon.

In addition, for individuals who have received a pardon since 1970, 97% have not since been revoked or cancelled by the board. Over the last 10 years, out of 9,171 pardons granted in sexual offence cases, 268 have been revoked for various reasons, not necessarily for subsequent offences of the same type. Here we're talking about 2.9% of all pardons granted in sex offence cases. We wonder what the problem is and why, despite such a high success rate for pardons in particular, we are now being presented with a bill under which we would have to go back and adopt an orientation different from the one that has been followed for very many years.

The government advances two arguments to justify its bill. First, it argues that it is not the job of governments to forgive; that that is for the victims to do. We would note that, in the realm of criminal law, our society has given the government responsibility for dealing with crimes. The idea is to assign the matter to a more neutral entity than victims and offenders. Following the same logic, we could go back to a system under which victims and offenders resolve their case between themselves. In the Middle Ages, Western societies chose to allow government, as a more neutral entity, to resolve conflicts between victims and offenders when a criminal act had been committed. To our mind, saying that it is for victims to pardon is mere sophistry.

The second argument advanced is that we have to put victims first. This argument suggests that there is a conflict between the rights of victims and those of offenders. However, nothing could be further from the truth. Reducing the rights of one will not enhance the rights of the other. We also believe that nothing in this bill meets the actual needs of victims. Pardoning is one of the most common unofficial practices in society. In certain situations, people say "Pardon me," "I'm sorry," and so on. That is simply part of living together.

Forgiveness may become much more formal in situations that are considered to be more problematic. That was the case, for example, in 2008, when Prime Minister Harper offered the most sincere official apology by Canadian society to the First Nations concerning the Indian residential schools. It is also in that more formal context that pardons for crimes committed must be understood.

The question of pardons fundamentally offers us a choice: do we opt for revenge or do we choose the path of reconciliation. Unfortunately, the language used by the government fuels the conflict between victim and offender. That is why we cannot support the approaches proposed in this bill. Instead, we urge parliamentarians to find other avenues for reforming the pardon system so that it will be better able to restore the social bonds that are broken when an offence is committed.

Thank you very much.

November 22nd, 2010 / 5:20 p.m.
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NDP

Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

This spring, in response to a couple of high-profile cases—Graham James getting a pardon and the prospect of Karla Homolka getting a pardon—this Parliament met, and all parties got together and made a couple of changes to the Criminal Records Act.

We increased the time you have to wait for a pardon to ten years for manslaughter, for indictable sexual offences committed against children, and for offences that involve serious personal injury. We added a broad discretionary power that permits the National Parole Board to deny a pardon in any case where to do so would bring the administration of justice into disrepute.

We're here today because the government wants to go further than that. There are those of us on this side of the table who think the system is now cured. The ills that were there before are cured by what we did in Bill C-23A. I want to be clear about that. I think we have made steps to address what some of the concerns are.

I want to get to the heart of the matter. This bill before us would paint everybody with the same brush, were the words you used. It would mean anybody with more than three indictable offences, even if those happened in one bad weekend when you were 18 years old and you lived 25 years of perfect conduct after that, would prevent you from ever getting a pardon. There are certain people who would never be able to get a pardon under any circumstances, even if they committed one offence. It means every single person who commits one single indictable offence would have to wait ten years before they could even apply for a pardon.

When it comes right down to it, I guess what I want to know is how many of you think this legislation is positive in terms of helping offenders reintegrate into society, and how would this affect public safety as well?

November 22nd, 2010 / 5:10 p.m.
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Liberal

Mark Holland Liberal Ajax—Pickering, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I think that is the point. I think that every party, every member who's elected, is interested in public safety. I don't think any member is for crime or against keeping people safe, although if you listen to some of the rhetoric you might come to a different conclusion. I think the truth is everybody here wants that. The question is, what's the best approach to get it? That's where we have differences.

On this, we have to look at what's in front of us today, and it's the reason I made the point of order earlier. Bill C-23A is done, it's passed, so the Karla Homolka and the Graham James situation is the situation we've dealt with under that.

The situation we're now dealing with, under Bill C-23B, deals a lot, frankly, with the gentlemen who are with us here today. And what I heard from the opposite side a number of times was to say, “Well, we don't want to see someone like you or you or you not have the chance to be able to go out and get those opportunities”. I heard a number of people say, “Well, we're not thinking of you when we think of that”. And if I'm wrong, if I heard that incorrectly, please correct me, but that's what I heard.

The problem is that that's what this legislation does, as it's currently crafted. Every single one of the gentlemen in front of us today would be ineligible for a pardon, or call it a record suspension, whatever name you give it, if this legislation were to pass. I think that should give us pause, because when you actually look at real lives and real circumstances, it has a different meaning.

On that, talking about rehabilitation, if we're honestly interested in keeping people safe and reducing victimization, not having victims, then we need to have rehabilitation. Mr. Rota talked about the 96%. He talked about what impact it would have. But specifically, I think you gentlemen are in a unique position to talk about how important a motivating factor that light at the end of the tunnel is for something like a pardon.

As you've taken the journey—and many of you are now many, many years incident-free, without any relapse of any kind—can you talk about how important that light at the end of the tunnel is to you, as a motivating factor in your rehabilitation?

Perhaps I could start with Mr. Muhammed, because I didn't get an opportunity to hear from him last time.

November 22nd, 2010 / 4:55 p.m.
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Liberal

Mark Holland Liberal Ajax—Pickering, ON

On a point of order, Mr. Chairman, I've let it go a number of times, but we keep talking about a bill that's already been passed, Bill C-23A. Currently before us today is Bill C-23B, so I wonder if we can maybe restrict our questions to the matter before us.

When there are a couple of instances, that's fine, but we seem to be having a protracted conversation about a piece of legislation that's already passed.

November 22nd, 2010 / 4:50 p.m.
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Bloc

Maria Mourani Bloc Ahuntsic, QC

Considering all that's been said in the past hour or so, why do you think the bill is before us?

We talked about Bill C-23A, which was drafted specifically with one or two people in mind. I always have a hard time understanding how bills can be drafted for one or two people. The idea behind law is that it should apply to the majority. Unfortunately, we can't change the past.

Here is my main question: Why exactly is this bill on the table?

Mr. Eidse.

November 22nd, 2010 / 4:45 p.m.
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Conservative

Brent Rathgeber Conservative Edmonton—St. Albert, AB

You're here, sir, with all due respect, to provide your opinions regarding Bill C-23B and with respect to the pardon system generally. So I'm asking you for your thoughts on Bill C-23A.

November 22nd, 2010 / 4:45 p.m.
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Executive Director, John Howard Society of Manitoba

John Hutton

The bill has changed, and I'm not here to argue against Bill C-23A. You already have a clause in the legislation that allows for a great deal of discretion, and if that is your goal, it's there. There's quite a bit of discretion.