Madam Speaker, first of all, on this first day back in the House of Commons, I would like to thank all the voters and people in my riding who have kept me in the House of Commons for the past five years, through two elections.
I am honoured to have the opportunity to participate in today's debate on Bill C-48, the Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders Act.
The proposed amendments to the Criminal Code will authorize a judge, when an offender is convicted of more than one first or second degree murder or a combination of first and second degree murders and is sentenced to life in prison, to impose separate 25-year periods of parole ineligibility for the second and any subsequent murder. These additional 25-year periods would be consecutive to the period of parole ineligibility imposed for the first murder.
In exercising this authority, sentencing judges will have regard to already-existing Criminal Code criteria that will ensure that the proposed measures are applied to the most incorrigible offenders—those whose crimes are such that they would be unlikely to ever obtain parole.
Judges will also be required to give, either orally or in writing, reasons for the decision to impose or not to impose consecutive parole inadmissibility periods. This will benefit the families and loved ones of murder victims who have long complained that they are left in the dark as to why certain decisions are taken during the trial and sentencing process.
The measures proposed in Bill C-48 will accomplish three things. First, they will better reflect the tragedy of multiple murders by enabling a judge to acknowledge each and every life lost.
Under current law, multiple murderers serve life sentences and corresponding parole ineligibility periods for each murder concurrently. The result is that they serve only 25 years in custody before being eligible for parole, no matter how many lives they may have taken.
Many Canadians are dismayed by this. They cannot understand why a sentence for murder is unable to take account in a concrete way of the fact that more than one life has been taken. Many argue that the law as it now stands seems to give a “volume discount” to multiple murderers.
This symbolic devaluation of the lives of victims has a strong negative impact on the families and loved ones of murder victims. All too often they experience a greater degree of pain and experience a greater sense of loss because the justice system has failed to mete out a specific punishment for each and every life lost. Bill C-48 would help correct this.
The second thing that Bill C-48 would do is reinforce the denunciatory and retributive functions of the parole ineligibility period attached to a sentence of life imprisonment.
Murder is the most serious crime and must be denounced in the strongest terms. This has already been recognized by the highest court of the land. In the 1987 Vaillancourt case, the Supreme Court highlighted the extreme stigma attached to murder that flows from the moral blameworthiness of deliberately taking the life of another person.
This moral blameworthiness justifies the appropriately severe penalty that murder attracts: life imprisonment accompanied by a period of parole ineligibility of up to 25 years.
Many would ask whether it is appropriate that the penalty for taking more than one life is the same as the penalty for taking one life. That is a good question. I would note, in response, that a life sentence is, indeed, for life. An offender cannot be sentenced to more than one life sentence.
Bill C-48 is based on the proposition that killing more than one person reflects a higher degree of moral blameworthiness and ought to allow the imposition of additional periods of parole ineligibility.
Bill C-48 would ensure that the judge who presides over the conviction of a multiple murderer and who is therefore in the best position to assess that person’s degree of moral blameworthiness remains the one authorized to decide whether that more severe penalty ought to be imposed.
As I mentioned earlier, that decision would be based on the existing criteria in section 754.4 of the Criminal Code. Judges already use these criteria to decide how long a second degree murderer ought to serve in custody before being able to apply for parole.
I will elaborate on that last point which, I must point out, has already been discussed in previous debates.
As hon. members may recall, the punishment for first and second degree murder is life imprisonment accompanied by a period of ineligibility for parole determined according to section 745 of the Criminal Code.
For first degree murderers as well as for any second degree murderer who has killed before, that period is 25 years from the time of being brought into custody.
For all other second degree murderers, that period is 10 years, unless the judge uses the authority bestowed by section 745.4 to set a period of ineligibility for parole up to 25 years.
Such a decision will be based on “the character of the offender, the nature of the offence and the circumstances surrounding its commission and the recommendation, if any, made [by a jury]”.
In summary, Canadian law already sets out a sliding scale of parole ineligibility to account for particularly incorrigible offenders or particularly egregious crimes.
As for the application of these criteria, the courts have stated over and over again that the most important factor to consider in deciding whether to extend the parole ineligibility period of a second degree murderer is the protection of society.
Bill C-48 proposes to use exactly the same criteria for the imposition of consecutive periods of parole ineligibility on multiple murderers—again, multiple murderers. I am convinced that the same principles will apply, and that judges will therefore look to the protection of society in making their decisions.
This leads me naturally to the third thing that Bill C-48 will do, namely, to enhance the protection of society by permitting judges to keep the most incorrigible multiple murderers in custody for longer periods of time that better correspond to their crimes, which is only normal.
Bill C-48 would ensure that our communities are safe and that offenders convicted of multiple murders, who should never be released, will never be released.
In this vein, the proposed amendments would also protect the families and loved ones of multiple murder victims, who are forced to listen all over again to the details of these horrible crimes at parole hearings held after the maximum parole ineligibility period possible under the current act expires.
If Bill C-48 is passed, it will not affect the rights of those multiple murderers currently on parole nor will it usurp the role of the National Parole Board.
Bill C-48 will not prevent convicted multiple murderers now serving life sentences from seeking parole when their parole ineligibility periods expire, nor will it call into question National Parole Board decisions to release those who meet the criteria for parole.
Bill C-48 will only apply to those who commit more than one murder after the legislation comes into force.
In short, Bill C-48 is neither retroactive nor retributive. It represents the reaffirmation of our government's commitment to respond to Canadians' concerns about strengthening the justice system by ensuring that the most serious offenders do the most serious time.
Bill C-48 was studied thoroughly by the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, which saw fit to make one amendment.
This amendment would require a judge to give oral or written reasons in the event he or she decides to impose consecutive periods of parole ineligibility on a convicted multiple murderer. The bill, as originally drafted, called for reasons only if the judge declined to do so.
Our government believes this amendment is unnecessary and could even have unintended consequences. In fact, our government's original objective for requiring a judge to give reasons for not imposing consecutive periods of parole ineligibility for a multiple murderer was to ensure that victims would be informed of the reasons for not doing so.
As I have already explained, the amendment proposed by the Liberal critic would compel judges to explain their reasons for imposing consecutive periods of parole ineligibility on an offender convicted of multiple murderers. In other words and to put it simply, this amendment would mean that murderers will be told the judge's reasons. The ultimate aim of our bill was to restore the balance between victims' rights and offenders' rights, a balance that had been lacking for some time. I believe that the consequences of this amendment work against our objective.
The Conservative members of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights tried unsuccessfully to reverse the amendment, which was supported by all opposition members. Although we oppose that change, I believe that the need for this bill is more important than the political games that the opposition members are playing. For that reason, and so as not to slow the progress of this bill, our government supports the current version of Bill C-48.
I would like to ask all members of the House to help me achieve these objectives by supporting this bill.